Clean Air-Cool Planet: Climate Change in the Northeast

Facing a vacuum of federal leadership on the burning issue of climate change, Ted Smith and Bill Moomaw decided to turn to the Northeast. In 1998, they held a conference at Boston’s Tufts University to develop the idea of starting a regional organization to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Clean Air-Cool Planet emerged.

Clean Air-Cool Planet joins Timberland at its solar installation in New Hampshire.© CA-CP

A former Energy Department assistant secretary, Susan Tierney, soon joined the effort. Executive Director Adam Markham signed on to Clean Air-Cool Planet in 2000. “We are not trying to advocate specific policies but instead are trying to create institutional changes in businesses, institutions of higher education and municipalities,” says Markham. “We hope to foster regional climate leaders with creative, pragmatic solutions to problems of energy use and emissions reduction.” Headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Clean Air-Cool Planet also has offices in Boston and New Canaan, Connecticut.

There is strong evidence that regional cooperation can work. The governors of seven northeastern states signed a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative last December, intending to reduce and cap regional emissions from coal-fired power plants. The agreement is moving forward (albeit without Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which pulled out at the last minute).

Clean Air-Cool Planet helped launch the Connecticut Science Center Collaborative, which aims to bring the best science on climate change and its solutions to a network of more than 30 science museums and nature centers. The project recently received a grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund to develop exhibits on clean and renewable energy. In September, Clean Air-Cool Planet also took over program management of the regional New England Science Center Collaborative.

The 2005 report “Indicators of Climate Change in the Northeast” is an example of Clean Air-Cool Planet’s science-based approach. Produced jointly with the climate scientist Cameron Wake at the University of New Hampshire, the report shows clearly how climate change is already affecting New England. “Long-term data demonstrate that the region is already experiencing warmer and shorter winters, fewer days with snow on the ground and more severe rainstorms,” explains Markham. “Seasons have also changed, with many plants blooming earlier in the spring.” He adds that the report aims to “stimulate people to take this issue more seriously and make choices that will reduce their own climate change contributions.”

Clean Air-Cool Planet also advises Northeast-based companies such as Shaw’s Supermarkets, Oakhurst Dairies, Staples, Harbec Plastics, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Poland Spring and Timberland to help find cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases. “The approach is to make business energy-efficient in office spaces as well as retail stores,” says Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland’s manager of environmental stewardship. “We’re installing a 400-kilowatt solar power system at our distribution center in Ontario, California.”

Timberland is also running a New Hampshire delivery truck on biodiesel and gives cash incentives to employees who buy hybrid cars. “Fifteen employees have already bought hybrid cars, and receive preferred parking spaces, as do workers who carpool,” says Blaisdell.

Clean Air-Cool Planet’s work demonstrates that small actions, and new models of leadership and collaboration, can make a difference. It has and they do.