Eric Carlson

Eric Carlson

Friday, 30 September 2011 17:19

Remembering Linda Latham

I wanted to take a moment to honor a major loss in the energy efficiency community. Linda Latham died this past weekend from her second bout with a very aggressive breast cancer. Linda was instrumental in launching the US government's ENERGY STAR programs in the 1990s and was the chief operating officer of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a non-profit research and advocacy group. The EPA used to be a straight regulatory body but in 1994, when I first met Linda, things were changing. That's when a few people, including Linda, were proving a new concept through a small program called Green Lights. Simply put, Green Lights tried to get businesses to commit to switching from old fluorescent light bulbs to new efficient ones that used 40% less energy and returned a stunning 40% return on investment. The trick was getting people to think of lighting as an investment. This was a brand new idea at the time - an idea that made perfect mathematical sense on paper wasn't getting off the ground because it required an upfront investment in building maintenance to make large-scale retrofits. The energy-saving bulbs were trapped in a cycle where without big buyers, sellers were reluctant to make the bulbs, and the cost couldn't come down. But Linda and a small group devised a plan to get major companies - Johnson & Johnson, AMEX, GE, City of New York, IBM, Gillette, and many others - to upgrade all their lighting when, and only when, the return was 20% or greater, far greater than the 12% US average return on capital. In return, the EPA would walk them through the process, provide technical support and, crucially as it would turn out, provide marketing and PR support. It worked. Big buyers came, big sellers produced, costs came down, building managers got actual investment dollars, and this unleashed massive and profitable energy savings in the commercial building space, which accounts for about 20% of US emissions. From this success, EPA hired a number of people, myself included, to expand Green Lights into dozens of the now internationally recognized ENERGY STAR programs we know today. Building certification, like LEED, and the whole idea of a building as an asset was new and owes its beginning to ideas Linda helped develop. Linda eventually left EPA and moved to California, and I left EPA and moved to Eastern Europe.  When I returned to the United States years later, I looked up my old friend Linda and was excited to learn she was at a consulting firm three blocks from me in Silver Spring, MD. After discovering this coincidence and some discussion, she hired me again. Linda and I had a joke that once every ten years it was her job to hire me. I always admired Linda's gift as a manager, an ability to remain calm, focused, know the subject matter and to motivate others. Management is a very difficult skill set and Linda was a master. She was always fair and likable. During our time working together, Linda was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. It was a shock, and we all missed her at the office, but she recovered and had a sense of humor about her situation. We drifted apart (again) after I left to run Carbonfund.org, but she is always on my calendar every ten years. Linda's career is a testament to the power of ideas, that government can and often is a force for good and even that markets don't always work as we'd like. Linda taught us that people matter. Linda Latham was an extraordinary person and will be missed.
Among the stranger things I've witnessed in the last couple days was a room filled with young people at the Klima Forum last night at Bill McKibben's 350.org event. Bill actually gave a rousing speech, but the audience was noticeably subdued, as though they were expecting defeat this week. Even more surprising was the outright anger and disappointment at President Obama, their president. It's no small axiom that young people swept Mr. Obama into power, through Iowa, the primaries and general election. Yet, at this evening's main event of young, idealistic activists, when Obama's name was mentioned, there was not a sound. One might argue at least there were no boo's, but I can't see how this is anything but bad news for the young president. maldives1Activists and turnout win elections, and this may be, as McKibben reminded us last night, "the canary in the coal mine" for Mr. Obama's political future if he can't figure out how to deal with climate change. On the flip side, front runner for President of the Universe: the president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed. President Nasheed is the Maldives' first democratically elected leader and has committed the tiny island archipelago nation to being carbon neutral by 2020. With chants of "3 5 0" throughout the hall, the president lifted the audience into a real call to action for a real cause, global survival but more personally the Maldives' survival.
vote-imgJust a few moments ago, the US House of Representatives passed the historic American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), otherwise known as cap-and-trade. The vote passed 219-212. The bill's goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 83% by 2050. While the bill still must go through the Senate and then conference before heading to the President, it represents a major accomplishment in the fight against climate change. This is your victory! Solving climate change is ultimately about leadership. We saw this in the House today. But it is your leadership as Carbonfund.org supporters and partners over the last five years that made this bill possible. Just a few years ago few people had any idea what the term 'carbon footprint' meant. Now the term is used regularly and even spoofed in The Onion. And so-called experts talked about carbon costing $50-100 per tonne, potentially wrecking our economy, not the real-life $5-10 per tonne we see today. You knew climate change was a serious problem. And while you were under no obligation to take any action, you did. You reduced your emissions and you committed yourself, family or business to being carbon neutral. You supported third-party verified projects that reduced emissions. You spurred investment in clean energy projects and reforestation. And you showed it can all be done without breaking the bank. Make no mistake, if we were still debating economic models showing theoretical carbon costs, this historic bill would not be possible. ACES is possible today because of what you have shown in the real world, that people want to reduce their carbon output, that it can be done relatively easily and that we can do it very cost-effectively. Indeed, while the bill aims for an 83% reduction in 2050, and just 17% by 2020, many of you have reduced your emissions by 100% today. Over 1,200 businesses and organizations and more than 450,000 individuals have reduced and offset their carbon emissions with Carbonfund.org, showing leadership when few even knew what they were talking about. We'll all need to continue to minimize and offset our carbon emissions even after our country acts, but the commitment you have shown on fighting climate change has created the momentum, visibility, and call for action on climate change. So enjoy this victory today. Solving climate change is about leadership and your leadership has brought us to this historic moment. Congratulations!
2010 is poised to be the hottest year on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center reveals that hundreds of daily maximum temperature records have been broken or tied recently. This follows the hottest June on record, and the fact that in the past 30 years, each decade has gotten warmer. The temperature trend, besides making climate change undeniable, urges us as a nation to get beyond the question of climate change—to taking action. In the last century, it took our nation less than 10 years to go from scientific inquiry to acting on the problem of acid rain. After studying the problem in the 1980s, Congress and the first Bush administration in 1990 cleared a series of amendments to the Clean Air Act that included a successful cap-and-trade system to control emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The EPA then issued in 2005 the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which further reduced emissions. These actions reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide by approximately 40 percent from 1990 levels and nitrogen oxides by more than half. Yet it’s been decades since all of us were warned about climate change, and this time the ramifications are much, much greater. The data has confirmed that climate change is happening, and as NOAA’s recent State of the Climate report shows—food supplies, public health and the viability of many populated areas are in jeopardy, in addition to rising sea levels and severe floods & heat waves. It’s time to act, and act now. The nation needs to pass comprehensive climate legislation urgently and each of us should do what we can to reduce our climate impact. Moreover, businesses that are already reducing their impact should be commended, not penalized for taking initiative. If we are going to create the green jobs our nation needs, improve our national security and fight climate change, the buck stops with Congress—to pass strong climate legislation that effectively reduces our country’s emissions and commits the nation to a clean energy future. Image Credits: EPA, MSNBC
Thursday, 10 December 2009 17:41

Climate Change Policy Heats Up. Finally!

I often tell people that Carbonfund.org exists today because socially and environmentally concerned individuals and business leaders stepped up and took action to reduce their climate impact, support burgeoning technologies, and prove to the world that we can tackle climate change -- and do it cost effectively. What makes this more remarkable is that we did this despite a lack of US government leadership over the last three decades on climate change. Just a few years back, academics suggested carbon would cost $50-100 per tonne, a total non-starter for almost any government initiative to reduce emissions. Yet we are here today, talking about Copenhagen, Waxman-Markey and the Senate bill in large part because of the voluntary actions taken by a relatively small group over the last five or six years to prove the concepts, technologies, methodologies, costs and processes. Leadership is about stepping up to the plate when others will not, and I am always amazed and appreciative of our thousands of partners who have done just that. This is why it is so important these early leaders receive credit for their voluntary actions. Their vision and commitment turned into the first offset projects and investments. (I still can’t imagine what it must have been like for the person at a large company to go into their boss’s office a few years ago and say they wanted to offset their electricity use in California by buying these REC-things from Texas, or this carbon offset doohickey from New York.) Finally, we’re making headway. The EPA has approved their first-ever carbon offset project, which Carbonfund.org has supported and brought through the EPA process. The House of Representatives has passed a great bill, thanks to the leadership of Reps. Waxman and Markey and many others, the Senate is working on a similar version, and thousands of delegates from around the world are in Copenhagen to work on a global deal to reduce emissions by about 80% by 2050. We’re at a tipping point and Carbonfund.org must now participate in the national and international policy debates to ensure we maximize carbon reductions and verification while unleashing capital, technology and innovation to achieve these goals as quickly and cost effectively as possible. I am heading to Copenhagen this weekend for the climate talks to help push for a global consensus on massive carbon reductions during my lifetime, not just my kids’. This is a new space for us and we’re working with policy experts to advocate for the best possible legislation in the US on climate change. These next several months will be crucial to our future, and we need the experiences of organizations like Carbonfund.org that have proven the concepts to ensure we get a bill (or treaty) that will work. We’re enlisting the best minds in Washington and as a first step we’re pleased to be working with the Podesta Group, a leading government relations firm, to help Carbonfund.org achieve its objectives. Done right, fighting climate change will create millions of jobs, save taxpayers money, reduce or eliminate our reliance on foreign oil, reduce our overseas defense responsibilities and help the developing world leapfrog on technologies and help their people. It will also clean the air, reduce asthma and other health effects of burning fossil fuels and save us billions in health costs. We’d hoped to get a US climate bill in 2009 but 2010 will work too. We’re just so glad we’re all talking climate policy. Finally!
bkrvwA lot of people are extremely passionate about fighting climate change, reducing CO2 emissions and staving off a global catastrophe. And by “a lot”, I mean, well, maybe 10-20%. The fact is most people, on any issue, are rather agnostic, have a tacit support for something but certainly are not in the trenches fighting on a day-to-day basis. An overwhelming majority of people want health care reform, millions of people are against it, and yet it is big news when a hundred “passionate” people show up to a town hall meeting of a member of Congress. Enter Greg Craven and his book, What’s The Worst That Could Happen? A Rationale Response To The Climate Change Debate. Greg is a high school science teacher in Oregon who became an Internet sensation last year with a series of videos trying to engage the 60-80% of people in the middle on climate change. His videos have been viewed over 7 million times and his book is as entertaining. Greg does not talk much about climate science. Instead, he looks at the issue of should we do something or should we not from the perspective of risk assessment. Which is worse, taking action to stop climate change and later learning it was not happening, or not taking action and learning (too late) that it was? But the book is about much more than Pascal’s Wager. Greg uses the same ultra analytical approach to helping us decide which information in our information-laden world we should value more. Should we trust a pundit over a scientist, a scientific organization over a think tank, a government over a lobbying group? Where should each stand on our information value spectrum. What’s The Worst That Could Happen? is a surprisingly fresh, interesting, quick and entertaining read. Whether you’ve been in the trenches for a decade on the issue or are one of the 60-80% in the middle, Craven’s perspective and process are unassailably logical. He is the perfect antidote to any climate skeptic. Craven is passionate about being, well, dispassionate. He asks a thousand questions (Note: I have known Greg for twenty years and the book is as Greg is) of the reader without overwhelming the senses. He is serious and yet unbelievably self-deprecating. The book’s faux sticky notes on the pages of facts, humor and examples add to his unique style. Greg makes climate change, and the question of whether we should act on it, understandable to the average person much as Al Gore did a few years ago. What’s The Worst That Could Happen? is a great read. It will energize you to take action, the last pillar of the book. The climate change movement needed this book and Greg’s approach to problem-solving. At Carbonfund.org, we feel any work that helps explain the issue and urgency of climate change is critical and Greg has done just that.
Monday, 06 December 2010 17:26

All’s Quiet on the COP16 Front

Noticeably absent from this year’s UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun, Mexico, is a sense of urgency and belief that much will get accomplished. While the usual actors of delegates, media and NGOs from around the world are here, there are fewer of all three roaming the conference centers. I hear no talk of a grand coalition compromise of the largest emitters–with or without the US on board–and the island and developing countries seem lacking in their exhortations to the rest of the world. Mostly, it is very quiet here. (Part of me wonders if our call a couple weeks ago for the US to stay home was heeded but without, as of yet, the second part of our call—that the rest of the world should stand up and cut a deal.) We knew attendance would be lower and, after the US elections and failure of Congress to pass energy and climate legislation this year, that the US role would be limited, decreasing the prospects of a grand agreement. But I have to wonder, where is the basic framework from Copenhagen? Last year, the agreement sitting on the table had the US reducing emissions by 17% by 2020, the EU another 25% and China reducing its carbon intensity by 45%. Canada was in, as were dozens of other countries, with real reductions or changes. That deal was there to be had when a hundred heads of state bombarded the place. Today, the Copenhagen (remember when it was renamed ‘Hopenhagen’?) agreement is nowhere to be seen and there is no talk of any leaders dropping in. A huge change. The overriding message from the last year is that governments simply will not provide the leadership we need to solve climate change. And it’s not just the US. The EU, Japan, China, India, Australia, Brazil and a hundred others have what they need to create a global pact to reduce emissions. China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, along with most of the hundred or developing countries stand to gain investment, jobs, development and technology transfer through a global cap and trade deal; the EU, Japan, Canada, Australia and many others gain efficiency, increase their competitiveness, reduce their reliance on imported energy, improve national security, clean the air and reduce health costs–all at much lower cost than going it alone. The deal is there. Is it complicated? Sure. So what? If they won’t lead, we must! Fair or not, the ball is back in our court to solve climate change, to get wind to cost less than coal and make efficient technologies a better deal than inefficient technologies. When you go carbon neutral with Carbonfund.org that is exactly what you are supporting. Over the next week at COP and months ahead, Carbonfund.org will be laying out the business and individual case for how to solve climate change, with or without government leadership. We are determined to make 2011 a monumental year in this fight. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, 30 June 2010 18:32

A Smarter, Greener Way to Rent a Car

Although hybrids are a popular green technology, it’s used today not only for Priuses and other smaller cars but in large vehicles getting less than half the miles per gallon (MPG) of those cars. Choosing an eco-friendlier rental car should be based on overall emissions rather than the technology. For example, Avis and Budget both offer EPA SmartWay® certified vehicles, meeting rigorous air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions standards. Each vehicle receives an Air Pollution Score and a Greenhouse Gas Score, on a scale of 1-10. A vehicle must receive a 6 or better on both scores, and have a total score of at least 13 for certification. A full 100 percent of Avis' economy, compact, intermediate and standard car classes and 85 percent of full-size cars are SmartWay® certified.  Similarly for Budget, all economy, compact and intermediate and 99 percent of standard and full-size cars are certified. Selecting a SmartWay® vehicle is easy. When I made a reservation at Budget.com, I was thrilled to see the SmartWay® certified cars, easily denoted with a leaf icon: You can also look up vehicle fuel-economy information and SmartWay® vehicles on EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide, which is updated through model year 2010. Where available, you can further reduce your emissions by opting for a GPS navigation system in your car to get where you need to faster (and avoid getting lost). Also, you can skip the lines at toll booths by choosing electronic toll collection when renting your vehicle; Avis offers eToll collection services in more cars and more cities than any other car rental company. Hybrid technology is a wonderful leap for cars and is driving new innovations and products. At the same time, we also need to keep our eyes on the prize of overall carbon reductions and climate protection rather than focusing on specific auto technologies. We feel similarly about not picking winners and losers in the green energy space; we need to focus on zero-emission energy without picking wind over solar, geothermal over biodigesters, and so on. Remember you can always reduce your trip’s emissions further, making it carbon neutral, by offsetting in support of Carbonfund.org’s third-party validated carbon reduction projects around the world. Visit www.avis.com or www.budget.com to offset your rental vehicle. Want to learn more? Please check out our Save Energy page for fuel-efficient driving tips.