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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

People Power of Climate March Readies Supporters for Next Stage

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 29, 2014 11:38:16 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Like the true-blue climate supporter that I’m aspiring to be, I attended the People’s Ban frackingClimate March in New York City last week. I stood at the corner of Central Park West and West 77th Street and witnessed families with children, old people, college students, two women in wheelchairs and young lovers carrying very different signs but all united in a common cause to save the planet. I felt joy, exhilaration, and hope. We all did.

Post-March announcements seemed to confirm the March’s effectiveness:

  • Meeting organizers’ goals, UN Climate Summit speakers acknowledged the March and the people power that it represented. As President Obama said, "Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them."
  • A group of institutional investors that includes the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and collectively manages $50 billion announced they will divest entirely from fossil fuels.
  • Yahoo and Yelp pulled support from climate-denying American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • A dozen corporations led by founding sponsors Ikea and Swiss Re “got the ball rolling” for REE100, an effort to convince 100 of the world's largest businesses to run completely on renewable energy by 2020.
  • The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) vowed to ramp up renewable energy investments from $1.4 billion now to $3.7 billion within five years.

But when I came back to Seattle I wondered, did the March or any of these subsequent accomplishments make a difference? The actions I listed above are largely symbolic in the face of our ever-increasing carbon emissions, which rose 6 percent since 2011 in the U.S. alone.  What did the March really do?

Some are blaming lackadaisical media coverage for the March’s seeming lack of relevance. But really, what was there to report? There was no conflict, no adversary, no indignation, and very little risk for participants.

Where was the story? Wasn’t it just a big pep rally for those already converted?

In contrast, the Keystone Pipeline protests had it all – conflict, bad guys, anger, clear demands – and yes these protests were covered in the media and yes they were effective in pushing closer to specific goals. Yet anti-Keystone protests never came close to the size of the March. The original Hands Around the White House action in 2011 was just 10,000 protesters. Fewer than a thousand students demonstrated in front of John Kerry’s home last March in a “human oil spill.” In April, 60 members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance set up camp on the National Mall in Washington DC. And these actions got results, delaying the Pipeline approval process for years.

It is truly amazing how effective protests can be if they’re directed at a single cause and deliver specific demands. I’ve seen it here in the Pacific Northwest, where protestors have shut down plans to build coal ports that would ship the filthy fuel from multiple points along the Pacific Northwest to Asia. As of last week, four of the six proposed ports have been forced to withdraw their plans. The crash in coal prices helped, but protests made development that much more uncertain and expensive.

The People’s Climate March was a love-in, a successful pep rally to recruit new volunteers and ready faithful supporters for the next stage, where to stop climate change, protests must be mounted against each specific threat in each of our own back yards. It’s the only way climate solutions can work: in conjunction with regulatory changes, an end to emitters through thousands of actions. Three cheers to the People’s Climate March for getting us ready.

Photo courtesy of Carol Pierson Holding.


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 9,300+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,300+ companies from 135 industries in 106 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 343 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"] 2 Comments posted in carbon emissions, Cowboy and Indian Alliance, renewable energy investments, Uncategorized, RED100, Northwest Coal Ports, People’s Climate March, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, UN Climate Summit, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Carol Pierson Holding, Keystone Pipeline

Capitalism in Synchronicity with Climate Change?

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 4, 2014 9:02:38 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last Thursday, environmentalists won a major victory when Royal Dutch Shell halted oil ice photodrilling operations in the Chukchi Sea. An environmental coalition successfully sued to reverse the U.S. government’s 2008 decision that opened Alaska to drilling. The decision was only a partial victory, but it was enough to stop Shell’s operation at least through 2014.

Despite the possibility of a reversal, environmentalists are celebrating. In the week after the decision was handed down, Shell determined that drilling in Alaska might not make economic sense after all. At the same time that Shell’s Alaskan equipment failures have cost the company billions, the US market for natural gas and crude markets remain low and refinery margins are being squeezed. Shell spent $2.1 billion investing in drilling licenses and billions more in exploration and legal costs. The company has already written off $1 billion for its Alaskan adventure.

Alaska isn’t the only place Shell has encountered the double rub of environmental adversaries and falling profit potential. Shell’s previous CEO spent $26 billion buying up U.S. shale properties. Now, $2 billion has to be written off to reflect their drop in value.

After Shell announced it would cut spending and sell more assets, its stockholders reacted positively, pushing shares up 2%. As reported in the Seattle Times, Investec analyst Neill Morton predicted further writedowns for Shell in North America.

Still, environmentalists would love to have absolute assurance that Alaska is safe from drilling. "President Obama now has the chance to do right by the Arctic and the planet by keeping oil drilling out of the Chukchi Sea," said Earthjustice attorney Eric Grafe, who represented the groups.

Is Earthjustice realistic? President Obama seems to be positioning himself as the environmental champion. His State of the Union address has been praised for his support of climate change, and his most stirring statement on the subject has been widely quoted: “Climate change is a fact. And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

However, one of Obama’s achievements to win bi-partisan praise has been to bring America close to energy independence. He’s opened more areas to drilling than his predecessor. And though his address made him sound like a climate change warrior, he failed to mention the Keystone Pipeline decision.

On Friday, we found out why, when his State Department announced its findings that the pipeline, despite releasing between 147 and 168 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, would not “significantly increase carbon in the atmosphere.”

Predictions are that Obama will most likely allow the Keystone Pipeline to go through.

Why then would Earthjustice believe that Obama will stop drilling in Alaska?

A far more likely scenario is that other drilling projects in Alaska will be withdrawn for the same reason that Shell pulled out. Operational costs are high and the appetite for fossil fuels is falling, at least in the U.S. Investors are losing their passion for the industry, accusing the extraction industries of lacking capital discipline — investing in new projects even when it’s clear they’re not going to pay out.

And environmentalists are lining up to keep the pressure on, inflicting legal and reputational costs. The next wave of Keystone Pipeline protests starts Monday night. The fossil fuel divestment movement continues to gain support. Just last week, 17 foundations with investments of almost $2 billion joined the movement, citing portfolio risks posed by climate change. A juggernaut of moral imperative has been released, creating a lever that sometimes works in synchronicity with business and investors and definitely leads the government.

Photo courtesy of NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr.


Carol2Carol 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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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Alaska, CSR, energy independence, environmentalists, extraction industries, Uncategorized, Royal Dutch Shell, sustainability, U.S. shale, investment, 17 foundations, Carol Pierson Holding, Chukchi Sea, CSRHub, Earthjustice, Investec, Keystone Pipeline, Neill Morton, oil drilling

The Pause that Invigorates Environmental Progress

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 25, 2013 9:13:39 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last year, we had eleven weather catastrophes that caused over $1 billion in damages. This year, we’re only at one.

I know there was some severe weather this summer. The half-mile wide tornado in Oklahoma was horrifying. But along the corridors of East Coast power, the weather was, according to the Washington Post, “… a breath of fresh air compared to the previous three (the three hottest on record).”

I experienced a great summer for the first time since I moved to Seattle four years ago. InSeattle warm summer a part of the country that’s usually rainy and often cold, Seattle was often warmer than Los Angeles. We had sunshine nearly every day.

I worried that lack of disasters would take climate change out of the headlines and off the radar, both locally and nationally. Issues with potentially enormous environmental consequences, such as the Keystone Pipeline, West Coast coal trains, and pending EPA regulations on coal-burning utilities were all coming to a head. Would the nice weather reduce the will to act on these?
The evidence points to the opposite. Obama’s announcement last Friday that he would impose carbon emissions limits from coal-fired power plants is something he first talked about in his 2008 Presidential campaign. Yet the announcement just came two days ago. The EPA’s new director Gina McCarthy testified last week before the House Committee on Energy that the agency had worked with “states, utilities and other key stakeholders to develop plans to reduce carbon pollution from future and existing power plants, which are responsible for about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution.”
The Keystone Pipeline, once deemed “inevitable” by energy titans such as Marathon Petroleum, now seems far from certain as resistance gathers strength, most recently Saturday’s 350.org “Draw the Line” protest in over 200 US locations.

Northwest coal port proposals are withdrawn one by one, as oppositional forces multiply, from the market’s 40% drop in overseas coal prices to a suit brought by the Lummi Nation claiming loss of livelihoods.

These advances in macro policy have been on the back burner for years if not decades, and suddenly they’re all heading towards climate-friendly resolution. Pro-environmental solutions are happening on the micro level too, at least out here. Walking and biking are up in our cities. Seattle commuters driving alone has fallen below 50%, joining Boston, New York, Washington DC and San Francisco, while biking, walking and public transportation use are all up. Changing commuter habits have prompted Seattle’s plan to transform parking lots to parks, and the first lot was converted to an urban Parklet just last week. To the south, ride-sharing was finally legalized in California last week, providing regulations that pave the way for other states.

It’s as if the sunshine has given us the pause we needed at just the right time. When the weather is a disaster, all we can think about is bouncing back from the catastrophe. Resilience and recovery are our priorities. When we’re not fighting for survival, we have a pause when we can reflect and evolve to the next level.

Mother Nature seems to be cooperating in other ways too. The so-called “global warming hiatusattributed to lower temperatures in the Pacific Ocean has slowed increases in surface temperatures and allowed arctic ice to grow 60% in 2013.

We have a grace period. It looks like we’re using it wisely.

Photo courtesy of trang.ng.92 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 8,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,400+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 270+ 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"] 1 Comment posted in EPA regulations on coal-burning utilities, global warming hiatus, Uncategorized, ride-sharing, Marathon Petroleum, weather catastrophes, West Coast coal Trains, 350.org, Carol Pierson Holding, Draw the Line, Gina McCarthy, Keystone Pipeline, parklet

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