John Mitterholzer, senior program officer for the environment with the George Gund Foundation, assured a group at Case last night that “there is a lot of money” coming from philanthropic organizations focused on keeping the United States on track to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Accord—even with the Trump Administration announcing its intention to withdraw from the first, global agreement to address climate change.
As world leaders gather in Bonn, Germany this week to hammer out the details of the Paris Climate Pact, Mitterholzer said he’s encouraged by hundreds of city and state governments—which announced their intention to stay in the global climate pact—and the support they are receiving from private business leaders, philanthropies and people who care about the environment.
“They are working together better than I’ve ever seen them,” he said.
A staunchly anti-environment appointment to the U.S. EPA in Scott Pruitt has meant that environmental policy and legal defense groups have had to sue the U.S. EPA to preserve the country’s most treasured environmental policies like the Clean Air Act and CAFE standards.
Philanthropy alone cannot right the imbalance between pro-environment efforts, which raised $88 million for climate change communications globally in 2015 versus $220 million spent by the fossil fuel industry on communications in the US alone in the same year, projecting a higher value on coal jobs.
“We need a much stronger narrative for clean energy,” he said. “The clean energy economy is here.”
Beyond staving off the harshest impacts of climate change, Mitterholzer said the economic arguments for the U.S. staying the course on the Paris Pact are crystal clear.
“We are beyond, ‘is clean energy good for the economy,’” he said, noting that 105,000 jobs are tied to it in Ohio, while 7,000 jobs are tied to coal in the state. “We need to show people in these industries, and the new lines of business, and how important clean energy is to our economy.”
Better communication, legal defense and pro-clean energy policy at the national and state level are the role of philanthropy, such as the consortium known as The Climate and Energy Funders Group in which Gund Foundation participates.
“We need to go deeper on state-level policy,” he said, “because if we get aggressive at the state it could meet the U.S. climate commitment.”
For example, Ohio snuck in a wind-power killing provision in the last budget bill that has an anti-business set back requirement. No new wind projects have come forward since, despite plenty of interest.
“There’s $2 billion in renewable energy economic generation waiting on the sidelines in Ohio.”
He added that state senators are coming around to removing the set back provision. “Because they see how much tax revenue can be earned from wind energy projects. We are making headway on the economics of wind.”
It is why he sees hope in settling that provision and the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which Ohio legislators froze a few years back. “Governor Kasich spoke about the benefits of a clean energy economy when he vetoed the last attempt to extend the freeze on renewables.”
He would also like to see a provision that Ohio may issue a fine on individuals who generate renewable energy removed.
He laments the politicization of climate change, and reserved criticism for the U.S. ceding its leadership role on the world stage at a time when renewable or clean energy is on a growth curve (while coal as a source of energy is in decline).
“We need more oppositional research to counteract the fossil fuel industry’s misinformation campaign.”
When asked about funding priorities, Mitterholzer said “we need more people knocking on doors talking about how important the climate is” in addition to the benefits of the clean energy economy.
Speaking about the scientific consensus that reducing carbon emissions on a level that will slow global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius by the turn of the next century and address some of the harsh impacts of climate change to conservative audiences, he advised instead to “connect with people where they are. It means understanding their values. Agriculture is a good example. Farmer’s know that something is amiss with the climate when their crop yields are down.”