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Auden Schendler's Posts

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The eternal durability of greenwash

Not too long ago I was on a panel with GM's VP of Environment, and I was reminded of how very old school most big corporations are when it comes to discussing their environmental programs. In GM's case, listening to this VP, it was as if GM was God's great gift to the environment, and always has been. In fact, despite admirable efforts to retool the company around the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, GM has been nothing of the sort. Actually, it's been a death star for green, between its crappy, huge vehicles, and its gruesome and nauseating national greenwashing …

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Coal-nundrum and Ex-gas-peration

Recently, I met with the CEO of a utility to discuss how to get at carbon reduction goals. He asked two insightful questions. The first was, "Why doesn't the natural gas industry support climate legislation?" One of the key points turned up in the utility's analysis of future supply is that we're going to have to switch massively from coal to natural gas in the next fifty years to address climate change.  Because of that, the natural gas industry can't lose: it's a key transition fuel because its carbon intensity is half that of coal, and it's a proven source …

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John Bachar, Our Generation’s Great Hero

As a recreational rock climber and mountaineer, I've always seen my work on environmental issues as a natural extension of that passion for the outdoors, and also part of a long tradition: climbers and mountaineers have a long history of moving from their sometimes solipsistic, self-involved, and meaningless-by-definition sport into hugely important and weighty work, often in the environmental field. Names that come to mind include Yvon Chouinard, a shy and soft-spoken dirtbag climber and gear inventor who later founded Patagonia and became one of the leading thinkers, philanthropists, and spokesmen on sustainability. David Brower, the pioneering American mountaineer and …

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Three crucial steps to fixing climate change in cities

I was just in Boston at the excellent Living Cities Green Boot Camp, which was focused on what it will take to actually start hugely and radically retrofitting existing buildings in cities. Cities are, as you all know, a huge lever in solving climate change. Big cities have big climate footprints, and the bulk of those footprints are typically from buildings. The point of the boot camp was to figure out how to actually start this incredibly difficult process of fixing old buildings. How do you finance it? How do you actually do it? How do you make it happen …

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Fighting Coal in the Rockies

Fighting for the Waxman-Markey climate bill may be sexy and hip (and worthwhile), but here in the Roaring Fork and Vail Valleys of Colorado, without much fanfare, we are engaged in some trench fighting to solve climate change. A view from one of the ski lifts at Vail in Colorado.Courtesy Pravin8 via FlickrThe battle: trying to elect progressive board members to the rural coop (Holy Cross Energy) that supplies power to  the heart of ski country and and two of the largest, and most high profile, ski resorts in the United Sstates -- Aspen and Vail. It's a tough fight because nobody knows …

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Utility rate structures can be fun

Let's say you were a very powerful being, something called Utility God. And let's pretend you realized climate change was a big problem, and that it was something that needed to be solved using big strokes, not small measures. One of the big things you'd want to do, at least for the average Joe, would be to create a situation where homeowners would want to, would actually love to, save energy in their homes. You'd also use your magic wand to create a situation where renewable energy systems like solar panels had a much better payback than they currently do. …

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Deniers are just one off from the truth

I give a lot of talks on climate change and what we should do about it. Invariably, at the end, some smug white haired guy in his sixties raises his hand and says something like this: "I'm a smart guy (Phd, engineer, whatever—he lays out the credentials) and I'm a critical thinker. (of course!) and in my research on climate, I've come across a lot of controversy on the science. I don't think we're even close to resolution on this." This comment is, of course, incredibly intellectually lazy, because the scientific community has rarely had such comprehensive understanding of an …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Humanity faces the fight of a lifetime against heavyweight climate change

Suppose you'd been invited to go into the ring with Muhammad Ali at his prime, for a 15-round bout. You'd almost certainly have said, "No thanks." Climate change: down for the count. Photo: iStockphoto But what if you had no choice? Say someone had a gun to your head, and you'd be killed if you didn't comply? What would you do? One option would be to cower in the ring, letting Ali pound you senseless. But another approach might be to go for it: bob and weave, dance and waggle -- give it your best shot, maybe even have a …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Is greenwashing good for business?

In public talks about Aspen Skiing Company's environmental programs, I used to describe our wind-powered Cirque chairlift. Renewable-energy purchases for that lift keep 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, out of the air annually, I'd tell my audience. Furthermore, it was the first renewably powered lift in the country. My listeners would often applaud the accomplishments I was describing. But then I'd tell them they had been greenwashed. Walking the walk? Photo: iStockphoto To greenwash, according to Word Spy, is "to implement token environmentally friendly initiatives as a way of hiding or deflecting criticism about existing environmentally …

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Why is green building still so hard?

Recently, Colorado Company magazine highlighted a developer who believes in nothing but "green" building. It was a wonderful article, but it gets at an underlying question: why is this still a story? The idea of green building has not spread like wildfire. The mass-market building sector is oblivious. Most of the structures in trade magazines like Architectural Digest aren't green. Last month, The New York Times ran an article in which Robert A.M. Stern, dean of Yale's architecture school, said, "I think the trouble with environmentalism is that at most architecture schools it's been confined to a dreary backwater of …

Read more: Cities