Adam Markham is executive director of Clean Air-Cool Planet, a climate advocacy group dedicated to helping the Northeast lead the way in halting global warming.
Monday, 21 May 2001
Monday is one of the days I drop my daughter, Tessa, off at day care. I left her excitedly demonstrating to her teacher how the green frog she saw over the weekend hopped into a pond.
Then, coming to work this gray and chilly New England morning, I thought about the report that our intern, Adam Wilson, delivered to the office late on Friday. It’s a terrific piece of work — probably the most comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions done by any university in the country. It will lay the groundwork for a campus-wide global warming strategy. Together with the University of New Hampshire’s Office of Sustainability, we’ve been rushing to get it ready in time for the Senate Environment Committee field hearing Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) will hold at UNH on 30 May.
Slowing global warming is what Clean Air-Cool Planet (CA-CP) is all about. We’re a start-up organization, barely a year old, but already making a difference. We work in the Northeast to get people and organizations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. When CA-CP was founded, the thought was that climate policy was gridlocked in Washington, but a regional group could help move things forward by engaging people from all walks of life to show leadership by taking voluntary action.
Of course, this was all before President Bush decided to dump Kyoto, roll back efficiency standards for air conditioners, and lay out an energy policy centered on drilling, digging, and burning. Now CA-CP’s civil society approach to mobilizing people on climate change seems all the more necessary.
I feel like I’m at ground zero in the climate debate here in New England. Just a few weeks ago, Massachusetts’ acting governor, Jane Swift (R), became the first governor in the country to do what President Bush backed off from, introducing rules to force power stations to reduce carbon dioxide and three other pollutants. Before that, New Hampshire was the first state to design a voluntary greenhouse gas registry, which will eventually allow businesses and others to gain credit for early actions to reduce emissions. Energy technology companies are thick on the ground here, too, with fuel-cell manufacturers and solar businesses being particularly plentiful. This was the region that spawned the first industrial revolution in America and it may well be the crucible for another.
One of our partner organizations, the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, recently calculated that the Northeast would be the world’s eighth largest emitter of greenhouse gases if it were a country. The 39 million of us who live in the region have a real responsibility to do something about the problem. It’s CA-CP’s job to get more people involved in solutions to global warming. With a full-time staff of three, and two interns, that’s quite a challenge.
As we do most Mondays, we kicked off the day with our weekly staff meeting. Turns out it’s going to be a busy week and I’m glad you’ll be with me to hear how it goes. Tomorrow, we are hosting a meeting of towns in the Cities for Climate Protection program, and on Thursday, we have an all-day workshop with some of our board and advisors to finalize CA-CP’s communications and outreach strategy. We also have to prepare for next week’s board meeting. Throw in some fundraising, a public lecture, new partners to approach, and two reports that we need to launch, and you get the idea.
My second meeting today dealt with one of those reports. We’ve been putting together a series of case studies showing how people all over the Northeast are already showing the way by cutting emissions. The report, “Cool Solutions to Global Warming: 24 Success Stories from the Northeast,” will be published on 5 Jun., and today we are working on a press strategy. We decided to tailor press releases for each of the eight states we’re working in to showcase the local climate champions. For example, in New Jersey we’ll talk about the state park that’s found a way to use geothermal energy, while in Connecticut we’ll highlight the utility that exchanged thousands of halogen torchiere lamps for safe and efficient compact fluorescent models. One of my favorites is the Shaw’s Supermarkets case study. Shaw’s signed up as our first formal partner last December, and we are working with them on half a dozen new projects, from energy efficiency to public education. It’s pretty exciting to be working this closely with a regional company that has $4 billion in annual sales and more than 4 million customers every week.
Then it was off to Kingston, to have lunch with the president of Northland Forest Products — the company from which we purchased Forest Stewardship Council-certified sustainable timber for our office furniture. Northland has a great story to tell about an investment to save energy. They replaced their old kiln-drying motors with a variable speed system, and the investment paid for itself in 18 months. Less energy used and less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere is their approach, thus proving that energy conservation is not just a “personal virtue” as Dick Cheney would have us believe.
Back at the office after lunch to work on the agenda for our communications strategy meeting and start preparing a talk I have to give in Boston tomorrow night.
Talk to you soon.
Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Two years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d end up in New Hampshire. I had been running World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Change Campaign for six years in Washington, D.C., but I jumped at the chance to help start Clean Air-Cool Planet. It seems to me that the only way to get results on climate is to build a stronger public movement for change outside the beltway. To shift people from vague concern to real action, we need to bring climate change home to them and show how it affects the places they live and the things they care about.
Sometimes I just have to look out of my office window to be reminded of how global warming is going to change the fabric of life in New England. We have a second-floor downtown space looking straight out into the gardens of the historic Moffat-Ladd house. There’s a 200-year-old, horse chestnut tree outside, and in the winter, I can see through its branches to the Piscataqua River. Lobstermen ply the river, and I often wonder how their catches are affected by the ocean warming detected in the North Atlantic.
I’ve been keeping a list of all the birds I’ve seen from my window and was thrilled to return from a meeting late yesterday afternoon to spot a beautiful magnolia warbler feeding in an apple tree just outside the window. This is one of a whole host of warblers and other birds whose range is expected to shift as a result of global warming. The New England Regional Assessment to be published in a few weeks will document the changes that are already occurring here. On average, winters are noticeably warmer, ice
is melting off the lakes earlier, and heavy rainfall events are becoming more common. One of the biggest threats is to the maple syrup industry — sugaring season is already getting earlier in Vermont and pretty much all the models predict that sugar maple trees will eventually be pushed almost entirely out of New England if the warming trend continues.
Clean Air-Cool Planet has compiled a fact sheet on observed and predicted climate impacts in New England. We’re following that up with an ambitious project to identify a suite of indicators of climate change in the Northeast. Today I’ve been making calls to several of the scientists that are helping us. We’re looking at everything from apple blossom time and coastal erosion to the spread of Lyme disease and the number of ozone alert days, anything with a clear connection to climate variation — a rock-solid, long-term data set and a connection to people’s daily lives. This project has the potential to develop into a strong bridge between hard science and the public.
The main business for CA-CP today, though, is the training workshop we’re hosting for the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Working with ICLEI, our associate director, Charlene Garland, helped recruit 21 towns to the campaign this year (including Buffalo, N.Y.; Gloucester, Mass.; Portland, Maine; Nashua, N.H.; and Pawtucket, R.I.). And with the help of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, we’ve enabled 17 of the cities to get interns to work through the summer on greenhouse gas inventories. I spent the morning with eight of the interns and city staffers from their host towns in a training workshop over at the Portsmouth Sheraton. It’s a great mix of people — a couple of city planners, some folks from public works departments, and city environmental coordinators, along with some really smart postgraduate interns from universities across the region. They all seem to share a desire to give back to their communities. I hope everyone was as inspired as I was to hear Chris Giovinazzo of ICLEI talk about the amazing things that cities like Fort Collins, Colo., and Austin, Texas, have pulled off to achieve emissions reductions totaling hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and improve the quality of life of their citizens. If we can take this program a step further in the Northeast, it’s going to be an exciting project to be a part of.
Now I’m back in the office for the rest of the day with a bunch of administrative loose ends to tie up. I just mailed out CA-CP’s membership to the New England Science Center Collaborative (which I’ve been meaning to do for weeks!). The collaborative is a relatively new initiative that links research institutions, like the Mount Washington Observatory, to science centers, like the Massabesic Audubon Center, to increase public education on climate change.
Next, there’s a packet of information about CA-CP to send out to a prospective new board member, a brief progress report to fax to one of our foundation funders, and a slew of rapidly aging emails to reply to. I’d better stop staring out the window and get down to it.
Wednesday, 23 May 2001
One of the joys of a New England spring, the fine fragrance of lilacs, is in the air everywhere today. Unfortunately, it’s been cold and hasn’t seemed very springlike lately. Where is global warming when you need it? Even though it seems unusually cool this week, we do know that the long-term trend is towards earlier signs of spring. Lilacs in gardens all over the Northeast are blooming five or more days earlier on average than they did 40 years ago.
My first hour in the office today was spent finalizing the agenda and preparing background documents for tomorrow’s communications strategy meeting. We’ll be trying to set priorities for our outreach and media work and to devise an effective plan to motivate people and institutions to implement climate solutions. We need to do a lot of work to find messages that shift people from apathy to action. Somehow, the issue of climate change needs to be elevated to the same level of concern that an issue like clean water generates. Many people feel that global warming is a future problem that is too big for any one person to contribute to solving. We want to transform that attitude, so that people see the relevance of climate change to their community and daily lives and feel empowered to help change things for the better. We learned during the presidential election that every vote does count. Well, every action to reduce emissions counts, too, and individuals can make a difference.
Sorting through my recent email, I found one from an old friend in the U.K., Chris Rose, who I worked with at Friends of the Earth in London in the early ’80s. He wanted to draw my attention to a new British grassroots group Families Against Bush (For Our Climate). It’s one of many new initiatives springing up around the world in response to the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Here in the U.S., that depressing news was followed up with a series of other environmental setbacks and capped off last week with the president’s new energy policy proposals. The energy plan is the topic of a lot of conversations I’m having these days. Not just with journalists and other environmentalists, but with business people, neighbors, and even the guy who runs the coffee shop downstairs. To update myself, I go back frequently to the excellent critique of the plan posted on the web by the League of Conservation Voters.
Later today I’ll be making some calls to help with a response to the energy policy from the higher education sector. One of our partners, the Tufts Climate Initiative, is circulating a letter drafted by Tufts’ president, John DiBiaggio, calling for President Bush to place greater emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy and a shift away from oil and gas. More than 40 college and university presidents from around the country have signed on so far and we are looking for more who would be willing to do so.
Now it’s time to head into Boston for a meeting with one of the foundations that provided seed money back in 1999 to help Clean Air-Cool Planet get started. Without this kind of risk-taking philanthropy, it would be very hard for a new organization like ours to get off the ground and start making a difference. Maintaining the financial health of the organization and constantly working to identify possible sources of funds to help expand our program are big parts of my job, so I try to spend at least a part of each and every day on the fundraising trail.
Usually I take the bus if I have to go into the city, but I’m looking forward to having the choice of a train when Amtrak inaugurates its new route from Portland, Maine, to Boston, which will stop nearby at Exeter, N.H. Taking public transport not only helps reduce emissions, it also gives me time to do some reading. Today, I can’t wait to see what the papers have to say about Sen. Jeffords of Vermont’s possible defection from the Republican Party. Will he? Won’t he? Who’ll be chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee?
When I get back to town this evening, I’m planning on meeting up with Jon Coifman from the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. He’s coming up from D.C. for our communications workshop. Portsmouth was famous for the Frank Jones breweries in the nineteenth century and is still home to some excellent ales. I’m going to introduce Jon to the Smuttynose Brewing Company in exchange for hearing the latest news from inside the beltway.
Thursday, 24 May 2001
When you have a big agenda and a small organization, planning is everything, and today we dedicated the day to it. As the sun shone outside for the first time in a week, we worked away in the basement meeting room of a local hotel, piecing together a strategic communications plan.
Because Clean Air-Cool Planet’s main objective is to promote actions by individuals and institutions across the Northeast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, effective communication is central to everything we do. We have to build on a growing awareness of global warming and energy problems to find ways to stimulate behavior change. Our first year has been spent building relationships with some leading businesses, universities, and municipalities, as well as with community organizations, so that we now have some great examples of actions to talk about and a network of contacts to help us get the word out.
Today’s meeting brought staff and board members together with four outside communications advisors who deal with energy and air pollution issues on a regular basis. CA-CP works with a range of partners on a rather large variety of projects throughout the Northeast, so there are a huge number of communications opportunities out there. Our challenges today were to set priorities so that we don’t spread ourselves too thin and to develop a detailed plan for the next 18 months.
The premise that got CA-CP started in the first place is that the Northeast can lead the nation in halting global warming, and that remains the central message in everything we do. Now we are beginning to tell the stories of regional leaders who are demonstrating the practical and economic advantages of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Regional businesses as diverse as organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, communications giant Verizon, and the Connecticut metal plating company Whyco Technologies recognize that saving energy is good for business and the climate. Higher education institutes across the region, including Middlebury College, Brown University, and Rutgers University, are all implementing programs to reduce energy use, and a long list of cities and towns are moving to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
One of CA-CP’s first orders of business is to make sure that these and other stories get told. We want to inspire others to take action. We also want to broadcast the message loud and clear that we don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. We can have both — saving energy saves money. This message doesn’t seem to have broken through to the president’s energy team yet.
We have plenty of work ahead of us. We’re in the process of expanding our database of press and media contacts, as well as building relationships with journalists throughout the region. We need to find a low-cost way to keep our website relevant and regularly updated, and, as a new organization, we have to continue to work to establish our name in the region.
There was a lot of talk today about getting the message out and about how ideas are spread. Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a great book to read on that topic. He argues that with the right combination of people who are early adopters, highly connected, or very persuasive, a really "sticky" idea can spread through society like a virus. We’re looking for the global warming solutions virus.
In the early summer, we plan to organize some focus groups with community leaders and do one-on-one interviews with corporate decision-makers to help determine what might motivate people to take action on global warming. It’s very important to understand what influences decisions if you are trying to change behavior. Our research will help us stay focused on programs that can really have an impact, and it will also help us communicate about climate and energy issues in a way that matters to people.
Friday, 25 May 2001
This morning, news of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords’ defection from the Republican Party pushed energy issues off the front pages of most papers for the first time in weeks. Jeffords’ move, and the seismic Senate committee shake-up it will trigger, should also help knock some of the wind out of the sails of the Bush administration’s oil- and coal-friendly energy plan.
Not all of today’s news was good, though. The Boston Globe reported that an Interior Department advisory panel is recommending that the administration reexamine the current moratorium on offshore gas drilling on Georges Bank, off the coast of New England. Fished, and then overfished, for hundreds of years, Georges Bank is one of the most important natural resources in the U.S., and it is just too valuable to risk damage from drilling. The threat serves to remind us that this ill-informed energy plan isn’t just bad for the atmosphere, our climate, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but also for a host of other critical natural areas and ecosystems. You can check out some of the other threatened areas and listen to a cool new radio advert at the Wilderness Society website.
Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and you can see the difference on the roads around Portsmouth. Traffic is getting heavier as the tourist season gets off to a lumbering start. Soon, there will be a steady flow of gas-guzzling SUVs heading up Interstate 95 to the lakes and mountains. Tourism is a mainstay of the northern New England economy, but most of the people who leave their automobiles to paddle the lakes or hike the trails probably don’t give much thought to the environmental impacts of the gasoline they burned to get there. But when they have a hard time seeing through the summer haze from the mountain overlooks, they should have pause for thought. If, as predicted, global warming results in more days over 90 degrees in summertime, the problem will only get worse, and smog alerts will become more frequent. There is growing evidence to show that hiker health is affected by smog.
Some communities are acting to reduce vehicle emissions. Propane-powered Island Explorer buses on Mount Desert Island, Maine, have become a hugely popular way to visit Acadia National Park. The buses, which are about to begin their third season, helped avoid more than 50,000 car trips in the year 2000. Inland, Burlington, Vt., has developed a comprehensive climate action plan that includes tra
nsportation options such as initiating new commuter rail links, increasing bike and pedestrian facilities, and utilizing electric and natural gas vehicles in municipal fleets. There is a growing awareness that we need clean and efficient vehicles — and less of them — on the roads.
The week is winding down, and as it does, I’m coming to the end of my diary contributions to Grist. I’ve enjoyed sharing these last days with you. Next Tuesday we’re hosting a small reception to celebrate the first anniversary of Clean Air-Cool Planet opening its office in Portsmouth. On Wednesday, we have our quarterly board meeting, and after that it’s back to the daily business of building partnerships to reduce carbon emissions and spreading the word about all the good stuff that is going on. Make no mistake about it, there’s a revolution brewing in New England. But tomorrow is Saturday, and the biggest decisions I have to make are if I should set the tomatoes out in the garden and which beach Vicky and I should visit with Tessa to look for starfish.
Have a great weekend.