It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day: a screening of Shattered Sky at the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. It was an honor, given the history of the institution and the role its employees played during the ozone crisis.
George C. Marshall auditorium welcomed us: the “Marshall” in “Marshall Plan.” Dan Evans and I fielded a bevy of smart and challenging questions following the show: about climate policy, the interplay between regulation and technology, the importance of citizen action.
In 1985, 20 countries signed the Vienna Convention to set up a framework for negotiating international regulations of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. Chief U.S. Negotiator Richard Benedick (who is in our film) must have walked these State Department halls and had lively debates with his team. How would they set the tone for global cooperation on a future global treaty?
Less than two years later, following the discovery of the ozone hole, Benedick and the EPA’s Lee Thomas led the American presence at the important signing of the Montreal Protocol, where 24 countries formally committed to phasing out 50 percent of CFCs. Subsequently, the Montreal Protocol got updated seven times, and more than 190 countries eventually signed it. And they all phased out 100% of CFCs.
For me, that’s the main lesson on climate. You don’t have to get it 100% right at first. Gather up the main players, take an important first step. Then update the plan together. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary this September. Hopefully, more of us will take notice that in 1987, America led the world to a global solution on the ozone crisis.
Will we will all take inspiration to take smart action on climate? Only time will tell.
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.
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 . . .