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Accelerating Clean Energy Transition Effective Weapon Against ISIS?

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 19, 2015 4:14:30 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding
Paris

As we got closer to the December 7-8 climate talks in Paris, I began seeing movement towards an outcome so positive that it might surprise us all. Politically, climate change-related events of the week are just short of astonishing. Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline and New York’s Attorney General agreeing to hear the case against Exxon for lying about climate change happened just a week ago. Pundits saw these decisions as climate activism success and proof of populace power.

Market news was equally encouraging. Solar energy providers just underbid coal companies, winning contracts in Chile and India without subsidies. Renewable energy is simply cheaper. Coal stocks are down and coal companies are going bankrupt. This year coal sales have already declined by as much as 180 million tons versus last year. The largest state pension system CALPERS if California is divesting from coal. All great news.

Then the ISIS attacks on Paris happened. The mass murders were barbaric; the threat of more, terrifying; the fear, all engulfing.

While my news feeds didn’t change, my perceptions changed dramatically. My filters turned negative. I began seeing pessimistic reports everywhere.

The same President Obama who seemed so fearless in rejecting TransCanada’s bid for the Keystone pipeline approved the Gulf Trace liquid natural gas pipeline expansion. As reported in DeSmog’s newsletter, the pipeline is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, one of the worst environmental offenders, and will move fracked liquid natural gas to Cheniere Energy’s shipping terminal in Sabine Pass, Louisiana. Back in 2012, Sabine Pass was the first terminal approved by the Obama administration for liquefied natural gas. Among its board of directors is Obama's former climate czar, Heather Zichal.

Politics as usual in the entrenched fossil fuel business.

Even more damaging to the environment are increasingly conservative local leaders. One example: London is experiencing air pollution from car exhaust that’s risen to levels not seen since the 1950s, when one four-day “pea-souper” killed 12,000. This year, Oxford Street exceeded pollution limits set for the entire year in just the first four days of 2015.

But the Mayor of London Boris Johnson is a climate denier who calls pollution statistics “ludicrous urban myth” and has delayed any action until 2020. As Christine L. Corton wrote in the New York Times, “what’s happening in London is being played out in cities worldwide, as efforts to curtail the onslaught of air pollution are stymied by short-term vested interests, with potentially disastrous results.”

Then there’s the politics of COP21 itself. Protests around the upcoming G20 meeting are pushing members to recommit to ending fossil fuel subsidies, now at $425 billion, or four times the amount of pledges for climate finance. G20 leaders agreed but failed to dismantle fossil fuel supports in 2009. COP 21 offered another chance to broker the tough agreements.

But after the Paris bombings, the G20 vowed to make ISIS their primary focus.

Posting the morning of the Paris slaughter, 350.org Board Chair and Climate Solutions’ Senior Policy Advisor KC Golden’s offers this resounding call to climate action:

“We have the guts and the will and the brains to win our best and only viable future, a clean energy future.  Believe that too. It’s not just stout opposition that’s stopping fossil fuel expansion; it’s the clean energy transition, taking off.”

Would the ISIS attack on Paris prevent Golden’s vision from happening?

Leaders across the developed world face a threat just as important or urgent than climate change, and definitely more immediate. One possible scenario: political leaders recognize our dependence on fossil fuel for the vulnerability that it is. From the easy target created by our troops’ fuel trucks operating in ISIS territories to the risks here at home from combustible fuel sources located near dense population centers, fossil fuels are a strategic disadvantage. Shouldn’t climate change action be part of the G20’s response to ISIS, depriving them of their primary source of income while keeping our troops and citizens safe?

What Golden wrote before the attacks was prescient: “We’re collaborating as never before to build stronger, more equitable economies, healthier communities, shared prosperity…making continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure as unnecessary and uneconomic as it is unconscionable.” The fight against ISIS is just one more reason to make that transition as fast as we possibly can.

Photo courtesy of Groume via Flickr CC.


Carol2 Carol 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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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in air pollution, climate change, Exxon lying, fuel trucks, G20, KC Golden, Uncategorized, Obama, ISIS, London pea-souped, Boris Johnson, climate talks, CSRHub, Heather Zichal, Keystone Pipeline, Paris attacks

China’s New Economic Dominance May Offer Silver Lining to Environmentalists

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 7, 2015 9:35:12 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

China pollution

The International Monetary Fund declared that the GDP of China has, as expected but ahead of forecasts, surpassed the GDP of the United States. MarketWatch called it a “major economic earthquake” that will “change almost everything in the longer term.”

This news has been predicted since last April, and yet it will take a while for reality to sink in. NPR travel commentator Rick Steves wrote an opinion piece in Sunday’s Seattle Times in which he stated an assumption most of us have held our entire lives and take great pride in: “There’s no question that, economically, we are firmly established on top of the world.”

But so what if we’re not number one? Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz writes in January’s Vanity Fair that economically we might end up better off. And that China probably will not crow about its achievement — “China (does) not want to stick its head above the parapet.” Wanting to be #1 is a distinctly American attitude.

Stiglitz says that the real danger is in losing our influence. In his words, “The bedrock strength of the U.S. has always rested less on hard military power than on ‘soft power’; most notably its economic influence.” The U.S. has used this soft power to lead international bodies such as the World Bank and the G20 “to pursue the economic interests of its multinationals, including its big banks.”

Those driving our economic interests have not addressed climate change with the urgency it deserves. Stiglitz calls out both American and Chinese roles in increasing carbon emissions and other forms of ecological degradation. Until the recent U.S./China climate deal, the U.S. has repeatedly denied the urgency of climate change, refused to sign treaties and retreated from funding global efforts at remediation.

Now that China can claim economic leadership, will it use its influence to lead environmental policy as well?

Harvard Business School (HBS) professor William Kirby believes China will step up. In an article for Working Knowledge, HBS staffer Christian Camerota cites Kirby’s staggering statistics for pollution in China: “Between 70 and 90 percent of the country's flora was endangered by 2008, and by 2013, around 80 percent of its major rivers were so debased that they no longer supported aquatic life. The strain (imposed by economic growth) is manifesting as sinking cities, shrinking reefs, wilting crops, and diminishing water supplies.”

As Kirby told Camerota, “Pollution is tolerable when it's accompanied by economic growth, and that's why the (Chinese) government has been so successful at doing much of what it wants with the landscape of China to date. But I think between man-made pollution and the degradation of the natural environment, we've reached a tipping point, where the government has an obligation to reverse course."

All indications are that Chinese society will not only support the leadership’s environmental efforts but push them to go farther. Across China, in hundreds of protests just in 2014, local residents, including peasants, academics and middle class families have marched against existing polluters and companies that proposed to put human health at risk.

Kirby goes on to explain another reason why Chinese society supports environmental remediation: “Nowhere in the world is the concept of family stronger than in China, and I think they will take that heavy responsibility very seriously. … A bettered natural environment would ensure healthier citizens and longer-term prosperity."

China’s new economic leadership may usher in a new era of climate and environmental effort. In fact, China might end up becoming the global leader we’ve been hoping for. China might even use its economic power to force the US to match its environmental progress. And wouldn’t that be ironic!

Photo courtesy of Leo Fung 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 #1, carbon emissions, climate change, climate deal, economic earthquake, economic leadership, G20, GDP, protests, World Bank, Uncategorized, William Kirby, International Monetary Fund, pollution, soft power, Carol Pierson Holding, China, environmental degradation, Joseph Stiglitz

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