by Michael Shapiro, Press Democrat
Since founding The Climate Center nearly 16 years ago, Ann Hancock has worked steadily on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, raise awareness about climate change and promote cleaner energy use. For the past eight years, she shared those goals with President Barack Obama.
That changed Jan. 20 when Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. Trump has said he doesn’t believe humans are responsible for climate change and has appointed cabinet members with close ties to oil companies.
But Hancock, the center’s executive director and a former sustainability planner for Marin County, remains undaunted.
“Maybe having Trump as president will motivate some of these local governments in California to push harder to get community choice than they might have done before,” she said. “So our work will continue … regardless of who’s president.”
Based in Santa Rosa, the center was launched in 2001, the year George W. Bush became president.
“It didn’t stop us then, and it’s not going to stop us now,” she said. “But it’s pitiful in many ways because we really need powerful leadership at the federal level.”
Hancock and the center have promoted community choice programs whereby consumers can select local energy providers such as Sonoma Clean Power.
This has led to the growth of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, while lowering ratepayers’ bills, she said.
When Hancock and other local climate protection advocates were creating the center, they concluded that the most dramatic impact they could have would be giving communities a choice about who provides their power.
“With the flip of the switch, greenhouse gas emissions can be lowered dramatically on a communitywide scale. There’s no other local policy like that,” Hancock said. “It also introduces competition where there wasn’t any so, it makes everybody perform better.”
That’s the hallmark of Hancock’s approach: She channels her passion for preserving the planet into solutions that make sense economically and environmentally.
“Ann is one of my environmental heroes,” said former Sebastopol Mayor Larry Robinson, who serves on the center’s board of directors. “Her commitment to the work of climate protection is truly inspiring.”
Robinson says that what makes Hancock “so extraordinarily effective is her ability to find common ground with nearly every sector of our community. Without her work to bring together business and environmental leaders, Sonoma Clean Power would not exist.”
Asked how the center can continue to promote responsible energy policy, Hancock said: “By creating the models that we are and showing that they work. That’s the strongest thing (on a local and state level) we can be doing.”
A central mission of the center is working with local youth to make them more aware of climate issues.
Its Eco2school program seeks to inspire high school students to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to serve as advocates for climate protection in their communities.
The program helps students calculate emissions and shows how these can be reduced by alternative ways of getting to school such as biking, walking or carpooling, Hancock said.
After students see how much they’ve reduced their carbon footprints, they feel “empowered,” she said, “and they learn to be leaders.
“That’s what we need going forward. We need to cultivate leaders to take action on climate.”
At The Climate Center, Hancock has sought to create national models by showing what works in Sonoma County.
“We can experiment using these new ideas, these innovations and prove that they work to inspire other communities,” she said.
“That’s what we’ve done with Sonoma Clean Power, and that’s what we will continue to do. Sonoma County is a green incubator, and we like it that way.”
Of course national policy still counts. If Hancock had five minutes to talk with President Trump, what would she say?
“I would suggest to him that there are some very smart — from an economic perspective — solutions to climate change, and that the trends are already going in that direction,” she said, noting that prices for solar and wind energy are falling.
Trump “doesn’t have to talk about climate protection; he doesn’t have to talk about climate change,” she added. “He can just talk about clean energy. And he could talk about jobs as well.”
Hancock might tell the president about the benefits of cap-and-dividend programs, which she views as “more elegant” and egalitarian than cap-and-trade.
With dividend programs, the right to emit is auctioned off by states, she said. And every year the number of permits for emissions is reduced “so it’s kind of like musical chairs where you get fewer and fewer chairs as time goes on.”
With cap and dividend, “the money generated is given back to the people, so every person with a Social Security number in California would get their share of the money that’s generated,” she added.