Former CA EPA secretary speaks at #ECOTALKS

On Monday night, environmental policy strategist Terry Tamminen spoke to students for the Environmental Student Assembly and the Schwarzenegger Institute’s second #ECOTALKS roundtable discussion.

Fifteen students with majors across multiple disciplines attended to hear Tamminen’s insights into the functions of public policies, business and communication as tools toward a cleaner environment at USC and in the world at large.

Tamminen served as former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and is now a lead advisor to R20, a non-profit he and former governor Schwarzenegger established to educate subnational governments about policies, efficient technologies and financial models that would improve environmental conditions in those jurisdictions.

A common thread throughout the evening was that collaborations can and have brought success to stakeholders on the verge of loss when binary arguments are abandoned.

Tamminen’s numerous examples of effective partnerships included a decades-old anecdote about hundreds of people stopping their day’s activities to save JJ, the abandoned baby gray whale on the coast of Marina del Rey to recent explanations about how last year R20 led Brazil to begin upgrading its energy-inefficient and scarce city lighting.

R20 brought a manufacturer to Brazil create the LED lights in Brazil, allowed Brazil’s major utility company Eletrobas to certify the product to ensure that lights would properly function, and had the Brazilian Development Bank fund cities seeking to retrofit their street lights. Savings on lighting will allow cities to pay the bank back in five years.

“The taxpayer wins, local jobs are created by manufacturing and installations, they’re saving an average of 67 percent of the energy, so that’s a 67 percent reduction in greenhouse gases. We try to focus on those policy barriers between technology, finance, and policy that we can solve today,” Tamminen said.

Tamminen often cited contemporary examples of the dire consequences of environmental inaction — for example, a nearly totally realized drought holding São Paulo residents less than six months from evacuation. Tamminen responded to students’ inquiries by emphasizing the importance of prioritizing solutions that slow down damage the quickest.

Jack Koppa, a junior majoring in environmental studies and Chinese, asked how the possibility of future, more efficient technologies being discovered could impact current policy decision-making processes.

If we had fusion [technology] tomorrow, a lot of today’s problems wouldn’t be around.,” Koppa said. “But at the same time, you can’t wait for fusion to come.”

Tamminen raised the argument that the most immediately available technologies should be implemented, instead of allowing greenhouse gases to build.

“We’re dealing with greenhouses gases that our grandfathers put there by driving with their 1950s Chevrolet[s],” Tamminen said. “Every ton of carbon dioxide that we put into the atmosphere today is going to be with us a long time.”

In line with the conversation on collaborations, ESA Director Shawn Rhoads believes ESA’s popularity hinges on its alliances both within and outside USC, identifying #ECOTALKS as an example.

“We’ve been such a huge hit because of our partners’ motivation to join us and help us with our unique program,” Rhoads said. “Hosting these intimate roundtable discussions, it breaks traditional boundaries and it’s pushing for something new. We’re trying to bring in new ideas, new thoughts to address the important collaboration to bring environmental action to USC.”