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Heinz Awards $250K to Build the Post-Fossil Fuel World

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 25, 2012 12:17:45 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last week, KC Golden, Policy Director at Seattle-based Climate Solutions, was awarded the $250,000 Heinz Award in Public Policy. Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times called Golden “a prizewinning global-warming fighter.”

With all that Golden has accomplished in the environmental sphere, you would definitely call him an over-achiever. When I met him in 2010, Golden struck me as brilliant but mellow and completely uninterested in self-promotion – a “fighter” whose weapons are passion and collaboration more than aggression. When I asked him about our region’s biggest environmental problem, transportation, he responded with a smile that if we could just unlink horsepower from sex… and didn’t mention his work with Boeing to reduce carbon in jet fuels.

A lanky outdoorsman with a relaxed stance and engaging laugh, Golden embodies the model of environmentalist as lover and builder, not antagonist. It’s a model based on working long-term toward consensus on difficult issues, and it’s the only way to reach his goal — to build a world that’s fundamentally different.

Is this realistic given the speed and severity of climate change? Don’t we need warriors in this fight?

Certainly, that’s what our culture demands. We love stories about heroes’ journeys, about struggle and victory, about good vanquishing evil. We yearn for heroes.

Especially when the real victims will be our own children.

Heroes need compelling villains, and 350.org leader Bill McKibben identifies them in his Rolling Stone manifesto, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe - and that make clear who the real enemy is.” Spoiler alert: McKibben’s enemy is the fossil fuel industry.

Golden agrees that the battle against oil coal companies must be hard fought and without delay. But his mission is to create a new energy paradigm that works better and lasts longer – a working, irresistible alternative to the rule of fossil fuel.

Golden’s background is a fascinating study in leadership for a post-fossil fuel world. Growing up on the beaches of Southern California, he was more interested in the fish he caught with his father and brothers than the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean. Instead, Golden credits his environmental awareness to his job as a river guide in the mountains of Northern California during his undergrad years at Berkeley.

His college concentration was “revolution” as he calls it— literally, he was a “Social Science Field Major.” His girlfriend, later his wife, studied education, and worked for reforms to give all kids a strong public school option . They moved to Maine and later Vermont, where Golden led wilderness trips and worked as a freelance writer and stonemason.

In the rural New England Golden discovered that his relationship to nature went deeper than love for the outdoors. It was there that he connected to the spiritual power and beauty of God’s creations.

Armed with a graduate degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government but still undecided between social justice and environmental issues, Golden returned to the West Coast, moving to Seattle. There he worked for the Northwest Energy Coalition, combining his passions, to reduce energy consumption working with both the powerful and the powerless.

Golden convened the Bonneville Power Administration and other government agencies together with low-income customers, utilities and environmentalists. The effort would eventually reduce energy consumption in the Northwest, eliminating the need for an additional five power plants while making energy cleaner and more affordable.

At Climate Solutions, Golden worked with then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels to launch a response to the US failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Understanding that the US boycott could undermine international resolve, Nickels and Golden started a movement to show US support at a local level. The two went to the 2005 UN climate summit in Montreal with a simple message:  “global” warming is a local issue in its causes, impacts, and solutions, and American communities could stand up for climate action, even when our federal government would not. The US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement – ratifying Kyoto at the local level -- was eventually signed by over 1,000 mayors.

Golden continues to focus on local action at Climate Solutions. Their New Energy Cities project developed a set of four interdependent objectives: Smart power grids, green intelligent buildings, plug-in electric vehicles and renewable power sources. Planning and leadership is all local. From a single test city three years ago, New Cities is now in thirty cities.

Golden’s story does not follow the typical hero model. His paradigm mirrors nature, where progress is incremental and interdependence is vital. Perhaps he presages a return to native stories, where nature in all her power and glory is at the center and where awe is given to magnificence in nature rather an individual.

What is encouraging is that the white shoe Heinz Foundation picked KC Golden to be a 2012 award winner, because Golden’s legacy is in not being a conventional hero at all. As he said to me in our first conversation, quoting Harry Truman, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care about getting credit.”

Carol 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 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.


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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in climate change, global warming, KC Golden, Uncategorized, Bill McKibben, Boeing, Carol Pierson Holding, Climate Solutions, Heinz award, New Energy Cities

Biofuels Slowly Take Flight with the Airline Industry

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 20, 2011 4:02:22 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

 Airlines won final approval from a U.S.-based technical-standards group to power their planes with a blend made from traditional kerosene and biofuels derived from inedible plants and organic waste.”

- Air Aviation News, July 2, 2011

3434945691_eec8580c6c_o I’ve heard a lot about biofuel for aviation tests, but they always sounded suspiciously like airline ‘greenwashing’ PR to me. Richard Branson’s $3 billion bet on an aviation biofuel company went bankrupt. Successful tests turned out to be only fractionally biofuel. Journalists joked about the smell of french fries filling the air. Is biofuel for aviation anything more than good promotion? I posed this question to Steve Verhes, Executive Director of Cascadia Carbon Institute, a Washington state biofuel expert and advocate. Steve’s answer: It’s complicated.

First, there is the food-to-fuel issue – a very real concern, especially with food price increases accelerating this year. But the aviation standards group in charge of the approval took care of that, mandating that aerospace biofuels be derived only from inedible plants.

Then there is the issue of converting even more land to agriculture—another bogey, especially in Steve’s hyper-environmental region, Washington state, where 700,000 acres of timberland were lost between 1978 and 2001.

The answer: Biofuel from inedible canola seed. Not only is canola not a food source, it requires no new land for cultivation in the Northwest. Canola is also an excellent rotation crop, re-invigorating soil that’s been depleted producing wheat or other crops, without requiring new land.

Best of all, canola can grow in areas too dry for most crops. Land that the Department of Agriculture is currently paying farmers not to farm in order to conserve soil. Without careful soil preservation techniques, giant dust storms can easily develop, wreaking havoc on local citizens and blowing away topsoil. Without topsoil, farmland becomes agriculturally unusable. Planting canola would not only hold down valuable topsoil, but it would produce a profit for struggling farmers.

The idea was so enticing that Imperium Renewables built the biggest biofuel processing plant in the world in Gray’s Harbor, Washington. The plant was capable of producing 100 million gallons of biodiesel – enough to power 2% of the state’s needs. There would have been no shortage of demand either, as the plant was located in the heart of the U.S. aviation industry and Boeing, already highly rated for environmental performance, had publicly committed to transitioning to biofuel.

But problems arose. Canola farming just didn’t catch on, so there wasn’t enough canola seed to keep the plant running. Imperium got its initial $214 million from investors before analysts started spotting holes in their projections: Actual production never came close to 100 million gallons due to the canola shortage. An IPO failed in January 2008; the company laid off staff, lost contracts and even shut down after an explosion in 2009; and Washington State has not yet mandated biodiesel production or subsidized its use, so Imperium has to ship its biodiesel to Oregon and British Columbia, which do have mandates.

All of which is depressing, but not devastating. Biofuel demand has picked up. Canola production is up this year and Imperium’s plants are running again. Ethanol could lose its subsidies, making canola more economically attractive.

Best of all is the news at the top: Just last week, the ASTM Emerging Fuels Taskforce, co-led by Boeing, a company with significantly higher environmental ratings than its industry, and the Federal Aviation Administration, approved biofuel for use in commercial jets.

But then my biofuel expert dropped the bombshell: A Boeing 747 uses one gallon per second when it’s cruising. One gallon per second. If Imperium had trouble filling its 100 million gallon plant capacity with canola seed, think of the staggering quantity of feedstock that would be required for aviation.

Oh well. Innovation takes time. The good news is that it looks like the players, from airlines to regulators to the formerly disappointed biofuel procesors - are sticking with biofuels for aviation.  In September KLM will launch more than 200 flights operated on biokerosene. Airlines in the Virgin Group are collaborating to see if they could develop biofuels at Los Angeles International airport. And even U.S. airlines are coming to the party: A major group, that includes American and United, is negotiating an agreement to buy biofuel derived from recycled waste for use at San Francisco Bay Area airports. And whether they’re motivated by promotion or profits or mandates and subsidies doesn’t matter, if it gets us to a cleaner future.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website.

Inset photo courtesy of puddy_uk (CC). 


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[fa icon="comment"] 5 Comments posted in airlines, aviation, corporate social responsibility, CSR, ESG, green, sustainability ratings, social investing, Uncategorized, socially responsible investing, sustainability, Steve Verhes, biofuels, Boeing, Carol Pierson Holding, corporate responsibility, CSR ratings, CSRHub, SRI

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