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Rays of Hope for 2017

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 5, 2017 11:24:05 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

Donald Trump’s picks for his cabinet and advisors created a climate denier’s dream team, and their promises to renege on the Paris Climate Agreement and dismantle the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are firing up the global Green movement big time.

Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement has generated “an unprecedented sense of solidarity among all the (signatory) countries,” says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. He believes that Trump has ceded climate leadership to China. Surely high levels of smog in Northern China help too: Beijing started the year in its third day of a smog alert, delaying flights and closing highways. On New Year’s Day, 25 cities in Northern China issued (even higher) “red alerts” for smog, closing factories, schools and construction sites.

Stop Dakota Access Pipeline.jpgGreen heroes are emerging everywhere. One example is the unlikely conversion of Portland’s Mayor, Charles Hale, once nicknamed “Fossil Fuel Charlie” for supporting a $500 million propane export facility proposed by the Pembina Pipeline Corporation, the largest pipeline in the Canadian tar sands and the largest business proposal in Portland history. Hale gave up his reelection campaign to push for projects including “the first stone in a green wall across the West Coast” — a zoning ordinance that effectively bans all new fossil-fuel-export infrastructure within the city’s limits, including the Pembina pipeline, and prevents expansion of existing facilities. On December 14, he got his wish, when the Portland city council voted unanimously for the ordinance.

Hale’s conversion came after a sustained campaign of relentless protests and public action. As his spokesperson Dana Haynes explained, “Public sentiment is very, very strongly against it, wildly against this thing. The mayor called Pembina in Calgary and said: ‘You’re walking into the chopper blades here. I was willing to support you last fall, but you’ve lost my support.’”

And these protests were even before Trump was elected.

Now, chopper blades, where personal stakes meet collective action, are everywhere. In December, Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted to restore favorable rates to solar companies after a year of fee increases and a phase-out of credits for excess energy customers sent back to the grid. The reversal was supported by huge turnouts at the PUC hearings that included those whose power costs have gone up and those who suffered when major solar companies, including SolarCity and Sunrun, left the state as solar applications dropped from 1386 to 18 a month. Personal stakes are high. Hearing turnout is high. Chopper blades.

Best known are demonstrations in North Dakota, where Native Tribes and environmentalists staged a protest thousands strong at Standing Rock, the Sioux Tribe’s sacred land that was threatened by Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL. When the protestors change their designation from climate justice Water Protectors, focusing as much on potential contamination of the Missouri River as on land rights and ancient burial grounds, the action drew affected farmers and renewed support from leaders like environmentalist Bill McKibben and journalist Amy Goodman.

While that movement may have succeeded only temporarily, it did reset the agenda. “Water Protectors” pits fossil fuel companies against clean water, which many believe is a universal right. DAPL also engendered more protestors against the just-approved Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion from Alberta to Vancouver. This project enlarges an existing pipeline to deliver three times its current volume of highly toxic and viscous tar sands oil to seven times as many tankers in the Salish Sea, just a few miles north of the pristine San Juan Islands and Seattle.  (Full disclosure: I live in Seattle and write on an island in Puget Sound.)

This 700% increase in oil tanker traffic is not sitting well in the Pacific Northwest. Water Protectors are already calling it “Standing Rock North.” Thousands of chopper blades.

The EPA releases a study that links fracking to water contamination. Fresh meat for chopper blades.

A coalition of outdoors enthusiasts, veterans, local businesses and environmentalists successfully argued that a $3 billion copper-nickel mining lease in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was illegally granted. Chopper blades.

Investors worth over $5 trillion have committed to dump fossil fuel stocks. Over 80% of that is from funds run for profit. More chopper blades.

And Obama churns out environmental edicts daily.

Trump will undoubtedly give no quarter to environmentalists or native tribes. With all that’s happened since his election, we collectively are setting chopper blades against his disdain for climate action. Isn’t this how a democracy is supposed to work?

 

 Photo courtesy of  Fibonacci Blue


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 rankings information on 16,891+ companies from 135 industries in 133 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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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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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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Capitalism to the Rescue?

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 5, 2013 9:32:58 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Like many people, my faith in capitalism was badly shaken by the crash of 2008 and its caraftermath. I sat by, appalled as some capitalists denied climate change and used the economy as an excuse to continue their planet-destroying practices.

I rooted for regulation, until Obama, who once seemed to be the environmentalist’s last great hope, declared his second term energy policy would be “all of the above.”

Given this lack of resolve, I was surprised to read in last week’s environmental website Sightline’s that US oil consumption is actually falling:

US Energy Information Administration suggests that total oil consumption in the United States fell by about 1.5 percent last year — meaning that the country as a whole used about as much oil in 2012 as it did in 1994… (even as) population grew 19%.

How can this be?  Since the comparison goes back to 1994, we can’t credit the recession. The large bulk of oil consumption is from transportation, and as laid out in painful detail in SmartPlanet, the drop is not due to greater vehicle efficiency. So what is driving this drop?

The timing suggests the drop is price-related: per capita oil consumption has fallen most dramatically since 2004, when oil prices started rising sharply.

To the planet’s everlasting gratitude, higher oil prices lasted long enough this time to launch a revolution in transportation. Think about what’s happened just over the last few months:

  • Car-sharing moved into the mainstream. Avis, which leads the industry in CSRHub’s social responsibility ratings, paid $500 million for the largest car-sharing company, Zipcar.
  • United Airlines completed its first all biofuel jet flight. The company subsequently placed an order large enough for biofuel companies to scale to cost effective levels.
  • The Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy consuming $17 billion of fuel in 2011, is courting Cleantech venture capitalists. Washington’s Clean Technology Alliance hosted a conference last week in Seattle that featured Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy. Why are these heavyweights giving their time to a Cleantech meeting? Price instability puts its budget at risk; far worse, having to move oil in battle zones creates human risk. Solar-powered mortar pits were Burke’s exemplar, formerly fueled by highly dangerous helicopter missions.
  • Most exciting, the driverless car is road-ready. As described in Chunka Mui’s outstanding series for Forbes Magazine, this innovation could save 1.9 billion gallons of gas/year and their resulting emissions in the US alone, at a cost to consumers that is somewhat less on average than owning and operating a car. The technology has been road tested by Google for 300,000 miles as well as several car manufacturers and is looking for a market.

And U.S. consumer acceptance is “closer than you think,” according to Mui, who sites the younger generation’s comfort with technology and population segments such as the elderly and the disabled who are unable to drive themselves. The early forces that held back air travel – fear of crashes – are also selling points for the driverless car, which promises to reduce accidents by 90%.

These examples are democratic capitalism at its finest. After 50 years back-and-forth on conservation and environmentalism, gas prices creep out of America’s comfort zone and national public opinion shifts. Over the next few years, investors get serious. Bedrocks of conservatism like the DOD, the airline industry and car-makers find the will to act.

Climate change has found a potentially scenario-changing champion in capitalism.

Am I just the relentless optimist to think that capitalism can save us? I’m all for increased regulation of the capitalist money machine to control unfettered greed. But here is the free market system at its best. Makes you want to believe again, doesn’t it?

Photo is courtesy of griffithchris via 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 nearly 7,000 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 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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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.

 

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