Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


Is This a New Era of ‘Climate Capitalism’?

Inside episode 11 of Shift Key.

The Wall Street bull.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Can capitalism solve climate change? Wrong question, argues the author and journalist Akshat Rathi: In fact, you can’t solve climate change without capitalism. Look around the world, as Rathi does in his new book Climate Capitalism, and he says you’ll find companies and leaders who are proving that cutting carbon emissions is not just possible, but also profitable.

The venture capitalist Sophie Purdom, the founder of Planeteer Capital, spends her days looking for those profitable climate companies. She says that a newer, smarter generation of climate startups is on the way.

In this week’s episode, recorded earlier this month live at Princeton University, Rob and Jesse host a special in-person conversation with Rathi and Purdom. They talk about the rise of Chinese EVs, what interest rates mean for the energy transition, and the proper role of policy in decarbonizing. Shift Key is hosted by Robinson Meyer, executive editor of Heatmap, and Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton professor of energy systems engineering.

Subscribe to “Shift Key” and find this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you get your podcasts.

You can also add the show’s RSS feed to your podcast app to follow us directly.

Here is an excerpt from our conversation:

Robinson Meyer: I guess a question I’d have, maybe, for both of you is, how much of this is a China story? How much of the amount of progress that we’ve been able to do is actually because of Chinese industrial policies — the sheer scale of the Chinese market and the different incentives that exist on the demand side there to bring down the cost of solar, or batteries, or any of these technologies that are now the main engines of decarbonization?

Sophie Purdom: I think so much about the supply side of the market, right? Those solutions and the innovation, which then kind of ideally ports over, if you succeed, into deployment, which has its own set of challenges and concerns and capital levers and policy integrations. I’d argue that the U. S. overall sits further on the supply versus demand side, relative to a global positioning, and that China’s been playing the demand side of the game much better.

Akshat Rathi: The beauty of wanting to do this book was, to me, watching these lessons. So if you look at the solar story: invented in America; really scaled up in Europe, when Germany and Spain were providing a ton of subsidies for solar manufacturers to put rooftop solar in the early 2000s; and then really scaled up in China when they made a ton more capital available and just flooded the market, so to speak.

Take the electric vehicle story, a very different one because the new energy vehicle policy that made China the biggest maker and consumer — and now exporter — of electric cars actually takes inspiration from California’s zero emissions policy. It’s a vehicle mandate, right? So you have this policy that kind of worked in one state, forced the rest of America to think about it, but China just applied it nationwide and ran with it. So you can apply lessons from one country to another and have policies — one of those beautiful things, which, it can translate if you can tweak it to work in that political economy where it needs to operate.

Jesse Jenkins: Let’s talk a little bit more about the particular form of climate capitalism with Chinese characteristics, how this sort of worked out. There’s a couple of case studies in the book of CATL and BYD and how they have come about. One of the things I want to underscore is, we’ve talked about how American-centric we often are. We sort of think, well, we got to drive all of this. But China increasingly is the world’s biggest market for all of these solutions, right? For EVs, for solar PV. They’re also, in many cases, the world’s largest manufacturer. And the scales are just staggering.

Now, I mean, we in the U.S. deployed just shy of 40 gigawatts of solar last year, something like 36 to 38 gigawatts. China deployed 280 gigawatts. More than half of the global market for solar was in China last year. So it’s not ... They started off selling to Spain and Germany, but now, their domestic market is enormous. You can tell a very similar story about EVs, where more than half of the market for EVs is in China — increasingly, more than half of the manufacturing, and now, rapidly, exports too. So what is the flavor of the capitalism story there?

Because many of these companies are state-owned enterprises, at least partially, there’s a strong hand of industrial policy guiding where investment occurs and making it cheaper, and giving free land, and all kinds of different things there. But of course, at the end of the day, there is a lot of ... it is in many ways capitalism. There’s a lot of financial motivation that has led these companies to scale and grow.

This episode of Shift Key is sponsored by…

KORE Power provides the commercial, industrial, and utility markets with functional solutions that advance the clean energy transition worldwide. KORE Power's technology and manufacturing capabilities provide direct access to next generation battery cells, energy storage systems that scale to grid+, EV power & infrastructure, and intuitive asset management to unlock energy strategies across a myriad of applications. Explore more at

Watershed's climate data engine helps companies measure and reduce their emissions, turning the data they already have into an audit-ready carbon footprint backed by the latest climate science. Get the sustainability data you need in weeks, not months. Learn more at

Music for Shift Key is by Adam Kromelow.

Robinson Meyer profile image

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.


A Swiss Army Knife for Clean Energy

These can really do it all — almost.

A dam.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Before and for the first year or so after the Inflation Reduction Act, clean energy in the United States was largely developed under the aegis of two tax credits: the Production Tax Credit, which primarily useful for wind power, and the Investment Tax Credit, which is primarily used for solar power. (The actual eligibility for each tax credit for each technology has changed various times over the years, but that’s the gist.)

Starting in 2025, however, and lasting (absent any change in the law) through at least 2032, that tax credit regime will be made “technology neutral.” Goodbye, existing credits with their limited applicability. Hello, new tax credits that apply to “any clean energy facility that achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a release issued Wednesday by the Treasury Department.

“For too long, the U.S. solar and wind markets have been hampered by uncertainty due to the on-again-off-again nature of key tax credits,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on a call with reporters. “Periods of indecision and the credits being repeatedly allowed to elect to lapse made it too difficult for companies to plan and invest in clean energy projects.”

Keep reading...Show less
Bitcoin becoming the sun.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Categorizing Crusoe Energy is not easy. The startup is a Bitcoin miner and data center operator. It’s a “high-performance” and “carbon-negative” cloud platform provider. It’s a darling of the clean tech world that’s raised nearly $750 million in funding. The company has historically powered its operations with natural gas, but its overall business model actually reduces emissions. Confused yet?

Here are the basics. The company was founded in 2018 to address the problem of natural gas flaring. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction, and if oil field operators have no economical use case for the gas or are unable to transfer it elsewhere, it’s often simply burned. If you, like me, have spent time sourcing stock images of air pollution, you’ve probably seen the pictures of giant flames coming out of tall smokestacks near oil pump jacks and other drilling infrastructure. That’s what flaring natural gas looks like, and it is indeed terrible for the environment. That’s largely because the process fails to fully combust methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Keep reading...Show less

AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

Wednesday sunrise.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.


1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

Keep reading...Show less