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Climate Woes Demand Both War and Civil Action

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 21, 2016 10:23:22 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

For at least a decade, I’ve been a huge fan of Bill McKibben, thought leader for the climatesustainability girl
movement. But his most recent article in The New Republic, “A World at War,” falls short.  Subtitled “We’re under attack from climate change — and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII,” his piece uses war as more than an analogy: “It’s not that global warming is like a war. It is a war.”

After reviewing the horrors of global warming, McKibben reports how the U.S. and other nations could deploy renewable energy rapidly enough to reduce fossil fuel emissions 80% by 2030. Using a wholesale industrial retooling akin to WWII to manufacture solar, wind and geothermal equipment, the reconstruction would be ordered and partly paid for by the feds, using existing contracts as leverage to force businesses to comply.

But what McKibben also points out is that after the war had ended, “solidarity gave way to the biggest boom in personal consumption the world had ever seen.” After WWII, materialism was our reward for war’s deprivations.

This time, a boom after “defeating” the climate could lead to even bigger disasters.

McKibben’s right that we need an all out effort to address climate change, but it’s only one solution to the mess we’ve created from our out-of-control consumerism. There’s also the Texas-sized island of plastic swirling in the Pacific Ocean, the jaw-dropping species extinctions, the lethal pollution and toxic chemicals and threatened water supplies. If we simply convert to clean energy without addressing the underlying causes of over-consumption and disregard for the earth, we’ll continue to face the same level of global emergency as climate presents now.

To be clear, the climate is not attacking us and it’s not our enemy. That’s the same twisted philosophy that got us here in the first place, where nature is other rather than part of a single system of which we are a part.

Rebecca Solnit, environmental activist, historian and the author of fifteen books, explains climate justice in this week’s Guardian. Her article on the Dakota Pipeline protests asks, “Is this a new civil rights movement where environmental and human rights meet?” Rather than wage war against climate change, she writes about joining forces with the Native American civil rights movement, as is being done successfully in South Dakota and for years up and down the Pacific Northwest coast.

Like McKibben’s war argument, climate justice is not a new concept. I wrote about it in 2010 for CSRHub.com in a story about the Native Alaskan Village of Kivalina suing big oil for melting their permafrost. I also wrote about the Occupy movement’s Climate Justice day in the Huffington Post: “Environmentalists are defining how environmental destruction and economic inequality are closely connected.”

The concept goes all the way back to Chief Seattle, who is quoted as having said, ““Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Civil rights are being extended bit by bit to include all of humankind, and those movements will continue. Now we have to expand that same justice and compassion to all life on earth, finding ways to protect the earth and each other while diminishing our need for stuff.

We may need a war-like effort to switch to renewables, but comparing the climate crisis to waging war doesn’t move us forward. We need to heal our environment and, within our environment, ourselves. It’s a change in values that will be a much tougher “war” to win than the one McKibben proposes.

Photo courtesy of  Fibonacci Blue via Flickr CC.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and rankings information on 16,495+ companies from 135 industries in 133 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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Obama Gets Personal on Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 13, 2015 10:06:32 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Koch problem

The climate change movement took a powerful leap in 2012, when Bill McKibben identified a single enemy for climate activists to battle: the fossil fuel industry. He painted that industry as what branding experts would call “black hats,” referring to old Westerns where the bad guys were so identified, in direct contrast to the white-hat’d good guys, which would be McKibben and his followers.

This black hat/white hat dichotomy works best if you can reduce it to individuals as symbols. McKibben is obviously the white hat for the environment. In 2013, his status was confirmed with a Gandhi Peace Award.

And the black hat’d individual(s)? Charles and David Koch, of course. These two and their company, Koch Industries, are well known bad guys, whose prosecuted crimes include a wrongful death judgment, six felony and numerous misdemeanor convictions, and trading with Iran, and whose crimes against the environment led to record civil and criminal EPA-imposed financial penalties.

From about 1997 on, the Kochs took up the black hat mantle as outspoken funders of the climate denier machine.

The Kochs, once firmly libertarian, decided they couldn’t affect policy in a minority party and so moved to control Republican office-holders, who routinely cite the Kochs’ economy and jobs-vs-climate mantra. The Koch brothers intend to spend $900 million influencing the 2016 elections.

The Kochs are bad actors, no doubt. But they’re so rich and so powerful, how can McKibben ever be effective? It would almost take the leader of the free world to do battle with these determined climate killers.

And here he comes, white hat in hand and Kochs in his sights. Why does President Obama finally feel it’s OK to pile on? After all, he depends on the Kochs for support on issues such as rewriting Federal sentencing laws.  So on the environment, he was, as it turns out, relatively gentle with the Kochs — or at least critical only in generalities — back in August when he now famously called their efforts to push back renewable energy standards “…not the American way.”

In this issue’s Rolling Stone, Obama wallops the Kochs on specifics. Responding to a question from author Jeff Goodell about why he called the Kochs anti-American, Obama says:

“… (the Koch brothers) are actually trying to influence state utilities to make it more expensive for homeowners to install solar panels. …And by the way, they're also happy to take continued massive subsidies that Congress has refused to eliminate, despite me calling for the elimination of those subsidies every single year.”

It’s stunning to see a President whose environmental leanings have been shy of 100 percent commitment take a stance that’s not only pro-climate action, but points fingers at rich and politically powerful individuals.

Obama’s stance is here to stay. As the article makes clear, Obama’s pro-climate position has become hardened by two very personal factors.

First, his sadness over the natural world’s destruction. Raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, he enjoyed playing in magnificent coral reefs, as he describes them, “that were lush and full of fish” then, “that now, if you go back, are not.” These marvels along with the disappearing Alaskan glaciers he witnessed this month are photogenic examples that are hard to forget.

Second, as his daughters grow up, Obama has started to imagine grandchildren and the world they will live in. As he told Goodell,

“I think about Malia and Sasha a lot. I think about their children a lot. …When we were out on the water yesterday, going around those fjords, and the sea otter was swimming on its back and feeding off its belly, and a porpoise jumps out of the water, and a whale sprays — I thought to myself, I want to make sure my grandchildren see this.”

Even though this cerebral President has talked about climate action since his first election campaign in 2007, he, like all of us, responds most fervently when it hits him personally.

Obama ends the interview with a rousing statement that confirms he’s climate change’s white-hat-in-chief:

"What I don't want is for people to get paralyzed thinking that somehow this is out of our control. And I'm a big believer that the human imagination can solve problems. We don't usually solve them as fast as we need to. It's sort of like two cheers for democracy. We try everything else, I think Churchill said, and when we've exhausted every other alternative, we finally do the right thing."


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 132 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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Radical Prescriptions for Climate Change from Conservative Leaders

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 8, 2015 10:58:12 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

In the recently released “Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change,” Muslim scholars from twenty countries joined Pope Francis in calling for action on climate change, in effect adding 1.6 billion Muslims to the 1.2 billion Catholics now called on to support the climate

Come Hell or High Waterchange movement. Acknowledging there will be climate deniers within that group — Presidential candidate Rick Santorum tried to make the argument just this week on Bill Maher’s Real Time — that’s more than a third of the world’s population. A statement from Hindu leaders is expected soon; Buddhist are planning to update their 2009 climate statement; and a week ago, 409 Rabbis signed a Rabbinic letter on the Climate Crisis.

Another tipping point is reached, and so I believe that just like other climate issues that hit their breaking point — the hole in the ozone, acid rain in the U.S., air pollution in Los Angeles — global warming can be mitigated, if not reversed.

But there is a growing recognition that global warming or climate change is only one symptom of a much bigger mess. With the Catholic and Islamic declarations, what was once a radical demand for solutions to environmental woes has become a mainstream, clarion call for a reinvention of society. Pope Francis in his August Encyclical on “Care for Our Common Home” names this “the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity” caused by an inaccurate world view: “When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative.”

The Islamic Declaration agrees: “We have now become a force dominating nature…and the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger of ending life as we know it on our planet.”

Both documents acknowledge that the natural resources of our “common home” are limited and that infinite growth is simply not possible. And both speak of the need for humility.

Bill McKibben, putative leader of the climate movement, eloquently summarizes the Pope’s diagnosis in The New York Review of Books:

The ecological problems we face are not, in their origin, technological,’ says Francis. Instead, ‘a certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.’ He is no Luddite (‘who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper?’) but he insists that we have succumbed to a ‘technocratic paradigm,’ which leads us to believe that ‘every increase in power means an increase of “progress” itself…as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.’ This paradigm ‘exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object.’

What both edicts demand is a revolution as dramatic as Copernicus placing the sun instead of the earth at the center of the solar system. Just as that relatively narrow change to mathematical models exploded the era’s established ideology, questioning church dominance and a ruling class designated by Divine Right, so climate change must remove humans as the dominating force over the natural world and causes us to question the social value of those who own and manage our primary institutions, business and government.

As for the role humility must play in addressing climate change, the success of necessary government reinvention demands it. The founding of America was based on humility as “the indispensable virtue for greatness” David J. Bobb wrote in Fast Company. Likewise with business, and leadership guru Jim Collins agrees. His Harvard Business Review article “Level 5 leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve” identifies humility as key to creating a sustainable business success: nowhere will the ability to admit failure and change course be more important than in dealing with climate change.

Evidence that our arrogant control-and-confront leadership has failed is ubiquitous, from extreme heat and severe water shortages here in the U.S. to the virtual death of the ecological infrastructure in China, where political corruption has created a Communist-Capitalist apocalypse in which natural resources are depleted or despoiled and virtually all species including humans are sickened or killed.

The world’s great religions insist that our secular leaders must either adapt to the new reality or be replaced. In the Pope’s words, "What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?"

Photo courtesy of Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr CC


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 130 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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Are Elections Bad for the Climate?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 23, 2015 9:41:45 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

In an open letter in Grist, Bill McKibben, putative leader of the climate change movement, challenged Hillary Clinton to Seattle Beauty“use her political capital to overturn America’s energy paradigm — not slowly, around the margins, but quickly and at the core” as FDR did with World War II weapons and JFK did with space exploration.

It’s thrilling to contemplate. And she could do it. But McKibben goes on to say that climate change is not her issue. Evidence suggests that she will capitulate to oil and gas interests for the sake of her campaign war chest.

After all, even the greenest administrators in the greenest states with the most environmentally conscious constituencies are caving to the lure of fossil fuel campaign money.

You’d like to think that since we in the Pacific Northwest have staked out a green positioning which we exploit to our economic advantage, our politicians would be hyper-vigilant about steering away from fossil fuel contributions, if only for how it would look.

So you see how crazy it is that the Port of Seattle is enabling arctic drilling by berthing Shell’s Alaska drilling equipment. That decision was rushed through four months of secret meetings followed by a single public hearing, at which the commissioners voiced “discomfort,” then, with one exception, acquiesced. Port of Seattle CEO Fick signed the contract five days later.

The Port of Seattle was once the green leader. Its CEO until last year, Tay Yoshitani, an experienced port manager, was brought in to clean up corruption and take on environmental issues, to run the greenest port in the country. Companies like Walmart and Costco were publishing the carbon footprint of their products as competitive differentiation, and the Port could help.

The Port’s slogan became “Where a sustainable world is heading.”

The new CEO, Ted Fick, has different priorities. Fick’s career started at his family’s foundry business. He’s a tough businessman and an IronMan tri-athlete. He’s the first CEO ever appointed in Seattle who has no experience in either of the port’s businesses, shipping or airports, and none with public agencies.

Needless to say, he hasn’t made much mention of the port’s environmental initiatives.

But the rest of the Port’s commissioners have. The electorate is extremely sensitive to preserving the astounding beauty of Puget Sound, the body of water on which the Port’s facilities are located. Unlike the CEO, the commissioners are elected officials and had to be environmentalists if they wanted to win.

So why would they support Shell’s arctic aspirations?

Oh don’t be naïve: money of course. Seattle’s independent paper The Stranger investigated the five commissioners’ campaign contributors, and all were recipients of gifts from oil companies or the company handling Shell’s port in Seattle.

One can argue that all supporters of a port commissioner’s campaign would naturally be the port’s customers. But in hyper-green Seattle, all won their elections to some degree on their pro-environmental positions. Topping The Stranger’s list of hypocrites, Bill Bryant ran on the claim that “I am a committed conservationist.”

He’s also running for governor, so he needs the cash. And I guess he figures the electorate has short memories.

Another ecotopia travesty: Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee’s support for an oil refinery along the majestic Columbia River. The proposed facility would produce 40-45,000 barrels of oil/day from Bakken crude delivered by rail cars. The “green” pitch: the refinery would also refine biofuel, which will lower the plant’s overall carbon footprint.

Sounds a little back door doesn’t it? This is the same Jay Inslee who proudly wears the mantle of “Greenest Governor” and claims to be an ardent opponent of fossil fuels? It doesn’t add up.

But then again, it’s election season.

And Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hale, another green leader also up for re-election, spent a year quietly shepherding a plan for the Penimba propane export facility, also on the Columbia River, and thus enabled Penimba to spend $15 million on project development without protest. After virtually unanimous public opposition once it became public, Hale fervently reversed course. Of course, the dirty work is done and he’s just one vote on the port commission. As Pembina officials reacted, "Pembina has appreciated the leadership, guidance and past support of the mayor throughout the development of the project to date.”

If even those whose political fortunes depend on green policies can be swayed by a little cash, imagine how easy it will be to persuade Hillary Clinton. Still, we can dream.

Clarification from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office:  “Administration officials in Governor Inslee’s office and not Governor Inslee himself have been in conversations with Riverside Energy, though no formal proposal has been made.”

Photo courtesy of Ingrid Taylar via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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Shift Happens

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 7, 2014 9:54:06 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

When I heard in late December that Bill McKibben had written another article for Rollingsolar Stone, I was thrilled. His July 2012 piece for that publication — “Global Warming’s Terrifying Math” — started a firestorm. McKibben had determined that the public was losing interest in battling climate change because there was no clear enemy. With no titanic force to battle, consumers had no one to blame but themselves, and that notion was driving away supporters. Then McKibben’s article identified the fossil fuel companies as the once and future evil, and because of horrors such as the Exxon Valdez and BP’s Gulf Oil Spill, they were bad guys we already loved to hate.

McKibben gave us our powerful, venal villains. But a perfect story needs a hero too. McKibben’s article’s title, “Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story,” made it seem like that hero might be Obama.

But McKibbens’ article turned out to be an indictment, using Obama’s own words to brand him the President who has done more harm to the environment than even his predecessor, former oil man George W. Bush:

“Here's Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma, last year…It is to energy what Mitt Romney's secretly taped talk about the 47 percent was to inequality. Except that Obama was out in public, boasting for all the world to hear:

‘Over the last three years, I've directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We're opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We've quad­rupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We've added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some. . . . In fact, the problem . . . is that we're actually producing so much oil and gas . . . that we don't have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go.’”

With Obama so squarely reduced to a fossil fuel promoter, is there any good news anywhere about climate change as we enter 2014?

I had high hopes reading USA Today’s energy reporter Wendy Koch ‘s “Technology Can Halt Climate Change.” Koch starts by comparing global warming to the 1890s horse manure crisis. That crisis was solved when a “shift happened” — the automobile was adopted virtually overnight. Koch offers examples of possible solutions to climate change now in the works: high-altitude wind kites, "plug and play" nuclear reactors, giant synthetic trees to absorb carbon dioxide, sulfate aerosols to cool the planet, hydrogen fuel-cell car and mass market hybrids.

None of these potential solutions carries even the remotest possibility of quick, widespread adoption.

But amidst all the gloom, there is one old idea that just last week seemed to be everywhere again, Ms. Koch’s technology predictions aside: that much maligned force of nature, solar.

Everyone  prefers a transition strategy to one that disrupts our lives or limits our choices. The electric car that has a reasonable range has been one such strategy. Tesla, the first car to do that, runs on enormous batteries that have to be replaced every seven years at a cost of $20,000. Such a drawback for buyers seems to cry out for a solar solution, but it’s impossible to run a car on today’s solar panels. Toyota’s panels generate only enough to run a car’s ventilation system.

Tesla’s founder Elon Musk also founded SolarCity so naturally the companies collaborated on a solution. Rather than working on better solar panels for cars, SolarCity uses Tesla’s batteries first in refrigerator-sized units for commercial buildings, and eventually in smaller batteries for home solar applications, solving the problem of what happens when the sun isn’t shining.

Ironically, Ford has the hottest idea for a solar-powered car. As reported in MIT Technology Review, its self-driving C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid will recharge from solar panels atop a carport roof equipped with a special flat lens. The lens will concentrate enough solar energy to recharge the car in six hours and store it in batteries made by SunPower.

Mash it all together — driverless cars developed by Google (a version of which was recently built for $4,000 by one of Time Magazine’s Influential Teens), solar powered carports, battery technology developed for the electric car applied to buildings (could power plants be next?), distributed energy produced by better roof panels and batteries for local storage — and you start to get excited again. It’s not a single hero but a collaboration that comes closest to pushing the shift.

Finally, as reported on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times,  “Solar Power Craze on Wall St. Propels Start-Up,” referring to SolarCity.  So on top of the technology, the hot entrepreneurs, the brainiac kids and the eagerness to collaborate, the money is there too. Now that’s some shift happening!

Photo courtesy of DRAMOS19 via Flickr cc.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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