Jessica Weinkle studies climate science and how interpretations of it affect the financial sectors and public policy. In this episode, Weinkle, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, explains why insurance is “ubiquitous in society,” how climate models affect insurance rates, the “protective wall” around the NGO-climate-industrial complex, and why the catastrophic dialogue around climate change is “clickbait.” (Recorded July 7, 2023.) 

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome Jessica Winkle. She is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who focuses on insurance, financial regulation, that Climate Lobby ecosystem, she writes on substack. Jessica, welcome to the power hungry podcast.

Jessica Weinkle 0:27
Thanks for having me here.

Robert Bryce 0:29
So I’ve warned you, I don’t warn some guests, I might just ambush straight out that you introduce yourself. Guests introduce themselves. So imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone? And you have 60 seconds, please. Who are you?

Jessica Weinkle 0:43
Um, well, I guess I am someone that grew up in Miami and saw hurricanes go from sort of a cultural phenomenon to a mainstream media headlines sort of thing. And all the politics that went along with that, and then sort of moved on into climate change politics and policy and Climate Change Science and saw how those two things that the hurricane Streif sort of collided with our Climate Change Politics.

Robert Bryce 1:21
Okay. And you studied under Roger Pilkey, Jr. and University of Colorado, and you went to the University of Texas, here in Austin as well. So just your bonafides on the academic front, you on your bio, you write that you say you focus on the area of climate science and decision making in respect to insurance and financial regulations, and what those decisions mean for the rest of us. My dad was in the insurance business, my brothers in the insurance business have grown up around the insurance business as one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you. So answer that question, what, what does this decision the decision making or climate science decision making? What what do those decisions mean for the rest of us?

Jessica Weinkle 2:03
Well, from a very practical standpoint, they mean that it changes what we pay for things. And depending on how that gets shaped in our discourse, we tend to believe some reasons over others. And so what we have been told about why we pay what we pay an insurance and how finance generally shapes our a lot of our interactions in society, and what we can do and what we can’t do. Shapes Our understanding of other things. And so one of those things is climate change, what we pay for insurance every year, depending on the narrative behind it can also affect how we understand climate change, and vice versa. The things that we understand about climate change can affect the the palatability, and how we understand finance and insurance.

Robert Bryce 2:57
So you’ve made it clear, and we’ve talked offline about this, that you’re not an expert on actuarial tables and all the other financial parts of the insurance business. But I think is the word that I heard you say they’re the narrative that that to me is the key, right? What what is the narrative? We’re telling ourselves? Broadly in society, I asked people about, you know, if I gave you $10,000, what’s the narrative? Where would you put your money? Where would you put that 10,000? On? What’s the narrative that is guiding your decision making regarding investments? So but again, we talked offline about this narrative of this current issues around ESG climate change, and the insurance companies facing public pressure on how they shouldn’t be acting or coverages that they should not be giving? Or not, you know, coverages and risks they should not be taking, versus what they’re hearing in terms of climate risk. So is it fair to say that you’re just trying to spotlight this collision this, this tension between the financial part of the insurance business and their public facing risk their public facing responsibility or how they’re being addressed by climate activists and so on? Is that how do you how would you summarize that?

Jessica Weinkle 4:05
That is a great question. So insurance is a complicated business, right? Yes, definitely. They provide you coverage for some risk that you might have. But they also have a big investment back end, right. And so the way that you your insurance experience can be largely effect can be affected a lot by whatever’s going on in their investment world, the state of the markets, market volatility, like any number of things. What is being what happens often, particularly in the area of cat risk, and hurricanes, fire, flood is that it gets captured by in my opinion, it gets captured by the Climate Change narrative. So you see a lot of advocacy in those that we We want climate change to be real for people to then position the problems that we have with insurance within that narrative. So the reason that we’re having this problem is because of climate change, right. And so from that frame, it makes climate change real because now you’re paying for it. Now you’re actually struggling with insurance, you’re struggling to keep your mortgage, you might have to sell your house, and then you don’t know how you’re going to pay for your kids college, right, using equity, whatever. And that make climate change real. The but it gets complicated, because insurance as I began is a complicated business. And so what they’re actually responding to, could be something else, as well, they could be cherry picking certain aspects of science to kind of get what they want, in prices. So let

Robert Bryce 5:55
me interrupt you. So then the more catastrophic the narrative that they can use that to justify a higher a higher rate. And so this is something that Roger Pilkey Jr. Others have talked about, well, if you use RCP 8.5, which is the most extreme scenario, which is not going to happen, but that that could be as well, we’re facing this this higher risk, therefore, higher rates. And, you know, there’s clear, you know, despite the claims that we’re not facing, we’re not seeing more hurricanes, right. That’s just not that not more catastrophic. Hurricanes is just not happening. More people are on the coasts. So we’re seeing bigger losses, but it’s not necessarily because the intensity or the frequency of the hurricanes is increasing. Am I reading that correctly?

Jessica Weinkle 6:36
Yeah. And so And very recently, a major last couple years, a major catastrophe model, a thing and firm that provides a lot of risk assessment for the insurance industry. And reinsurance industry came out as a big advocate for RCP 8.5. So

Robert Bryce 6:58
who was this? I’m sorry, what? Forgive me what was those air worldwide,

Jessica Weinkle 7:01
and they read very recently changed their, their name to various extreme, whatever, something that got a different name, but it has been for the last several decades or worldwide. And they, they advocated for the use of this more extreme scenario, and then showing all the risks that y’all have, which as you point out, not only is it a bad scenario, but what has also been shown over time is that it’s the people, it’s the stuff. It’s not the hurricanes themselves, right?

Robert Bryce 7:41
So let’s talk about that a little bit. I was in Florida a couple of weeks ago, and I just happen to be eating, I was sitting at the bar and getting dinner and who sits down next to me but an insurance guy. And we started talking and I said, Well, yeah, I know a little bit about this, because I grew up in a house with an insurance man at the helm. And we talked about Florida, in particular, because he was doing insurance coverages for condos, and for buildings in Florida. And we talked about the fact that both California and Florida recently that they have insurers are leaving the states. So this is something that is top of mind for a lot of people now because of this issue. And we talked about the state of Cal of Florida now providing its own insurance, the state has gotten into the insurance business. And we talked about that fact. And I said, and I asked him, so is that an implicit subsidy or to the real estate sector in Florida that if the insurers aren’t going to step up, the state is stepping in and saying, Well, we’re gonna we’ll make sure you can get homeowner’s coverage here, because we don’t want you to sell your house and leave it. Can you talk about that a little bit? Because that, to me, is intriguing. And just as a consumer, Californians are California insurers in California saying we’re not going to do business here. And they’re doing the same in Florida. What what’s so why why are the insurance insurers leaving those states? And then the second one is about the state having to step in to be a effectively a carrier or risk taker.

Jessica Weinkle 9:04
Okay, so there are multiple dimensions to that one. Question. The one is, so first off, we’ve all we’ve noticed, right? There’s inflation in Texas, too. Right. So, so the insurance industry struggles with this as well, right? There’s inflation. There has been a decline, at least over the last several years there. They’ve been talking about decline and in assets and like general market problems, right, that we all have read in the headlines. We’re all aware of that. We all are like, Okay, well, what’s going on with the economy, whatever, they also have to deal with that. So if that affects what they would, that affects their market judgment of risk, right, and if regulators are not willing to respond to that, or the public is saying, Yeah, well, we do giving you enough money over the last two years, we’re not giving you more than they might say, Okay, well, we’re gonna go. Are they really gonna go? Is it really like what they have? Okay, so they pull back some? Um, some of it’s like negotiation, right? Are they really going to leave Florida forever? i There’s a lot of money to be made in Florida. So I don’t know about that. The states themselves, the government’s, including the Federal Government has been providing some sort of market mechanism for insurance since the late 60s, about 68. So that this is a new thing that Florida is now in the insurance business that they’ve been doing this for a long time into think it was 2002, their original beach pool turned into citizens Property Insurance Corporation, they’ve by legislation, it’s intended to provide affordable property insurance. And so the big running gripe is it undercuts the market, the private market, but it does it intentionally, because they want to make sure that people have access to insurance because you can look at it as a subsidy for real estate. But real estate is a really important part to the US economy. Right. So some people argue that the entire US economy, the foundation of it is real estate, our ability to develop wealth in the middle classes is based on housing. Housing alone in like construction, real estate is like 30% of the Florida economy, the GDP. And so to allow that to kind of fall out is a is a serious concern, not just for the state of Florida, but for the nation, as well. Sure. Yeah. As Florida has become more wealthy. Right. I think there was an article a while back saying that Florida has the highest rate of home ownership of and mortgaged homes. All those people don’t have to have insurance. They don’t want it. They can self insure they can do whatever they want. Well, clearly, they might. A lot of them might be able to afford higher rates. And they may have become less concerned about prices. But

Robert Bryce 12:26
sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry to interrupt. So I just want to make sure I understand what you’re saying there that Florida has the highest rate of unmanaged home. So people owning their homes outright. So they don’t necessarily have to carry homeownership home owners insurance to satisfy the mortgage provider, right? They can just say, Well, I’m gonna, you know, my house burns down, I have an extra 500,000. Here, I’ll just rebuild it myself. Right. I didn’t know that. That’s an interesting point. But but the I wanted to just follow up on this idea of the state as being that idea of a subsidy subsidizing real estate as part of their own, I guess, seeing it as an economic development part of what they’re going to have to do to make sure that their state economy maintains its rigored. Its health. Is my reading that back correctly.

Jessica Weinkle 13:08
Yeah. So yes, exactly. And, you know, a lot of this ties back to policies. You had that great post on Fourth of July about energy policy in the Midwest, and then stemming from the Great Depression. So also in around that time, I think it was early 38, there was housing policies put into place that allowed the federal government to back mortgages, right. It never got any traction until the end of World War Two. And so at the same time, you had people taking advantage of these mortgage policies, and the development of the homeowners insurance policy, which provided all these covers wind and fire at a discounted rate, right? Yeah, everybody made money, right? We got houses we got we, our economy blew up, our insurers are making a ton of money. And that all has slowly become I don’t know about the tension there. The fact that this, like our major economic endeavor in housing and real estate is tied married to or the cost of insurance really creates a tension, as you know, insurance tries to respond to their market pressures or build their business or whatever it is that they’re doing. We all you and I feel it because we are also doing our own economic thing, which is also kind of at the foundation of the entire economy. So we need a lot of times what is not necessarily being managed is not the hurricane risk or the fire risk or whatever. It’s the it’s the larger economic risk. That is the volatility that comes from the insurance prices getting too high.

Robert Bryce 15:03
And so the state and the federal government to read back then are stepping in and have been for decades to bolster real estate ownership by to bolster homeownership across the country. And that that’s been, I just think it’s interesting the way you put it, because I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but that this is a way for the the government more broadly right state and federal to say, well, we want to we want to encourage this right. This is economic development for us. And so we will be the backstop, the insurance backstop. And is that am I am I reading that backwards correctly?

Jessica Weinkle 15:34
Yes. That is exactly what happened. And I mean, we might debate whether or not housing as an economic policy is wise at this point. I don’t really know. But that’s a totally different discussion. Right? That’s

Robert Bryce 15:47
what’s the key here, I think is that what you’re trying to spotlight is just this lack of transparency, right, between the you know, how the climate advocacy issues, these other issues are not being made transparent with the insurers. And then the other backdrop that it seems to me as at hand is, and I’ve talked about this with other guests on the podcast that will be airing I think, pretty soon, but it’s that insurers are now saying in some cases that they will not fund or will not cover hydrocarbon projects, which could have a massive impact, right? The European insurers in particular. So this collision between the politics around climate climate advocacy, and the arguably one of the most important sectors in the economy is my brother, while he says nothing happens without insurance, the ship doesn’t sail the car doesn’t go anywhere, if you don’t have insurance. So I think it’s a rich area. And but you’re one of the few academics that I know that is looking at this, are there others of people that are doing this kind of work?

Jessica Weinkle 16:40
Um, yeah, you know, so there’s a whole social science of insurance out there. It’s sort of a niche area. But there are a lot of scholars in various fields, geography, sociology, law, that are coming at not necessarily the climate change insurance? Well, no, yeah, some of them too. But critiquing sort of the, the way that we understand insurance and how we interact with it, and how important it is to, because it shapes our society, because exactly what you’re saying nothing happens without insurance. So it’s better understanding what that industry is, how it interacts with our science, how it directs, scientific research activity, and how it directs us is important.

Robert Bryce 17:39
Right? Well, let’s shift to one of the other parts of your work that I think the other things that you’ve been publishing on your substack. And again, it’s Jessica, or last name is WEINKL. E. Jessica Winkle that You testified before the Senate in March of this year. And you made some important points. I want to read this. She said there’s several indications that climate change media reporting is a growing role in creating investment opportunities. I’m sorry, here’s where the quote starts. financial executives point to media hype as a leading factor in driving investment profit related to climate risk. Economic researchers develop methods to use media reporting on climate change to guide investment decisions, media reporting shapes, public perceptions, that it is often itself shaped by the political elite. What is more researchers are often rewarded by their institutions for media attention. Thus arises the potential for a circular system whereby climate change research research that supports financial industry interests, drives media reporting, supporting financial industry interests. You know, it’s a it’s kind of complicated sentences there. But what if I read that back to you, I would point to Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan a few years a few months ago saying, oh, we need to use eminent domain to seize property because we’re not building enough wind and solar projects. What he didn’t mention is that JP Morgan is one of the biggest providers of tax equity finance. So that the it explain that if you don’t dive into that, because you’re you’re pointing your underscoring something that very few people that I know of have pointed out that saying, well, the more absurd extreme the climate scenario is, the more the justifications are for big banks to say, well, we need to be spending more on this thing and big business thing we need to be spending building more solar and wind projects. Can you talk about that, please?

Jessica Weinkle 19:40
Well, so my interest in that came about was a couple years ago, a guy that very much involved with catastrophe insurance in Florida had pointed out to sort of a niche blog audience. You that one of the major profitable one of the major things driving profit at that moment was media hype and climate change. And so it was just driving, kind of what we were talking about earlier where this perception of risk drives just a higher value for the risk. And so he was seeing that in all that, and

Robert Bryce 20:25
the perception of risk drives the flow of dollars. Yeah.

Jessica Weinkle 20:28
And yeah. And so when you see, a good example might be some of the problems that have come up with major scientific journals lately with leading sort of the lead with articles that are they they’re publishing articles that are problematic, that might rely on high emission scenarios, but it catches a lot of headlines, right. And so and then that feeds back into people’s perceptions of things which might feed back to their willingness to pay higher rates on insurance, which may pay go back to any number of things, but it feeds back into itself. And one example, which kind of completes the circle for you know, finance, driving research, which then supports finance. So remember, earlier, I had said air worldwide became a big advocate for RCEP. Right, one of the ways that they they couched their position, they said, of course, we’re okay with this position, because look at this other paper. And that other paper had been published in the proceedings for the National Academies of Science, fairly recently by a group of authors that were with, with a another research organization. They never disclosed that. That paper was backing the use of a point, but they never disclose that they had just finished, or had just finished a report for McKinsey and Company, and that they had a an ongoing relationship with Wellington, an investment firm, and so or financial management firm. And so, and in those in that report, they themselves had you used a point five, so they published a they published a scientific journal article, legitimizing their use of the emission scenario that they had used for McKinsey. And then air worldwide came in and said, of course, we can do this because they’re doing it and they said, it’s okay to do it. And so it’s just one big circular argument where everybody’s scratching each other’s back.

Robert Bryce 22:55
We want to just to see, if people aren’t familiar, RCP 8.5 is a scenario that calls for massive increases in the use of coal fired generation around the world. There are no there is no credible scenario under which this will actually happen. Roger Pilkey Jr, among others has pointed this out numerous times that this most extreme scenario, which would then of hydrocarbon consumption, and particularly coal consumption, would then lead to projections of much higher temperatures. But it’s been routinely debunked. And yet, it’s like there’s a tenacious group of people who hold on to it because, you know, if it bleeds, it leads, that’s how I look at it from the newspaper business. Right? You have, you don’t write about anything, everything’s okay at the park and isn’t a beautiful day. No, it’s the car crash. It’s the house fire. It’s the, you know, catastrophe looms, and therefore, that’s what you report on. So, but I think that’s an interesting point where you make a circular, a circular argument that it depends on what they said RCEP was, so we’re going to use RCP 8.8 point five. And so then that guides investment dollars in insurance, in banking, in big business for you know, general, you know, capacity for solar wind, all of these justifications then become part of the financial ecosystem. Am I reading back this in the correct way?

Jessica Weinkle 24:18
Yes, because air is a leading catastrophe modeling firm for the insurance and reinsurance industries, right. So, they’re advertising this thing. They’ll sell you listen, you know, they’ll tell you the model and the scenario and they’ve backed it on the research that is then produced by researchers with major conflicts of interest with of with other investment and financial industries. And so, yes, it is all just one big racket.

Robert Bryce 24:54
Racket is, is a good I liked that word. Tell me about the Senate testimony that was in March. What was that hearing? And why? How did you end up being invited? Because I looked at it, I thought, Well, I mean, just on the surface No, take no offense. But well, this is kind of an unlikely you’re an unlikely testifier. I guess. So how did how did that come about? I’m unlikely witness, I don’t know, testify. Likely unlikely witness. And I mean, no disrespect. But I mean, how did that come about? What was the focus of the hearing? The focus of

Jessica Weinkle 25:27
the hearing was threats to coastal communities. And I think one of the because I came from that perspective that the biggest issues was the growth in coastal communities, necessarily the climate change itself. The biggest threat is that you put a bunch of people there. And that that’s what’s driving losses in hurricane realm, then that that made me appealing. And then I took it as an opportunity to point out bigger issues, which is this whole the ecosystem of it the conflicts of interest, that have just sort of which have just exploded recently, and, and, you know, the conflicts of interest issue is not just I mean, because I studied the physical, the natural sciences. And the way those interact with politics and in policymaking I, they focus there, but apparently, it’s not just there, right. So Ben called a cop, who’s over at, I want to say, University of Cambridge, but he’s with a big Sustainability Institute out there. He’s well known for that work and running that center. But he will, he recently had an article in the Financial Times and editorial piece saying that the conflicts of interest and the pressure that’s coming from financial firms to produce certain information is getting kind of intense. And so a lot of the things that he was reporting on where financial firms were allowing researchers or hiring the researchers to analyze their data, and then having final say, on whether or not the papers could be published, or putting pressure on the researcher to massage the outcomes differently. That is like textbook stuff from the conflicts of interest in the pharmaceutical industry, like, during the 90s and early 2000s. And so you’re seeing it there too, like, it’s a whole it’s a whole mess between what’s going on with finance right now. And our research in I don’t know, the broader sustainability sciences, I guess you could say, on climate change.

Robert Bryce 28:01
So just want to read back what you said. You were you testified, and we’re witness in the Senate hearing in March, because of your work showing that we’re insurance losses or and property losses on the coasts are not due to more intense hurricanes, but because we just have more stuff in the way more people in the way. Right, which is not the narrative that we’ve heard over and over again, about the you know, that this is, or even we’re hearing about wildfires, well, of course, the wildfires are due to climate change. And as Bloomberg wrote the other the other day, if everything is climate change, then nothing is right. And so But has it gotten that bad? I guess, let me ask that question. I mean, is that is the because here’s my view on climate change. Climate change is a concern. It’s not our only concern, we have to balance our response to it with care right about and balance that the dollars, the effort, the societal cost on addressing climate change with other things that we have to deal with, right? We can’t crater the economy and say we’re gonna quit using oil tomorrow. Well, no, that’s, you know, people will die if we do that. Right. But is the how, how problematic is this? I’ll use the word catastrophism. How problematic is it more broadly in terms of the decision making that we’re discussing now?

Jessica Weinkle 29:20
It’s a tough it’s a problem, because I see it in my students where a lot of their current understanding of our disasters is that it’s linked to climate change. It’s their disasters because of climate change, and the everything climate change. narrative has captured so much that rarely, I rarely, if ever, do I have a student that can deal with an issue that addresses a topic and doesn’t try to rope in the climate change? And it is okay to have a problem that is Separate from climate change, right. And so I it is it is a problem. And Roger had that great piece yesterday, I think it was about how it’s affecting the younger generations how you have this like, tragic, really tragic responses to the catastrophe narrative, and not any sort of pragmatic policy options for younger generations to deal with. And it it skews the debate in a bit, but then you don’t get any sort of practical debate. And it’s a problem.

Robert Bryce 30:42
So we’ll I’ll read it back then. So this idea oh, well, there were never tornadoes before climate change, or there were we never had hurricanes before climate change, though. But now it’s suddenly because everything well, like Doom Berg said, if everything is climate change, nothing is. But it will talk about that, because you’re younger than I am. And you’re the students are obviously younger than you are. are. Are they jaded? Are they scared? I mean, how do you look at them to the I mean, do you feel compassion for them? Are you trying to talk them out of this narrative? How do you deal with because I see this narrative, right? That they’re inculcated with this, oh, you know, we’re doomed, and we’re sinned against Mother Earth, and we’re gonna burn in hell. Right? How pervasive is that?

Jessica Weinkle 31:25
Um, the, I think that the, the sort of the idea that there’s nothing I can do like the fatalistic sort of, there’s nothing I can do hopelessness and helplessness, I don’t see that. What I see is like, the more like all things, climate change, this is a problem because of climate change, this is a problem is going to get worse because of climate change. Like, like, it’s okay to have a problem there. Were there. Poverty was a thing before climate change, you know, so, um, but what I would say that I really try to focus on I think and help them engage with is to see the business at this has become the business that the narrative is. And if there is such an if one looks at the other side, whoever your other side is, as being extreme, that it’s balanced by another extreme. Right. So how do you it’s not just the other side, right? It’s this whole other issue, be more self reflective, I guess, and reflect on one’s own source of sources of information, and how that might also these really two like it’s not just Fox News, it’s news. Right? The vast majority of our, of our big news has become led by catastrophe and just strange interpretations.

Robert Bryce 33:02
And I would call it climate tourism, I guess, is the climate tourism as a belief system? Right? Well, let’s shift and talk about these other conflicts of interest in the NGO industrial complex, or as I call it, the anti industry industry, which is just enormous, right. And it’s kind of never covered by the legacy media because it doesn’t fit the narrative. But in your may 12, piece on substack, you called it that was the Climate Lobby ecosystem. And you focused on the Environmental Defense Fund. And the guy named Brian DCE. So talk about EDF, because this is one of the old line very large, extraordinarily wealthy NGOs that is dealing with climate. I think their 2020 revenue was $358 million. And they spent $8.9 million on lobbying. This is one of the questions I wrote down. So is the Climate Lobby, just like any other pressure group in Washington, or is this a different kind of sector?

Jessica Weinkle 34:12
Both I think

Robert Bryce 34:15
it’s just like any other and not like any other I’m sorry. Follow there.

Jessica Weinkle 34:20
So here’s the thing. I’m in long enduring areas of policymaking, right. Things start going on for multiple decades, which climate change policy is that area, you start to see more rigidity between organizations and the government and people and it starts to create its own infrastructure and institution, right. So in some ways, in that way, EDF being one of the leading environmental organizations, it’s been there for a long time that’s been involved with climate change policy like that is just The industrial complexes that Washington DC will turn out, right? Because that’s the way it works. The difference is that I think that it doesn’t get looked at because everybody thinks that they’re fighting the good fight, right? There could not be a conflict of interest because I am morally just, I’m doing the morally right thing, right and working for the environment and saving the environment. And so it creates this like protective wall like this, this force field around that industrial complex, right, the climate industrial complex, if you will, as being sort of something that’s not worth interrogating, not worth looking at and not worth seeing what it is, because that’s what happens with long standing areas of policy making and politics is that it creates these rigid structures. This has created a rigid structure, not necessarily for the better, either. And so that’s what I mean by both things is that it is it is the same, because it’s what DC does. And it’s different in that some because it’s seen as like, morally, just social movement. It can’t be looked at closely.

Robert Bryce 36:17
Yeah, I like that. I like that idea, that protective wall and that they’re because they’re perceived as being on the right side of the issue, right, and that they’re not big oil. They’re not big coal. They’re not the natural gas sector than, Oh, well, of course, they’re on the right side of the discussion. So there’s no reason to look at their finances or any of their conflicts of interest. But you underscore it, I thought very well, looking more closely at EDF and the fact that and I’ve looked at them as well, and I publish it on my substack Robert price dots About the anti industry industry and the fact that EDF got $100 million from the Bezos Earth fund, and they’ve launched their own methane tracking satellite. And you mentioned that as well, if I recall that they’re they own a business that is, in fact, in this business of methane tracking. So again, they’re different, but they’re the same. They’re an interest group, they have a problem. Bottom line, they’re trying to protect, talk about that, then what you know, in terms of because you covered that, and I thought in a way that was very perceptive, what about their own business interests and their own conflicts of interests that weren’t revealed?

Jessica Weinkle 37:23
So EDF is private business. That is methane, methane SAP is

Robert Bryce 37:31
right. Yeah. Methane

Jessica Weinkle 37:33
that can, you know, observe methane from its sources. And the reason I talked about that is because Krupp had a VDF had been testifying in Congress and talked about whatever he was talking about in the methane problem. And

Robert Bryce 37:50
just for clarity, that’s Fred Krupp, who’s the longtime CEO or Executive Director, I forget what His title is it EDF has been there for decades. Yeah, go ahead, please.

Jessica Weinkle 37:58
But what he the way he’s represented is as a as the head of EDF, right, this noble organization that, you know, fights the good fight, and never mentioned the major business interest that they have in the methane issue. And having the EPA get it become interested in monitoring methane and which is ultimately part of what he was after in his testimony. And so a lot of people refer to this whole it’s bigger than just the subsidiaries that nonprofits can hold on to. But it’s part of this whole like dark money thing, where it’s becomes sort of difficult to track where money’s coming from. And so EDF is not the only one that does this. And a nonprofit colleague of mine was saying, like, oh, that’s totally legal. It is totally legal. But it’s problematic when you have nonprofit organizations that are leading the dialogue, leading research, producing research and and then having super PACs they’re very super PACs. They’re running lobbying arms, they’re they have their own subsidiaries of private business, and what people just see is the public face of we are helping you protect the environment. It’s like no, yes, that might be part of it. The other part of it is you’re running a full fledged business that includes putting people in power and lobbying and it’s just it’s screwy.

Robert Bryce 39:43
Well, don’t get too technical on me here. But I think that that is ethical. But I like what you’re saying about it’s not interrogated. It’s not discussed because of this. I would say just very clear media bias, right that Oh, Well, the hydrocarbon producers aren’t necessarily bad. And I’ve reported on it, you know that when you look at the anti industry industry, they’re spending four and a half, roughly four and a half times more per year than the pro traditional industry, I would pro traditional energy sector is and those a trade association, you know, American Petroleum Institute, the rest of them, right. They’re vastly outgunned in terms of dollars spent. So what’s the solution there? Is there? Is this more that you do you think there’s they should be required to do more? More reporting? What what is the way that? How does this problem get addressed? Or do do? Do we need just more reporting on it more disclosure,

Jessica Weinkle 40:42
more reporting, more disclosure, and I, I mean, without going down a rabbit hole of something that I know very little about, as far as you know, nonprofit management and campaign finance, reform, all that. But I think one of the biggest issues, or one of the pieces that I can speak about is that the scientific journals and the scientific professional organizations in the natural and physical sciences are not doing a good job with their public with their conflict of interest disclosures in the research. And if you look at what happened in biomedical, again, in the 90s, in the 2000s, that improving disclosures, which by no means has solved the problem, but we all know pure biomedical research, probably were in the industry. But they, the professional groups, and the journals lead on ensuring better disclosure practices, ensuring that editors had few conflicts of interest, some journals decided that if you had a conflict of financial conflict of interest over a certain point, you couldn’t be a lead author on a paper. Right. So it was, it was within the professional groups themselves, that they they lead on this. And it you do not see that in the natural physical sciences at all. Like they, they’re they do have ethical, they do have ethics statements. But when anything’s disclosed, it’s a sentence or two. And when you look at the biomedical journals, and you see what they’re disclosing, they will have two pages of disclosures where people are talking, who they’re getting paid to, for, for talking for editorial conflicts of interest, they I mean, stuff that I didn’t even know presented a conflict of interest, they have to have reported. And that’s a big deal. And just helping people understand how involved this area of research in sustainable science, climate change, science has become with financial with industry interest, particularly finance.

Robert Bryce 43:03
Well, in the dark money, part of it is, to me is particularly interesting, because this is something that, you know, for decades, and you know, it just continues that these big climate NGOs routinely attack anyone who is advocating for hydrocarbons, oh, well, you’re in the employee of, you know, big oil, whatever, right? That somehow that, you know, they want to attribute that taint, right, that you’re biased, you’re tainted, but if it comes from the other side, we’re the alt energy crowd, the climate activist crowd, well, then you’re virtuous. But again, the dark money part of this, as I’ve reported on it is just staggering. How many hundreds of millions of dollars are, are flowing into climate activism. And broadly, right, and so many new groups springing up that are being funded by dark money groups rewiring America, one of them climate imperative, another one $200 million budget out of the gate, and they virtually get no coverage because, oh, well, there it will. One, they’re very secretive about what they’re doing with their money. But second, that it’s a well, because it’s climate. Well, all’s fair, then no, no problem. But Alaska does. So maybe I’ve answered my own question. But it seems to me it really brought a very bright, double standard, or very clear, double standard at work here with regard to media coverage when it comes to these issues of dark money, financial interests, you know, etc. And maybe I’ve just answered my own question, maybe.

Jessica Weinkle 44:36
I mean, you have done a lot of work in the area, and I, I appreciate it because it also helped me realize that I wasn’t crazy, right? Like, it really was nice. Yeah. Somebody else sees it, too. It’s not, you know, it’s having at least one other person. See what you’re saying? It really helps.

Robert Bryce 44:58
So what’s the wave? forward that within Is that another area? Are you hopeful that we’re going to see better media coverage of this these topics? Have you seen any progress in that regard?

Jessica Weinkle 45:11
Um, I think I don’t want to say no, just because I haven’t seen progress in that regard, it may just be something that I’ve missed. I think, for me, one of the next spaces that I’m very much interested in is how this is playing out at the United Nations level, because a lot of the big players in the domestic level have for some, for some time, and I know that in the Bilaam, philanthropy and international sort of relations literature, this has been sort of a bubbling discussion for a while. But the role that these nonprofit organizations and philanthropists really are playing at the UN level, in the area of climate change and in the environment is really not discussed very well, it’s kind of seen as like the right again, seen as the right thing to do. But I see it as very concerning for the legitimacy of that organization. And I know that people have different opinions about it. But it is a it is a great governing achievement to have some sort of body ensure that there’s some sort of diplomatic and democratic, workable relationship among the nations to ensure

Robert Bryce 46:42
if I was going to read it back to you that rise of these, what I’d call super NGOs, right, that didn’t just have massive budgets are on their own right, that they become independent. And I think one of the things that bugs me about it is that they’re, they’re unaccountable, right? They’re just, they’re, they’re the dark money groups are unaccountable to the public. They’re pushing for policies that I think are regressive and bad for energy security, but there’s no accountability. And so, but that’s interesting, because I was you beat me to the punch, I was gonna ask you about what you’re working on next. So it looking at some of these NGOs and how they operate in the international space in terms of accountability, funding, etc. Is that is that your area?

Jessica Weinkle 47:18
Yeah. So unless so even like the NGOs, like World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute, those are big, like they get involved in a lot of like, inner governmental sort of talking about, but more specifically, right, so the Jeff Bezos philanthropy firm, or arm Bloomberg and everything that he’s done,

Robert Bryce 47:42
Bezos Earth fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Yeah,

Jessica Weinkle 47:45
yeah. These are now individuals, wealthy individuals that are guiding international policy, right. And, you know,

Robert Bryce 47:58
budgets with Bezos Earth fund $10 billion. Bloomberg, alone has given a plan to give any takers a billion dollars to climate action stuff. Well, he flies around in his jet and has 12 houses and you know, good for him.

Jessica Weinkle 48:12
And Bill Gates has been doing this for years, right? Run your medicine, International Medicine, but Well, when you start bad, I don’t know it. It’s the area that I’m looking at now in these people are playing in climate policy and then spreading climate finance, which they are themselves invested in. And you want to ensure that it goes well, right? Sure.

Robert Bryce 48:41
Yeah. Well, we’ve been talking for a while Jessica, and I think we’ve covered the main things that I wanted to discuss. I know I warned you about these as well, the the questions that I asked everybody, so I’ll hit you with these. So what are you reading? What are the books that are on the top of your list these days?

Jessica Weinkle 48:59
So I I just finished a book last night actually about and it’s just a history. I like to read historical fiction, and it was called Westwoods giraffes. And it’s about a kid. He’s 1718 year old years old in 1938. And he’s from the Texas panhandle. The Dustbowl somehow finds his way out in New York and then is what the historical aspect is, is these two giraffes that come into the New York Harbor and are being sent to the San Diego Zoo. They come in by ship right, it was intended. The reason that I bring this book up is because it really historical fictions for me add some texture to the past, like what was it like to live? We might imagine these things but how is it imagined to live through these things? And the stories that are told about the Dust Bowl, and the big clouds of dirt and the entire family’s dying and Just long because they can’t breathe and like, just really is remarkable about the problem that the serious problem that people faced with drought at that time, we have all these other structures and infrastructure and wealth to help people now that we didn’t have in the 30s. And it how far we’ve come kind of what you were talking about in in your Fourth of July posts how far we’ve come in such a short period of time,

Robert Bryce 50:31
right. It’s called West with giraffes.

Jessica Weinkle 50:35
And we wish I remembered the author’s last and last name,

Robert Bryce 50:39
because it reminds me of the Bureau Markham book West with a night which is different. Or is that barrel Mark West with the night who was the famous aviator, the female who flew across the Atlantic at night? I think it was, but anyway, so, Wes, what’s your abs? I like that. I’ve never heard of that book. So And finally, what gives you hope, then Jessica, we’re you know, we’ve talked around some of these issues that are, you know, deep in the policy world, you have a young son four year old, what gives you hope?

Jessica Weinkle 51:08
Um, well, they’re writing things like give me hope. But I will say that this might be kind of dark, but the veneer on the everything climate change is cracking, right? Were huge spikes in Energy recently, in relation to the Ukraine war, we’re in relation to ESG investing depending on how you want to look at it created major problems for nations. And we felt that and we saw that, and the there are just things that are coming out that, that we’re talking about the sort of climate industrial complex that you can’t keep ignoring these things, it will start to it’s just starting to, was it this, it’s all starting to particularly out all of those same problems that we’ve all had, that sort of got lumped under climate change is starting, they’re starting to fall out, it’s like the climate change idea has become super saturated. And we’re seeing people are frustrated with politics and the narrative and how rigid it’s become, and how the, and I don’t know that this is all people, but a lot of people are frustrated, and they’ve seeing it for what it is, it’s a business. The whole catastrophic dialogue is clickbait. So, if all of that starting to unravel, I like to think, and that gives me a lot of hope for putting all these sorts of really important problems, including climate change perspective, and sort of moving on with a more pragmatic and practical discussion.

Robert Bryce 53:04
I like that pragmatic in particular, because I think that that’s the pragmatism has been lost in a lot of this in the demonization of hydrocarbons, the refusal to accept the you know, the reality or the need for nuclear these things. I think there’s a, but is that well, I’ll ask you one more question. Because it sparks to me that we’re aren’t we seeing that already happening in Europe, then I mean, a more pragmatic approach that, you know, a lot of these countries saying, well, in fact, Sweden, throwing over their renewables target and saying, We’re gonna build nuclear plants, that in the Europe, the German greens, Green Party facing, you know, big problems at the polls, because people aren’t in support of their agenda anymore. What? Are you seeing that sprout of pragmatism in Europe? Have you followed that very closely? Okay, fair enough.

Jessica Weinkle 53:54
I mean, is it but that’s all part of it. Right? Where? So I don’t know the exact quote, but Galbraith, right, who talked about the affluent society, he was an economist. His book was the affluent society. And you really talked about the conventional wisdom. You kind of coined this I even coined the term but he flecked he’s often associated with the term. And what he was saying was one of the things he said about it was the kind of the enemy of the conventional wisdom is the sequence of events like just time going by and events occurring, because of the conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. It’s just what the public kind of accepts. What tries that and challenges that and breaks it apart. Is all of these events that make it clear that the conventional wisdom is not true and not working out for us either.

Robert Bryce 54:54
No. Well, that’s a good place to stop then. I thank my guest Jessica Winkle. She is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. You can find her and her work on substack Jessica Jessica, thanks for coming on the power hungry podcast. It’s been fun. Yeah, thank you for having me. And all you out there in podcast land. Thanks for tuning into this episode of the power hungry podcast. If you are so inclined to give us a four or five 612 star rating on your nearby rating system, and I’m on substack to of course Robert Thanks for tuning into this episode of the power hungry podcast until next time, see ya


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