The Institute was proud to collaborate with Oberlin College for their three day conference "After Fossil Fuels – The New Economy." The event was organized by distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics David Orr and brought together thought leaders from across the United States. The conference focused on a wide range of clean energy economy related topics including "Capitalism vs. Ecological Economics in a Hotter World," "The Role of Investments" and "Local Solutions, Cities and States." The recurring theme found throughout the conference was the belief that clean energy is the next great economic opportunity for the United States, and the sooner state and national leaders act to support this, the more American workers will benefit.
Governor Schwarzenegger and Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, closed the conference with a bluntly honest, wide ranging and inspiring conversation moderated by Michael Duffy, Deputy Managing Editor for Time Magazine. Duffy began the conversation by stating that both major political parties seem entrenched when it comes to climate change issues and asked if it was possible for them to work together to help the environment. Governor Schwarzenegger responded by saying it is a mistake to attack opponents, whether it be political parties or oil companies, as it is much more beneficial to look for areas of agreement and common ground. He expanded on this point by explaining that his administration was regularly at odds with oil companies and automakers who were heavily in favor of exemptions from GHGs regulations but that they were still able to find opportunities to collaborate and work together. To illustrate this point he recounted a story where he asked Chevron to work with his administration to add hydrogen refueling pumps to their stations throughout California to help incentivize automakers to produce hydrogen fuel cell cars. Once Chevron understood that the request was being made in good faith and that it could potentially benefit their business they agreed. The former Governor stressed the importance of building bridges and how the results will sometimes surprise you.
Tom Steyer and Governor Schwarzenegger both talked about teaming up together in 2010 to fight Texas oil company interests that sponsored Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that attempted to suspend California’s climate change laws. They explained how early polling pointed to a win for the oil companies but how a television commercial put out by the American Lung Association helped turn the tide of the campaign. The ad conflated children’s health issues, principally asthma and cancer, with the pollutants that the oil companies were attempting to deregulate. The ad was tremendously powerful and highlighted a persuasive and effective way to talk about climate change issues.
Both Steyer and Schwarzenegger agreed that this lesson, one they discovered accidentally, is important for everyone to keep in mind when discussing climate changes issues. To effectively fight climate change, leaders need to communicate the issue in ways that resonate with people’s daily lives not abstract changes that might occur far in the future.
Schwarzenegger and Steyer also discussed the importance of educating the public about the job opportunities available by pursuing a clean energy economy. Schwarzenegger said you cannot go to coal workers in Ohio, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, and tell them that they are expendable. Instead it is important to outline a transition plan and vision that shows you value their health and long term prosperity. For example, no one wants to breathe coal dust or contract black lung disease unnecessarily. Instead they want to be excited by programs that offer safe and stable jobs and training in their own community.