What’s Wrong With Obama’s Green Team?

October 14, 2009

(reposted from GreenBiz.com)

by Marc Gunther

It’s hard not to be impressed by the people working for the Obama administration on the environment. For the most part, they’re smart, well-intentioned, dedicated. Let’s hope they can deliver meaningful results soon on the issue that matters most: climate change.

Today, I’m at the Society of Environmental Journalists convention in Madison, Wisconsin. It has attracted a parade of administration officials: Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, marine biologist Jane Lubchenko, who leads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Gina McCarthy, an EPA administrator in charge of air quality, and others. Al Gore keynoted, and we heard from economists, scientists and a CEO or two during a very full day.

The Obama people came to sell cap-and-trade, hard. One version of a carbon regulation bill has passed the House, another’s pending in the Senate and the UN meetings in Copenhagen where a global agreement is supposed to be negotiated to replace the Kyoto treaty is just two months away.

Chances are, though, that, the U.S. won’t have legislation by then, which will make it difficult to get a global accord.

That’s because, for all the brainpower and commitment of Obama’s green team, the president has made climate change, at best, his No. 4 priority, behind the economy, health care and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Republicans haven’t helped on the climate issue, either.

To be sure, Obama & Co. have spent a fortune subsidizing clean energy through the economic stimulus bill. But that won’t be as much help as a cap-and-trade bill with strong targets.

Here are a few highlights from today’s event:

Climate legislation will be good for farmers, even though it could raise the cost of fertilizer and fuel, Vilsack argued.

“It’s one of the best things that can happen to rural America,” he said.

That’s because the carbon offsets in the House and Senate climate bills will generate revenues for farmers. Offsets are a way that regulated industries, like the utilities that own coal plants, can comply with the “caps” on global warming pollutants by paying unregulated entities — in this case, farmers — to reduce their emissions. (Just trying to explain this makes me dizzy.) So, while the costs of fuel and fertilizer will grow because they are made from fossil fuels, the potential value of offsets to farmers could reach as much as $15 billion a year, Vilsack said. To put that in context, he said, net income to all farmers is about $55 billion a year.

In theory, farmers could be paid for a variety of environmentally friendly practices that would reduce their carbon emissions. Among them: no-till agriculture, better conservation practices, applying fertilizer in different ways, capturing methane from pigs, cows or chickens or planting trees on underutilized land.

Vilsack said a “yogurt company in New Hampshire” — presumably Stonyfield Farm — could be paid for developing new feed for cows that reduces their emissions, a polite way of saying their burps and farts would be composed of less methane.

Speaking of cows, EPA doesn’t want to regulate them, says Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

When asked if EPA will try to regulate carbon emissions from every Dunkin’ Donuts and dairy farm, McCarthy joked: “I am personally going to do that, yes, And I want to make that announcement here in Wisconsin.”

McCarthy, the former head of Connecticut’s department of environmental protection, knows her stuff and talks like a real person, not a like a politician or federal bureaucrat. She said EPA has no desire to regulate global warming pollutants on its own, even though it has been granted the right to do so by the Supreme Court. Of course, that wouldn’t prevent further court challenges. EPA, she said, would prefer to enforce a cap-and-trade system because it’s more flexible, market friendly and likely to drive innovation.

She admitted, however, that managing offsets will be tough, particularly since the legislation is sure to permit international as well as domestic offsets, and allow offsets for both reforestation (planting trees) and avoided deforestation (not cutting down trees).

“Offsets are going to be one of the trickiest pieces of any cap-and-trade program,” McCarthy said. “If they’re not sound and they’re not verified and they’re not credible and they’re not permanent, then you don’t have a cap.”

So how, she was asked, would EPA monitor offsets in such places as Indonesia and Brazil? “It’s my new retirement package,” she quipped. The real answer, she added, is that the government will have to rely on third-party auditors.

Gore bored.

Funny thing about Al Gore. I’ve probably heard him speak a half dozen times, and once spent a couple of hours at his home in Nashville while reporting a story (Al Gore’s Next Act: Planet-Saving VC) for Fortune. I always look forward to hearing him because I so admire his commitment to the climate issue. He’s really smart, too, as well as knowledgeable. And, I sense, he’s fundamentally a good guy.

Invariably, I’m disappointed because he simply cannot talk without pontificating. Today was no exception. Aargh! (If you doubt me, listen here. [MP3 link])

Gore did sound an optimistic note about the potential for a Washington breakthrough over climate, even hinting at one point that the Republicans could become supporters of a bill:

The political system of the U.S. and the world share one thing in common with the climate system — both are nonlinear. The potential for change can build up without noticeable effect until that potential reaches a critical mass capable of breaking through whatever barrier has been holding us back.

We’re very close to a political tipping point.

Was that one Nobel laureate talking to another? I hope so. It’s time for President Obama to move climate to the top of his to-do list, so his green team can have a real impact.

‘g’ Green Design Center Named Interior Design Sponsor for RI Home Sustainability Project

April 14, 2009

Caster is excited to announce the collaboration of two of its clients in the green space, ‘g’ Green Design Center and Green Life Smart Life.  Green Life Smart Life, a Rhode Island based green building showcase home dedicated to environmental stewardship and sustainable living has teamed up with ‘g’ to source beautiful, environmentally conscious materials for the project. 

‘g’ Green Design Center, focused on providing a user-friendly experience to going green, is a combination retail shop and showroom on a mission to provide customers with all they need to create green, sustainable homes that are eco-friendly, energy-efficient and healthy environments.  Providing interior design services for the Green Life Smart Life project, owner Nicole Goldman and her team have helped specify environmentally preferable products that exemplify the family’s mission of reduce, reuse, recycle while contributing to the home’s application for LEED-H certification.

GLSL plans to source a number of interior design materials through the ‘g’ Green Design Center, including:

  • Cabinets using FSC certified wood, non-toxic finishes, solid wood construction and dovetail carpentry installed by a local craftsman
  • Paperstone counters in the kitchen, pantry and laundry rooms which are 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard
  • Recycled flooring, including Marmoleum tiles and FLOR zero-VOC natural carpet tiles
  • Recycled tile for bathroom flooring, backsplash, and shower
  • UltraTouch natural cotton fiber insulation in select locations
  • Window treatments and shading made from natural fabrics and textiles

For project updates, check out the GLSL blog and for more info on the ‘g’ Green Design Center and how you can green your home, visit their website at www.ggreendesign.com

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

Being Green & Going Crazy

November 22, 2008

Let’s face it – the person who coined the term green and used it to equivocate consumer products and helping the environment is a damn genius.  But it brings us back to a key point in this movement – the more I research, the more I’m realizing that green is less of a revolution and more of a giant marketing campaign.  Perhaps I sound very cynical – but here’s my point.  If companies like BP and DuPont can list themselves as “leaders of the green movement,” how can the movement hold any validity at all?  These are companies who were founded on the premise of super capitalism, not super conservation.  Nothing they have done in the decades they have been in business has even remotely helped the environment.  Al Gore does one moving documentary and suddenly everyone’s green?  I just don’t buy it.

This morning, on my quest to practice what I’ve been preaching, I changed a lot of lightbulbs in my home to CFLs.  Yes I realize these aren’t THE answer to saving the environment, but they do produce 2000 times less greenhouse gases as regular light bulbs and are proven energy savers.  I’ve got lamps in my house, I might as well NOT use a product that is extra wasteful, right?

I then examined the packaging these bulbs had come in.  They were your typical, heavy-duty, plastic containers that are almost impossible to open and require scissors and hedge trimmers to even crack the surface.  Huh.  Those can’t be very eco-friendly.  Even if I do tear apart the packaging, recycle the paper insert into my green bin and the plastic container from hell in the blue bin, how much was wasted in the production of this package?

Part of the problem with knowledge is that you find yourself examining things in a way you never thought you would and feeling frustrated at the layers you must dig through to find some actual truth.  It’s similar to the way I felt the semester following my first film class in college.  I stopped being able to watch movies with the sort of mindless abandon that I had previously enjoyed.  I was analyzing each frame, each shot, the plot, the characters, the dialogue.  It was exhausting.

Do we expect all consumers to think this deeply about their green choices?  Or is the label “green” enough for some people to feel good about saving the planet?  What do we do if the green revolution isn’t green at all?

Posted by: Ashley / ashleyatcaster

E-Recycle? More like E-Toxic Waste.

November 14, 2008

There has been a lot of talk about e-recycling programs around the country and how recycling your computer, TV, DVD player, iPod, etc you can help save the environment.  It sounds promising, as the story of how all this stuff gets made and what a huge negative impact it is having on our world is almost scary, but there seems to be an even more frightening behind what is actually going on.

CBS’ 60 Minutes has an exclusive story on following one such program and I warn you – it’s fairly depressing.  In an era of a green marketing boom, consumers are bombarded with programs and products that promise to help them live an eco-friendly lifestyle.  But this all begs the question – who do you believe?  How can we really know what is real and what is simply fraudulent?  This story has taught me to be much more vigilant and cautious when I read about a new green initiative. 

Read about this story here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/06/60minutes/main4579229.shtml 

Posted by: Ashley / ashleyatcaster on Twitter