Woody Hastings and his wife June Brashares accepting the Ernestine Smith Environmentalist of the Year award and the Pat and Ted Elliot posthumous Lifetime Environmental Achievement

Woody Hastings named Sonoma County Environmentalist of the Year

by Barry Vesser and Laurie-Ann Barbour

On a wet December evening about 100 environmental activists assembled by Sonoma County Conservation Council & Sierra Club Sonoma Group to honor the environmentalist of the year – Woody Hastings, the Energy Program Manager at The Climate Center. Woody was honored for his work on the initiative to start Sonoma Clean Power and also for his recent work on an initiative to stop the development of new gas stations in Sonoma County.

Woody joined The Climate Center in 2010 to help get the establishment of Sonoma Clean Power over the finish line. It was a heavy lift, and Woody drew on his past experience as a community organizer, staff member to an elected official, and clean energy professional,  while never seeking the limelight for his efforts. Woody gave hundreds of presentations on Community Choice Energy and attended dozens of public meetings all over the county. He worked tirelessly educating elected officials, civic organizations, and the general public about the benefits of Community Choice. His personable and deeply knowledgable approach won many new supporters to the initiative for Sonoma Clean Power. Woody has great intuition about when to lead and when to follow. 

In May of 2014, Sonoma Clean Power went live. Their electricity is 47% less greenhouse gas-intensive and less expensive than PG&E’s, saving customers some $80 million.  They have also created meaningful programs in our community like Drive EV and the Advance Energy Rebuild project, which continue to help local residents while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Early on, Woody saw the potential for local renewable resources to reduce emissions and provide real local benefits to the community. He participated in a pioneering effort in 2011 funded by the California Energy Commission to identify the local clean energy resources in Sonoma County that would be the most effective to develop. Woody has also stayed engaged attending most of Sonoma Clean Power’s board meetings for the last 5 years. 

More recently, Woody has spent personal time working with others to prevent new gas stations from being built in Sonoma County. There was a station proposed on County land near Cotati at the intersection of Hwy 116 and Stony Point Rd. Locals had started organizing, knocking on doors, and sending letters when Woody got involved. Soon, because of Woody, there was a Google Group, petitions, and regular emails keeping a wider circle of people informed about what to do. When the developer held a public meeting, Woody and other activists spread the word and filled the room. Shortly after that meeting, the developer withdrew their application. As Woody said, “Sometimes we win!”. And then he organized a celebration party.

Woody is continuing this effort, now trying stop a proposed gas station at the intersection of Llano Rd. and Hwy 12. Once again, Woody is busy circulating petitions and sending out emails keeping others informed and activated. 

Woody and his wife, June, are movers and shakers in the environmental activist community in Sonoma County, and they walk the talk. They have invested in energy efficiency upgrades and installed solar at their house in Sebastopol, and they drive a plug-in hybrid. They own one car and Woody usually takes public transportation into the office in Santa Rosa. In the last year Woody has sworn off flying, so when he needs to take a long trip he takes the train. 

When Woody accepted the award, he talked about the work that still needed to be done and encouraged people to fight the new gas station being proposed. Woody’s advice for aspiring activists is, “Don’t let the highs get too high, so that when the lows come, they won’t be too low” and to always keep a sense of humor.

Woody is someone who has led the battle to address climate change on many levels in Sonoma County and has gone on to make significant contributions to the Community Choice Energy movement across California for the Climate Center. We are proud of our colleague and his dedication to help local communities and the planet.

A staged "die-in" at Santa Rosa mall to demonstrate the perils of climate change

Youth-led staged “die-in” successful in raising awareness about climate change dangers

by Gavin Sellers and Amy Jolly

The Climate Center staff members recently turned out to participate in a youth-led climate strike. The action, organized by the Sonoma County Sunrise Movement, began at Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, where about 50 youth members and supporting individuals assembled at 12:00 pm on Friday, December 6th. The participants marched to the Santa Rosa Downtown Mall, where they staged a “die-in.” Positioning themselves in the center of the mall’s bustling plaza, they lay silent and somber on the ground as if dead to illustrate the catastrophic consequences of climate change. For 11 minutes – one for each of the years that we have left to make changes and avert the worst effects of a destabilized climate – the demonstrators remained on the ground, and then rose exultantly to their feet as organizers spoke into a megaphone, projecting inspirational words across the mall plaza and demanding a livable future. Having aroused the curiosity and in some cases great enthusiasm of shoppers, the assembly burst into song and paraded out of the mall. The event received extensive media coverage in the local newspaper as well.

The event made clear that youth-driven activism with a demand for systemic change is becoming a staple of the suburban American experience– even in shopping malls. Several Climate Center staff members attended the event and former Climate Center intern Christine Byrne was the lead organizer of the action. The Climate Center’s Renewable Energy Program Associate Nina Turner addressed the assemblage during the rally and helped organize the event. Gavin Sellors, the current intern at The Climate Center’s youth program also spoke. 

By empowering youth, The Climate Center continues to build a movement demanding bold climate action through smart policies that will help us rapidly decarbonize to reverse the climate crisis and return us to a safe and stable climate.

Time’s Person of the Year is its youngest ever: Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist

by Hannah Knowles, The Washington Post

Greta Thunberg has rejected accolades for her activism, sayingawards are not what the environmental movement needs.

But on Wednesday, the Swedish 16-year-old, who has mobilized millions of people to fight climate change and condemned leaders’ inaction, picked up another honor that acknowledges her impact.

Thunberg is Time’s Person of the Year — the magazine’s youngest ever.

Read more:

Youth-washing by the fossil fuel industry

by Alleen Brown, The Interception

The same day that 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg gave a stirring speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, in which she criticized delegates for “stealing my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” the architects of the climate crisis welcomed select youth participants from the summit to dine.

CEOs from fossil fuel corporations including BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Norway’s Equinor were attending the annual gathering of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative in New York, which includes industry leaders who claim to be committed to taking “practical” action on climate change. On the agenda for lunch was to “explore options for long-term engagement” with young people the industry could trust. Student Energy, a nonprofit based in Alberta, near Canada’s tar sands region, helped organize the event, which included time for students to grill the CEOs about their inaction on climate change.

Read more:

How a 7th-grader’s strike against climate change exploded into a movement

by Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post

On the ninth Friday of her strike, 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor wakes to a dozen emails, scores of Twitter notifications and good news from the other side of the planet: Students in China want to join her movement.

Every week since December, the seventh-grader has made a pilgrimage to the United Nations’ headquarters demanding action on climate change. She is one of a cadre of young, fierce and mostly female activists behind the School Strike 4 Climate movement. On March 15, with the support of some of the world’s biggest environmental groups, tens of thousands of kids in at least two dozen countries and nearly 30 U.S. states plan to skip school to protest.

Their demands are uncompromising: Nations must commit to cutting fossil-fuel emissions in half in the next 10 years to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Read more:

2 million defended the Amazon Reef and won

by Diego Gonzaga, Greenpeace

Almost two years ago, we started an incredible adventure onboard the Greenpeace Esperanza ship. Our goal was clear: to show the world the amazingness of the Amazon Reef and why it is important to protect it from the hands of greedy oil giants like French company Total. It has been a long journey, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We needed to be many, we needed to be strong, diverse, and united. And with you, and all the Amazon Reef Defenders around the world, we did it.

Today is a day to celebrate. All of us Amazon Reef Defenders have made history together. The Brazilian environmental agency (Ibama) has finally denied Total the license to drill for oil near the Amazon Reef in Brazil! This decision sends a powerful message to governments and companies all over the world: the movement to end the age of oil will continue to grow.

Read more:

Last stand in the swamp: Activists fight final stretch of Dakota pipeline

by Lauren Zanolli, The Guardian

As the flat-bottom fishing boat speeds through waterways deep inside Louisiana’s Atchafalaya basin, the largest river swamp in the US, the landscape suddenly shifts from high banks of sediment and oil pipeline markers on either side to an open grove of cypress trees towering above the water. Flocks of white ibis appear, seemingly out of nowhere, to nest and hunt amid the moss-dripped, century-old wetland forest.

“This is what the entire basin is supposed to look like,” explained Jody Meche, president of a local crawfishermen alliance and a lifelong resident with a thick Cajun accent.

Read more:

Paris Agreement

The world (mostly) unites for climate action

by Devon Downeysmith, Climate Solutions

The world commits to Paris Accord—with or without US

At the G20 summit just concluded in Hamburg, the assembled world leaders confirmed a plan for climate action built around terms laid out in the Paris climate agreement. In preparation for the meeting—the first since President Trump announced plans for the US to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had pledged to put climate change high on the agenda. A new report released just prior to the gathering showed that G20 nations provide four times more public financing to fossil fuels than to renewables, adding pressure to the negotiations. Merkel closed the gathering with an address deploring Trump’s decision to abandon Paris, and affirmed that the remaining 19 members are committed to the “irreversible” agreement.

Renewables press onward, upward and offshore

Morgan Stanley analysts report that the US may meet or even exceed its Paris climate accord commitments, despite Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement, thanks to the growing availability and affordability of renewables. Shares of U.S. solar companies have gone up sharply this past month as state policies and low equipment prices drive demand. Rocky Mountain Power just announced a plan to invest $3.5 billion in wind energy, the bulk of which will build turbines in Wyoming, a top coal-producing state. A Texas-based company is looking to build five transmission lines that would bring energy from rural to urban areas. Internationally, renewables press on: German tenants won the right to place solar panels on rented roofs, while a Chinese province of nearly 6 million people generated all its power for an entire week without fossil fuels. The world’s first floating wind farm launched off the coast of Scotland, showcasing new technology now available to unlock expanses of ocean for generating clean energy. In the research and development sphere, Japanese scientists are studying the flight of owl wings in an effort to develop quieter wind turbines.

Oil is becoming a problematic investment, even for oil companies

In our last ClimateCast, we noted an emerging consensus among investors: clean energy is good for business; oil, increasingly, is not. Recent actions show this consensus gaining momentum: President Trump gave the green light to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, yet oil producers and refiners seem to no longer be interested. Despite Trump’s drill-baby-drill approach to reopen federal waters for oil exploration, fossil fuel companies are now hesitating to move forward with projects due to low crude costs. Investors are becoming more concerned with aligning investments with the realities of a two-degree warmer world; energy firms face shareholder demands to lower emissions, while some pension funds are demanding more commitment to climate action from firms they invest in.

Moving forward and pushing back: climate action continues at all levels

Despite disheartening federal rollbacks on climate, climate action continues, from House Republicans in the Armed Services Committee approving a measure to study climate change’s impacts on national security, to teachers educating students on climate change even when not mandated to do so. 1,400 US mayors have passed several resolutions pushing back against federal policies on climate change, as well as passing a resolution supporting cities’ transitions to 100 percent renewable energy. In California, a lawsuit challenging an integral part of the state’s cap-and-trade program was dismissed. Former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres has spearheaded a new plan mapping out an achievable pathway to stopping increased emissions by 2020. The plan has been endorsed by dozens of prominent climate scientists and experts.

Snowballing toward electrified transportation: the beginning of the end for gas cars

Oregon has successfully passed a transportation package preserving the state’s low-carbon fuels standard, only amending it to incorporate consumer protections already part of rulemaking efforts. Last week we wrote about the program under attack, but thanks to bipartisan efforts in the Oregon Legislature, the low-carbon fuel standard now has the economic certainty needed to further develop the Pacific Northwest alternative fuels market. Volvo announced plans to completely cease production of solely combustible engine cars starting in 2019, making them the first big car manufacturer to transition to 100% electric and hybrid vehicle production. France announced that the country will completely ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040 as part of its push to become carbon neutral by 2050. The affordable Tesla Model 3 begins rolling out later this month.

It’s a beautiful world—and it’s melting in this heat

Icebergs and ice sheets are melting across the globe; the Larsen C iceberg, soon to break off of the Larsen C ice shelf, will be big enough ice to fill more than 463 million Olympic swimming pools, while the melting Greenland ice sheet could raise global sea levels by 23 feet if it were to melt completely. Too bad we won’t actually be filling swimming pools, as people in cities may especially need them to cool off: climate change is projected to seriously exacerbate the urban heat island effect if no measures are taken to reduce emissions. Speedier sea ice warming is projected to spread pollution further, while warming temperatures are leading to a rise in wildfires worldwide—even in the boreal forests and permafrost tundra of the Arctic. Siberian forests are burning at an unprecedented rate. Montana farmers are struggling with low wheat yields due to hotter and drier conditions. Wheat is the state’s number one crop, valued at nearly $1 billion last year.

The climate crisis: bad for public health, good for rampant inequality

Warming temperatures are pushing tropical diseases further north in the US. While all are at risk, the poor and those living in Southern US states are most susceptible, suggesting that climate change will only further exacerbate inequality. Research on cities in Canada reveals a growing need to treat the climate crisis as a public health crisis, as climate disasters cause widespread psychological distress, and summer heatwaves pose significant health risks. Additional research shows that an unimaginable two billion people could become climate refugees by the end of this century. Climate change may also threaten global food supply, as extreme weather events could impact crop delivery and availability. Among nations, evidence suggests a correlation between income equality and decreased carbon emissions: South Korea, Japan, France, Italy and Germany emit less carbon on average than their unequal affluent country counterparts, the US, Canada, Russia, South Africa and the UK.

Washington State climate victories

In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee just rejected the state legislature’s proposal to commit public funds to the construction of a fossil fuel gas plant. While Transalta may decide to pursue construction without tax dollars, Inslee’s decision sent a strong message: Washington State will not subsidize new fossil fuel projects. Governor Inslee deserves a second round of applause—he also just closed a tax exemption loophole in the state’s budget that previously gave oil companies a free ride. This change signifies that during the next two-year budget cycle, oil companies will be forking over $51.8 million that had previously been withheld from Washington taxpayers.

In Brief: Winter is coming (or at least it was supposed to be)

Game of Thrones is on our minds, with the seventh season premiere this Sunday. But climate change is on Jon Snow’s mind—actor Kit Harington said climate change impacted this season’s filming. This is the second major production in recent years reporting that climate change has influenced filming locations; The Revenant moved filming locations to find snow. Winter may be coming in Game of Thrones, but it’s sure difficult to find here these days.