The Climate Desk

By Felix Salmon
March 10, 2010
Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Reuters, Slate, The Atlantic, Wired, and WNET. It's called The Climate Desk, and although its website isn't up and running yet, it does have a mission statement:

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I’m a little scared and more excited to kick off a serious and ambitious exercise in collaboration across a spectacular range of websites, including Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Reuters, Slate, The Atlantic, Wired, and WNET. (Update: the Nation Institute is also involved.) It’s called The Climate Desk, and although its website isn’t up and running yet, it does have a mission statement:

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact — human, environmental, economic, political — of a changing climate.

My job is to look at the corporate side of things: whether and how big companies are preparing themselves for the downside of climate change. Already the SEC has decreed that companies have to disclose the effect of climate change in four different areas: actual and potential laws and legislation; international accords and treaties; regulatory and business trends, including changes in demand for goods with high or low emissions; and, finally, this:

Companies should also evaluate for disclosure purposes the actual and potential material impacts of environmental matters on their business.

Of course, disclosing risks is a very different thing to actually doing something about them. So what I want to have a look at is two main questions: how should companies be managing their climate-change risks, and how are they managing their climate-change risks?

Some companies (like property insurers in coastal regions) I suspect are already reasonably sophisticated about these matters. Others, of course, simply aren’t set up to think deeply about long-term strategy regarding risks which will unfold over decades; it would be silly for most small tech start-ups to waste management time on that kind of thing. But I suspect there are some very interesting and surprising stories out there which are worth exploring: when, for instance, does an asset start to look more like a liability?

If the public sector can do this — the Pentagon has, unsurprisingly, already started thinking along these lines — then the private sector should be able to do so as well.

Helping me out in looking at all this will be a group of great bloggers and journalists, including Alexis Madrigal of Wired, David Roberts of Grist, Mark Schapiro of CIR, Kevin Drum and Kate Sheppard of MoJo, and Nicole Allan of The Atlantic. But I want your help too: email me on felix at felixsalmon.com with your ideas, and I’m even welcoming PR pitches on this one.
There are two things I don’t want. I’m not interested in the green-tech story, or in companies which are trying to position themselves to benefit somehow from climate change. I really want to focus on the way that companies are managing downside risks, here, as much as possible.

And I’m absolutely not interested in having a debate about whether climate change is real, or anthropogenic, or overhyped, or anything along those lines. If you think that the downside risks of climate change are zero, then that’s a different story, not this one.

Eventually I’m going to write this all up in a self-contained piece. But right now, I’m starting at zero. Help me out here!

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