The Firms That Help Keep Oil Flowing

Secretive investment funds are putting billions into fossil fuel projects, buying up offshore platforms and building new pipelines.,

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We’re also covering the prospects for President Biden’s climate agenda, a huge wildfire in California, how the government plans to cope with future climate disruptions, and more.


ImageAccording to new research, private equity firms have invested at least $1.1 trillion into the energy sector since 2010.
According to new research, private equity firms have invested at least $1.1 trillion into the energy sector since 2010.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

By Hiroko Tabuchi

The energy industry is under increasing pressure from environmental groups, the courts and even its own shareholders to start shifting away from fossil fuels. As it sheds some of its dirtiest assets, they’re ending up in the hands of private equity firms.

New research shows the scale of those investments. Since 2010, the private equity industry has invested at least $1.1 trillion into the energy sector — double the combined market value of three of the world’s largest energy companies, Exxon, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.

Only about 12 percent of investment in the energy sector by private equity firms went into renewable power, like solar or wind, since 2010, though those investments have grown at a faster rate. You can read the details in my story today.

Why it matters: One effect of sales to private equity investors is to transfer those assets, and their emissions and other environmental hazards, away from the public eye.


In the past two years, California has been hit by more large-scale fires than at any time on record. Our interactive feature takes a look at the military-style operation to fight one of them: the nearly one-million-acre Dixie fire.


The extreme weather and rising seas caused by the climate crisis are forcing Americans to confront a heartbreaking question: How do at-risk communities decide which homes to protect and which to abandon? Listen as Christopher Flavelle of the NYT climate team talks with The Daily host Michael Barbaro.


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A coal-fired power plant in Inden, Germany. Global greenhouse gas emissions have been rising sharply for decades, but a turning point appears to be in sight. Credit…Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

By Brad Plumer

President Biden has said that this will be the year the United States takes major action on climate change. But whether that actually happens may depend on the fate of two major spending bills now pending in Congress.

As I wrote this week with my colleague Winston Choi-Schagrin, embedded within these bills are measures that could amount to the most significant climate action ever taken by the United States. There are provisions that would convert much of the nation’s power grid to clean energy, create huge incentives for electric vehicles and provide the largest ever infusion of money to prepare communities for extreme weather.

But the clocking is ticking. If Congress fails to pass any sort of legislation this year, it could be years before another opportunity for climate action arises — a delay that climate scientists say the planet cannot afford.

By the numbers: One recent analysis found that the biggest climate provisions in the legislation would get the United States about halfway toward Mr. Biden’s goal of slashing emissions 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.


World leaders will gather in Scotland in November for COP26, the next round of international climate negotiations, and you can be there, too. Join us at The New York Times Climate Hub, in person or online, to explore one of the most urgent questions of our time: How do we adapt and thrive on a changing planet? Tickets at nytclimatehub.com.


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Flames from the Windy fire rising above the Sequoia National Forest near Johnsondale, Calif., last month.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Christopher Flavelle

Less food. More traffic accidents. Extreme weather hitting nuclear waste sites. Migrants rushing toward the United States, fleeing even worse calamity in their own countries.

Under orders from President Biden, officials at every government agency have spent months considering the top climate challenges their agencies face, and how to cope with them. I wrote about the results of that work — climate-adaptation plans from 23 agencies, including the departments of Energy, Defense, Agriculture and Homeland Security, and what they say.

Quotable: “Nearly every service that the government provides will be impacted by climate change sooner or later,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University who focuses on climate adaptation.

What’s next: The phrase “now comes the hard part” is a cliche in Washington, but, in this case, it fits. Can the Biden administration, with a federal work force of climate experts that is much depleted after four years of cuts, translate these plans into actual steps that will better protect against the accelerating effects of climate change?



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By Winston Choi-Schagrin

If you have the latest version of Google Maps on your phone, you may notice something new: A little green leaf denoting the most fuel-efficient route for your trip.

We on the climate team wondered: How effective could this change really be?

Given the reach of Google Maps, with more than a billion people using the app every month, the company estimates that the new feature could save more than a million tons of carbon emissions per year if everyone takes their suggested “green” route every time. That would be the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the roads.

Transportation accounts for nearly a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Cars and trucks make up more than 80 percent of those emissions.

I spoke with Jeffrey Gonder, a group manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which provided tools and support to Google Maps for this initiative. A previous study by the energy lab found that Google Maps already directed people to the most fuel-efficient route two-thirds of the time. But that meant, one-third of the time, there was a more efficient route. For those trips, the fuel-efficient route would have used 10 percent less energy than the recommended route.

“It’s not the end-all solution for combating global warming,” Mr. Gonder said. “But this can be a piece of the pie because it’s a relatively easy thing to do.”

So how exactly is Google making these calculations? Google Maps already has a large store of information around road characteristics, everything from road incline to speeds based on current traffic, all of which can factor into fuel consumption. For its calculations, the Google team drew on the energy lab’s RouteE model, which can estimate fuel use based on second-by-second speed trajectories over those various characteristics.

It’s part of a wider sustainability push at the company. Google Flights, for example, will include carbon emissions data for flights, and shopping searches will offer suggestions for energy-efficient home appliances.

Other companies are also thinking about maximizing route efficiency. UPS, for instance, has said that route-optimization policies for its delivery trucks — like avoiding left-hand turns, which can increase time idling as drivers wait for oncoming traffic — saves the company 10 million gallons of fuel and up to 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.


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