Schwarzenegger still a man of (environmental) action

The former California governor and action film star has founded R20 Regions of Climate Action. It teams local and state governments, and other partners, to find ways to become energy efficient in economically viable ways.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters/File
Former California governor and action film star Arnold Schwarzenegger founded R20 as a way to fight greenhouse-gas emissions without waiting for national legislation or international agreements.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is all about action, whether it’s on a film set or working to terminate fossil fuels.

“When I was governor, I believed in the important role government played in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but I also knew that leadership was not going to come at a national level,” now former Governor Schwarzenegger said in a statement to The Christian Science Monitor.

This idea – that local and state-level efforts can more effectively combat climate change than complex international agreements – led Schwarzenegger to found R20 Regions of Climate Action. The nonprofit organization counts states, cities, financial institutions, foundations, and various United Nations programs as its members, partners, and observers.

The year-old group isn't waiting for political gridlock to break free or national laws to be passed  – obstacles that can block needed actions in the United States and around the world, Schwarzenegger says.

Not that Schwarzenegger opposes government action. While governor, he signed legislation for several environmental initiatives, including the Hydrogen Highway, the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, and the Global Warming Solutions Act.

“I worked with governors in other states to create the Western Climate Initiative, and then I worked with leaders in the European Union and Canada to launch the International Carbon Action Partnership. And the results were unbelievable,” Schwarzenegger says.

These efforts have made a difference, he says. The average Californian now uses only 6,700-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, compared with the national average of 12,000, Schwarzenegger says.

State, local, and private climate initiatives are important. According to the United Nations Development Program, between 50 percent and 80 percent of the actions to reduce carbon emissions happen at the “sub-national level.”

Enter R20. Through its Green Finance Network, the nonprofit helps state and local governments, as well as financial institutes, pair with green technology companies to increase energy efficiency and sustainability. More than 100 financial institutions, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines, participate in R20.

“We are the marriage brokers between government, finance, and green technologies. It’s a well-kept secret that what’s good for the environment is good for the economy,” says Terry Tamminen, strategic adviser to the founding chair of the R20.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story misidentified Mr. Tamminen's role at R20.

For example, General Electric plans to build the largest solar-panel factory in the United States. GE is already one of the world’s primary manufacturers of wind turbines. In China, WestTech just joined R20. Its solar-thermal products are about 60 percent more effective than any other products out there, Mr. Tamminen says.

The Chinese "recognize their future is in saving energy. They know they can’t gobble up fossil fuels without choking to death,” says Tamminen, the
former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Schwarzenegger.

With offices in Geneva and Santa Monica, Calif., R20 also works with partners such as Sustainia, based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Companies and organizations were frustrated with so many years of inaction – or slow action – at the political level,” says Jeffrey Hunter of Sustainia. “They agreed a new approach was needed. Sustainia is that new approach – a sustainability movement that's attractive to normal people.”

Sustainia aims to dissuade people from imitating Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” when they think about climate change. In short, it doesn't talk about melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. Instead, Sustania wants people to realize sustainability won’t lower their living standards and is economically viable.

“A stronger 'bottom-up' movement is needed if we want sustainable societies faster than the world's governments are giving them to us,” Mr. Hunter says.

While eco-friendly and energy-efficient technology may initially cost more, prices come down as production steps up. Renewable energy and energy efficiency result in more long-term savings.

“And that’s what R20 is all about: It’s about action,” Schwarzenegger says.

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