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Terry Tamminen: The World's One-Man Climate Fixer

By David Sassoon

Jul 5, 2009

Back in 2006, Time Magazine ran a global warming cover that has become a negative icon of the climate movement’s message: “Be Worried, Be Very Worried,” the headline proclaimed.

The dark cloud has yet to dissipate, even with Obama’s clean energy and green jobs optimism, because the polluter-friendly climate bill moving through Congress has weak targets and large loopholes, the talks paving the way to Copenhagen have shown little progress, and the body of scientific evidence documenting accelerating climate change each week grows larger and deeper.

None of that fazes Terry Tamminen, the world’s one-man climate fixer, whose unique understanding of global climate progress arms him with an infectious supply of hope. He’s too busy to sink into worry and unafraid to offer perspective you’d never hear inside the Beltway climate policy hothouse.

The Waxman-Markey climate bill, working its way through Congress? “It’s not the only game in town,” Tamminen says.

The bill’s passage in the Senate? “Actually it could tie our hands in Copenhagen.”

In other words, while all the rest of us seem to be worried, very worried, about Waxman-Markey and Copenhagen, Tamminen is skating to where nobody else can imagine the puck is going to be.

In the last three months alone he’s been to Bahrain, Norway, Holland, India, England, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and of course, Beijing. At every stop, he meets with business leaders, NGOs, policymakers and government officials.

Ask him about the different hats he wears for these various meetings and he’ll tell you, “my Lakers cap,” thanks to which he’s learned that everybody in the world seems to know who Kobe Bryant is. It amuses him, and you can't help remarking to yourself that amusement is not an attribute you associate with climate warriors. Something else is going on here.

It’s not clear everybody he meets with appreciates what he brings to the table. To some, he runs the climate program at the New America Foundation. To others, he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s climate adviser. Or an adviser with a private equity fund called Pegasus Capital. Or the author of Lives per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction. Or the guy who convinced Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican with ambitions for higher office, to become a climate champion. Or the White House insider, with longstanding relationships with Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley, and a place in Obama's regard as an ex officio national climate policy adviser.

Tamminen made an early impression on the incoming administration last November when he engineered a video message from the freshly-elected president to be delivered at the Global Climate Summit he had organized in Los Angeles. In words Tamminen could have scripted himself, Obama said:

When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.

It instantly made news around the world.

And now the president is throwing his support behind the Waxman-Markey climate bill — which falls far short his promises — with everybody in Washington, it seems, thinking it's the only game in town.

Not Tamminen. It helps that he lives in California and that he plays a different game. He'll be showing his cards at the end of September at the second Global Climate Summit he's organizing for Schwarzenegger.

"We're going to show the world what sub-national agreements can deliver, and that there's a lot more that the U.S. is doing than federal legislation," Tamminen said during an hour-long telephone interview.

"We're going to be unveiling some new agreements between Chinese provinces and U.S. states and similar arrangements with Middle East countries."

Biomass scam--env and financial

“Biomass” plants spew out almost twice as much CO2 as comparable sized coal plants.The proponents argue that the trees burned in the plant will grow back, so the project is “carbon neutral”. However, as the EPA stated on April 24, 2009, in the Endangerment Proposal on CO2,

"... for a given amount of CO2 released today, ... 30 percent will be removed over a few centuries, and the remaining 20 percent will only slowly decay over time such that it will take many thousands of years to remove from the atmosphere."

In simple fact, trees don’t grow fast enough to reabsorb all that CO2 and plots of newly planted trees often emit CO2 for years whereas mature trees continue to sequester large amounts of carbon. [] Burning trees puts more carbon in the air and worsens climate change because every molecule of CO2 is the same as every other molecule, whether the CO2 came from a burning a tree or a tailpipe.

The false argument that prevails is that this massive CO2 release is “natural”.
Sure, the carbon in wood was part of nature before it was incinerated, but what matters is the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if you want to rename it for political spin “biogenic” carbon, that won’t prevent it from adding to the burden in the atmosphere.

Plant developers claim these plants are “low emissions”—but that doesn’t address CO2. There is nothing in the emissions controls that significantly reduces CO2 emissions.

Just look at the lack of common sense here. Burning wood increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. And cutting down trees reduces the amount of CO2 taken out of the atmosphere. That’s a double whammy for the environment.
The bottom line is that CO2 is CO2. A biomass plant will emit almost twice as much CO2 as any coal plant it supplants. That’s a fact. Biomass burning isn’t “clean and green.” It’s a travesty.

In towns like Greenfield, MA and Gainesville, FL the biomass scam is about more than CO2. These biomass plants are about investors’ profits, not a clean environment or clean power. The way these biomass plants are being promoted is a scam – costing everyone in dollars, in health, and in our children’s futures.

Bill Sammons
Physician, Boston

RES: Incinerators aren't green

Lots of good ideas Terry, but there's a big problem with the RPS and now the RES: burning forests, trash, landfill gas and construction and demolition debris to generate "renewable electricity" under ACES and the RES modeled after your RPS makes climate change worse. According to government figures, by 2020 biomass burning will be emitting 700,000,000 tons per year of CO2, all of which is invisible to the cap and EPA.

Please educate yourself about this and help to end the plight of the "fake renewables."

Meg Sheehan, Attorney, Williamstown MA

Terry Tamminen

You forgot one thing I've noticed while attending his talks: He is probably the most sincere politician I have ever seen. The man is a phenomenon.

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