Will business listen to what our children are saying about the climate emergency?

This article was originally published in the North Bay Business Journal on October 25, 2019.

by Efren Carrillo and Ellie Cohen

Last month, millions of young people in the North Bay and all over the world participated in events that are part of a massive youth-led grassroots movement calling attention to the urgent need to decarbonize our economies now, not decades from now. The message young people delivered was aimed at climate deniers and governments that put profit over health in their refusal to recognize climate change as an emergency that threatens us all.

Will we as a society heed the clarion call of our young people?

Climate change poses grave and immediate threats, especially to children, the elderly, and people living in low-income communities. In response, the Pope and more than 70 of the nation’s leading health and medical organizations declared a climate crisis. We are running out of time to prevent irreversible consequences. Our only hope for a vibrant, healthy, and equitable future is to enact aggressive policies now.

The actions we must take are clear. As United Nations scientists reported, we must slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 while making significant progress toward removing upwards of one trillion tons of warming pollutants we have already put in the atmosphere. This will require rapid and far-reaching transformations in nearly every aspect of life: energy, industry, buildings, transport, land use and cities.

California is a leader in addressing climate change. Through landmark legislation in 2018, the state committed to reducing global warming emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieving 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045. Local governments throughout the state are enacting policies to support these more aggressive goals.

However, given the science and climate reality, California must, and can, do more. As the world’s fifth largest economy, California should continue to serve as a model for the rest of the country and the world. Working with scores of community and business partners, The Climate Center plans to help our state step up to the challenge.

But how?

California state and local governments must immediately enact a suite of policies that put us solidly on the path to reversing the climate crisis by 2030. That means committing to much more aggressive action and accelerated timelines for achieving net-zero emissions, healthy carbon-sequestering ecosystems, and resilient communities.

These policies are within our reach and include upgrading electricity production and storage to be 100% clean and safe by 2030; decarbonizing transportation by enacting a phaseout of new fossil fuel powered vehicle sales no later than 2025; and, managing rural, agricultural and urban lands to sequester more carbon while also aiding communities in coping with climate extremes, from extreme heat to drought and flooding.

The policies must also incentivize all Californians to make climate-friendly choices. Examples include transitioning to 100% renewable energy and replacing natural gas appliances with electric, leasing or buying electric vehicles, using more mass transit, e-bikes and e-scooters, and eating food produced and distributed with practices that do not contribute to the climate crisis.

Enacting these policies will have a long-term net benefit to our economy but will require major investments akin to the World War II wholesale retooling of the economy. To pay for them, we will we need more dedicated market-based mechanisms for putting a progressive price on carbon. California already has a cap and trade system. We also need to implement tax and dividend, frequent flyer fees, green bonds and other mechanisms.

In addition, we urge Californians to elect policymakers at all levels of government who are committed to aggressive policies that rein in climate change and hold them accountable.

Climate activists are fortunate in California that 80% of residents view climate change as a threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life. Two out of three (65%) support acting independently of the federal government on this issue (PPIC).

With a federal government that is becoming increasing hostile to California’s climate policies, we must work even more diligently to deliver climate solutions at the speed and scale that the science requires. To achieve this ambitious and necessary agenda, business will be an essential partner. Throughout the history of our nation, business has driven innovation. Here in the North Bay, many businesses are leading the way to building a vibrant and sustainable economy, from installing solar on rooftops to purchasing electric fleet vehicles to building microgrids that enable businesses to disconnect from the wide area grid and run autonomously.

Will California invest in making the youth-led climate strikes a turning point in the climate emergency? We can’t afford not to.

Ellie Cohen

Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center, is a leader in catalyzing cross-boundary, collaborative and just solutions to climate change and environmental degradation. She has received numerous honors 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 was named one of “100 Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet” in the US by the National Women’s History Project (2009) and she was selected to participate in the Climate Reality Project’s second training with former Vice President Al Gore (2007).

Most recently, Ellie served as President and CEO of Point Blue Conservation Science where she and the organization’s 160+ scientists worked with hundreds of public and private partners to develop climate-smart solutions for wildlife and people. Collaborative accomplishments during her 20-year tenure at Point Blue include growing the organization five-fold to a workforce of 200 and an annual budget of $14 million; winning official Observer NGO status at the global climate policy body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Ellie represented Point Blue in Bonn, Germany at COP23 and in Katowice, Poland at COP24); securing ~$100 million of conservation investments in over 2 million acres of agricultural lands (rangelands, croplands, creeks, and forests) for water, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and local communities; and, guiding 95% of the urbanized coast of California (70+ jurisdictions) in preparing for sea level rise and extreme storms. You can follow Ellie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Among her collaborative leadership roles, Ellie served as an invited member of the National Adaptation Forum‘s Steering Committee, the California Adaptation Forum’s Advisory Committee and the San Francisco Bay Area’s Resilient by Design Research Advisory Committee. As an invited member of the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Climate-Smart Conservation team, Ellie co-authored the climate-smart conservation principles and communications chapter in the national “Guide to Climate-Smart Conservation, Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice.” Ellie also co-founded the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium and served as Chair of the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative as well as the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Habitat Joint Ventures.

Born in Baltimore, Ellie received her undergraduate degree with honors in botany from Duke University. Field studies in butterfly ecology brought her to California. She later received her Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where she was honored with the Policy Analysis Exercise Award for highly distinguished performance and the first annual Robert F. Kennedy Public Service Award. In 2001, she was awarded a fellowship to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business’ Executive Program for Non-profit Leaders.

Ellie volunteers as an invited member of the County of Marin Drawdown Sequestration Collaborative, an appointed member of the San Anselmo Sustainability Commission and an appointed member of the Marin Municipal Water District’s E-Bike Community Advisory Committee.

She and her family live in San Anselmo, California with 2 teenagers, 2 dogs and 2 cats (indoors, of course!). Ellie enjoys e–biking, birding, hiking, baseball, Broadway musicals, bassoon, landscape painting, historical fiction, cultural exchanges, Stranger Things, Bananas, Rumikub and everything climate change related. You can follow Ellie on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Ellie Cohen
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