Samsø- Leading the Way While Others Say ‘We Can’t’

Samsø is a small island in the center of Denmark. To get to the island, it’s a little over an hour drive from Copenhagen to Kalundborg and then another two hours on a ferry

English: Samsø, Denmark

English: Samsø, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

until you reach the Samsø shore. With a population of roughly 4300 inhabitants in an area of 114 km² ( a little over 70 miles), Samsø might seem like any other small island around the world. Pastoral, idyllic, agrarian, Samsø is known across Denmark for its harvest of new and gourmet potatoes. But the Samsings and their island are unique for another reason; Samsø is a renewable energy island with a carbon negative footprint.

In 1997, Samsø won a Danish government competition to become a renewable energy community. In 10 years time, the residents had transformed their fossil-fuel based energy economy into a citizen-powered renewable energy economy. Samsø incorporates energy efficiency measures along with solar, biomass district heating, and wind to create its energy portfolio. Including the 10 offshore wind turbines, Samsø generates more energy from renewables than it uses and is able to export the surplus back to the Danish mainland. This has led to a 140% decrease in Samsø’s CO2 emissions.

Being a small island, it would have been easy to the locals to think that transforming their energy grid was a project that was just too big. In fact, many citizens thought that in the beginning. But through a series of local meeting forums, the Islanders came to recognize that this kind of transformation meant a more vibrant local economy and jobs, independent of subsidies. They would become owners in their energy future instead of customers. Energy democracy and independence were important selling points to the Samsings.

I first discovered Samsø from a children’s book. I read the story, Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world, to a group of my elementary students in my after-school eco-club class. The story really resonated with the kids. They liked that despite being too small, Samsø joined together as a community, rose to the occasion and transformed their energy grid. “If Samsø could do that, we can too,” the kids agreed. This concept, so easily understood by my eco-club kids, hasn’t resonated with the same clarity among adults, especially in places like the USA where we spend a lot of time arguing our point and maybe not as much time listening to what the other person has to say.

I visited the Samso Energy Academy in August and was fortunate enough to spend some time with it’s charismatic director, Søren Hermansen. Shortly after, Hermansen took the Samsings’ story on the road on a 3-week tour of speaking engagements across America. Fortunately, my town of Santa Fe was one of his stops. Søren has a new e-book just released in English, Commonities = commons + communities. The book extols the shared ownership of the commons along with the wisdom of community. Combining those two concepts, front and center, will help us create a path to a better, more equitable energy future.

In Santa Fe,” one of our sustainability commissioners mentioned to Søren, “we are known as the City Different. People like being different and creating their own solutions.” “That’s part of the problem,” he responded. “You need to be the City United not the City Different.” We all laughed. But, that seems to me to be our best path to redemption.



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24 Hours Of Climate Reality

Back by popular demand, the Climate Reality Project is broadcasting 24 Hours Of Reality: The Cost Of Carbon beginning 11am PST on October 22nd. Former VP, Al Gore along 220px-Climate_Reality_Logo-Globewith artists, economists, scientists and other experts will dominate the conversation on the most important issue humanity currently faces, what is the true cost of carbon?

Every hour, the Climate Reality Project will be traveling around the globe to Africa, Europe, North America, Asia and South America to tell the story of how carbon pollution is shaping local issues from food security to extreme weather. Audiences can join in the conversation and learn about one key solution, putting a price on carbon.

Last year, 16 million viewers participated around the world. The problem is not too big and we all can solve it.

Be a part of the Cost of Carbon dialogue and see how to start. Click here for the schedule. Also, check out the great work on this front by Citizens Climate Lobby, creating the political will for a price on carbon, with over 130 groups strong across North America and with a new European chapter now in Sweden.


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We Are the Cavalry

CCL 2013 DC

Late last month, under a sweltering DC sun, President Barack Obama wiped his brow, as if to emphasize a glaring truth; it’s getting hotter. In the absence of Congressional leadership, Obama promised to slow global warming, in part, by using the EPA to limit the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants may produce.

At the time of the president’s address, I was a few miles away in a Capitol Hill office. As part of a delegation of concerned citizen-volunteers, I was meeting with an aide who worked for a Kansas Republican House member. Our group, from Kansas, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Toronto, asked for the Congressman to support a transparent, market-based solution to limit carbon emissions, the revenue-neutral carbon tax.

In total, almost 400 volunteers from the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) made 439 congressional office visits that week. This citizen advocacy organization has been taking its asks directly to Congress for the past four years, and the number of volunteers asking has doubled each successive year.

“Politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it,” says CCL’s executive director Mark Reynolds. “It’s always easier to take the cynical view of politics. But if you actually say, ‘I’m a citizen. This is a citizen problem,’ it gives you an entirely different world to deal with.”

CCL’s work is based on the principles of non-violence and the work of Gandhi on behalf of the Indian community in South Africa a century ago. Gandhi’s chief adversary at that time was General Smuts, head of the South African Government in the Transvaal.

In a now historic meeting, Gandhi told Smuts, “I’ve come to tell you that I am going to fight against your government.

Anything more?” Smuts replied incredulously.

Yes, Gandhi answered, “I am going to win.”

Smuts laughed,“How?

Gandhi responded back, “With your help.”

Ultimately, with the help of Smuts, Gandhi prevailed. South Africa is often called the birthplace of Gandhi’s Satyagraha (“insistence on truth”) movement.

CCL’s bipartisan approach of appealing to others shared humanity, reaching across table, and forging alliances with people you wouldn’t normally regard as your allies is gaining support. The organization is now comprised of over 110 grassroots groups across the country and adding more members weekly.

Likewise, a revenue-neutral carbon tax has widespread support from economists on both sides of the political spectrum as the most efficient, easiest and most transparent way to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

CCL proposes placing a rising fee on carbon at the point where it enters the market- at the wellhead, at the coal mine, or as an adjustment at the border to encourage trading countries to adopt similar measures. To take the bite out of the rising costs associated with the carbon fee, and to appeal to conservatives who do not like taxes, CCL proposes giving 100% of the revenue back to households. The revenue-neutral aspect of this proposal is critical to gain Republican support.

So how did our meeting go with the Kansas Republican’s office? What started out as a very tense situation, ended with the young aide smiling, thanking us and asking us to keep the dialogue open.

“I don’t see anybody else coming. You know, when you get into a dire situation, the cavalry shows up, ” CCL’s founder, Marshall Saunders told volunteers participating in the week’s activities. “We are the cavalry. And we are going to win and there is no choice about it.”

Perhaps, Obama said it best in his address, “What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands.” The world is getting hotter, our window of opportunity to change course is closing. Politicians will not act unless we, collectively, compel them to do so.

Maria Rotunda is the Santa Fe Citizens Climate Lobby group leader. You can contact her at


Citizens Climate Lobby from SandDreams on Vimeo.

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Lobbying for the Greater Good

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Have you read David Bornstein’s piece in the New York Times on CCL?Here’s an excerpt:“The Citizens Climate Lobby is taking very sophisticated ideas and putting them into letters and op-eds and face-to-face meetings with members of Congress,” explained  Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who served 12 years in the House of Representatives and now directs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. “I think they’ve moved the needle on this issue.”

In the same week, climate hero Dr. James Hansen — one keynote speaker for CCL’s conference in Washington — had some great things to say about the organization in a Huffington Post blog, calling it “a democratic force to be reckoned with”.

With now more than 100 chapters across North America, Citizens Climate Lobby is anticipating 375 climate activists converging on DC at the end of the month, where they plan to meet with every office in the House and Senate.

My personal favorite excerpt from the article was a line from Elli Sparks who founded the Richmond VA CCL chapter.

“Sparks says it’s necessary to get out of your “comfort zone.” “If it feels comfortable, ‘I’m going to sign this petition; I’m going to post it on Facebook,’” she said, “then you’re not doing enough to move things forward. You’ve got to have butterflies in your belly, your heart has to be racing, your palm has to be sweating.”

There are many people out there who feel powerless; who look at the world’s problems and think these problems are too big. CCL is an organization made up of people who refuse to succumb to that cynicism, who have seemingly boundless energy, and who believe they can move mountains. And they are doing just that.

There is no better time than now to join them… at


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Congress, Get With the Program, Enact a Carbon Tax

image_largeCongress- listen up; forty companies with annual revenues of $611 billion want you to take action on climate change- including GM, the world’s largest auto manufacturer. What are you waiting for?

This past month, GM joined a stellar group, including Starbucks, Adidas, L’Oréal & IKEA. These companies are urging federal lawmakers to go bold on climate while proclaiming this challenge “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.”

At the Ceres Conference, General Motors became the first automaker to add it’s name to the Climate Declaration. Readers, you can also add your name as a business or individual here.

If all these companies agree, if Exxon Mobil supports a carbon tax, if conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and Energy & Enterprise Initiative concur with the economists and scientists; why are we letting climate deniers chair the House Science Subcommittee on Environment?

I’d say wake up and smell the coffee, but coffee also faces an uncertain future due to climate change.  It’s time to get with the program, Congress. Quit squandering the little time we have left to hedge the worst effects of climate change and pass a comprehensive climate package that includes a carbon fee on big polluters and rebate it to the American people.

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Obama All-of-the-Above Energy Policy Lacks Moral Urgency

English: Speech of Barack Obama at KSC.

A lot of my friends are still on a high about Obama’s recent discovery of the words climate change. He broke his climate silence after Hurricane Sandy. And climate change took prominent place in his inaugural address. In Tuesday’s the State of the Union, he brought it up again.

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.”

But Obama’s message lacked the moral fortitude and urgency that he brings to the issue of gun violence. He’s still talking about climate change as if it will affect our children in a distant future and not furiously bearing down on us now with little time to right our course. And his policy choices reflect this disconnect.

Expanded drilling for oil, fracking and coal mining on public lands have created a surplus of domestic energy, but at what cost? As US CO2 emissions, decline, they raise globally, in part due to Obama’s increased rate of coal exports to Asia.

This Sunday, thousands of people will be in DC protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is anticipated that Obama may approve the Keystone XL project, a Canadian export pipeline that will transverse the US to deliver one of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel energy to an international market. NASA’s most imminent climate scientist James Hansen has called the burning of tar sands fossil fuel “game over for the climate.”

 If we continue to approve pipelines bringing in the dirtiest of fuels like tar sands he said, “there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 p.p.m. — a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.”

In the State of the Union, the president did urge Congress to pursue market-based solutions.

“Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”

Here, we agree. If Congress ends dirty energy subsidies and places a carbon tax on fossil fuel polluters, while investing in clean energy, we can shift our power to a green energy future; one that reflects the moral urgency of what must be done.

In fact, the very next day, Senators Boxer and Sanders announced plans for “comprehensive” legislation, that will include a carbon tax.

From Sanders’s office:

“Under the legislation, a fee on carbon pollution emissions would fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. The proposal also would provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.”

Get Involved:

Citizens Climate Lobby:

Forward on Climate Rally:


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How the GOP can answer Obama’s climate challenge

By Mark Reynolds

If you’ve been waiting with great frustration for our government to address climate change, President Obama’s second inaugural speech last week was both stunning and exhilarating.

In his most forceful language to date, the President made it clear he intends to devote much of his energy in his second term to “reduce the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

If legislative action is not forthcoming, it appears Obama will reach for every tool at his disposal, using executive authority to circumvent a recalcitrant Congress.

One way or another, America will respond to the threat of climate change. The question is whether that response is through expansion of government regulations or through the power of the marketplace. Republicans, who abhor the former, should embrace the latter with a revenue-neutral tax on carbon.

The President’s newfound initiative is being cheered by much of our nation, which awoke last year to the harsh reality of climate change after a series of events influenced by rising temperatures:

  • Horrific wildfires raged out West, where drought, heat and insects thriving in warmer winters combined to turn forests into kindling.
  • Devastating drought in the Plains and Midwest decimated crops, producing shortages reflected in higher food prices.
  •  Heat waves shattered high-temperature records across the country and led to 2012 being the warmest year ever recorded in the contiguous U.S.
  • Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast last fall and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, from which residents are still recovering.

Sandy was the loudest of the alarms to go off, and President Obama won’t be hitting  the snooze button this time around.

As quickly as Obama issued his challenge, speculation emerged about the means he’ll use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet. It’s likely that his Feb. 12 State of the Union address will define a course of action. The expectation in nearly every quarter is that he’ll use the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to ramp up regulations on carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Is this what Republicans – the party that eschews government regulation – really want?

Rather than wage a futile battle with Obama over EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases – for which the Supreme Court has already ruled in favor – the GOP could answer the President’s climate challenge with a free-market solution embraced by a number of conservative economists: A revenue-neutral tax on carbon that gives proceeds back to consumers.

Here’s how it works: Place a steadily-rising tax on the CO2 content of coal, oil and gas at the first point of sale. Start at $15 per ton of CO2 and increase the tax $10 a ton each year. As a result, the cost of energy will go up. To prevent the tax from being a drag on the economy, return the revenue to consumers, preferably as direct payments.

This clear and predictable price on carbon, which begins to reflect society’s true cost of carbon-based energy, will motivate investors to shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean sources of energy like wind and solar. The need for government subsidies to prop up renewables will eventually disappear.

The appeal for Republicans here is a solution that does not expand the size and role of government. Instead, it utilizes the power of the free market to solve one of humanity’s greatest problems.

An argument continually made against U.S. efforts to reduce CO2 emissions is that other big emitters, like China and India, will thwart our initiatives to curb greenhouse gases. If, however, a carbon tax is coupled with border adjustments on imports from countries that lack a comparable policy, we accomplish two things:

  1.  Protecting American businesses from unfair competition.
  2.  Providing a strong incentive for other nations to follow the U.S. lead (Why enrich the U.S. Treasury when they can keep carbon tax revenues in their own countries?).

So, Republicans, is it going to be regulations or free market?

This isn’t an issue where one party has to claim victory over the other. If we succeed in saving the world, there will be plenty of credit to go around for everyone.

Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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As Obama Embarks on Second Term, He Heralds Citizens’ Obligations

Judging from the chatter on Facebook and twitter, Obama’s inaugural rhetoric was a success. He used the words climate change. (We’ve really set the bar low in our expectations there.)397508_10151405408554238_1157804940_n

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. (Applause.) Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

But for me, the best part was when he talked about citizens’ obligations and duties. Obama opened with a call to action; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Applause.)

And closed with a call to action. “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. (Applause.)

Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”

We’ve seen how government can be co-opted by special interests and money and that process aided by a media focused on infotainment. Democracy isn’t perfect or easy. And above all, democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We, in the collective sense, get the government we choose by both voting, our action and our inaction.

For this day, I’ll agree with President Obama and say, “you and I as citizen’s have the power to set this country’s course.

Where can you start? is sponsoring a demonstration on Feb 17th in Washington DC. If 20,000 people show up, that will certainly get noticed. Click here to join in DC:

Join the Citizens Climate Lobby. They have an introductory call every Wednesday, 5 PM PST/ 8PM EST at  1-866-642-1665.  The pass code is 440699# .

Jump in and join the movement.



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2012 Hottest Year on Record in US

Last week NOAA announced that 2012 was likely to be the hottest year on record in the continental US based on temperature readings through November. Climate Central has done the math and that chance is a 99.99999999%, based on analysis of 118 years of temperature records through December 10,2012. That should come as no news to anyone who has lived through the winter that never happened, summer hot weather in early spring, a cross-country heatwave, an epic drought, massive wildfires, and balmy fall weather.

And so far we’ve only turned up the heat less than 1˚C. According to the World Bank, we are on track to reach a 4˚C world by the end of the century.

We need to turn down the heat and the only way to do that is to take back our political system from the fossil fuel companies that now control it. That is no small task, but remember, politicians do not create political will, they respond to it.

So, I am going to give you what James Hansen believes is the most “effective step you could take” to engage in this process. That step is joining the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. With over 70 groups in North America, they probably have one near you. There is an introductory call every Wednesday evening and you can grab that info right off their website. Don’t despair. Your voice is needed. Connect to your source of power and take action.




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Movie Changes Bill O’Reilly Fan/Global Warming Denier’s Life

This is an interview with a woman exiting the movie “Chasing Ice“. The movie not only changed this woman’s mind about global warming, “it’s changed me as a person,” she said.  “I believed Bill O’Reilly”. She’s now ready to “undo her damage” for her children and grandkids.


The new documentary, Chasing Ice, captures climate change on film with two-dozen time-lapse cameras placed throughout the Arctic and other areas to document the melting of the glaciers. The film chronicles photographer James Balog’s work archiving the affects of climate change and other human activities on our planet. Click here for showtimes.

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