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Woke Companies Must Wake Up On ESG – OpEd

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Prevailing ‘ethics’ models ignore vital energy, environmental, labor and human rights issues 

Growing numbers of companies, banks, universities and investment houses are adopting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards and disclosure rules. They’re pressured to do so by activists, legislators and regulators. Many expect to get rich via taxpayer-subsidized “renewable” energy projects. 

Nearly all hope to “greenwash” their reputations, by claiming they’ll “make the world a better place,” by reducing fossil fuel emissions, and thus planetary temperatures and extreme weather events. 

They recently got a boost from the US House of Representatives. It voted 215-214 party-line to pass a bill supporting Securities and Exchange Commission plans to impose new ESG rules requiring publicly traded companies to disclose “climate risks” allegedly caused by oil, gas and coal production and use. Some think the SEC might now give greater scrutiny to ESG climate claims and misconduct, but that seems unlikely.

Regardless, woke organizations need to wake up to climate, renewable energy and ESG realities. 

The ever-more-hysterical climate and weather claims have been roundly debunked by Dr. Roy Spencer, Gregory Wrightstone, Marc Morano, Steven Koonin and others. But what’s truly outrageous about ESG is the way it studiously ignores the massive, widespread damage inflicted by pseudo-renewable energy. 

Wind and sunlight certainly are clean, renewable and sustainable. But harnessing their highly dispersed, unpredictable, weather-dependent energy to meet humanity’s huge and growing energy needs absolutely is not. That requires lands and raw materials that are anything but renewable – using fuels and processes that are absolutely not clean, green, ecological or sustainable. Because they fail to recognize this, ESG programs are dishonest, even fraudulent – and must be reformed, investigated or scrapped. 

Wind, solar and battery land and raw material requirements are astronomical. Onshore wind turbines require nine times more metals and minerals per megawatt than a modern combined-cycle gas power plant. One onshore 3-MW turbine foundation needs 600 cubic yards (1,500 tons) of concrete, plus rebar. 

Offshore wind requires 14 times more materials per MW. Just the 2,100 850-foot-tall offshore turbines (30,000 megawatts) that President Biden wants to install by 2030 would require 110,000 tons of copper, plus millions of tons of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, cobalt, rare earth metals and other materials. 

At an average of 0.44% copper in ore deposits worldwide, the copper alone would require mining and processing 25 million tons of ore, after removing 40 million tons of overburden to reach the ore bodies! 

Add in materials for solar panels, more onshore and offshore wind turbines, backup battery systems, electric vehicles, transmission lines, and all-electric home heating and cooking systems – to run the entire USA, Europe and world – and the “green energy transformation” would require hundreds of billions of tons of metals, minerals and plastics, trillions of tons of ores, trillions of tons of overburden, and thousands of mines, processing plants and factories. Nearly all these operations employ fossil fuels. 

America’s laws and attitudes make mining in the United States nearly impossible, even to support ESG-certified “green” energy facilities. That means most mining and processing will be done in Africa, Asia and Latin America, increasingly by Chinese companies. The manufacturing is done increasingly in China, which is why that country is building more coal-fired power plants every month. 

Pseudo-clean-energy activities utilize hazardous chemicals and release toxic pollutants. They require vast volumes of water, often in the world’s most water-deprived regions. They cause acid mine drainage, create mountains of waste rock, and often result in vast “lakes” of toxic chemicals from refining the ores. Most are conducted under almost nonexistent pollution control, mined-land reclamation, endangered species, workplace safety, child and slave labor, and fair wage rules. 

Cobalt mining already involves 40,000 African children, as young as four! Many Chinese solar panels are made with Uighur forced labor. ESG “green” aspirations would multiply this slavery many times over. 

These travesties occur overseas – out of sight and out of mind – letting ESG activists and profiteers make incessant false claims that fossil fuel replacement energy is clean and virtuous. But when wind, solar and battery facilities are installed, adverse consequences will reverberate across the United States. 

Hundreds of millions of acres of scenic, wildlife habitat and coastal areas would be impacted; millions of birds, bats, tortoises and other wildlife displaced, maimed and killed. And when their short productive lives are finished, billions of turbine blades, solar panels and batteries will be sent to gigantic landfills, because they cannot be recycled; their toxic metals and chemicals could leach out into soils, streams and groundwater. The same will happen in Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. 

Even on windy days, Mr. Biden’s 2,100 monstrous offshore turbines won’t meet New York State peak summertime electricity needs. Meeting just US coastal city needs would require tens of thousands of turbines. Dredge-and-fill operations associated with installing them would smother mollusks and other benthic species. Vibration noises would harm whale and porpoise navigation and communication. Their mere presence would create major safety issues for aircraft and fishing, naval and commercial vessels. 

A single industrial solar facility near Fredericksburg, Virginia required clearcutting thousands of acres of forest habitat. Dominion Energy is planning solar facilities on Virginia acreage totaling one-fourth of Delaware. Solar installations proposed for the American Southwest would blanket millions of acres of desert habitats. Wind and solar operations would threaten or eradicate dozens of bird and other species that environmentalists have utilized for decades to stop drilling, fracking and pipeline projects. 

Connecting far-flung wind, solar and battery installations to industrial centers and urban areas would require thousands of miles of new transmission lines – and still more steel, copper and concrete. Battery fires have already destroyed electric vehicles and homes. Imagine huge warehouses filled with thousands of battery modules erupting into enormous, uncontrollable conflagrations. 

Biodiesel projects have already destroyed important orangutan habitats, and thousands of acres of US hardwood forest habitats have been turned into wood pellets for Britain’s Drax Power Plant

Threatened, endangered, migratory and marine species must be protected – wherever mining, processing and manufacturing take place, and wherever “renewable” energy installations are contemplated. Human health impacts from infrasound and light flicker must guide decisions on how close to homes and businesses wind turbines may be installed. 

Reformed ESG rules – call them Environment and Human Rights (EHR) principles – must require that all these issues are addressed for every wind, solar, battery, transmission and biofuel proposal. 

People must know in advance how many turbines, panels, batteries and power lines are contemplated; how many tons of metals, minerals, concrete and plastics they will require; where those materials will come from; under what environmental, pollution, safety, wage and child labor standards. Companies and government agencies must certify that supply chains are free from child or slave labor. 

Project-specific, comprehensive and cumulative US and global environmental studies must be conducted before any projects are approved, and must include regular, independent reviews of bird, bat, reptile, whale, porpoise and other wildlife displacements, injuries and deaths. Project studies must fully assess all environmental, human health, human rights and other impacts worldwide, and must not be fast-tracked. 

These reality-based EHR principles will help ensure that any “green future” is founded on ethical standards that address all human and ecological consequences, and actually do make the world a better place. They can also help guide SEC investigations and prosecutions for ESG misconduct and fraud – and help spur much-needed mining in the United States, to reduce our reliance on China, Russia, Taliban Afghanistan and other adversarial countries for critical and strategic minerals. 

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Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen is a senior fellow with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, nonprofit public policy institutes that focus on energy, the environment, economic development and international affairs. During a 25-year career that included staff tenures with the United States Senate, Department of the Interior and an energy trade association, he has spoken and written frequently on energy and environmental policy, global climate change, corporate social responsibility and other topics. He’s also written articles and professional papers on marine life associated with oil platforms off the coasts of California and Louisiana – and produced a video documentary on the subject.

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