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Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza joins The Climate Center as its first Los Angeles Regional Organizer

I’m thrilled and excited to have started work for The Climate Center as our first Los Angeles Regional Organizer. Although I’ve studied and trained as a lawyer, I’ve worked on environmental policy-related initiatives for over 20 years and I believe I bring an innovative and collaborative energy to my work at The Climate Center.

During my career, I’ve championed environmental improvements from the perspective of environmental non-profit organizations, as an appointed government official on local, state and international levels, and through the lens of utilities. Most recently, I held a position at Southern California Edison in regulatory affairs. Immediately prior to that, I worked at statewide advocacy organization Coalition for Clean Air, where I tried to advance clean and green technologies in the freight sector, which contributes a heavy pollution burden to those who live and work near ports.

I came to environmental and climate work in a roundabout way. Just following my graduation from college and living in San Francisco, the first Gulf War broke out and I grew deeply concerned about the burning oil wells in the Middle East. Because I knew next to nothing on these topics, I attended a teach-in organized by Greenpeace and listened avidly to advocates discussing the role of access to oil and gas as the purpose for the armed conflict. The last speaker was Ellie Goodwin, an African-American woman from NRDC, who stood up and said, “All this discussion about global environmental impacts of oil production is great but we also need to talk about environmental abuses in our own backyards.” Ellie was the first person of color I had ever seen talking about environmental issues. She then began to describe lead-based paint poisoning in the Bay Area and its impact on children. And it was as if a light switched on in my head. I was planning to be a teacher at that time, and I thought, “How effective can I be as a teacher if my students are coming to me impacted by toxic exposure? What if they don’t have access to clean water and air?” After the teach-in, I approached Ellie and asked, “How can I learn more about the topics you were discussing today?” and she handed me a stack of publications entitled, “Race, Poverty and the Environment.” 

I took them home and read them all, studying them to understand this new idea. I had grown up in Montebello, a small city just east of East Los Angeles. I was literally from the wrong side of the railroad tracks on the south side – no grade separations – with lots of industrial uses nearby and diesel trucks constantly rumbling on the streets. As a sophomore in college, while home for the summer, my family was evacuated in the middle of the night due to a dangerous chlorine gas leak at a local business. The “nice” part of north Montebello was built on a former Superfund site, old oil and gas fields. These experiences resonated with what I was reading. That was it for me – I had found my passion and purpose.

I attended law school at UCLA with the intention of becoming an environmental justice lawyer. I took relevant courses such as Community Education, Outreach and Organizing, Environmental Litigation and Urban Housing. After a few years working at large law firms, I landed the job of a staff attorney and later, policy director, of the Los Angeles Environmental Justice Project Office of Environmental Defense Fund. For nine years, and in collaboration with numerous and diverse coalitions, I worked on advancing Community Benefits Agreements as a way to ensure environmental improvements of large development projects, as well as helping to launch the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust to convert abandoned lots into productive green spaces in the urban core. I also served as a volunteer appointed Harbor Commissioner on the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners overseeing operations at the Port of Los Angeles, where I helped to create and launch the first in the world Clean Air Action Plan to reduce harmful air emissions from mobile port sources. From there, I have worked in a number of different positions, some volunteer, some paid, including one as a volunteer appointee of President Barack Obama to an international advisory committee on environmental impacts of NAFTA implementation.

It was through this advisory committee that I learned much more about the harmful effects of climate change in North America. During June of 2019, at a meeting in Mexico City,my life was shaken again by a powerful speaker. During a presentation on “Climate Change: Disaster Risk and Reduction and Resilience” by Robin Cox, Director of the ResiliencebyDesign Lab at Royal Roads University (Canada), I was deeply moved by her speech on the need for urgent and bold – not incremental – action on climate change worldwide. Professor Cox’s persuasive and passionate words caused me to think deeply about my professional choices and how I could better align my work with the need to urgently address climate change in a deep and significant way. This led me here, to The Climate Center, where I hope to make meaningful and measurable contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing action to combat climate change.

Other motivations for me in this essential work is my 13 year-old daughter, numerous nieces and nephews and a deep desire to leave them with a sustainable future. We still have time to make a difference and with hard work and a sense of purpose, my colleagues and I at The Climate Center will make our mark fighting climate change and leaving behind a better world.

Julie Heric

Julie Heric joins The Climate Center as its Executive & Admin Assistant

My work in education emphasized reverence for the natural world. As the Office Administrator, I daily witnessed children making connections to the environment and was amazed by how effortlessly these young people understood the interconnectedness in every part of the world around them. Toddlers and preschoolers tended classroom gardens and experienced the joys of producing their own salads. Elementary students cared for the chickens and sold the eggs to raise funds for field trips. They learned about the relationship between farming, gardening and the carbon cycle. On the playground, students were observing wildlife (foxes, deer, hawks, and insects) and taking special care not to harm any of the living creatures around them.

Over the last five years, students’ outdoor play became increasingly restrictive due to dangerous air quality that resulted from wildfires. It was disheartening to watch how the undeniable impacts of climate change created a new normal. Young children wore N95 masks to play outside and required advanced air filtration in the classrooms.

I draw on those moments, watching the sense of wonderment in so many children, as inspiration to conduct the necessary work to support the executive team and the crucial mission of The Climate Center.

I am grateful to know that I may contribute to an organization that seeks to better the planet for future generations.

A conservation area on the outskirts of Cusco, beneath the peak Nevado La Verónica (Wakaywillka)

Emily Hendrick joins The Climate Center as Institutional Grants Manager

As a climate and social justice activist and advocate, I am excited to join The Climate Center as its first Institutional Giving Manager and work to ensure that my home state of California achieves net-negative emissions and serves as a model for other states and countries. Though I grew up in San Francisco, my environmental career began at Middlebury College in Vermont, which I chose due to the strength of its Environmental Studies program and the presence of faculty like Bill McKibben.

After earning a B.A. in Environmental Policy and minor in Psychology, and learning Portuguese to study abroad in Brazil, I attended the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA to obtain an M.P.A. in International Nonprofit Management. I soon became the Development Assistant for the Environmental Defense Fund in Boulder, CO. While enjoying the challenge of major gifts fundraising (and the challenge of summiting all of Colorado’s 14ers), I felt somewhat disconnected from our programs and yearned to be on the grassroots level, so I decided to move to Guatemala (where a number of my ancestors lived).

There, I managed major donor accounts for a nonprofit called Mayan Families, which works to advance education, nutrition & health, and economic development for indigenous communities around Lake Atitlan. The majority of my colleagues were locals, who spoke Spanish as well as K’iche’, Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil. After my contract ended I moved to Cusco, Peru to work as Strategic Relations Manager for the Association of Andean Ecosystems (ECOAN). As the only English-speaker in the office, I helped them develop relationships with U.S. foundations and raised money to create protected conservation areas for the habitat of critically endangered birds in the Sacred Valley and Amazon. In both places, I remember being so moved by seeing the social injustices suffered by indigenous Guatemalans (worsened now, by COVID-19) and the strong desire of Quechua-speaking communities to coordinate with us in restoring their land, for their own benefit as well as for the earth. Similarly, as a mountaineer, I remember being saddened by seeing glaciers recede from one year to the next in the Cordillera Blanca. During my time abroad, I garnered a deep respect for the systemic challenges these organizations and communities face. I joined Mayan Families’ Board of Directors in January 2021 and still provide occasional translations for ECOAN. 

In late 2016, I moved back to San Francisco to be closer to family. Armed with the desire to focus on social justice in my environmental work, I joined the development team at Friends of the Earth’s as their Grant Writer, raising foundation funding for projects ranging from arctic shipping standards to China sustainable finance to reducing pollinator-harming pesticides in retailer supply chains.

As time goes on, it becomes ever more apparent that the poorest, the elderly and people of color tend to have the least capacity to cope with crises like pandemics and the impacts of climate change, including drought, flooding, hurricane-force winds, and sea-level rise. We have the moral obligation to protect low-income and vulnerable populations while providing them with energy access, and to ensure that government health and education resources reach historically marginalized communities. I am excited to continue my career with The Climate Center and look forward to tackling these challenges in the years to come.

solar by Stacey Meinzen

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.

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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.