Kate Aronoff in The New Republic:
Five hours into the hearing in Marshall, Texas, moods were devolving fast. “I’ve got rural folks that are sick of seeing solar farms going up on every good piece of ranchland,” growled Texas state Senator Brian Birdwell, hunched over a long wooden dais. Like most of his colleagues, he was gray-haired, drab-suited, ill-humored. Filtering in through a row of tall windows at Birdwell’s back, the December light did little to brighten the atmosphere. “Maybe that’s why we’re gonna be eating insects instead, cause there’s nowhere for the cattle to graze.”
The Texas state Senate State Affairs Committee was considering neither alternative protein sources nor land use. Birdwell and his colleagues were gathered at the Old Harrison County Courthouse to determine whether the asset managers they’d summoned before them—gargantuan companies charged with profitably investing trillions of dollars on behalf of their clients, including the state of Texas—were complying with the demands of a bizarre new law. Passed in 2021, Senate Bill 13 requires Texas to cut off business ties to financial firms deemed to be boycotting energy companies for ideological reasons. The law was just one front in a proxy battle between the Republican Party and three letters newly in its crosshairs: ESG.
The acronym, which stands for “environmental, social, governance,” refers to criteria investors use to determine the impact potential investments may have on the world, as well as calculate how events in the world may affect investments. It can describe financial products crafted to perform well according to those criteria, or strategies corporations adopt to do so. While its meaning is nothing if not fuzzy, the term is often shorthand for climate- and socially conscious investment.