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Big Oil Talks the Talk Then Pulls an End-Run on Carbon Pricing

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 13, 2015 10:44:04 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

Carpool lane

The Seattle Times ran an article whose headline was so unsurprising I almost didn’t read on: “Oil industry not buying Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade plan.” No surprise right?

Big Oil’s actions tell us it not only wants to kill carbon pricing but still actively promotes climate-denial, a fact most recently reinforced by the cash-for-climate-denial scandal of Harvard-Smithsonian physicist Wei-Hock Soon, whose papers are the go-to reference for impugning climate change. Big Oil withdrew from direct supporting Soon and now funnels “donations” through Donors Trust charity, which in turn donates to climate denial organizations.

And hadn’t I just been sent a link to Biggreenradicals.com, a site funded by the DC-based Environmental Policy Alliance (which goes by the ultra-cynical acronym “EPA”)? Its stated function is to “educate the public about the real agenda of well-funded environmental activist groups” and its investigations point to the Kremlin as a major funder of the US EPA.

Russia funds the EPA to destabilize the U.S.? Really? Still, whatever “EPA” is spending on its whacky research is a pittance compared to $213 million the fossil fuel industry spent last year on lobbying and the $900 million a year given to organizational supporters of climate denial.

That Seattle Times headline seemed to be restating the obvious, that oil companies will always oppose carbon pricing. But the text of the article presents a totally different picture: “…(chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell) Ben van Beurden warned that the industry faces a credibility problem ‘if you undermine calls for an effective carbon price; and if you always descend into the ‘jobs versus environment’ argument in the public debate’.”

Shell is not the only oil giant to endorse carbon pricing — BP also says it favors a global carbon price, and that national or regional carbon policies are “a good first step.” The industry knows its coming. 73 countries including China and Russia have or are creating a form of carbon pricing, either carbon tax or cap and trade. A successful cap and trade system has been operating since 2008 across nine states in the northeastern U.S.

But here in Washington State, where the legislature is currently debating cap and trade legislation, the oil industry is opposing carbon pricing with everything its got.

It’s a brilliant play:

Big Oil CEOs say they support carbon pricing.

Washington’s governor proposes legislation would set a price on carbon emissions.

Big Oil refuses to negotiate.

The oil and gas sector has spent $415,000 in donations directly to legislative candidates. Couldn’t they have stalemated without the expensive price tag?

Sure, but they’ve got something else up their sleeve:

Last week, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a new $15-billion transportation plan that includes increases in the gas tax (nearly 12 cents phased in over three years) to pay for road infrastructure.

…But the Senate bill also contains a so-called ‘poison pill’ that cuts transit funding if the governor imposes stricter emission standards on fuels, vehicles or fuel distributors, or limits carbon emissions. That would be true for the life of the plan, or about 16 years.

How diabolically clever. Going flat out against any limit on emissions, much less cap and trade, would backfire in a pro-environment state like Washington, where 71% of the population supports the measure. With its Republican friends in the Senate, Big Oil devised a run-around that improves the odds that cap and trade will not become law and holds public transit ransom if anyone objects.

Improving Washington State’s roads could alleviate the terrible traffic jams in Western Washington’s cities. But they’d also make Washington State’s major polluters, private passenger cars, more attractive, and thereby assure that the switch from fossil fuels to renewables is extended. Carbon pricing seems inevitable, even to Big Oil, yet they’re using every trick to delay it, spending a bundle in this relatively tiny market to do so.

Thankfully, we’ve got a governor willing to throw his political clout behind it, and the support of environmentalists, labor unions, health organizations, low-income groups and native tribes. And shouldn’t that be enough?

Photo courtesy of Keith Tyler 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 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,736+ 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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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Ben van Beurden, Carbon pricing, emissions, Shell, Uncategorized, Wei-Hock Soon, BP, cap and fade, Carol Pierson Holding, environmental, Washington state

Today, Sustainable Nylon. Tomorrow, the Planet

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 10, 2015 10:57:42 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think that nothing is going to get any better.”

—     Alex Steffen, The Bright Green City

environmental inspiration

A young, environmentally focused chemist sent me news of a breakthrough in producing nylon, that ubiquitous chemical used for everything from stockings to zip-ties to jackets, tents and sails. Described in a recent paper by researchers Hwang and Sagadevan from National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, the new process, if it can be brought to industrial production scale, would use far less energy and reduce nitrous oxide emissions dramatically. This addresses an enormous environmental problem: considered over a 100-year period, nitrous oxide has 298 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide, and nylon synthesis creates 5-8% of those emissions from 10 billion pounds of nylon produced per year,

And that’s just nylon

I seems like everyone is working on a solution to climate change.  The poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman summarized some of the grandest schemes for Wired: India has announced an ambitious plan to transition the entire population of 400 million mainly to solar power; a separate initiative will plant two billion trees along India’s highways. In May 2014, Germany produced 74 percent of its energy from renewables. Sweden is now recycling a staggering 99-percent of household waste. China is about to invest $16 billion on electric car infrastructure. Ackerman concludes, “As a species, we’ve accomplished majestic things, and today is an especially exhilarating era of invention and discovery.”

Even Republicans now favor action on climate.

So many people working to battle climate change in every corner of modern life, but still, is it enough? Last week, I was stunned to hear a staunch supporter of environmental causes disparage her giving habits: “I don’t know why we give. It’s too late anyway.”

The science supports her. We’re long past the 350 ppm carbon limit over which humans cannot survive long term, and we’re nowhere near burning all the fossil fuels we’ll need to support our energy needs. In the often-quoted statement attributed in a 2006 Christian Science Monitor article to Jonathan Overpeck, a researcher at the University of Arizona, “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for more than a century; even if we shut down every fossil-fueled power plant today, existing CO2 will continue to warm the planet.”

And then there’s the argument put forth by Google engineers Ross Koningstein and David Fork after that company abandoned their much-ballyhood initiative RE<C to develop new technologies for cheap renewable energy: “…even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work.” Even more disheartening, “(Would) a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold? Our calculations revealed otherwise.”

Does this mean we should, like Google, just give up? You expect Ackerman to dream. After all, she’s a poet. But even these hard-boiled rationalists have faith:

“… We’re hopeful, because sometimes engineers and scientists do achieve the impossible. Consider the space program, which required outlandish inventions for the rockets that brought astronauts to the moon. MIT engineers constructed the lightweight and compact Apollo Guidance Computer, for example, using some of the first integrated circuits, and did this in the vacuum-tube era when computers filled rooms. Their achievements pushed computer science forward and helped create today’s wonderful wired world. Now, R&D dollars must go to inventors who are tackling the daunting energy challenge so they can boldly try out their crazy ideas. We can’t yet imagine which of these technologies will ultimately work and usher in a new era of prosperity—but the people of this prosperous future won’t be able to imagine how we lived without them.”

 

We got that sustainable nylon challenge licked. Next up, the race to save the planet. We’ve lined up chemists and poets and engineers and inventors and even the Republicans. It’s a race we just might win.

Photo courtesy of Stefan Mendelsohn 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 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 10,000+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 365 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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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Apollo Guidance Computer, emissions, global warming, Google, Jonathan Overpeck, Uncategorized, Ross Koningstein and David Fork carbon dioxide, RE>C, renewable power, solar power, Carol Pierson Holding, Diane Ackerman, environmental causes, nitrous oxide, sustainable nylon

CSE Hosting Certified Carbon Strategy Practitioner Training

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 28, 2013 9:00:54 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

The recent release of the Carbon Disclosure Project CDP lgo(CDP) 2013 Investor Information Request and scoring methodology has spurred interest in organizations looking to improve their CDP scores. Reporting and verifying on all categories of scope 3 emissions will certainly increase your score, but this often proves to be the greatest challenge.

Our training partner CSE, a leading global sustainability (CSR) consulting, coaching, and training firm, has several new offerings.

On March 7-8, CSE will host its Certified Carbon Strategy Practitioner in Chicago. The 2-day training program will provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of sustainability issues, including greenhouse gas management, carbon footprint, and energy efficiency. Included in the training will be exercises and discussion focusing on scope 3 emissions, supply chain management, and assurance of sustainability reporting.

Carbon Tool. As a special offer, participants will receive CSE's GHG Emissions Verification Questionnaire based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol - Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. All participants will be able to use this questionnaire to evaluate the GHG emissions of one of their organization's facilities.

Menno Enters, Director of Energy and Sustainability at Walgreens, will be the guest speaker in Chicago on March 8th.  Menno represents Walgreens in all issues related to energy policy for its 7,800 facilities nationwide. He is also responsible for the company’s corporate sustainability and environmental matters.

If you haven’t already, register to attend CSE’s Certified Carbon Strategy Practitioner Training today! CSRHub members can enjoy a 15% discount by entering promotion code HUB15 during registration.

 

The first 10 people to register for CSE’s training and let us know will receive a 20% discount on a subscription to CSRHub. Contact sales@csrhub.com for the discount link.

CSE will also be hosting its Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Training

in Toronto on April 18-19, and New York City on June 13-14.



CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 7,000 companies from 135 industries in 82 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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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Carbon Disclosure Project, carbon footprint, CSE, CSR, emissions, energy efficiency, Uncategorized, sustainability, CDP, Certified Carbon Strategy Practitioner, CSRHub, greenhouse gas management, Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Passing the Baton on Environmentalism

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 6, 2012 3:18:10 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

In his keynote to the Democratic National Convention, Julian Castro likened progress notiPhone to a sprint or a marathon, but a relay race going from one generation to the next.  As seen through environmentalist eyes, you can’t help but feel saddened. Future generations will be the ones to suffer for our failure to address climate change. Surely upcoming cohorts will be even more motivated than older generations to act.

But as a reader pointed out to me and as study after study has shown, the reality is that the current generation refuses to have much to do with “climate change.” The latest research from Jon Miller of University of Michigan shows that fewer than one-quarter of his GenX participants – young adults aged 37-40 — said they were “very concerned” about climate change.

And their interest in environmentalism is dropping: in 2009, only 22 percent of those GenX adults said they followed climate change very or moderately closely. In 2011, the number dropped to 16 percent.

Why should they care about climate change? They didn’t create the problem, their predecessors did. They have to deal with issues that are shorter-term and more immediate, like jobs and children.

Professor Miller also blames the arcane science behind climate change — it’s just too complicated.

But GenX has not been silent. They understand consumer power writ large by brands. They know how to force companies to be socially responsible by threatening their positive image, their brand power, and push the responsibility on those benefitting from consumerism. To preserve their goodwill with GenX, big companies like WalMart have to be green, and then coerce their suppliers to be green as well.

GenX discovered how to advance environmentalism in its own way, while shopping for the family.

Now the next generation, known as GenY or The Millennials, is taking up the baton. And GenY is also changing behavior in ways previous generations never dreamed.

Priscilla Long, author of the “Science Friction” blog for The American Scholar, calls reducing emissions from cars “the most effective single action we can take.” She gives prescriptions for doing so: buy a more fuel-efficient car. Drive less. Keep your tires inflated.

Older generations will take this advice, as much to save money as to save the environment. But guess what’s happening with GenY? They’re doing us one better: they’re not buying cars at all. They’re eliminating emissions.

A new J.D. Power report confirms it: teens and twenty-somethings no longer want to own a car.

Technology had the unintended consequence of causing behaviors that are more environmentally friendly. Apple may get mediocre ratings from CSRHub for its environmental performance. But its iPhone enables more virtual social interaction without the need for travel. Or cars.

[csrhubwidget company="Apple-Inc" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

Detroit is at its wit’s end, hiring social media wizards and youth marketing specialists to figure out how to turn the tide. But according to the Atlantic,  “The Cheapest Generation” turns to Facebook and Twitter for their identity, not their automobiles.

This may be more than just an issue of self-image. GenY is facing high unemployment and a mountain of student loans, so they’re broke too. But for whatever combination of factors, new data from the Federal Highway Administration suggests that total vehicle travel in the US has fallen back to where it was in mid-2004.

Lower car ownership is driving other less-expected results as well. Condos in downtown Portland are being built with fewer parking spaces – or none at all – reducing building costs and lowering the price of apartment rentals.  Bike lanes are popping up all over the country, even New York City. Downtown streets are being closed to cars.

And GenY s‘ experience with car sharing has led to a change in preferences from ownership to collaboration. Enthusiasm for sharing everything from cars to couches to clothes is not what the green movement envisioned. But it achieves the same end.

This is not old style environmentalism, where consumers change their behavior to be morally correct while denying themselves basic comforts. And it’s certainly not capitalism as we know it. It’s adaptation, where environment and capitalism come together.

Corporations and their brands are adapting to this new reality, morphing into what they should be, servants of consumers, rather than drivers of behavior. When an iPhone reduces demand for cars, business calls it disruptive innovation. At heart, it’s all adaptation. Who can guess what the next generation will come up with!

Photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon on Flickr (cc).


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 Apple, climate change, Democratic National Convention, emissions, Environmentalism, Uncategorized, Carol Pierson Holding, environment, WalMart

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