Climb By VSC: Episode 33

Published June 14th, 2023

Rachel Beals is a seasoned writer and editor with over two decades of expertise. She is currently the Assistant Managing Editor and Lead Climate Writer at MarketWatch. Over a 25-year career, Rachel has covered traditional commodities markets, alternative energy and the major global conferences on emissions and biodiversity. She's also written on a range of investing and personal finance topics. Rachel originated two columns at MarketWatch aimed at helping investors, retirees and homeowners plan for global warming and a more sustainable future: Living With Climate Change and The Upcycler. As she continues to analyze and articulate the pressing climate issues of our time, Rachel's insights have become an indispensable resource for her readers at MarketWatch and beyond.

Climate Tech Solutions Need To Fold In Way More People Outside Of Tech

Rick Liebling: It's my pleasure to welcome Rachel to Climb by VSC. In over a 25-year career, Rachel has covered traditional commodities markets, alternative energy, and the major global conferences on emissions and biodiversity. She has also written on a range of investing and personal finance topics. Rachel originated two columns at MarketWatch aimed at helping investors, retirees, and homeowners plan for global warming and a more sustainable future, living with climate change and the upcycled. As she continues to analyze and articulate the pressing climate issues of our time, Rachel's insights have become an indispensable resource for her readers at MarketWatch and beyond. Rachel, how are you?

Rachel Beals: Great, Rick, thanks for having me.

RL: Yeah, it's our pleasure. Let's kick it off by telling us a little bit about your career. How did you get into climate reporting?

RB: Yeah, well, as you mentioned, I have covered business markets, anything from pork belly futures to lumber futures, up to, to, you know, the advent of ETFs exchange, exchange-traded funds. So I really believe in the business of climate change. And by that, I mean it's real it's here, it's coming. It's all science-based, but the solutions will have to have a business background. We need private money. We need public money. We need consumers to care. We need CEOs to care. So it's been kind of a natural evolution and I consider it, you know, the issue of the lifetime of my career and the fact that I can kind of meld decades covering other markets and business and really hone in on this very, very important topic. It is perfect for me, I love it.

RL: And I think you know, as we're recording this, anybody who's living in New York right now clearly sees what's going on and hopefully, you know, that's obviously where the center of a lot of the financial world is based. And so you would think if anytime for there to be action to be spurred this might be it.

RB: Yeah, I agree. And part of me says, Oh, it's a shame that the that it has to get to, you know, something that's drastic to maybe kind of prompt people into action, but, but let's face it, if we don't have orange, hazy skies, and, you know, being sort of coughing unfortunately and winded just you know, walking to the corner store, maybe not everybody takes notice it needs to really infiltrate a lot of lives sometimes to move the needle and you're right that the fire situation obviously you're talking about the Canadian wildfires and how the smoke from that has migrated down into the eastern United States. That in itself is strange. It's strange that it's early in the wildfire season. There are a lot of anomalies. There are a lot of unique things happening here. So I think the message to people is because of climate change, odd things are out of season, longer seasons, different parts of the country, different parts of North America are going to happen more frequently. So sure, we can maybe write it off as, you know, a freak thing and anomaly but it's like no, no, no. Those freaky things are what we have to start to take notice of why it is happening, you know, etc. So yeah.

RL: Well, that leads really well into my next question, as we see these things like the forest fires from Canada becoming more and more frequent. Have you seen the narrative around climate change evolve in the media over the years as well?

RB: Yeah, I have. And in the media often is criticized by sometimes, you know, delegating, relegating climate change to you know, deepened stories or deepened broadcasts when maybe it should be the lead but at least it's there. That's a relatively young, relatively new advent of just even linking things to climate change. So for instance, why are wildfires new? No, is Canada heavily forested in parts of the provinces? So one would expect wildfires? Yes. The difference is, it's very early in the season. The difference is it's a phenomenon from the West to the East. So you have to start to make connections and coverage that this is climate change-related drought longer. hotter summers. You know, lack of policy sometimes on these things can mean that fighting firefighters or fires is harder. So I have seen an increase in coverage. Just that there's mentioned linking What are natural disasters and naturally occurring but that the severity of them is different or that the regions included in a natural disaster are different. Those are the bits of mainstream news coverage that need to go there when it comes to climate change and it is.

RL: So, as a reporter yourself, What strategies do you employ to ensure your reporting is both accessible and accurate? Because we are talking about things that you said, these are new areas for reporting. A lot of the issues are complex, and it's the ripple effect of you know, what's happening way over there in the West Coast is hitting us here on the East Coast and how was that happening? How do you approach this in your journalism?

RB: Yeah, that's a great question, Rick. And one of the things that I really tried to do is it's kind of trite, but the saying stay in my lane, you know, kind of attitude and what I mean by that is I went for a business publication, right. So ultimately, I am talking about the dollars and cents or the investment opportunities around these things, but at its core, it still involves people right. So you need to talk to investors as if these decisions are going to impact you know, their life wholesale because they are, you need to talk to people. As if they've got sort of a base level of knowledge when it comes to these things. You don't want to talk down to them, but you need to explain things very clearly. I'm not a scientist. I'm the reporter and I'm the business reporter at that. So can I introduce my reading audience and viewing audience to the scientists and help the scientists talk in terms that the investing public is going to understand a lot of? It is just getting the right people in the room. It's obviously not a real room, but you know what I mean, it's, there's, there's experts on all these ends, let's get them talking to each other. We need the scientists, the scientists need the investors. It's my job to allow them to talk to each other. Explain, you know, Madam scientist, explain that a little more clearly. Right. Give, you know, give us good comparisons. We always talk about emissions and metric tons. How big is a metric tonne? I don't know. But when you start to explain that, you know, that level of pollution would be the same as, you know, 2000 cars on the road in a single day or something. You know, sort of equating it to bite size nuggets that the broader reading public can understand that that's my job. I take that very seriously.

RL: Yeah, no, that's fantastic. And you know, that sort of storytelling is what brings it home. I think for people who aren't experts in this, how do you ultimately find these experts or how do you determine, okay, this is the type of person I should be talking to, for a particular story or on the other side, this is the type of, you know, startup founder or VC that I should be talking to for a story.

RB: Yeah, I mean, luckily, once you once you get your name out there and start covering these issues that sort of, you know, notoriety begets more notoriety, right. And so when you do get a decent list of clips, people kind of come and find me and then I need to vet the best you know, everybody's got a voice and certainly everybody deserves a certain amount of coverage. But, you know, how, how, how detailed can they get with what I'm asking? I really do like to talk to people that can kind of take themselves a little bit wider than maybe just the product or just the service and talk about what it does mean to the end consumer or the investor or, you know, what are some global trends or national trends that can be impacted here so people could they can really put their their names, their expertise, their products in a broader context is super helpful for me, and those are the folks that I do like to talk to, I do like, digging through scientific papers and finding a little nugget that's very consumer focused. And then following up with the scientists, perhaps and sometimes you got to talk you know, down from their findings a little bit and put it in, in everyday language, but there's rich sources for that. And what I love lately is a lot of public relations communications firms are making their people available even for things like Blitz video. By that I mean, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes here, where you could at least get to three for questions, and maybe it's for a story right away, or maybe it's just a kernel of an idea for a future story. I think I just think, you know, public relations and marketing and journalists, our relationship has really evolved a lot in it. And it's really important around something as potentially as complex as climate change.

RL: Yeah, yeah. You know, it's easy, just again, speaking about journalism and the media. You know, you throw up that picture of the orange sky, and that's a pretty easy thing to do. I think what's a little bit more difficult is finding success stories on how climate change is being mitigated. Right. So do you have any stories about individuals or communities you've come across? In your work, who are successfully utilizing climate tech to mitigate the impacts of climate change that we're seeing almost on a daily basis now?

RB: Yeah, I have a ton too many probably in a lot of ways. But those the the examples that jumped in mind are, are are VCs or just other potential leaders who really understand that in order to make the adaptation and mitigation of climate change work, we have to get everybody who's in the economy into this and there's a lot of environmental injustice out there, meaning, you know, when our interstate system was expanding, and we just plowed through certain urban neighborhoods to build the roads, and now there's a lot of pollution from those cars and, you know, we just have to rethink this right the next the next chapter, these technological solutions have to fold way more people in for one thing they need to be at the at the table making the policy decisions, and then the technology needs to help these folks. So some of my favorite stories are the way that this new renewable energy, new electrification revolution is going to bring a heck of a lot more people into the tech workforce. And maybe that's something as simple as taking a little bit of extra certificate training and knowing how to put heat pumps into homes. Maybe it's putting solar panels on roofs, maybe it's inventing the next you know, fuel cell that's going to revolutionize, you know, battery storage. It's really revolutionizing our economy. And to me that has to include the people that sat out the layout not by their own volition. The last industrial revolution, right? This is our industrial revolution, and it has to pull in a lot more people. So I love the examples of, or I just interviewed someone recently. They're giving folks that do have a criminal record. They've got a little bit of a record; they might usually not be violent offenders. But people that nonetheless spent some time in jail. How do you get a job now that you're out, you did your time and it's a solar installation program that gives priority to people that have had those records. So it's great. It's an under-labor section of the Academy. We need people to put in solar and these folks need jobs and what a great marriage of ideas.

RL: Yeah, I love that you're thinking about these green technologies, but you're also looking at the human impact and how those two come together. The flip side of that can be claims of greenwashing. And you know, where does where's that now? Is that still a concern in the climate tech space? Is it a growing concern in the climate tech space?

RB: I think it always is a concern and it always should be the positive part of that for consumers and investors. Other stakeholders in some of this development are hyper aware now that greenwashing exists, right so if companies, if innovators , are going to try to get away with that good luck, I think that you know, the test standards are a lot higher nowadays. It also makes more responsible consumers and investors among us because when we say greenwashing and I know what you mean it's it's it's it's a buzzword. Sustainability is a buzzword in climate fighting. Climate change is a buzzword, can you slap a label on your product and get a little marketing juice out of it and it really doesn't mean anything. I think it's making for smarter consumers and investors because we care a little bit more about the source of those products now, right. So it's not just this greenwashing it's like, how was this May where did they ship this in from? You know, it's uh, you know, whatever. I'm from X estate. I'll pick on Wisconsin because I'm from Illinois. So Wisconsin still generates a heck of a lot of its electricity by coal. Illinois, by comparison, generates most of its electricity by natural gas. Yes, a fossil fuel but also nuclear. So an Eevee on the road in Wisconsin isn't as green technically as an Eevee on the road and Illinois? Well, we have got to know that. We got to find that out. It's not enough just to stop with I bought an Eevee. Okay, what's the source of the electricity for my Eevee so the silver lining of greenwashing, I think is just in a lot of ways is smarter consumers, smarter investors. But yeah, let's not relax and think that greenwashing is behind us. Let's, let's be as sort of, you know, careful, and, you know, let's, let's keep our expectations high.

RL: Yeah. So you touched on a couple of mistakes there. Let's pivot for a second. And let me ask you, how do you see the role of governments and private sectors evolving in supporting the growth and implementation of climate tech?

RB: Yeah, well, one needs the other for sure. And so the best example perhaps is the inflation Reduction Act. The IRA, President Biden's big, climate heavy, there are other spending things in it, but we all sort of shorthand it to the climate bill and a lot of ways right incentives in that for people to take the plunge and buy an Eevee incentives to add solar incentives to for businesses to add more Evie charging outside their place of business. A lot of those are tax rebates that can be piggybacked on state programs. That's an example of the private sector. You know, there's a REIT GM just announced today they're going to expand a battery plant in Texas, these private companies wouldn't necessarily be making all this expansion without knowing that there is some government help right and, and the nice thing about the IRA is a lot of that filters right to consumers. So I sort of like that it's potentially changing buying behavior, right. On the other side, the government has to have private sector take these things and Ron Biden can approve as many charging stations as he wants, but if you don't have you know the Starbucks of the world, adding charging outside their stores, if you don't have the Googles of the world, being one of the largest consumers of renewable energy on the planet, it's not going to work. So thus the great position I'm in covering the business of climate change, right? We're talking about a lot of money changing hands here and, and it's just the way it's got to be. It's great. It's changing the world.

RL: Well, you know, speaking of money changing hands, that means that people are building things. So what are some of the most promising Climate Technologies you've reported on recently? And why did he stand out to you?

RB: Yeah, I put a lot into it. I tried to put a little thought into this, because I wanted to think of things both big and small, because it all really matters. Right? You know, so when I think big, I think about carbon capture and storage. I don't know if your listeners are totally familiar with that. But it's a little controversial and I'll tell you why. Carbon Capture and Storage, and there's a couple of ways you can look at it. There's some inventions out there that grab carbon emissions, the pollution that's warming our atmosphere, from the atmosphere, so essentially cooling it down because there's less of it and more of our heat can rise and escape. Then there's also carbon capture at the point of combustion. So where we grab natural gas out of the process when we're burning oil. A lot of money is going into this and guess who's putting money into it? The fossil fuel companies, right, because the better you get at capturing carbon, the more likely you are to still be able to burn natural gas and burn oil. So environmental groups might say, no, no, we're coming at this from the wrong angle. We need to curb demand for these goods, not just allow ourselves to burn more and then clean it up at the end. My belief is you have to throw technology at these problems from both ends, right? Yes, we need to curb demand. I find carbon captures the idea of it. One of the most fascinating technologies out there for one thing, the captured carbon can be reused as a fuel so the waste itself can become a new fuel source. That's fascinating to me. Plus, we've got all these pipelines all this established, you know, infrastructure that the fossil fuel companies have run on, let's use some of that infrastructure, but be cleaner, better smart about it. So carbon capture is one of my favorite technologies. And then one of the smallest technologies is one of my favorites. And it's based on a 5000 year old concept. It's the chai, tea cups from India, or what used to be near India itself is not 5000 years old, but it's these disposable cups bowls to have ice cream and to have chai tea in and you just Kirsch have been returned to the earth. I love it. And Mother Nature can teach us so much about how to be better stewards of the environment. And you know, there's big customers for that obviously. Look, look at all the coffee we do walk around and drink in this country. So I love it. It's borrowing from it's not even new technology. It's rethinking old technology. It was one of my favorite examples. We need to think small and think big when it comes to green technology.

RL: Yeah, and kind of a wine with that. As you said there's stuff on both ends. What are some areas related to climate change that you feel are not getting enough attention in mainstream radio in mainstream media right now?

RB: Yeah, for sure. I think flooding is one of the biggest areas. And I mentioned that because flooding can happen a couple of different ways right when those major hurricanes like Ian hit Florida, recent last year and you know, recent memory. Increasingly hurricanes are bringing more and more water inland . The ocean is warmer, warm water gets sucked up into the storm's head, the storms last for longer, swirling swirling swirling by the time they dump all that precipitation, they're huge. So it's zones in this country that weren't necessarily in the line. If a hurricane is in line for its flooding, we have to talk about how groundwater is rising. I just think this country kind of gets a little lazy sometimes when we think about natural disasters and storms. Oh, I'm not on a coast I'm fine or I'm in the north, not the south all that's gonna change and it already is. So I do think our coverage just need we don't have to be terribly alarmist but we need to be a little bit sobering because when we think about it, our homes are our largest investment for most of us, right? A lot of people that are the sort of younger baby boomers are still retiring. I'm Gen X. My age group is going to start to retire in about 10 years. 15 years. Where are we going to retire? We just have to be a lot smarter about flooding being in the line of these more colorful hurricanes, potentially heat, drought. I think we all should have beautiful retirements with a lot of activities. I want to be able to walk and take bike rides. Let's be smart about where we choose to retire with climate change in mind.

RL: You know, I live down in North Carolina, in the triangle area around Raleigh, but we have friends who live by the coast. And it's definitely something I think about when we go to visit them like is this going to be above water in 10 years? So I hear what you're saying there. Let me wrap it up with this. Let's end on kind of a high note here. Okay. So given the type of reporting that you do, what keeps you optimistic about the future?

RB: Yeah, and I'm gonna answer that question. But let me give you the tiniest bit of preface to it because it is a challenge, and what I do, it's sort of the doomsday beat in a lot of ways, right? And people can get really overloaded when it comes to a lot of negative information. And we've done sort of formal and informal surveys of our readership and they women especially and younger people, generally they want action actionable ideas, they want reporting on climate change that not only warns them of the issue, but kind of instantly gives them ways they can fix it, whether that's something personally they can fix or, or is it something you know, as far as society is concerned, or the way they vote? So it has to be a constant reminder on my daily coverage. It's okay to be sobering. That's what this is. This is real stuff, but what can people do about it? So I think that's my segue then into what is my word is my optimism lie. It lies that people actually are saying to us as editors as writers, give me something to do about this. Don't just tell me what the problem is. Where's the source of the problem? Is it throwing more money at it? Is it active or does it vote a certain way? Is it investing in the technology or is it getting the VCs at the table? So that's actually encouraging to me. It's a reminder to me to write to those people, the doers right to them, not the naysayers right there. And that younger people have to admit it and it's a relief. I think we should only be happy that the generations coming behind us and it's not too late for me either. But my kids and their kids get that they want to be active in this space. And so let's let them know I think we need to vote a little younger, perhaps in general.

RL: Gotcha. Well, Taylor, how can people find you if they want to read more of all of this great reporting that you do?

RB: Yeah thanks. So I'm on Twitter. I'm on Instagram, @Rachel Beals and on Twitter. Our website was a sister publication to Barron's in the Wall Street Journal. But uh, we're, we're fighting, we take money seriously too, but we're the voice here, and what we do is we were talking to the REIT, the retail investor. So we want to democratize markets for a lot of people and so I think you'll find a lot of good ideas, not only on climate change, green investing in renewable energy, the energy transition, but just how to really do more with your money. We've earned it, we deserve it. We got to make our money grow. So

RL: Fantastic. Rachel, thank you so much for your time today. It was a really great conversation. I enjoyed it very much. terrific insights from you. Really appreciate it.

RB: I love talking about this, Rick. So thanks so much for the chance.

Thank you so much for reading our latest update from VSC Ventures Fund I. We're in the early days of our long and healthy partnership with all of you, so please reach out to us with additional questions on anything above. Thank you again for your support for our vision and our fund!

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