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Columbia Energy Exchange

Can Capitalism Work for a Clean Energy Economy?


Akshat Rathi

Senior Climate Reporter, Bloomberg News


Akshat Rathi: And that’s how capitalism has been imagined, which is creating these units that solve a problem, provide a service but do it for a profit. What we’ve forgotten in the process, not everywhere, but certainly a lot of places, is that it’s not just about providing profits, it’s about doing so in a society, providing a service that society wants, and I think that is what climate capitalism tries to make a case for.


Bill Loveless: For more than a century, extractive industry and capitalism have dominated the developed world’s economies. Some of the biggest companies in the world produce and sell oil and gas, and those commodities have made countries and people very wealthy, but they are also a major source of pollution and contribute to the climate crisis. Many of these companies have started investing in renewable energy. Others have completely shifted their focus to clean solutions. Akshat Rathi’s new book, Climate Capitalism, releasing in the United States today, delves into this shift and argues that saving the earth is economically more advantageous than destroying it.

It explores innovations in climate, technology, and policy and outlines how the transition away from fossil fuels will be more profitable than staying with them. So what is climate capitalism? How can this new approach facilitate climate innovation and solutions and economic growth? And what will it take to move away from traditional capitalism? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. Today on the show, Akshat Rathi. Akshat is a senior climate reporter for Bloomberg News. Prior to Bloomberg, he was a senior reporter at Quartz and a science editor at The Conversation.

His first book, Climate Capitalism, has been named one of the best books of the year by the London Times and the Economic Times. Akshat is also an accomplished academic with a doctorate in organic chemistry and a former fellow here at the Center on Global Energy Policies Energy Journalism Fellowship program. Akshat joined me to talk about climate capitalism and how reforming the current economic system can simultaneously address climate change and be profitable. We delve into the main characters of his book, why he chose to highlight their narratives, and what he plans to focus on next in his reporting. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Akshat Rathi, welcome back to Columbia Energy Exchange.


Akshat Rathi: It’s great to be here. Thanks, Bill.


Bill Loveless: Yeah, it’s great to have you here again. It’s been a couple of years since we you as a guest. I recall then we talked about your first book, United We Are Unstoppable, which is a compilation of stories about young people trying to save the world. It was a good read at that time, and it was good to hear from so many young people who told their stories.


Akshat Rathi: Yeah. And it was a fun book to edit. I’d never edited a book before, so.


Bill Loveless: Yeah, yeah, I’m sure it was. Well, you’ve had a great run as an energy and climate reporter for Quartz and now Bloomberg, and your podcast on Bloomberg Green, Zero, is a popular forum for discussions on these topics is one I enjoy one I listen to. What attracted you to journalism?


Akshat Rathi: It was a world of ideas. I started off as a kid in India growing up wanting to be an engineer because my dad was an engineer wanting to solve problems. And then, as you do growing up and learning about the world, you develop your own interests, and I felt like I wanted to do research.

And so I went ahead and got a degree in chemistry at the University of Oxford, and I thought, I’m down the professorial path. I’m going to be in this world of ideas. I’m going to try and unearth new facts. And that was fun for a while, but academia didn’t feel like a place I wanted to stay for a very long time. But I still wanted to be in a world of ideas, and I cannot think of a more fun world to be doing that in, which is journalism.


Bill Loveless: And with that Ph.D. in organic chemistry, I’ve often thought about you’ve that you could have become a scientist in a white lab coat at the bench seeking solutions to climate change rather than writing about them.


Akshat Rathi: Yes, and I don’t think I regret it because the specific chemistry that I picked up was organic chemistry, really fun, really puzzle-solving, but doesn’t quite solve the climate problem. It’s more down the pharmaceutical route. There might be some applications here or there for organic chemistry and in the climate space, but no, it’s not solving the climate problem. But to me, it is vital the job that journalists can do, right.

Maybe I’m doing some of it, but put together, climate journalists around the world are showcasing what works, how it works, where it works because that is so important if it’s supposed to be applied somewhere else. And we are in this place where we just need all kinds of solutions working everywhere. And a lot of that has to happen through learning, through informing the world, and I think that’s what journalists do. So I get to be both having fun in the world of ideas and helping highlight the solutions.


Bill Loveless: Well, the book is titled Climate Capitalism. What is climate capitalism, and how does it differ from traditional capitalism that the Economist Milton Friedman espoused? You wrote in the book that Friedman, some decades ago that, quote, “The social responsibility of business is to increase profits.”


Akshat Rathi: And that’s how capitalism has been imagined, which is creating these units that solve a problem, provide a service, but do it for a profit. What we’ve forgotten in the process, not everywhere, but certainly a lot of places, is that it’s not just about providing profits. It’s about doing so in a society, providing a service that society wants. And I think that is what climate capitalism tries to make a case for, which is this engine of growth, innovation, economic development has paid dividends and benefited the world. But it has come at a cost because capitalists have ignored the price they have paid for some of that progress.

That’s through carbon emissions, but also so many other factors, such as biodiversity loss, water issues, food issues. And climate capitalism tries to make the case that, finally, because these climate impacts are now here and the world as a whole, governments and corporations, have set themselves a target, do get to zero emissions within decades now there is a new form of capitalism that is taking shape. That is climate capitalism. It is people reshaping the tools of capitalism so that it is not just about making profits but doing so while providing the service that society needs, which is all the products these companies make, but without the emissions.


Bill Loveless: Had we seen this sort of attitude in capitalism on challenges before climate change became such a big challenge? Has it happened before to any great extent?


Akshat Rathi: Sometimes. So famous examples are moments of crisis, right. When the world faced world wars in one, two, governments forced their very companies to not just retool themselves to make the thing they were making make more of it, but sometimes completely retool themselves and start making war machines instead of making steel as they were making for cars. So that’s happened during wars.

It’s also happened during the pandemic. When we faced a virus that the world hadn’t seen, and we didn’t know how to tackle it, lots and lots of companies had to be reshaped to try and provide the services that were needed for society at that time. That might be to do with safety equipment production, that might be to do with vaccine production. It was not as much of a reshaping of the economy as happened during wartime, but it did mean that governments were a lot more involved in trying to direct how businesses are operating.

Now, climate capitalism isn’t asking for that. As much as we are living through an emergency, as much as war footing is required for the kind of solutions that we have to deploy, we don’t have to do it with that level of redirection of the economy. In fact, the book is about showing places in the world where, as we exist today, within the past five years, governments have been able to redirect businesses, redirect economies to start to deploy these solutions. Again, not everywhere, not at the speed that we need it, but at least it’s starting to happen in almost all sectors of the economy.


Bill Loveless: The very first line of the book ends with an asterisk, and that line reads, quote, “It’s now cheaper to save the world than to destroy it.” An asterisk normally indicates an omission or something that’s doubtful, right. What made you [inaudible 00:09:50] the book that way?


Akshat Rathi: I wanted to make that point because it is a distillation of a lot of academic work made in a very simple, clear sentence that anybody would understand. And then the asterisk says, actually, it’s not just true now, it may have been true forever, except that it’s now even true within the finite confined ways in which we count the capitalistic economy.


Bill Loveless: Yeah, it’s interesting. And it was… And it came to mind for you, this notion came to mind for you from something Donald Trump said back in 2016 when he was running for president, right, about clean coal.


Akshat Rathi: Yeah, it’s a funny part of being a writer where you do all the work first, and then you come back, and you write the story and then you write the story, but you don’t even write the first sentence. You typically write the first sentence the last, which is not the way I think anybody who’s not done a long piece of writing would think about writing, and yet that distillation that, “It is cheaper to save the world than destroy it” kind of came to me towards the end of the reporting, but it did start with Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, during his previous presidential campaign, was calling for clean coal. Said, “Oh, you just take that coal, you clean it up, and then you burn it,” and that’s not how it works. Clean coal is a thing. And my editors were like, “What does he mean?” And I’m like, “Actually, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but it is a thing.

It’s a technology called carbon capture where you actually clean up the emissions after the coal is burned, and there are two plants in the world that are doing it right now, but just two plants out of the thousands of coal power plants in the world.” And so that sort of got me started on the solutions beat. And then, of course, the book covers everything, not just technologies but also finance, politics, policy, lawmaking, and even activism.


Bill Loveless: You remind us throughout the book that the framework for reforming capitalism to address climate change relies on three major actors, technology, policy, and people. How is that? So given the differences in governments, cultures, and other factors among countries like the United States, China, India, and the United Kingdom?


Akshat Rathi: Even as these are very different countries and have very different political and economic context, the one thing that’s binding them together is actually capitalism. That’s the economic system. Even in China, it is state-driven capitalism. And the combination of people, policy, and technology are needed because just running capitalism as we have in the past isn’t working. That means you need governments, which have always regulated capitalism, but to regulate it in different ways.

And that’s why policy is crucial. And technology because technology enables those solutions to be deployed. But none of that happens without the people because it is people that unlock it. And so take the example of China. For me it was a story that was remarkable now that you look at it because, of course, we know that the Chinese economy is building all kinds of green solutions at scale more than anybody else in the world, but it is doing so inside a state-driven economy.

And inside, typically a place where, as communist party, individuals aren’t supposed to gain the limelight aren’t supposed to be the source of solutions. And yet, if you look at just one slice, which is what I did for looking at the electric car journey, the person at the top of it is actually a science minister, an auto engineer, an entrepreneur. He sort of wears these different hats to be able to unlock what became now the world’s electric car journey.


Bill Loveless: Yeah. And you’re referring to Wan Gang, who is the… You refer to him as the bureaucrat. And by the way, I love your titles for the people you write about in the book. But he, like others, as you say, illustrates the points you try and to make. Tell us a little bit more about him.


Akshat Rathi: So Wan Gang was born in China during the Cultural Revolution, this sort of very tumultuous period in China where the communist party thought urban centers are destroying culture. And they sent all the people from cities into villages and actually shut down universities. And so he sort of, as a teenager, went and did farming but found himself actually being attracted to automobiles. He was sort of repairing tractors at the time. And then, when universities eventually opened up, trained as an auto engineer, got a scholarship from the World Bank to go and study in Germany, got a Ph.D. in auto engineering, went and worked in Audi, and really rose up the ranks.

Now the year is 2000, and he’s sort of looking back at his own country and realizing if Chinese people are supposed to live the kind of lifestyle that Germans do, they’ll have to burn 16 times as much oil per person per year. And there is just not enough of that oil in the world. And he was also at the time getting visitors from China, very high leadership positions. The science minister came to understand, “How is it that German auto engineering is so good, and what can we do to try and up our game in China to improve our ability to make cars?” And he turned around and he made the case to the science minister that, “Look, there is not enough oil. These guys have been at it for a hundred years.

I don’t think we can improve these internal combustion engines very much. How about we find a new technology with a new fuel source that could bring us both the access to energy that we need, but also an edge in the 21st century.” And so he’s invited back to China. He’s given an advanced research program secretive for the first few years, and he uses that to come up with electric cars and electric buses that were showcased at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It’s also the time when, despite his warnings, of course, oil consumption is rapidly growing, car sales are rapidly growing, air pollution is rapidly growing in China. So the case he’s making only gets stronger.

And after the Beijing Olympics, he’s given both a title of a minister but also the power to legislate and to subsidize. So he creates lots of subsidies for deploying car manufacturing and lithium-ion battery manufacturing, but also regulations around who can buy those cars and who can’t. And in some places, if you wanted to buy a fossil fuel car, the price was double, or you had to get into a lottery system, which you never know whether you’re going to win. Whereas if you would buy an electric car, you could just go up to a shop and get a car. And so that combination of carrot and sticks plus this sort of vision statement that he made two decades ago is what has created the electric car behemoth that is China today.


Bill Loveless: Yeah. And he plays then this pivotal role in a transformation that took place there in China, as do other people you write about in the book. I mean, among the other individuals, Bill Gates, Vicki Hollub, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, maybe not as well known as some of those others, but truly was impactful. How did you pick the men and women that you write about? What stands out in their stories?


Akshat Rathi: So the goal with the book was to try and first answer the question whether solutions are scaling at all. And if they’re not, is it the economic system that is stopping them? If they are scaling, then what is it that is making them happen? So in trying to answer those questions, these stories just jumped out at me as I was reporting them. They’re not the only stories. They’re not the only people doing that work.

It’s just that within the time I had when I looked for different kinds of solutions in different places, these were the individuals that popped up. They were people who did not make a marginal change. They make a fundamental change the direction of deploying that particular solution. And to me, it felt like a moment to showcase why it’s not, of course, an individual story, but that individuals have the agency to make a massive difference if they are committed to a task.

Bill Loveless:

Yeah. Among the others that you write about. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, he stirred up the energy world when he made it a priority for the IEA to support the energy transition and not merely look after the security of oil supplies.

Recently, the IEA came under some criticism from Bob McNally, the prominent oil analyst and former advisor to President George W. Bush. McNally accused the IEA of politicizing its reports and distorting them to meet government’s low carbon emission goals. What do you make of that view?


Akshat Rathi: It’s such an interesting place to be. Five years ago, the International Energy Agency was the place where climate activists made the most criticism that this organization created because of the oil crisis created for the masters of people who consume a lot of oil is just slowing the transition down. It is misinforming people about where technologies are going. It is not helping the world reach climate goals.

Of course, between that criticism and today, all the members of the IEA have set up net-zero targets, have set up clear policies to be able to reach many of those targets. And so the International Energy Agency, a, has had to respond to how its members are changing but also has had to respond to being in a world that is changing. And in doing so, now it’s gone on the other extreme where people with fossil fuel interests are blaming the IEA for not showing that there is actually more demand for fossil fuels than they claim. When I place these questions to the IEA, they say, “Look, when both sides are criticizing, we know we are doing something right.”


Bill Loveless: Right. And you saw an effectiveness in the IEA that you said you compared to that discussions consensus and all that takes place in the UN climate meetings, the COP meetings.


Akshat Rathi: Yes. So the chapter on the International Energy Agency is called the Fixer, and I use that chapter to showcase how international organizations are reforming but will have to be reformed if they are to tackle the climate problem. Regardless of whether they are supposed to be a climate agency or not, these international organizations will have to be a part of the solution mix. And the IEA story, in fact, is actually shaped by another international organization that was created in the intervening period, the International Renewable Energy Agency, which was created because the IEA wasn’t doing enough work on renewables.

And in that reform story, which I chart in the book, what we now have is an organization that is fewer members. It’s not all the United Nations members. It’s more nimble. It’s more agile. It’s sort of ready for the problems we face today, but it also speaks to the limitations of what happens when you try and get only a few members, not the entire United Nations, which we get at the COP meetings. So COP meetings become these huge bureaucratic nightmares to deal with, but the pronouncements they make, because it’s got the backing of every country on the planet, just goes so much further than what IEA on its own would ever do.


Bill Loveless: Oil companies, not surprisingly, figure prominently in your book. Among them ExxonMobil, whose resistance to acting on climate change is notable, as well as the Danish Oil and Natural Gas company or DONG, which, of course, we now know as Ørsted, a global leader in wind energy. And then there’s Occidental Petroleum, Oxy, which is making a big bet on direct air capture as a business objective. All are creatures of the environment in which they exist, right?


Akshat Rathi: They are. One of the ways in which I was going to split the book was going to be in the old trillions and the new trillions, which is going to be the oil and gas, the fossil fuel industry, the power companies of the [inaudible 00:22:39], and then, of course, the future ones. So electric cars, renewables, et cetera. But that did not work because it’s not just about the old trillions and the new trillions.

It’s also about the things in the middle, the systems that shape the old trillions into the new trillions. And so a lot of these all companies that you mentioned, right, both Oxy and Exxon, they are in the US, but they’re making completely different bets. Exxon says, “Yes, we do carbon capture,” but they’re not going down the direct air capture route. Oxy’s saying, “We actually can be a carbon management company, not just a carbon production company.”

Whereas Danish Oil and Natural Gas, which is Ørsted is in Europe, is in a place which does not have that much fossil fuel resources but is also in a place where the politics of climate are not as divided, and there is a much clearer path for people and policy to be directed towards reducing emissions. And so you get a complete transformation of an oil and gas company into a clean energy company within a decade’s time. So yes, we know the policies, and people can reshape them, but how fast can they do them will depend on the places they are.


Bill Loveless: Yeah. I mean, I guess these are good examples of what you say is the importance of technology policy and people. Earlier in the book, you talk about technology. You talk about the framework for reforming capitalism. The three major factors, technology, policy, and people. But those are shaped by, as you say, money, power, and politics, and these companies in different environments respond differently because of all of those factors.


Akshat Rathi: And they do so even with experimentation. So the story of or Ørsted becoming an offshore wind giant is over a decade. Yes. It is a good business school study because, oh my god, an oil and gas company has become a clean energy company. But it’s not just a story over a decade because it’s a story of trial and error that essentially the Danish state, which is the majority owner of Ørsted and was of Danish Oil and Natural Gas, ran since the oil crisis of the 70s because it used Danish Oil and Natural Gas as an instrument to try and figure out what type of energy policy is fit for the decade in which they existed.

So there was a lot of focus on trying to find oil in the 70s and 80s. Then there was a focus on trying to get gas in the 80s and 90s, and then in the 2000s, it became about, “Okay, how can we move to clean energy?” And so, in coming up with these solutions, a lot of trial and error is needed, and you have to be open to the fact that failures will happen. Ørsted has gone through its own difficulties. Last year was a pretty terrible year for it.

DONG itself had its own difficulties. There was a point where it could have gone bankrupt around 2011, ’12, before it pivoted to this new strategy. But it shows that if you have the right support systems, that might be private capital, that might be government policy, that might be government capital, these experiments and their failures and successes can actually be used to take something forward.


Bill Loveless: And of course, Exxon, it was a fascinating read that you were counting Exxon reminded of how their advances in batteries, which is, I recall you write one of the scientists there actually was part of a Nobel Prize-winning team, right. There was the science there that could have taken the company in perhaps a different direction, but it stayed the course.

On oil and gas, you write about the proxy fights more recently and to try to focus the company a bit more on climate transition. But yes, Exxon’s a very powerful company and doesn’t… is far different in terms of size, magnitude, and location than a company like DONG.


Akshat Rathi: Yeah. I mean, it is crazy to think that today, where lithium-ion batteries are essentially going to transform multi-trillion dollar industries, that it was born in an ExxonMobil lab in the 70s, and it is actually a matter of regret for the Americans who invented the technology. So it was invented in ExxonMobil but then also developed by other scientists because when it was created kind of caught fire a little bit, and they really needed to find a solution, but it wasn’t scaled up in the US is the Japanese.

It was Sony that actually commercialized the first lithium-ion battery, but it’s also a matter of regret for the Japanese because they are nowhere on the battery map. It’s really China that has taken those batteries and made it the industry that we know today. And ExxonMobil, it’s not just lithium-ion batteries. There’ve been other experiments that ExxonMobil funded that could have become really big solutions. We don’t talk about algae to make biofuels anymore, but that was a big advertising campaign that ExxonMobil ran. Where are those fuels?

It’s not like you can’t make them. You just need to get them to a point where that solution actually works. But it is in the power of these companies. They are full of very smart people with deep engineering and scientific expertise that can be deployed for solutions. But of course, it has to happen in a place where profits can be made, where the company provides the space for new ideas to be born, and in places where governments provide the policy for these products, these new clean solutions, to actually find a market.

Bill Loveless: Among these smart people that you point out is Vicki Hollub, the CEO of Oxy. You write that she adapted lessons from John D. Rockefeller regarding for her transformation of her company and some inspiration from Pope Francis. I found that interesting that you write that she was changed by the Pope’s admonition at an energy conference to make a sustainable commitment to energy, and she moved in that direction.


Akshat Rathi: Yeah, so Vicki Hollub is one of only two female CEOs of oil companies in the world, and in the Western world, the only female CEO. And she sort of grew up in this industry that was heavily male-dominated, especially when she started, but even today. And so she had to overcome many of the challenges as a female engineer. And she found that trying to solve problems but also sort of getting to find places where she could communicate with other people on similar platforms might help.

And so, as she rose up the ranks, she sort of learned from how the oil industry had vertically integrated. This was sort of the biggest lesson that you can take from Rockefeller’s example of controlling the entire supply chain all the way from extraction to production of fuels, and in controlling that supply chain, you can actually have many places where they bring efficiencies and does bring more profits. And so she did that. She tried to figure out how her assets, as Oxy’s assets, could be more profitable if she used carbon dioxide to extract more oil. That’s how she gained her expertise and becoming a carbon manager, so to speak.

Of course, she wasn’t doing that for climate at the time, but now, when she looked back and she’s like, “Actually, we have a solution that can work for climate. Why not try and take that expertise and actually develop it further?” But she needed a push because it’s an industry that’s making profit that knows how to do one thing, and to do something different with a different business model requires you to take a leap of faith. And in some way, that leap of faith came from Pope Francis when she visited him in the Vatican, where he actually had a number of energy companies come, where he made the case that, “Look, you are providing a solution that the world needed.

In the future, you should provide a solution that the world will need, which is clean energy.” And she did that, not just, of course, through a leap of faith, but also bringing in capital to do it. So Warren Buffet is one of the biggest shareholders of Oxy and is supportive of the carbon management strategy that she has and, of course, he’s a deep-pocketed shareholder, and you’re going to need that kind of support as you go through a transformation of your entire business model.


Bill Loveless: Yeah, it’s still producing oil and gas, of course, but becoming a leader in terms of air capture. Somehow, there’s some balance there at some point.


Akshat Rathi: That’s her vision, at least when she came on the Zero Podcast and gave me sort of her vision for how she’s going to manage this. Until 2050, she feels like she’s going to start to reduce oil production and increase carbon sequestration as a business. And eventually, she just wants to be a carbon manager where she is paid to be able to deal with the carbon either coming out of the ground or going back into it.


Bill Loveless: Yeah. I would be remiss not to bring up here another figure in your book, Julio Freidmann, the Carbon Wrangler. He’s a former scholar at the Center and Global Energy policy, of course, and now the chief scientist at the Carbon… at the company Carbon Direct. He’s so well known and liked among many of us. What makes the Carbon Wrangler an important person to understand?


Akshat Rathi: Well, first, because he kind of showed me how carbon capture works and was the first sort of real big introduction into the technology, and of course, has spent a number of years developing the technology and now does many more things. But also because his expertise as somebody who’s worked in industry, who’s worked in government, who’s worked in companies, who’s worked in consultancies, who’s worked in academia as he did at the center, really helps you understand the challenge from all angles.

Because as much as we kind of know what solutions we need, actually deploying those solutions requires so many levers to be pulled. And having somebody with Julio’s background really enables you to see the picture of 360 and understand the real challenges and opportunities to apply carbon capture. And he tried to do that in his government role at the Department of Energy, which is the sort of period that I look at one of the success stories and one of the failures and what can you learn from them. And the biggest lesson that Freidmann taught me was actually something that another professor at Columbia University, Peter Keleman, put most succinctly.

He said, “Until people have the idea that throwing CO₂ in the air is throwing poop in the street, we’re not going to spend what it costs to clean it up, and that’s what we need to do.” There is a big gap in the capitalistic structure. We just do not put a value on the pollution. And until we don’t do it either directly or indirectly or whatever policy framework you want to find it, you’re not going to be able to fix the problem.


Bill Loveless: Well, so many interesting characters here and, of course, so much more in the book to learn about them and to enjoy the stories. You’re a great storyteller, and that’s what makes the book such a pleasure. I read recently that you said you’ve been impressed with audience questions in all the book events that you’ve participated in.

You said there’s more nuanced understanding of the transition than you expected, and you added, “We can think about tech, economics, policy, but it’s people who drive the transition, and these conversations give me hope for the world.” Do you feel better now than you did before?


Akshat Rathi: I mean, even doing this book itself was an enlightening and sort of optimistic journey because wherever I turn, of course, there are problems. We know of them, but I almost always also found people wanting to work on solutions. Then, the crucial thing for the book was, are they actually working at scale? Yes. And then, now that the book was done, my hope was that lots of people will read it and then lots of people will have questions about, “Okay, so how can I do this here? Or what’s the thing that would unlock it in my particular profession or my particular region?” Instead, what I’ve found is that people are actually much more informed that we journalists typically think when we write our stories, where, of course, we have to explain all the jargon, no doubt.

But people are now grappling with sophisticated policy questions, sophisticated technology questions that even as there is, of course, political divide across the spectrum on climate, I’ve ended up in spaces where people who are climate curious, which is what this book is for, anybody who’s sort of climate curious, if those people read the book, they come up with really interesting questions that they want to ask. And at book events, it’s also a place where often people haven’t read the book. They’re sort of getting introduced to the idea. But even an introduction of five or 10 or 15 minutes on the stage is enough to get them going with really smart questions. That does give me a lot of hope.


Bill Loveless: Akshat, what do you make of reporting on this topic around the world?


Akshat Rathi: It’s such a privilege, I think, especially now that we are talking in a period where journalism is struggling, where the finance model and the business model that enabled a lot of good journalism to happen in the 90s, even early 2000s, is starting to break down lots of forces, political, but also economic ones with big tech companies really eating up all the advertising dollars. The space to do good work is not always easy to get, so I’m hugely privileged to be able to do that. And, of course, the other privilege is being able to do that all over the world.

I think this is a global problem. As much as the conversation around de-globalization around fragmentation around wars is top of mind, it’s easy to forget that despite those strains, we still are a global community, and people still see this as a global challenge that they want to solve. So many other people who have the solutions don’t just see it as like, “I’m going to solve this in the small place that I come from and sit with it.” They want to take that solution and give it to somebody else, sell it to somebody else, go to other parts of the world, and deploy it.

And so you both have the challenge of a global problem but also the opportunity to deploy the solutions all around the world. So it’s been a ton of fun reporting on climate solutions, and of course, not just the solutions that work but also the solutions that don’t work. So my beat is sort of solutions and false solutions, and it’s going to be a lot more fun even as climate impacts get worse and sort of that gives the urgency to the people who are working on these problems to work even harder.


Bill Loveless: Before we go, I like to ask you, without asking you to scoop yourself, what you’ll be studying going forward or what you are studying going forward.


Akshat Rathi: So the book takes you in the journey that shows you solutions that are working at scale. And now, some of these solutions are things that you’re familiar with but in unfamiliar places, so solar, wind batteries, electric cars, but also systemic levers like laws, finance, policy. What it doesn’t do is it does not tell you about the solutions that are not working at scale, and there are so many of those. Hydrogen lab-grown meat, long-duration energy storage, cement steel, those are solutions that I’m personally very interested in following and seeing where they go, but also so many systemic levers that are not working, right.

How do you get trillions of dollars being invested in developing countries? How do you get developing countries that have the potential of deploying clean energy solutions have so much resource availability but do not have the technology to be able to deploy it? Those are hard questions, but there are solutions starting to play out, so I’m hoping over the next five years or so, that I get another chance to do another book that looks at all the missing solutions that are now working at scale.


Bill Loveless: Well, we look forward to that. The book is Climate Capitalism: Winning the Global Race to Zero Emissions. Akshat Rathi, thanks again for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange, and my recommendation to folks is read this book.


Akshat Rathi: Thanks, Bill.


Bill Loveless: That’s it for this week’s episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. Thank you again, Akshat Rathi, and thank you for listening. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and me, Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Erin Hardick from Latitude Studios.

Additional support from Lilly Lee, Caroline Pitman, and Kyu Lee. Roy Campanella is the sound engineer. For more information about the show or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at or follow us on social media @ColumbiaUEnergy. And you can rate the show on Apple or Spotify. You can also let us know what you think by leaving a review. And if you really like this episode, share it with a friend or a colleague. It helps us reach more listeners like yourself. We’ll be back next week with another conversation.

For more than a century, extractive industry and capitalism have dominated the developed world’s economies. Some of the biggest companies in the world produce and sell oil and gas, and those commodities have made countries and people very wealthy. But they’re also a major source of pollution and contributor to the climate crisis. In response, many of these companies have started investing in renewable energy, others have completely shifted their focus to clean solutions. 

Akshat Rathi’s new book Climate Capitalism delves into this shift and argues that saving the earth is economically more advantageous than destroying it. 

So, what is climate capitalism? How can this new approach facilitate climate innovation and economic growth? And what will it take to move away from traditional capitalism? 

This week host Bill Loveless talks with Akshat about his new book and how reforming the current economic system can address climate change and be profitable.

Akshat is a senior climate reporter for Bloomberg News. Prior to Bloomberg, he was a senior reporter at Quartz and a science editor at The Conversation. His new book, Climate Capitalism: Winning the Race to Zero Emissions and Solving the Crisis of our Age has been named one of the best books of the year by the The London Times and The Economic Times.


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