Blog: Shorts

Nobel #2: Working for good

At the University of California at San Diego with Dan Evans to interview Professor Mario Molina. This is my second interview of a Nobel Laureate in a month, so I’m starting to get the hang of it! Seriously, Dr. Molina is humble, direct, and has a great sense not only of the science, but complex policy issues. I’m impressed with his Centro Mario Molina that he established with his Nobel Prize money. The purpose: to help shape policy advances in the developing world that improve environmental condition. His first task was fighting air pollution in his native Mexico City. It was a pleasure, Dr. Molina.

From Frank Lloyd Wright to Tokyo

I’m in Racine, Wisconsin today. Interviewing Scott Johnson from S.C. Johnson . Johnson is not from the dynasty of owner Johnsons, but he gives a great interview about the environmental leadership this company has displayed over time. Case in point: the decision to ban all propellant aerosols in 1976, a couple years before a government ban. And a photogenic location, too! S.C. Johnson HQ was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—it’s a brick modernist experiment that is probably the coolest company building I’ve been in since I was in Panasonic’s world HQ in Tokyo for a film a few years ago. That had an all-wood meditation room and rock garden just off the penthouse-level conference room. Cool . . .

At the Ozone-Industry-Policy Interface

The fact that I was up late yesterday drinking single malt and talking politics and real estate with my friend Ron Cathell didn’t douse my enthusiasm early this morning for a quick trip up to Dupont HQ in Dover, Delaware. The upside: I’d be interviewing Mack McFarland—one of the luminaries at the science-policy interface in the fight to protect the ozone during the past 30 years. The downside: I had to wake before 5am to get driving up Highway 95.

Dr. McFarland displayed a deep knowledge of the fluorocarbon science, as well as a pragmatism and authority that obviously swayed his industry colleagues toward substituting safe new products in place of old ozone-depleting substances. He’s going to be a key link in this film to help show the links between industry and policy, especially the transition years of 1985-86.

The Alliance: Roots of Industry’s Greening

The plaque in the foyer announces Alcade & Fay. The view out of the 8th story high-rise in Arlington, Virginia is urban. Interviewing Kevin Fay for a short film about the fight to protect the ozone is a treat. He brings 25 years of perspective as an industry representative, who has wrangled corporate interests toward environmental responsibility. He was the initial leader of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy. In the 1980s, he helped coordinate a united business front as American industry was struggling to find substitutes for dangerous ozone-depleting compounds. As American industry got behind the idea of a phaseout, the Alliance played a key role in supporting the EPA’s recommendations. Ultimately, Ronald Reagan (!) greenlighted a 95% phase-out approach and 50% initial phase-out. I’m starting to discover that there’s a lot of this sort of counterintuitive stuff in the drama of saving the ozone. . .

Currently, as the Executive Director of the International Climate Change Partnership, Fay continues to fight the good fight—but on climate issue. Off camera, he shared an astounding insight into the roots of America’s stumbling policy leadership on climate. After the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated and opened for signature in November 1997, the Clinton Administration had several years opportunity to make the landmark international treaty an early success in the US. But with Clinton’s Lewinsky difficulties and Gore’s move toward the center to position himself for the Presidential election, nobody in the White House championed it. As a result, no progress. No Kyoto. I wrote in this blog a couple months ago how much I loved Gore’s film, Inconvenient Truth. But I wonder: if he had worked more sincerely on the Kyoto Protocol when he had a chance, would climate news be so bad today?

Nobel Prize . . . Thanks to the Stratosphere

At the University of California Irvine today interview Nobel Prize winning scientist Sheri Rowland for the short film we’re making for the Environmental Protection Agency. Rowland was the one who, in collaboration with Mario Molina, discovered the science behind the ozone hole. I didn’t quite understand much of the nitty-gritty, so I looked it up before interviewing him: Wikipedia: ozone depletion and read up even more on Rowland.

Transamerica through a Veil

So Dan and I are on location in San Francisco today making a short film about the ozone layer for the Environmental Protection Agency. We interviewed Bill Reilly, former EPA Admnistrator. Reilly is our best interview so far, probably because he not only played such a big role in inspiring US leadership to protect the ozone back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but also because he’s still fighting the good fight today.

Reilly’s making big news: a few months ago, he led the biggest “green” private-equity buyout in history. He joined the board of TXU, which agreed to cancel the construction of eight future coal plants, and agreed to invest $400 million in energy-efficiency measures to meet a portion of future demand. The report on it from the NGO perspective: NRDC article; and from the corporate persective: TXU press release; and from the news media perspective: A Utility Buyout that Has Many Shades of Green.

The shoot went well, and we manage a pretty cool set-up with a background of the city’s iconic Transamerica building in silhouette behind a gossamer veil.

After interviewing Reilly, I walked away with the sense that this one man is a true connector, bridging the worlds of policy, government, finance, and environmental advocacy. May he continue the good work . . . . In the absence of any executive leadership the last six years, we sure need it.

Taking the Ozone Train to Jacksonville

Today in Jacksonville, Florida. I interviewed Lee Thomas, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This was for a short film for the EPA on the history of the ozone challenge. My co-producer, Dan Evans, and I will interview 10-12 key players (in about 7-8 states around the country) who impacted the science, politics, and industry associated with ozone-depleting substance.

“Ozone-depleting substances!” What a drab phrase. A mouthful. Or I could write “all the chemicals that were first discovered to be burning a hole in the stratosphere, the presence of which scared the living daylights out of people in the early 1980s.”

Back to Lee Thomas. Southern gentleman, wicked smart, but humble. Currently in the private sector and serving on multiple “green” boards. Back in the 1980s, he had the unenviable task of convincing the Reagan Administration that it was high time to do something about the ozone. We interviewed David Doniger last week, who was a key player in NGO circles, filing lawsuits against the EPA, trying to urge them to work faster and do more to protect the environment. Well, what did Doniger think about Thomas? He called Thomas’ leadership “the most important in the last generation.”

Oh, and that includes current leadership on the climate change issue. More on that to come . . .