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Climate Center and partners: New Utility Reform and Clean Energy Resilience bills

URGENT: Have your organization sign on here to support utility reform and clean community energy resilience. Individuals, please reach out to your state elected officials here.

A key priority of The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe CA effort is to advance the ability of local governments to create fossil fuel-free, safe, resilient and accessible local electricity systems.

Technology advances — including rapidly-declining costs for solar and battery storage — are making it possible to build an entirely new decentralized, integrated electricity grid.  This will require utility regulatory reform and new funding to empower local governments to be in charge of siting decisions about new energy infrastructure, rather than communities having decisions imposed upon them by distant corporate decisionmakers. Governor Newsom recently articulated some of the needed principles for this vision, echoing policy proposals that have been recommended by The Climate Center and partner organizations.

The Climate Center, in collaboration with Advanced Community Energy (ACE) initiative partners, recently advanced two bills in the California legislature to achieve these policy priorities:

  • SB 1314  (Introduced by Senator Bill Dodd). The Community Energy Resilience Act requires the Strategic Growth Council to develop and implement a grant program for local governments interested in developing clean energy-based community energy resilience plans.
    • Why the bill is needed: Climate change-driven drought and fire conditions, along with dangerously outdated electricity infrastructure, led to costly power shutoffs in 2019. In the wake of last year’s disasters and facing future shutoffs, utilities and local governments are scrambling to find solutions that keep the electricity flowing. Unfortunately, dirty fossil fuel back-up generators are being installed in towns, businesses and community facilities across the state. These short-term electricity sources are counter to state goals for greenhouse gas reductions, environmental protection, and public health and safety. Today’s cost-effective, clean and decentralized clean energy resources can provide a better solution:  when grid power is down, microgrids can disconnect from the larger grid to provide reliable clean power to key facilities such as fire stations and schools.  SB 1314 would initially prioritize funding lower-income communities in fire prone regions to plan for clean energy resilience. For additional information, see the recently released report by Vote Solar as well as the Community Energy Resilience Act Budget Request Letter submitted to legislators by The Climate Center and partners.
  • SB 1240 (Introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner). This bill would require the California Energy Commission, in consultation with the California Independent System Operator (which manages the flow of electricity into and across the state), to identify and evaluate options for transforming the electricity distribution system to becoming an open local electricity market.
    • Why the bill is needed: The basic architecture of our electricity system hasn’t changed over the past hundred years, notwithstanding substantial technological advancements.  Power no longer flows one way, from distant large power plants to cities and homes. It is now possible for power to flow back and forth locally within a distribution system.    With the implementation of the state’s renewable energy goals, the growth of smart appliances and electric vehicles, and dramatically declining prices for clean energy, a cleaner, decentralized grid is now possible – which would require substantial changes in how our electricity system is managed. This new legislation, if passed, would speed the transition to a 21st century decentralized and clean electricity system. For additional information, read this Vox article.

We are grateful to Senators Dodd and Skinner for their leadership.  To help secure passage, we need organizations across California to register their support for these two bills.   Click here to add your organization to the list of supporters.

How’s Ann?

Those who know me are naturally curious when learning the news that Ellie Cohen became the new CEO of The Climate Center (formerly the Center for Climate Protection). Am I retiring? Cutting back? Motivated by some other personal reason? This concern really touches me. Here’s the backstory.

The move to hire Ellie was strictly mission-driven – something I initiated. We’ve known each other since 2005. I’m enormously impressed by her vision, smarts, strategic acumen, fundraising track record, energy, and joy.

When I heard at the beginning of the year that she sought a climate leadership position, I jumped at the chance to ask her if she might consider becoming the head of our organization. Although I wasn’t looking to change the job I love, Ellie’s availability presented a unique opportunity. With her, we could vastly strengthen our team to address the climate crisis. Through months of exploring with her, this possibility became a reality. Ellie saw in us an ideal platform for launching a rapid statewide decarbonization campaign. In August, our board and Ellie struck an agreement. I was and am thrilled.

Ellie began work here on September 3. I am staying on staff full time. Yes, this arrangement is unusual, but it’s a really good one. My new title is Chief Strategist, a role that will evolve over time. My first job is supporting Ellie as the new CEO. For me working with her has been exciting, intense, and inspiring.

Roll up your sleeves, everyone. Together we will enact the rapid decarbonization policies that put us on the path for a safe climate, starting in California!

In major push for rapid decarbonization in California, The Climate Center hires new CEO

  • Ellie Cohen, former Point Blue CEO, will lead the Center’s collaborative efforts to address the climate emergency in California and beyond
  • The rapid decarbonization campaign, focusing on sustainable mobility to healthy lands, expands upon the Center’s key role in growing Community Choice Energy, which now offers clean, non-fossil fuel electricity to 10 million people—one quarter of all Californians

Santa Rosa, Calif. August 13, 2019—The Climate Center announced today that Ellie Cohen will join the organization in the newly created position of CEO, starting September 1st. Cohen, a national leader in collaborative nature-based climate solutions, will spearhead the organization’s climate emergency policy efforts in California and beyond. Ann Hancock, the Center’s co-founder and Executive Director, will continue on staff as a vital member of the Center’s leadership team.

“Climate change is a global emergency we ignore at our own peril. Swift and bold action is long overdue,” said Efren Carrillo, President of the Center’s Board. “Today’s leadership announcement is a key element of our new strategy to accelerate speed and scale greenhouse gas reductions. Ellie Cohen is a visionary and proven leader, manager, and fundraiser with a track record of forming successful climate-smart conservation partnerships. Working collaboratively with other climate leaders, Ellie and the Center’s team will focus on decarbonizing California for a safe, sustainable future for all.”

Said Cohen, “The Arctic is burning, Greenland is melting, the ocean is heating up, and ecosystems are rapidly degrading—all driving record-breaking temperatures, drought, flooding, and wildfires. We urgently need to enact policies that, at minimum, align with the science and climate reality to return to a safe climate. There is no other organization in California better suited to create the broad coalition necessary to address these challenges than The Climate Center. I’m excited to build on the Center’s pioneering leadership in local government climate action, its proven ability to convene and drive policy, and its central role in growing sustainable Community Choice Energy, which today offers clean, non-fossil fuel electricity to 10 million Californians.”

An honors graduate of Duke University (botany/ecology) and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (public policy), Cohen has received numerous honors recognizing her climate and environmental leadership, including the Beyond Duke Alumni Award for Service and Leadership (2019), the National Park Service Pacific West Region Partnership Award (2018) and the Bay Nature Environmental Hero Award (2012). She most recently served as President and CEO of Point Blue Conservation Science where she and the organization’s 160+ scientists worked with scores of public and private partners to develop climate-smart solutions for wildlife and people. During her 20-year tenure, Point Blue grew by five-fold to a workforce of 200 and an annual budget of $14 million. Under her leadership, Point Blue became an official observer NGO to the global climate change body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For more on Ellie, see here.

“Together with the Center’s many outstanding partners and concerned citizens across California, we must—and will—tackle growing climate change impacts to secure a healthy future for life on our planet,” said Cohen. “I am deeply grateful to the Center’s Board and especially to Ann for this opportunity to shape our collective future while there is still time to avoid the worst.”

Added Hancock, “I’m enormously proud of what the Center has accomplished over the past 19 years. Given the dire urgency of the climate crisis, it’s time to expand our capacity and catalyze significantly greater action. I look forward to working with Ellie to demonstrate how California, the fifth largest economy globally, can rapidly enact policies that will ultimately secure a safer climate, thriving human communities, and nature’s ability to sustain life.”

The Climate Center is playing a significant role in exponentially increasing Community Choice Energy (CCA) in California to speed up and scale up California’s transition to clean electricity. Five years ago, there were two CCAs in the state and today there are 19 supplying 10 million customers with 88% clean energy. The Center also wrote one of the nation’s first county-wide climate action plans (for Sonoma County, California), promoted novel efforts in support of electric vehicle adoption, and played a key role in establishing the first Regional Climate Protection Authority to coordinate climate action at the county-level, work that was recognized by President Obama. The Center was also honored with the Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “in recognition of exceptional contributions to global environmental protection,” among other awards.

Barbara Fry Apr 26 2019 (2)

Supporter Spotlight: Barbara Fry

Please meet Barbara Fry, one of our loyal “sustainers.” Barbara lives in Spring Lake Village, a beautiful retirement facility in Santa Rosa. 

She comes from a fascinating background. She spent many years in the Middle East including five years in Tehran as program director for the United States Bi-National Center specializing in English as a second language and American cultural programs. It was there she met her British husband, a radiation physicist.

They were married in Sheffield, England, and moved to the U.S. where he was instrumental in setting up radiation cancer centers, first in Salt Lake City and then Lubbock, Texas. Barbara did her part as a stay-at-home mom to their daughter, Susan, and a hard worker for various charities. 

After her husband retired, the couple moved to Oakmont to be closer to their daughter and her family including two grandsons.  

In what was then considered to be a bastion of Republicans, Barbara helped establish the Oakmont Democratic Club. To her astonishment they played to an over-flow crowd that first meeting. The club continues to be a significant political presence today.

After her husband died she moved to her present home where she concentrates her efforts on the future. Upon hearing Ann Hancock speak in Oakmont, Barbara started a monthly pledge to the Center. In addition, she contributes regularly to four other environmental groups.

She drives a hybrid and plans to give up her car completely in two years when she turns 90. She recycles everything she can and consistently turns off the lights.  

Having lived in the Mid-East and England for years, conserving water is ingrained. Not having a clothes line doesn’t stop her from conserving either.  She just hangs her partially-dried things in the living room overnight.

Although she still travels, she relies on bus tours and eschews air travel because of the emissions.

She has sold her stock connected with fossil fuels and invests in companies run by women as well as some 501(c)(3)s.

Finally, she and others in the facility have made sure that the recent construction and all future development include solar panels.

Barbara is quick to say that most of the seniors in her facility are terribly concerned about the climate crisis.  But then her face lights up and she assures me that she is optimistic about the future. “I’m putting my hope in California,” she says.  

So are we, Barbara. And with supporters like you, it is easier to hope.

A journey: From ‘Tree Freaks’ to researching greenhouse emissions in transportation

Photo: Allison Piazzoni at graduation.

by Allison Piazzoni, Intern with The Climate Center

All too quickly, my internship with The Climate Center has come to a close. During the five months I spent with the Center, I made lasting connections and learned valuable skills that I will take with me into my professional life. With the guidance of Executive Director Ann Hancock, I conducted research for the Center’s Solutions Advisory Panel regarding transportation emissions in California. I designed and implemented a research project from start to finish. Ann Hancock and I developed the idea of interviewing transportation professionals on the issues of current transportation practices, speed-and-scale solutions to reduce emissions, and how to achieve emission reduction. From there, I decided to follow up the research survey with a literature review. I conducted hours of research using scientific journals and reports to synthesize the responses. Overall, the research paper produced viable solutions and an urgent call to action for the transportation sector.

As my bachelor’s degree came to a close, I reflected on the decisions I made that lead me down a path of environmentalism. I believe that my life was largely shaped by the time I spent growing up in the outdoors. When I was eleven, my friend has just learned how to code HTML and taught me how to make websites. After that, I created a website called “Tree Freaks” and I filled it with pages about saving the environment. I think the website has since been deleted, but it was something I researched and read about from a young age. Then, at thirteen, my Girl Scout Troop worked to design a community service project. I came up with the idea of Project Can Man, a recycling campaign at my middle school. We bought recycling cans and hand designed every single one with Can Man or Bottle Babe as the mascot and icon for what to recycle. The project evolved into a permanent recycling program at the school that continues today. Looking back, it comes as no surprise that I pursued a career and life centered around the natural sciences and environmentalism.

When I first met Executive Director Ann Hancock, she asked me what I wanted people to remember about me when I was gone. After pondering for a few seconds, I responded with something like, “I want people to remember that I loved what I did, that I loved the people in my life, and that I did something with my life that truly made a difference.” I believe that I have learned valuable skills to help me achieve that goal during my internship with The Climate Center. I am eager to follow my passions and pursue a career that combines my love for wildlife, ecology, environmental activism and the outdoors.

How to significantly reduce GHG emissions in the transportation sector in California by Allison Piazzoni, June 2019 (pdf)

Allison Piazzoni is a graduate of Sonoma State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies, Conservation & Restoration and a minor in Biology.

Burning thighs are better than a burning planet

My thighs are burning but better that than a burning planet! Having never done any more biking than commuting to work or buying groceries, I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for the Climate Ride California – riding 250 miles over 5 days from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo to raise awareness and funds about the climate crisis. So far this year, I’ve logged 885 miles in training, eaten countless burritos, and apologized to my cat for never being home.

Our The Climate Center team of 4 intrepid riders has pledged to raise $20,000. With only weeks to go, we’re more than $3,000 from our goal.

Please support us and you will be supporting the Center’s vital work >>

Review of Designing Climate Solutions

by Buddy Burch, The Climate Center

Hal Harvey’s 2018 work entitled Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, provides the reader with a primer in constructing effective policies to avoid catastrophic global temperature rise. Harvey is deeply ingrained in the climate movement. A graduate of Stanford University with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Engineering, he is the founder of ClimateWorks Foundation and Energy Foundation, and he is the CEO of Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC. He was appointed to energy panels organized by Presidents Bush and Clinton, and he is active on many other boards and foundations that are doing important work to mitigate climate change.

I read this book as part of an ongoing examination by The Climate Center on policy in the climate movement. We are searching for the best strategies to align the movement, and we argue that having strong policy criteria gives organizations something powerful to work with. My mission aside, Harvey is clearly an expert in the material, and I personally look forward to having this book on my shelf as I enter graduate school for urban planning.

The work starts with the premise that humans must achieve a 1,185 Gigaton emissions reduction in order to have a 50 percent chance of avoiding a 2-degree Celsius global temperature increase. He then divides the book into sections based on the five sectors in which these emissions ought to occur: power, transportation, building, industry, and cross-sector. Within each of these sectors, Harvey lays out criteria (he calls them “policy design principles”) for success that he has identified over the course of his research. These include building in continuous improvement, setting long-term expectations for fair planning, avoiding loopholes, eliminating unnecessary soft costs, and more. They are a consistent and helpful lens used throughout the book to demonstrate that policies cannot just be good in theory. They have to be thoughtfully executed.

Designing Climate Solutions can be a difficult read if you are not an environmental policy expert, but I believe that it is still worth the challenge in order to be better informed about the policies being implemented by your government. Being informed helps us ask for what we need. My only criticism is that, while Harvey goes into depth on the relationship among the five sectors and how to establish a strong portfolio of policy for each, he does not acknowledge how policy fits in with other strategies utilized by organizations in the climate movement.

At The Climate Center, we agree with his emphasis on policy solutions, but we also observe that not all organizations recognize the need for policies that offer speed and scale solutions. Many opt, instead, to educate people about the facts of climate change, exhort them to take individual action, or continue research efforts with little applicability. Given Harvey’s enthusiasm for policy, it would be helpful to hear more about his process of recognizing the importance of strong policy over other strategies.

_______________________________________

Isabella Burch works for The Climate Center as a legislative research assistant. She graduated from Claremont McKenna College in 2016 with degrees in government and philosophy. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning, concentrating on sustainability and environmental policy.

New Climate Control video

We like to yuk it up at The Climate Center. This may seem twisted because we’re so focused on the climate crisis. But laughing makes everything more fun. Plus, humor can be a good tool for communicating when sticking to the facts can be so terrifying and a turnoff to the very people we want to reach.

So we’re always on the lookout for how to bring humor to climate. Some inspiring examples are out there such as the Blue Man Group’s video and Will Ferrell’s spoof on President Bush explaining climate.

A favorite video of mine wasn’t directly about climate, but close. End of the World was one of the first videos to go viral. It’s raunchy, cynical, and hits my funny bone straight on. More than 16 million people have watched it.

Recently I read that the creator of End of the World was making a sequel. Then I read that he lives in Sonoma County. “That’s it! I’ve got to connect with him!” And so I met Jason Windsor, a professional art director and animator. Turns out he was very interested in finding a way to help The Climate Center.

Staff at The Climate Center already had an idea for a video – to joke about the fact that the name of our organization is really, really hard for people to remember. Most people refer to us as “Climate Control.” We thought making a video like this with Jason would be a good way to have fun and to find out if he was a match for us. Particularly we wanted to know if Jason had a talent for getting humor right because it can be very tricky, very easy to get wrong.

One other piece needed to fall into place before we could move forward with Jason – funding. We approached a friend of mine who focuses his philanthropy on art. He gave us an enthusiastic “yes” in response to our proposal. Green light!

Jason produced a script we loved. He told us who he needed to shoot the video, so we gathered staff, board, and selected supporters. Jason shot the video, recorded the narration, and worked his editing and animation magic. We released the final version of the video on June 28. So far it’s had more than 2,000 views on Facebook.

We’re enjoying all the views the video is getting. We’re also enjoying the comments. Here’s one from a former intern of ours: “HE made your guys’ video!!!? I used to watch that in high school with my friends constantly. He is the internet video OG. The new video really is dope by the way.” (If you’re like me, you’re stumped by what OG means. It’s Original Gangster, someone who’s been in the game a while.)

Another colleague, in gushing about the video, mentioned that the narrator’s voice sounded vaguely familiar. (It’s Jason’s.) When I asked if she knew the “End of the World” video, she exclaimed, “Oh my! That’s it!” and starting quoting lines from Jason’s original video that he made when he was 18 years old.

We welcome your feedback on our new video. And if you like it, we hope you’ll share it with others.

Destiny Rodriguez joins the Center as a community organizer

My name is Destiny Rodriguez, and I am an advocate for a stable climate and clean air, water, and soil – and for the environmental protections that are required to achieve those things. I have been an advocate for these things for as long as I can remember – from organizing recycle days and beautification projects in high school to lobbying for clean air bills for the Central Valley in Washington, D.C.

I was not aware I was an “environmentalist” until my college years. While making a presentation about plastics in the ocean and the mass destruction of aquatic life, my peers informed me that I am a tree hugger and an environmentalist. I took both labels with pride and, in fact, felt compelled to do more for the environment. So I began interning for nonprofits.

I became involved with air quality issues in 2006 while interning with National Parks Conservation Association. I was shocked to find out how poor the Central Valley’s air quality rated with other areas of California, and even more shocked to learn that the local air quality was affecting the Giant Sequoia sapling growth and the Rocky Mountain pika population. There was a direct correlation between the air quality and climate, and degradation of the pika’s ecosystem threatened them. I wanted to understand why and how we could fix this problem, which led me to the realization that problems are caused by local pollution.

In 2008, I graduated from California State University of Fresno with a B.S. in Mass Communications Journalism and Chicano Latin American Studies. I am the first one in my family to achieve a college degree.

In 2009, I started lobbying to legislators with the goal of more stringent air quality regulations for the Central Valley. I did this for several years with many different organizations and advocates. While on a bus to Sacramento with my peers, I quickly understood that advocacy was needed to push policies forward in order to make our leaders act. It was on that bus, where I was then labeled as an advocate; another badge I wear with honor. Later I would come to learn that advocacy on a local level was just as essential as to our state representatives.

While working for Central California Asthma Collaborative, I focused on public health concerns regarding children and the elderly. Asthma attacks can be caused by unhealthy air quality and are directly responsible for the majority of emergency room visits among children in the Central Valley. One in five children within the Valley is afflicted with asthma, having the highest levels of asthma in the state. I worked with school districts and administrative staff to develop health policies to protect students from exposure on extremely hazardous air days, which are very common in the Valley. On these days, simply breathing without any strenuous activity can cause lung tissue to scar. As an environmentalist and an advocate, I was able to successfully engage over 1,300 schools in a four-year period to check air quality and make necessary adjustments prior to sports and outdoor play for students. These schools spanned from Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Merced, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus counties. It was not an easy task to get schools involved, but having everyone at the table – including county superintendents, school superintendents, district nurses, physical education directors, wellness directors, principals, PTAs, and student groups – made these changes easier to put into action.

Poor air quality is directly responsible for many of the health and environmental problems in the Valley. Humans created these problems and we are responsible for finding solutions to them. My goal is to bring positive change to California and more specifically to my community. I believe that in order for change to occur, we need everyone at the table. I have been actively involved in this effort for over ten years and I’m just getting started.

I am proud to be an environmentalist and an advocate and I look forward to working with the Center to bring all stakeholders to the table to collaborate on solutions that benefit everyone.

 

 

 

Jodi Seward joins the Center as Ann Hancock’s Executive Assistant

I’m Jodi Seward, and I come to the fight against climate change from a very personal place. Where petroleum products are concerned…especially exhaust emissions, I am a canary in a coal mine. I moved to Santa Rosa in 1989 because my home in Redwood City sat between the 101 and 280 freeways and my struggle to breathe was constant. I had attended San Francisco State University on 19th Avenue where traffic congestion further aggravated my lungs. Without understanding the cause, I had been battling asthma, sinus infections, pneumonia, and a general sense of exhaustion for years. Now I know that I was drowning in car exhaust.

My aha moment was a vacation to Montana. In that brilliant clear air I could breathe without wheezing. I had energy. I could hike and enjoy spending time with my son. It was glorious!  I needed cleaner air, or my quality of life was going to continue to decline. The move to Santa Rosa and away from the smog of the Peninsula changed and possibly saved my life. I wasn’t ill – I was being poisoned. I went from taking 18 series of antibiotics in one year to having a relatively antibiotic-free life.

My first experience with The Climate Center was an email inviting me to an open house in June of 2015. I had just read an alarming report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and was feeling depressed and overwhelmed by the fact that climate change was being ignored and denied by so many of our legislators and corporations. I could write letters, sign petitions, recycle, bike, and conserve, but it felt like throwing a glass of water at a conflagration. I decided to attend the open house and find out exactly what The Climate Center was about. I remember feeling a surge of hope…maybe I had found an effective way to help.

The open house was a wonderfully welcoming event, attended by likeminded folks. The excellent food and wine didn’t discourage me either. I decided right then and there that if any of the skills I had developed over my 30-year career in administrative work could be of use to The Climate Center, I wanted to help. I was thrilled when Laurie-Ann Barbour called me to let me know I would be a welcome addition to the team of volunteers. That was three years ago.

I have wanted to be a part of this fabulous team of dedicated climate protectors, and I have been a valued contributor as a volunteer. Now I’m in deeper, as I’ve joined the staff at The Climate Center as Ann Hancock’s Executive Assistant. It feels good to be daily working to protect the climate and end the use of fossil fuels that so adversely affected my life almost 30 years ago. I know that our work will make a difference for those still living in the crosshairs of poor air quality, as well as for all life affected by our changing climate. Now I’m part of a commitment to doing this at speed and scale, and if you are reading this, you are too. I look forward to working together.