Andrew Steer: An economist atop WRI

“I’m an economist,” said Andrew Steer. “I’m not an environmentalist by training.”

This is a good thing because, unlike some U.S. environmental leaders, Steer, who is the new president and CEO of the World Resources Institute (WRI), is willing to deliver some straight talk about economic growth, environmental protection and the costs of clean energy. He’s also committed to WRI’s global, fact-based, business-friendly approach to addressing big environmental problems.

Over lunch the other day, Steer met with a group of reporters for the first time since joining WRI last month. A 60-year-old Brit, he is only the third president of the Washington-based nonprofit, following James “Gus” Speth, a lawyer and academic, and Jonathan Lash, a lawyer and former regulator who is now president of Hampshire College. By contrast, Steer spent most of his career at the World Bank, working in international development and as the bank’s climate change envoy.

While living in Vietnam, Steer saw first-hand how the past two decades have brought material progress along with environmental degradation. Not one of the bank’s 100 Vietnamese employees owned a car when he arrived in Hanoi in 1997, he told us. Today, nearly all do. They are better off, but the city is more polluted and global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

“Per capita income in developing countries is twice what it was. More people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 20 years than in the prior 100 years,” he said. “But the price that we’ve paid, in terms of environmental debt, if you will, has been much too high. We have incurred a massive environmental debt.” [click to continue…]

When changing a lightbulb isn’t enough…

 

What have you done lately about climate change?

In the last two weeks, about 700 Americans – with more to come – have been arrested in front of the White House, calling on President Obama to block the construction of the $7 billion, 1700-mile Keystone pipeline project that will bring Canadian tar sands oil to largest refineries in the United States.

They include Bill McKibben, the writer, activist and founder of 350.org, who led the protests; James Hansen, NASA’s leading climate scientist; Gus Speth, who lead the Council on Environmental Quality under President Carter and went on to become dean of the Yale School of Forestry; Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford; actresses Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder; and my friend and rabbi, Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregration in Bethesda.

Standing behind them are the nation’s leading environmental groups–Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Funds, Friends of the Earth, the National Wildlife Federation and others. In a letter to Obama, they described the Keystone pipeline ruling as “perhaps the biggest climate test you face between now and the election.”

“There is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone XL pipeline, and those of the very civil protesters being arrested daily outside the White House,” the groups said.

There are strong arguments for and against the pipeline, which we’ll get to in a moment, but first, a few words about McKibben and  the protestors. I went to the White House to talk with them because I share their belief that climate change is not just another issue, but the defining issue of our time. To be sure, it’s not an issue that mobilizes people, at least not yet, for a number of reasons: You can’t see carbon dioxide pollution, climate science is complex (but clear in its basics), global warming is a slow moving threat and the troubled U.S. economy has crowded virtually every other concern off stage since the summer of 2008. [click to continue…]