CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

Obama Energizes Debate With Focus on New Energy

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 17, 2012 10:49:38 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Watching the first Presidential debate on October 3, I kept waiting for Obama to bring up

climate change and clean tech

climate change. Yes, climate change is this election’s third rail. But it makes many of Obama’s strategies work. In fact, climate change may be at the center of his vision for a new economy. Old “cash cow” industries like oil are being “harvested;” low growth low return industries like coal are being allowed to be put out of business by low-priced natural gas, and new, fast-growing industries like wind and solar are “stars” where investment return will be highest.

Without climate change, Obama is open to charges of using taxpayer money to play with the sun and wind and counting on imaginary jobs to save the unemployed. A delusional demi-God claiming he’ll change the world.

Climate change can change the playing field for Obama, but he’s got to bring it up without saying those toxic words.

So why not instead couch climate change in bipartisan poll-sanctioned terms such as “clean tech” and “green jobs”?

And sure enough, at Tuesday night’s debate, Obama did just that.

While post-debate pundits focused on Romney’s through-line on jobs and Obama’s victories on women and immigration, my gut feeling told me that Obama had repositioned the debate most in the energy area.

Obama reset Romney’s positioning of oil and gas realism vs. alternative energy dreaming — as Romney framed it in the first debate, oil subsidies vs. Solyndra — to a new inclusive paradigm of “energy sources”:

“…we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy source of the future, not just thinking about next year, but ten years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy efficient cars.”

When asked about high gas prices, Obama brought up higher fuel efficiency standards, positioning them not a “traditional source of energy” but another “look to the future.”

Obama used clean energy as a competitive weapon against Romney as short–sighted, ceding energy innovation to other nations:

“So he’s got the oil and gas part, but he doesn’t have the clean energy part. And if we are only thinking about tomorrow or the next day and not thinking about 10 years from now, we’re not going to control our own economic future. Because China, Germany, they’re making these investments. And I’m not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States.”

The two candidates went at each other about whether Obama had increased fossil fuel drilling on Federal lands, a fight Romney won, but after Candy Crawley got the two back to their corners, Obama continued to steer the debate to new energy :

“What I’m not for is us ignoring the other half of the equation. So, for example, on wind energy, when Governor Romney says ‘these are imaginary jobs.’ When you’ve got thousands of people right now in Iowa, right now in Colorado, who are working, creating wind power with good-paying manufacturing jobs.”

Obama’s mission was complete when Romney, the candidate who said “I like coal” in the first debate, became himself an advocate for an more inclusive definition of energy resources:

“ROMNEY: Candy, I don’t have a policy of stopping wind jobs in Iowa and that — they’re not phantom jobs. They’re real jobs.

CROWLEY: OK.

ROMNEY: I appreciate wind jobs in Iowa and across our country. I appreciate the jobs in coal and oil and gas. I’m going to make sure –

CROWLEY: OK.

ROMNEY: — we’re taking advantage of our energy resources. We’ll bring back manufacturing to America. We’re going to get through a very aggressive energy policy, 3 1/2 million more jobs in this country. It’s critical to our future.”

Were these quotes indicative of a real shift? I checked the numbers.

In the first debate, the word “taxes” dominated, followed closely by “jobs.”

In the second debate, the most-used word was “jobs.” But the second? Energy.

Yes, oil and gas were mentioned five times as much as wind and solar. And Obama came nowhere near condemning the fossil fuel industries, as climate change activists would have liked. But he moved the discussion to clean energy jobs and the energy resources of the future. And that’s a good place to start.

Thanks to ABC News for the October 16 debate transcript and CNN for the October 3 debate transcript.

Photo courtesy of cwwycoff1 via Flickr.


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.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 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.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 2 Comments posted in climate change, energy, Uncategorized, wind, Obama, solar, Carol Pierson Holding, clean energy, clean energy jobs, clean tech, debate, green jobs

No Spark in Obama’s Energy Debate

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 9, 2012 10:47:54 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last week’s Presidential debate was supposed to showcase the differences betweenclimate change President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. But between Romney’s radical move to the center and Obama’s lackluster performance, the two seemed to agree more than they disagreed.

Both answered Jim Lehrer’s first question “How would you create new jobs?” with the same priorities: job training and creating energy independence. In fact, both agreed to boost oil and gas production. But Obama added a plug for his alternative energy policies. “We've got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments,” he said, referring to his largely successful subsidies for alternatives to fossil fuels.

From that point on, Romney turned oil and gas into a symbol of patriotism and the path to prosperity, using the word “energy” three times more than Obama and positioning new energy sources as expensive failures.

Obama failed to cite the reason his policies are so desperately needed, that climate change may in fact be the greatest threat to our national security. Instead, Obama looked like a spendthrift or worse, out of touch with American middle-class concerns. Even though, according to Bloomberg, 70% of Americans now believe in climate change. Even though, according to CSRHub ratings, safeguarding the environment is increasingly a priority for business.

Romney called out gas prices that have doubled and the rise in electricity prices, citing the crushing burden on middle-class families.

Ignoring the facts, Romney criticized Obama for not opening Federal lands for exploration. He promised to double the number of permits and open coasts and Alaska to fossil fuel companies.

Obama mentioned solar, wind and geothermal only once. Without bringing up climate change, and without a rebuttal, Romney pressed on.

Romney promised to “bring that pipeline in from Canada“ and to help “people in the coal industry…crushed by (Obama’s) policies.”

As if thumbing his nose at environmental science, he smiled right into the camera and said, “I like coal.”

His rationale for these policies? “I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.”

So when Obama brought up cutting the $4 billion in “corporate welfare” that the US pays every year to behemoths like ExxonMobil, he sounded like a spoilsport.

Romney argued that Obama’s facts were wrong – the oil subsides are actually $2.8 billion – and that those subsidies are inviolate. “That's been in place for a hundred years,” he said, as though oil subsidies were deeply entrenched in our Democracy.

But what really stuck in my mind was Romney’s brilliant repositioning of the new energy subsidies. By comparing a $2.8 billion cut to oil and gas against the $90 billion in “breaks for the green energy world,” he made support for alternative energy sources seem hugely expensive and frivolous in comparison to far cheaper oil subsidies. He repeated twice that green energy investment is “about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives.”

Still not satisfied, Romney linked the $90 billion to Solyndra and the other “50%” of green investments that had failed. In fact, those investments have lost just $3 billion, or 3%, but Obama said nothing, so it stood as fact.

But the real shame is that Obama lost the opportunity to pull out numbers that make everything else pale in comparison. NOAA reports that 2011 saw a record 14 extreme climate disasters that cost over $1 billion each for total losses of $55.3 billion and 660 lives. Future projections are even grimmer: US News cites projections of 100 million deaths globally from climate change in just 18 years. In the US, 2% of America’s annual GDP, or some $300 billion, will evaporate.

Yet Romney plans to eviscerate the EPA and a number of other programs aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. He’s a believer that climate change is real, yet will do nothing to mitigate the effects. A New York Times article cites Romney’s intent to take a weed whacker to environmental regulations going back 40 years – taking down even those declared “unambiguously correct” by the Supreme Court.

Climate change may not be popular, but people do want to hear about clean tech and green jobs. These are exciting, entrepreneurial opportunities for job creation. Where were they in Obama’s debate?

At heart, climate change is a moral issue. The hardest hit will be our future generations. And yet Romney stole that argument too. Using the word “moral” three times, Romney pointed to the deficit: “(It’s) not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation.” Shouldn’t that be Obama’s argument for addressing climate change?

Photo courtesy of marcn via Flickr.


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.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 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.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 5 Comments posted in Bloomberg, climate change, CSRHub ratings, Exxon Mobil, President Obama, Uncategorized, wind, Romney, solar, biofuels, Carol Pierson Holding, clean tech, coal, green jobs

What BP Can Teach Bill Gates About Sustainability

[fa icon="calendar'] May 30, 2011 11:34:05 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding


By Carol Pierson Holding

About 10 years ago, I wrote an article about the role brands could play in driving social responsibility. My argument was that social change was needed on a massive scale, but that the institutions that had addressed societal ills in the past — government, religion, education, even the family — were no longer trusted. Therefore, brands were the only forces capable of changing human behavior.

The example I gave was BP, now unfortunately an exemplar of failed social responsibility (though still rated well above its industry average on environmental issues). Then-CEO Sir John Browne was the first to publicly commit the oil giant to alternative energy sources. Browne used both promotion — a name change from “British Petroleum” to “Beyond Petroleum” — and action, moving into solar power in a major and public way to solidify the company’s commitment.

Then BP put its mighty brand to work to convince home-owners to switch from fossil-fuel heat to solar. The company partnered with local utilities to sell and install its solar panels and ran consumer ads that focused on cost savings. This action, made believable to consumers because the company made profits from solar business, convinced consumers of the validity of solar power and moved them to install solar panels in droves. BP added giants like Costco, Home Depot and WalMart to its solar solution distributors and made BP Solar the third largest producer of solar panels in the world.

When I heard that Bill Gates, who has notoriously distanced his foundation from environmental issues, would speak at the Climate Solutions fundraiser last week, I was thrilled. The idea was so enticing: Gates was joining corporate leaders like Jeffery Immelt of GE, Walmart’s Mike Duke, and Bill Ford of Ford Motor, all of whom are creating awareness of climate change by promoting environmental fixes from their own companies. After all, the Microsoft story is just as powerful as GE’s Ecomagination, Walmart’s “Green Power Broker” and Ford’s electric car business.

In fact, Microsoft is pretty far down the curve on its energy conservation technology. Working with local utilities, Microsoft’s Hohm service provides automated feeds to let consumers analyze their energy consumption and track their improvements over time, a proven method of getting consumers to be green. Hohm also manages charging electric cars. It’s exciting stuff, though Microsoft has not really promoted it and consumers have not been quick to adopt.

Picture 12

As I listened to Gates talk, I realized he would continue to distance himself from Microsoft, even though he chairs the company and owns about 8% of the stock. And indeed, he never mentioned it. Instead, he talked about his investments in huge scale energy breakthroughs such as TerraPower, whose reactors promise to run on nuclear waste.

Though I loved what he said, it was sad to watch Gates waste a huge piece of his potential influence by not building awareness for Hohm. It’s not a heroic effort like TerraPower, but it is one that is designed to get citizens to change their behavior vis-à-vis energy use. And once behavior changes, our consumerist values could change too. Even if we don’t stop buying stuff just for kicks, the outcomes are significant: Our cars and homes make up over 50% of the energy used in this country.

That seems like an improved outcome of pretty heroic proportions.


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

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in corporate social responsibility, CSR, Uncategorized, sustainability, Bill Gates, BP, Carol Pierson Holding, clean energy, clean tech, CSRHub

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

see all

Recent Posts