Photo by WILL POWER / Flickr

It’s not about massive sacrifices, says Carl Pope. It’s about multiple opportunities.

It’s not about robbing us of freedom or progress or prosperity. It’s about making us richer, healthier and safer.

Pope is talking, of course, about climate change. He and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote the recent book on changing the conversation around the heated and highly-politicized subject. In town to speak at the first THINC30, an all-day summit hosted by Covestro on making Pittsburgh a more sustainable city, Pope summed up their thinking.

In short? The phrase “climate change” has become a loaded phrase — and a turnoff — and it’s distracting us from finding solutions.

“We view climate as a single problem which leads us to look for a single solution,” said the former director of the Sierra Club. “But it’s a symptom of multiple problems and each has its own solutions. We need to stop looking for a single bullet and break down the climate challenge into the problems that created it.”

As Bloomberg stated in the opening of their book, “Climate of Hope,” “Our interest is not winning an argument or election. It’s in saving lives, promoting prosperity and stopping global warming … We believe that by changing the conversation about climate change we can lower the temperature of the debate.”

Pope offered an example. “The thing that will help the U.S. waste less fossil fuel won’t help us eliminate illegal logging in Indonesia,” he said. Two problems, both around climate change, that require two different solutions. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to pin the term climate change to either of them to get action against them.

In a succinct talk that lasted less than 30 minutes, Pope conveyed the various problems of climate change with pie charts that showed how big each problem is in the scheme of things, along with the solutions he and his co-author propose.

From the presentation by Carl Pope at THINC30.

We offer a lightly edited and slightly condensed summary here that goes along with the chart above.

CO2: “End contraband logging and eliminate 15% of the globe’s climate problem.” Rainforests absorb CO2.  Since about half of timber cutting in the tropics is illegal, governments need to enforce a ban on contraband logging, said Pope.

Methane: “Capture and market flared or leaked gas. With methane, it’s quite simple to locate the leaks and repair them. American gas companies don’t do that. You pay not only for the gas you use but also the share that leaks. If we change those rules, it would be in the interest of the gas industry to capture that gas and repair those leaks.”

Nitrous oxide:  “… produced when we put too much nitrogen fertilizer on a field. Because we have a farm subsidy system, we’re producing corn and cotton we don’t need with farmer money. Instead of paying the farmer for polluting, why don’t we pay the farmer for producing clean air, clean energy and clean water?”

Halocarbons: “CFCs and HFCs are primarily used in refrigeration and air conditioning and are incredible disruptors of climate. There are safe, affordable alternatives.” The good news? “HFCs are now banned so that 5% (of the climate problem) will go away.”

Black carbon particles: “That’s soot. Poor families in places like Africa are cooking on biomass wood, charcoal and cow dung. 10% of women die of biomass cooking in kitchens. They need access to clean cooking fuels to save glaciers.”

Fossil fuels: “(Mayor) Peduto said something else in Bonn — that here in Allegheny County — the heart of the coal mining industry and close to the place where the first oil drill was and is now the hub of the fracking explosion — there are more workers working in solar power than coal and natural gas combined. Wind and solar are now producing the cheapest electricity that the world has ever known.”

“So we can do it,” Pope assured the audience of around 250 people. “And we are making progress.”

What’s getting in the way? he asked. These three things:

1. “We think and talk about the problem in the wrong way. All the solutions I identified do not concern climate to make them work. Oklahoma moved from being a coal-based state to a wind-based state despite Scott Pruitt. He didn’t like it but everyone else did because of the cost. Economic forces are driving us forward. We should be having conversations about opportunity and profit, not problem and cost.”

2. “We’re paying for the wrong thing, a hotter planet. We spend more subsidizing, by a 17 to 1 ratio, of coal and oil and gas instead of wind and solar.”

3. “We need rapid change. If we’re going to really fix these things quickly we need to move fast. One of the problems of moving fast is people get left behind.” As an example, Pope focused on fire insurance which people must buy for mortgages because banks require it. “Fire insurance enables us to build houses,” he said, “so yours doesn’t burn down.” In the same manner, “We need to start ensuring the risk of your company going bankrupt because someone invested in a better technology that replaces it. Or your community getting wiped out. It’s about sharing risk. It’s not about making risk go away. Individuals and communities need insurance the most.”

How would that insurance work?

“Theoretically if you’re a coal miner, you’re supposed to have security with pension and health care,” said Pope. “That was the deal John L Lewis cut in 1948. Now the coal companies are walking away from that deal. It was the first use of social insurance to ensure innovation. It’s been a total scandal,” he added.

“In addition, coal mines pay for a lot of public services. Coal goes away, a little bit of profit of wind and solar go back to those communities.”

So what cities are faring well in tackling the many problems of climate change?

“Pittsburgh is one example. Philadelphia has a lot going on. San Diego. Chattanooga. Very different cities. Detroit announced a new auto factory for Mahindra, an Indian company which is using a lot of cutting-edge technology. Detroit is beginning to get back in the game.”

THINC30, which was held on November 15, was an impressive summit “on transforming, harnessing, innovating, navigating and collaborating for a purpose-driven, sustainable future by 2030.” Along with local speakers and panelists. other national speakers at the free conference included Aaron Hurst on the topic of The Purpose Economy and Stephen Ritz, author of The Power of a Plant: A Teacher’s Odyssey to Grow and Heal Minds and Schools. 

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.