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Obama Gets Personal on Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 13, 2015 10:06:32 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Koch problem

The climate change movement took a powerful leap in 2012, when Bill McKibben identified a single enemy for climate activists to battle: the fossil fuel industry. He painted that industry as what branding experts would call “black hats,” referring to old Westerns where the bad guys were so identified, in direct contrast to the white-hat’d good guys, which would be McKibben and his followers.

This black hat/white hat dichotomy works best if you can reduce it to individuals as symbols. McKibben is obviously the white hat for the environment. In 2013, his status was confirmed with a Gandhi Peace Award.

And the black hat’d individual(s)? Charles and David Koch, of course. These two and their company, Koch Industries, are well known bad guys, whose prosecuted crimes include a wrongful death judgment, six felony and numerous misdemeanor convictions, and trading with Iran, and whose crimes against the environment led to record civil and criminal EPA-imposed financial penalties.

From about 1997 on, the Kochs took up the black hat mantle as outspoken funders of the climate denier machine.

The Kochs, once firmly libertarian, decided they couldn’t affect policy in a minority party and so moved to control Republican office-holders, who routinely cite the Kochs’ economy and jobs-vs-climate mantra. The Koch brothers intend to spend $900 million influencing the 2016 elections.

The Kochs are bad actors, no doubt. But they’re so rich and so powerful, how can McKibben ever be effective? It would almost take the leader of the free world to do battle with these determined climate killers.

And here he comes, white hat in hand and Kochs in his sights. Why does President Obama finally feel it’s OK to pile on? After all, he depends on the Kochs for support on issues such as rewriting Federal sentencing laws.  So on the environment, he was, as it turns out, relatively gentle with the Kochs — or at least critical only in generalities — back in August when he now famously called their efforts to push back renewable energy standards “…not the American way.”

In this issue’s Rolling Stone, Obama wallops the Kochs on specifics. Responding to a question from author Jeff Goodell about why he called the Kochs anti-American, Obama says:

“… (the Koch brothers) are actually trying to influence state utilities to make it more expensive for homeowners to install solar panels. …And by the way, they're also happy to take continued massive subsidies that Congress has refused to eliminate, despite me calling for the elimination of those subsidies every single year.”

It’s stunning to see a President whose environmental leanings have been shy of 100 percent commitment take a stance that’s not only pro-climate action, but points fingers at rich and politically powerful individuals.

Obama’s stance is here to stay. As the article makes clear, Obama’s pro-climate position has become hardened by two very personal factors.

First, his sadness over the natural world’s destruction. Raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, he enjoyed playing in magnificent coral reefs, as he describes them, “that were lush and full of fish” then, “that now, if you go back, are not.” These marvels along with the disappearing Alaskan glaciers he witnessed this month are photogenic examples that are hard to forget.

Second, as his daughters grow up, Obama has started to imagine grandchildren and the world they will live in. As he told Goodell,

“I think about Malia and Sasha a lot. I think about their children a lot. …When we were out on the water yesterday, going around those fjords, and the sea otter was swimming on its back and feeding off its belly, and a porpoise jumps out of the water, and a whale sprays — I thought to myself, I want to make sure my grandchildren see this.”

Even though this cerebral President has talked about climate action since his first election campaign in 2007, he, like all of us, responds most fervently when it hits him personally.

Obama ends the interview with a rousing statement that confirms he’s climate change’s white-hat-in-chief:

"What I don't want is for people to get paralyzed thinking that somehow this is out of our control. And I'm a big believer that the human imagination can solve problems. We don't usually solve them as fast as we need to. It's sort of like two cheers for democracy. We try everything else, I think Churchill said, and when we've exhausted every other alternative, we finally do the right thing."

Carol2Carol 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 Alaskan glaciers, black hats, climate change, climate denier machine, fossil fuel subsidies, Uncategorized, Obama, Koch Brothers, Bill McKibben, Carol Pierson Holding, coral reefs, solar panels, solar subsidies

Climate Change’s Changing Cultural Meme

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 25, 2014 9:00:18 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The prevailing wisdom has been that there’s very little we can actually do about climatewind turbine change. Even environmentalists are prone to admit, after strenuously arguing the opposite, that there is little hope given the amount of money controlled by the fossil fuel industry. As the International Forum on Globalization observed in Outing the Oligarchy, “Cooperative global action to address the most daunting challenge humanity has ever faced is being held hostage by a handful of profiteers who wield decisive power over our governments.”

The Koch Brothers, oil and coal profiteers and founders of Koch Industries, a fossil fuel extraction leader, were featured on Friday’s New York Times front page for their new advertising strategy. Through Americans for Prosperity, the conservative nonprofit that has spent about $30 million on advertising in Senate races over the last several months, they’ve been presenting “(Obamacare) as a case study in government ineptitude.” But the organization’s president Tim Phillips, explains his real agenda: “The president’s out there touting billions of dollars on climate change. We want Americans to think about what they promised with the last social welfare boondoggle and look at what the actual result is.”

That’s a pretty ingenious positioning for a couple of guys who made their fortune from coal: Government is inept and fossil fuels are the smart economic choice.

But that message makes for lousy entertainment.

On the other hand, we have climate change’s “hopeless” idea, which makes great entertainment. For example, last year’s movie The Promised Land featured the lovable star of The Office John Krasinski as the anti-fracking hero — who turns out to work for the gas company too. There’s no way out. Many of the teen action movie dystopias from Avatar to dystopian Hunger Games and Divergent could be said to depict a post climate-change world. They’re all built on the idea that there’s little we can do.

But in just the last week or so, I’ve run across a new idea, a new meme, that’s proactively fighting climate change:

  • The Vancouver Art Gallery has an exhibit of photographs by Edward Burtynsky called “A Terrible Beauty.” The show is divided into four sections — Inhabited, Extracted, Manufactured and Abandoned — four types of forceful actions through which human beings have profoundly inscribed their presence on the world. The images are visceral and terrifying, pleading for intervention, especially in Burtynsky’s images of water.


  • Zadie Smith, the award-winning novelist, writes in the New York Review of Books’ April 3 edition on “the new normal” in weather. She bemoans the “fatalist liberal consciousness that has…as much of a perverse desire for the apocalypse as the evangelicals we supposedly scorn. …They say to each other: ‘Yes, perhaps we should have had the argument differently, some time ago, but now it is too late…’” But after describing climate induced alterations in her friend’s garden, she moves onto a new climate-change meme: “I found my mind finally beginning to turn from the elegiac what have we done to the practical what can we do?”

True, my examples are random and not representative of mass culture, but I believe they mark a distinct change in our culture. It’s no longer “game over, nothing we can do.” It used to feel naïve to talk openly about your actions to mitigate climate change. “It’s all meaningless” would be the response. Watch now as the questions change from “What can be done?” to “What is being done…and what are you doing?”

Photo is courtesy of  myxgirl85 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 8,900+ 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 103 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"] 1 Comment posted in Americans for Prosperity, climate change, CSR, Divergent, Edward Burtynsky, Hunger Games, KC Golden, Promised Land, Years of Living Dangerously, Uncategorized, Zadie Smith, International Forum on Globalization, New York Review of Books, Outing the Oligarchy, sustainability, Koch Brothers, Tom Phillips, Vancouver Art Gallery, Carol Pierson Holding, Climate Solutions, CSRHub, Koch Industries, SRI

The Rat is Back: Union Activism Generates Strong Reactions

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 21, 2011 12:33:21 PM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

-1Years ago, the building next to my office tried to get rid of its union staff. A local New York building union set up a picket line and brought in a huge inflatable rat to help tell everyone who passed what was going on. The picketing (and the rat) seemed to work and the building owners backed down.
I hadn’t seen that big rat for years. But, guess what? The rat has returned to New York and he seems to be getting a lot of use. I spotted him recently on Lexington Avenue in the East 50s mearn n near the Citicorp building. The Daily News recently reported that the rat was down in the East Village at Grace Church.

I suspect the resurgent presence of the rat is related to the union-government conflict in Wisconsin. We’ve had more than a month of protests, arguments, and lawsuits, and we are now starting to see a lot of union-related corporate social responsibility (CSR) data published on the web. All sides in the discussion have something to say.

There are new sources (not yet in our system) on:

CSRHUB already has a list of 198 companies that support labor unions on our site. We tried, at one point, to ingest the AFL-CIO’s boycott list, but it didn’t have many public companies on it, and it wasn’t updated very often. We are happy to have more opinions on unionization, from a variety of viewpoints.

Many of our users will want to know where the rats are and take a stand either for or against union organization.

Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

Inset Photo: Bahar Gidwani

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