Why bet against ourselves? Divest!

February 10, 2015

“Invest in what helps. Divest from what harms.”  – President Obama, UC Irvine Commencement, 2014

“Invest: to furnish with power, authority; to infuse or belong to”  – Dictionary.com

breaking freeThe climate challenge is big, but it’s almost as simple as this: we’re too invested in fossil fuels. We’re giving them too much of our power and authority. And money, so much money. Global Divestment Day on February 13 is a golden opportunity to start turning that around.

Even fossil fuel companies don’t have enough power to get us to consciously choose the only future they offer – a future of concentrated wealth and power, economic and geopolitical insecurity, and devastating climate disruption. But we have a devil of a time choosing otherwise, because they’ve got their hooks so deep into our economy and our politics. They’ve nearly perfected the art of persuading us that we have no choice.

Our retirement savings and university endowments are capital pools for increasingly reckless adventures in fossil fuel extraction. Our ability to go to work, buy food, and educate our kids all depend on motorized transportation, overwhelmingly powered by oil. When I put my credit card in the gas pump, I pay for industry-sponsored climate denial and further exploration for “unburnable” carbon reserves. I can’t even drive to a climate presentation or run the Powerpoint deck without making it worse. Every time we turn around, we feed the beast. So how can we square up and fight it?

Harvard University President Drew Faust generously elucidated the problem in her statement rejecting divestment (BTW, Harvard students have no intention of accepting this answer):

“If we were to sell our shares, those shares would no doubt find other willing buyers.  Divestment is likely to have negligible financial impact on the affected companies…. I also find a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day.”

Faust captures the sense of complicity and fatalism that threatens to render us useless in the face of the climate crisis. We let our unavoidable contributions to the causes of climate disruption erode our will, our standing to insist on solutions. As we chase our tails about “troubling inconsistencies,” we retreat into moral numbness. We somehow accept the idea that it’s okay to take a cut of the profit from increasing fossil fuel dependence – averting our eyes from the unthinkable human suffering it causes – on the grounds that someone else will do it if we don’t. We allow our institutions of higher education to invest in industries that oppose climate action by waging a war on truth and reason – a war on the defining purposes of those institutions. It’s like one of those bad dreams where you try to run from danger but your legs just won’t move.

Divestment is an opportunity to wake from that nightmare.  The campaign shines a bright light on our unwitting commitment to empower the forces that block solutions, even as we try to implement solutions ourselves. It presents a specific opportunity to reduce that commitment, to take some of our money back. Will we decline to do that because we are not yet in a position to take ALL of it back immediately?  We’ll never get anywhere that way!

It’s a long road from here to solutions. We’re not going to quit fossil fuels and the jobs that depend on them tomorrow.   We need to do that patiently, incrementally, and with a firm commitment to a just transition that produces more broadly-shared prosperity. We just have to put one foot in front of the other until we do it.

tutu divestAnd we can take one bold, hopeful step forward right now. We can start winding down our investments in companies that block solutions, fund climate denial, and maul our communities in pursuit of ever more extreme fossil fuel extraction. We can stop investing in making it worse. And until we do that, nobody will believe us when we say we’re going to make it better. We won’t really believe it ourselves.

No, divestment won’t immediately, dramatically reduce fossil fuel company share prices (which, by the way, are tanking anyway – the sound of a bubble popping[i]?) And it certainly won’t, by itself, accomplish the necessary policy changes to drive the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. But it will help us clear the biggest obstacle. It will deprive the fossil fuel juggernaut of some part of our complicity, our ambivalence, our license, our money. By putting a little financial daylight between us and the problem we’re trying to solve, it will feed our growing confidence that we can wage and win a clean energy revolution. Why bet against the solutions we’re trying to build?

Today, fossil fuels own us in part because we own them.

So tomorrow, divest.

Find out what’s going on in your community on Divestment Day HERE.

You can divest as an individual too! Find out more HERE. The pledge allows you to wind down your fossil fuel investments over time. Your interest in divesting will make it possible for more and better fossil free investment vehicles to be offered for individuals and retirement plans.

[i] There is a strong financial and fiduciary case for divestment – a growing body of evidence suggesting that the “carbon bubble” may already be popping, as global will for climate solutions grows and the clean energy revolution gains steam. I’m not going to make that case here, because, dammit, we should divest anyway. But check it out, e.g., in this terrific post from a Reagan appointee to the SEC, Bevis Longstreth, and also here.


Good news! Check out ClimateCast: The Week in Clean Energy Solutions

December 9, 2014

Hey, need a great weekly climate news digest, with an emphasis on solutions?  Check this one out, edited by Seth Zuckerman at Climate Solutions:

ClimateCast:  The Week in Clean Energy Solutionsclimate cast 3

Seth and team have a great approach to this – a good survey of the week’s news, crunched into a few strong themes, and served up with some pop.   It’s a super-economical way to scan the scene, and there’s a refreshing sense of motion to it!


2 billion human steps in the right direction

October 2, 2014

Yes, Dr. King, I do believe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.  But at the end of so many days in the struggle for climate solutions, I find myself muttering “Where is that damned ARC already?”

Not so much, though, since the People’s Climate March.  I’ve shared a few quick thoughts on the march here and here.  But I want to be sure you see some of the most deeply moving things that emerged from the march — points that connect, unmistakably, the arc.

  • The shattering highlight of the UN Climate Summit, a 7 minute speech and poem from Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner:

Back off, cahbon!

June 2, 2014

Climate policy question #1 is simple: Will we put responsible limits on the largest sources of climate pollution?  Until we say yes to that question, it’s kind of hard to take ourselves seriously.back off 2

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped up to answer that question by proposing new rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

The draft rules are not very aggressive but historically significant.  (See 8 Things You Should Know About The Biggest Thing A President’s Ever Done On Climate Change).  They would reduce power sector emissions 30% by 2030.  In the Northwest, we should be coal-free by then, and closing in on 90% emission reductions.  But with these rules, the US of A is finally showing up in a big way for the climate fight.  It’s hard to overstate how critically important and overdue this day is.

And EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s speech announcing the draft rules just plain rocked.  Here it is:

Administrator McCarthy, Remarks Announcing Clean Power Plan, As Prepared

About a month ago, I took a trip to the Cleveland Clinic. I met a lot of great people, but one stood out—even if he needed to stand on a chair to do it. Parker Frey is 10 years old. He’s struggled with severe asthma all his life. His mom said despite his challenges, Parker’s a tough, active kid—and a stellar hockey player.

But sometimes, she says, the air is too dangerous for him to play outside. In the United States of America, no parent should ever have that worry.

That’s why EPA exists. Our job, directed by our laws, reaffirmed by our courts, is to protect public health and the environment. Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks not just to our health, but to our communities, our economy, and our way of life. That’s why EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

I want to thank Janet McCabe, our Acting Assistant Administrator at the Office of Air and Radiation, and the entire EPA team who worked so hard to deliver this proposal. They should be very proud of their work; I know I am.

Today, EPA is proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut carbon pollution from our power sector, by using cleaner energy sources, and cutting energy waste.

Although we limit pollutants like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic, currently, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source. For the sake of our families’ health and our kids’ future, we have a moral obligation to act on climate. When we do, we’ll turn climate risk into business opportunity, we’ll spur innovation and investment, and we’ll build a world-leading clean energy economy.

The science is clear. The risks are clear. And the high costs of climate inaction keep piling up.
Rising temperatures bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons. If your kid doesn’t use an inhaler, consider yourself a lucky parent, because 1 in 10 children in the U.S. suffers from asthma. Carbon pollution from power plants comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, putting our families at even more risk.

Climate inaction is costing us more money, in more places, more often. 2012 was the second most expensive year in U.S. history for natural disasters. Even the largest sectors of our economy buckle under the pressures of a changing climate, and when they give way, so do businesses that support them, and local economics that depend on them.

As our seas rise, so do insurance premiums, property taxes, and food prices. If we do nothing, in our grandkids’ lifetimes, temperatures could rise 10 degrees and seas could rise 4 feet. The S&P recently said climate change will continue to affect credit risk worldwide.

This is not just about disappearing polar bears or melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health and our homes. This is about protecting local economies and jobs.

The time to act is now. That’s why President Obama laid out a Climate Action Plan—to cut carbon pollution, build a more resilient nation, and lead the world in our global climate fight.

Today’s proposed Clean Power Plan is a critical step forward. Before we put pen to paper, we asked for your advice. Our plan was built on that advice—from states, cities, businesses, utilities, and thousands of people. Today kicks off our second phase of crucial engagement.

Shaped by public input, present trends, proven technologies, and common sense, our Plan aims to cut energy waste and leverage cleaner energy sources by doing two things: First, setting achievable, enforceable state goals to cut carbon pollution per megawatt hour of electricity generated. And second, laying out a national framework that gives states the flexibility to chart their own, customized path to meet their goals.

All told, in 2030 when states meet their goals, our proposal will result in 30 percent less carbon pollution from the power sector across the U.S. when compared with 2005 levels. That’s like cancelling out annual carbon pollution from two thirds of all cars and trucks in America. And if you add up what we’ll avoid between now and 2030—it’s more than double the carbon pollution from every power plant in America in 2012.

As a bonus, in 2030 we’ll cut pollution that causes smog and soot 25 percent more than if we didn’t have this plan in place. The first year that these standards go into effect, we’ll avoid up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks—and those numbers go up from there.

That means lower medical bills and fewer trips to the emergency room, especially for those most vulnerable like our children, our elderly, and our infirmed. This is about environmental justice, too, because lower income families, and communities of color are hardest hit.

Now let me get into the details of our proposal.

This plan is all about flexibility. That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable. That’s how we can keep our energy affordable and reliable. The glue that holds this plan together, and the key to making it work, is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them.

First, to craft state goals, we looked at where states are today, and we followed where they’re going. Each state is different, so each goal, and each path, can be different.

Second, the goals spring from smart and sensible opportunities that states and businesses are taking advantage of right now. From plant to plug.

Let me tell you about the kinds of opportunities I’m talking about:  We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix. This Plan does not change that—it recognizes the opportunity to modernize aging plants, increase efficiency, and lower pollution. That’s part of an all-of-the-above strategy that paves a more certain path for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world.

States also have the opportunity to shift their reliance to more efficient, less polluting plants. Or, instead of low carbon sources, there’s always the opportunity to shift to “no” carbon sources like nuclear, wind, and solar. Since 2009, wind energy in America has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold.

Our nuclear fleet continues to supply zero carbon baseload power. Homegrown clean energy is posting record revenues and creating jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Those are all opportunities at plants, but what about at the plug? Existing technologies can squeeze the most out of every electron, helping us use electricity more efficiently in our homes and businesses.

More efficiency means we need less electricity to cool our refrigerators or charge our phones. For the fuel we burn, let’s get the most bang for our buck.

All of these options are not new ideas. They’re based on proven technologies, proven approaches, and are part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America. Our plan doesn’t prescribe—it propels that progress already underway.

And like I said, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. States can pick from a portfolio of options to meet regional, state, and community needs—from ones I mentioned, or the many more I didn’t, and in any combination. It’s up to states to mix and match to get to their goal.

If states don’t want to go it alone, they can join up with a multi-state market based program, or make new ones. More players mean more flexibility and lower costs. States have flexibility not just in means and method, but in timeline, too. Under our proposal, states have to design plans now, and start reducing so they’re on a trajectory to meet their final goals in 2030. That kind of flexibility means a smooth transition to cleaner power that doesn’t leave investments behind.

The flexibility of our Clean Power Plan affords states the choices that lead them to a healthier future: Choices that level the playing field, and keep options on the table, not off. Choices that reflect where we are today, and look to seize opportunities for tomorrow. Choices that are focused on building up, not shutting down, so we can raise the common denominator for a cleaner, low carbon economy that’ll fuel growth for decades to come.

What’s special about the flexibility of our plan is that it doesn’t just give states more options—it gives entrepreneurs and investors more options, too. It’ll deliver the certainty that will unleash market forces that drive even more innovation and investment, and spur even cleaner power and all sorts of new low-carbon technologies. Our plan pulls private investment off the shelves and into our clean energy revolution, and sends it in every direction, not just one or two. The opportunities are tremendous.

The good news is states, cities, and businesses have already blazed the trail. Our clean energy revolution is unfolding in front of us. Just in the past few weeks, I went to Salt Lake City, where the mayor and utilities are teaming up on efficiency. I went to St. Paul, where a science center is recycling energy waste, saving money and teaching kids what we adults are just learning. I’ve seen fortune 500 companies revamp strategies to lower business risk by meeting the demands of a carbon constrained future.

I want to give a shout out to all the local officials, rural co-ops, public power operators, and investor owned utilities leading on climate change: It’s clear that you act not just because it’s reasonable, but because it’s the right thing to do for the people you serve. Governors and mayors of all stripes are leaning into climate action. They see it not as a partisan obstacle, but as a powerful opportunity. And we know that success breeds success. Those of us who’ve worked in state and local government have seen healthy competition push states to share ideas and expertise. That’s when everybody wins.

EPA has had a longstanding partnership with states to protect public health. We set goals, and states are in the driver’s seat to meet them. So releasing the Clean Power Plan shifts the conversation to states. If you’re a teacher, scientist, mechanic, business person—or just someone with a good idea—share your thoughts with your state leaders. Help them see how they can build a plan that will better our future.

I know people are wondering: can we cut pollution while keeping our energy affordable and reliable? We can, and we will. Critics claim your energy bills will skyrocket. They’re wrong. Any small, short-term change in electricity prices would be within normal fluctuations the power sector already deals with. And any small price increase—think about the price of a gallon of milk a month—is dwarfed by huge benefits. This is an investment in better health and a better future for our kids.

In 2030, the Clean Power Plan will deliver climate and health benefits of up to $90 billion dollars. And for soot and smog reductions alone, that means for every dollar we invest in the plan, families will see $7 dollars in health benefits. And if states are smart about taking advantage of efficiency opportunities, and I know they are, when the effects of this plan are in place in 2030, average electricity bills will be 8 percent cheaper.
This plan is a down payment on a more efficient, 21st century power system that cuts energy waste, cuts pollution, and cuts costs. It’s a proven path—a lot of states have been doing it for years. Think about it like this: we set historic fuel efficiency standards that will double the distance our cars go on a gallon of gas. That means you fill up less often, and save more money. Efficiency is a win for our planet and our pocketbooks. And given the astronomical price we pay for climate inaction, the most costly thing we can do; is to do nothing.

The critics are wrong about reliability, too. For decades, power plants have met pollution limits without risking reliability. If anything, what threatens reliability and causes blackouts is devastating extreme weather fueled by climate change. I’m tired of people pointing to the Polar Vortex as a reason not to act on climate. It’s exactly the opposite. Climate change heightens risks from extreme cold that freezes power grids, superstorms that drown power plants, and heat waves that stress power supplies. And it turns out, efficiency upgrades that slow climate change actually help cities insulate against blackouts.

Despite all that, there are still special interest skeptics who will cry the sky is falling. Who will deliberately ignore the risks, overestimate the costs, and undervalue the benefits. But the facts are clear. For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70 percent and the economy has more than tripled. All while providing the power we need to keep America strong. Climate action doesn’t dull

America’s competitive edge—it sharpens it. It spurs ingenuity, innovation, and investment. In 2011, we exported almost 33 percent more cars than we did in 2009—a clear sign of a competitive industry. And our fuel efficiency standards strengthen that.

Companies like Best Buy are investing in low-carbon operations. Bank of America pays its employees to cut carbon pollution, because investors see climate risk as business opportunity. Any business will tell you eliminating waste means more money for other things, like hiring employees. Corporate climate action is not bells and whistles—it’s all hands on deck.

And even without national standards, the energy sector sees the writing on the wall. Businesses like Spectra Energy are investing billions in clean energy. And utilities like Exelon and Entergy are weaving climate considerations into business plans. All this means more jobs, not less. We’ll need thousands of American workers, in construction, transmission, and more, to make cleaner power a reality.

The bottom line is: we have never—nor will we ever—have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.

There’s a reason empty allegations from critics sound like a broken record. It’s the same tired play from the same special-interest playbook they’ve used for decades. In the 60’s, when smog choked our cities, critics cried wolf and said EPA action would put the brakes on auto production. They were wrong.

Instead, our air got cleaner, our kids got healthier—and we sold more cars. In the 90’s, critics cried wolf and said fighting acid rain would make electricity bills go up and our lights go out. They said industry would, quote, “die a quiet death.” Wrong again. Industry is alive and well, our lights are still on, and we’ve dramatically reduced acid rain. Time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried wolf to protect their own agenda. And time after time, we followed the science, protected the American people, and the doomsday predictions never came true.

Now, climate change is calling our number. And right on cue, those same critics once will flaunt manufactured facts and scare-tactics, standing in our way of our right to breathe clean air, to keep our communities safe, and to meet our moral duty as stewards of our natural resources. Their claims that the science-driven action that’s protected families for generations would somehow harm us flies in the face of history, and shows a lack of faith in American ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

I don’t accept that premise. We can lead this fight. We can innovate our way to a better future. It’s what America does best. Yes, our climate crisis is a global problem that demands a global solution, and there’s no Hail Mary play we can call to reverse its effects. But we can act today to advance the ball and limit the dangers of punting the problem to our kids.

It’s no accident that our proposal is a key piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan—and key to American leadership in our global climate fight. Although there’s still much work to do to get carbon pollution down to safe levels, I’m hopeful when I see the progress we’ve made. I’m hopeful because I see the pattern of perseverance that defines America.

From the light bulb to the locomotive; from photovoltaic cells to cellphones, America has always turned small steps into giant leaps. We’ve cured diseases, we’ve explored the stars, we’ve connected corners of the globe with the click of a mouse, because when critics say it can’t be done, we say—watch us.

That’s what America is made of. We don’t settle. We lead. And that’s how we’ll confront our climate crisis.

When it comes to our Plan, we may not agree on details of how we do it, but we agree on why we do it. When our kids ask us if we did everything we could to leave them a safer, cleaner world, we want to say, yes, we did. When we think of our children—kids like Parker from Cleveland, Ohio—it’s easy to see why we’re compelled to act.

As governors and mayors, as CEOs and school teachers, and most of all, as parents, we have a moral obligation to ensure the world we leave behind is as safe, healthy, and vibrant as the one we inherited. Our Clean Power Plan is a huge step toward delivering on that promise.

Thank you very much.


Dispatches from the clean energy revolution

March 16, 2014

The analogy between the energy revolution and the information revolution is far from perfect.  Energy technology transformation may well be slower, weighted down as it is by Titanics of sunk capital and powerful incumbents with strong incentives to forestall change.fast forward green

But the revolution is clearly underway.  4 recent items:

1)      The Minnesota Public Utility Commission issued a Value of Solar Tariff that includes, among other things, the federal government’s estimate of the “social cost of carbon.”  Solar’s worth more because it’s better… because you don’t have to pay for it with disaster relief and mass extinctions and stuff.

2)      Amory Lovins has a good rundown of how a growing number of states and countries are running their power systems on a high percentage of renewable power.  The idea that renewable energy penetration is inherently limited by intermittency is becoming obsolete.  (Energy demand is intermittent, but no one is suggesting we can’t deal with that.)  The need for “baseload” coal and nuclear is waning fast.   Resource diversity, better forecasting, distributed storage, dispatchable renewables, and demand response are all being used to integrate larger and larger percentages of renewable power — and that’s before you even get to the big storage solutions. Per the savant of Old Snowmass:

“After all, half the world’s new generating capacity added each year starting in 2008 has been renewable; solar cells are scaling faster than cellphones, probably surpassing windpower’s 2013 additions; and Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects solar power to compete with retail grid power in three-fourths of world markets in another year or two. The first part of the renewable power revolution—scaling production—is already well underway. Next comes the interesting part: ensuring that all the moving parts mesh properly.”

3)      Austin Energy signed a long-term deal for 150 MW of solar from a big PV station for $.05 per kilowatt-hour.  5 cents.  A nickel.  Seriously cheap.  Greentech Media reports:

Bret Kadison, COO of Austin-based Brazos Resources, an energy investment firm, said this was “a highly competitive solicitation….This is below the all-in cost of natural gas generation, even with low fuel prices and before factoring in commodity volatility and cost overruns.” He also points out that the original RFP was for 50 megawatts, but the utility ended up buying 150 megawatts “in a red state where hydrocarbons dominate the political landscape.” Kadison suggests that “one of the biggest cost reduction drivers that allowed solar to reach this parity came from the massive reduction in financing costs.”

4) It’s happening…. if we’ll just give it a chance, as a group of young American leaders including Oscar-winner Jared Leto urged Secretary of State John Kerry to do in a letter opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.  They called on Kerry to summon up the courage and moral clarity he used to help end the Vietnam War, when he asked Congress, “How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”   Say the whipper-snappers to the Secretary:kid fist

“As young American leaders, we are confident in our ability to engineer solutions over time, and we enthusiastically support the Obama Administration’s commitment to advancing these solutions. The urgent climate imperative now – what our generation asks and expects of yours – is to give those solutions time to grow. We must not squander our precious time and capital now on making the problem intractably worse, especially when we are so bullish on the opportunities to make it better!”

Read the letter here.


BC motto: “Splendour without diminishment.*” BC policy: No free carbon dumping

March 12, 2014

The price of gasoline should be higher.  There, I said it.

I will be shunned (again) by the school of political “pragmatists” who believe we must never ask anyone to do anything hard about climate disruption.  But everyone who’s thinking in practical terms about climate solutions knows it’s true.

We’re just not going to do climate solutions right, at scale, in a market economy as long as the exorbitant costs of climate disruption remain external to the price of fossil fuels — that is, as long as we keep foisting those costs off on our kids and grandkids.

Freeloading is not good economics, and it’s even worse ancestoring.  It’s particularly galling when it poses as an answer to poverty, since it is the world’s poor who do the least to cause climate disruption and are slammed hardest by its consequences.

And remember, the point of higher fossil fuel prices is not to pay for more fossil fuels.  On the contrary, it’s to avoid them altogether.  It’s to free ourselves from their lethal grip….Sightline bc carbon tax chart

This graph shows how British Columbia’s carbon tax is helping the province do just that.  Six years in to the BC carbon tax experience, Alan Durning and Yoram Bauman are reviewing the promise, pitfalls, and progress to date (having planted the seeds in the first place).  Read the first installment of their analysis here, and sign up for the whole series while you’re at the Sightline site.  Heck, sign up for everything; their stuff is the best.

Climate solutions are many, varied, and complex.  But this part is super simple:  without responsible limits on climate pollution and an end to free carbon dumping, we’re not going to get those solutions done well and soon enough.

It’s time.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

* No.  Seriously.  That’s the translation of:  Splendor sine occasu


Here comes…: solar was second largest source of new electric capacity in 2013

March 5, 2014

It’s on.  The clean energy revolution, that is.

In a preview of a big report due out tomorrow, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that solar electricity was the second largest source of new electric capacity in the U.S. in 2013.  In 6 states in DC, solar accounted for 100% of new capacity.

solar states SEIA

Check here for the big news tomorrow.


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