Denis Hayes, Earth Day Network
Wednesday, 21 Apr 1999
WASHINGTON, D.C. and NEW YORK CITY
Today begins with bright sunrise, to the shock of many weathermen. I am to join with Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to dedicate a new solar array anchored on the barren south wall of the DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C. The predicted rain would have dampened spirits as well as equipment. I remind the crowd that a previous administration peeled the solar collectors off the roof of the White House, and congratulate Richardson that we are headed the other way again. Then I challenge him to cover the entire south wall with solar cells. This would be a project perhaps 500 times the size of the current installation. Nobody faints. So I congratulate him on President Clinton’s Million Solar Roofs initiative, and note that we should view it as an important way station en route to 100 Million Solar Roofs. Nobody faints. I decide to quit while I’m ahead.
Race out to Chevy Chase for a Fox TV piece with Lark McCarthy. Race back to Capitol Hill for a press conference for the Sustainable Energy Coalition with the chairs of the House and Senate Renewable Energy Caucuses, Secretary Richardson again, Dan Reicher (the assistant secretary for Good Energy), and James Woolsey (Jim, a former director of the CIA, is perhaps the nation’s most articulate analyst of the national security problems inherent in our skyrocketing dependence on imported oil. He co-authored a compelling article on this last year with Senator Lugar for Foreign Affairs). Scott Sklar, long-time executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Association, moderates the panel, wearing a solar-themed tie that we should sell on our website.
I next rush to the Alliance to Save Energy for a joint session with David Nemtzow answering questions in the Washington Post web chat room. Move ahead to a very late lunch, where a phone call alerts me that a conflict is bubbling up.
Greenpeace is upset that Earth Day New York plans to give an award tomorrow to Sir John Browne. Browne, the CEO of BP Amoco, was the first oil company chief executive to acknowledge global warming as a serious problem. He withdrew British Petroleum from the Global Climate Coalition — the powerful but fraudulent industry front group leading the battle against ratifying Kyoto. (This was, within the petroleum industry culture, akin to the head of Greenpeace endorsing commercial whaling.) BP is now the largest manufacturer of solar cells in the U.S.
P is still an oil company. It still earns 99 percent of its profits from fuels that produce the global warming that Brown speaks out against. BP has a deplorable record in Alaska. Some good environmental groups exist purely to protect Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from BP. A bill toward that end is currently before the Congress.
After about two minutes’ reflection, I decide I don’t have a horse in this race. Both EDNY and Greenpeace are headed by friends — folks I truly admire. But I have absolutely no control over either group. Neither of them sought my advice on whether the award should be given, or whether it should be protested. So I will stay out of the fray and let them both play their respective roles. (Ironically, if Greenpeace did not protest, the award would almost certainly pass unnoticed.)
A national environmental group asked me yesterday what I thought about them giving an award to George David, the CEO of United Technologies. George (who, incidentally, was inspired by John Browne’s courage) has similarly broken ranks with his industry. He speaks out against global warming more bluntly than any national political figure and with a depth of knowledge and conviction greater than that of many national environmental leaders. His Carrier air conditioners pioneered the elimination of CFCs and they lead the industry in energy efficiency. His Pratt and Whitney fuel cells are opening new technological opportunities for benign, decentralized energy. George is a passionate champion of energy efficiency, loudly pointing out that Japan (with 15 percent of the world’s GDP) consumes just 7 percent of the world’s electricity and only 4 percent of the world’s gasoline — whereas the United States uses 30 percent of the electricity and 43 percent of all gasoline! He finds this embarrassing, and he says so publicly. Coming from a titan of industry, these messages resonate.
But United Technologies is also a major defense contractor. It makes stealth helicopters and engines for F-22s. If George shows up for a global warming award, will he be picketed as a warmonger?
The environmental movement does not demand total agreement from religious leaders or labor leaders or even political leaders that it honors and invites to give speeches at our conventions. If we did, we would just talk to ourselves. It is harder for a Fortune 500 CEO to be pure than for a Senator. Yet we hold business leaders to a higher standard of purity. A puzzlement.
The day roars on. Finally — after three airplane delays — I fly to New York where I’m holding a press conference at the U.N. tomorrow.
Tonight I’ve found lodging at the Downtown Athletic Club — home of the Heisman Trophy. I arrive too late to get dinner. Starving, I stumble across a vending machine with Reese’s Pieces and a small bag of potato chips. I bleakly pop in a few coins and head across the lobby. Is there a moment in a former high school athlete’s life lower than stopping in a lobby to admire the Heisman trophy, and read the names of all the legendary gridiron athletes engraved on its side, before taking a bag of Reese’s Pieces up to his room for dinner?
At least the candy is vegetarian. Tomorrow I will try to get up in time for a workout before heading over to the U.N. press conference.