In this interview, host Nathalie Virem, asks penetrating questions to Terry Tamminen, the President and CEO of The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, who is at the forefront of climate change science, policy, and philanthropy. In this conversation, you will learn about:
- Powerful statistics about our oceans
- Some of the state and national policy agendas at play
- The “inextricable tie” between profitability and the environment
- Why we should be focused on saving us first and the planet second
Nathalie Virem: As the CEO of The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation since 2016, what is your overarching mission?
Terry Tamminen: I share Leonardo’s mission. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants. We’re running out of time to ensure a more sustainable future on this planet. Some people talk about saving the planet itself, but our main focus is to save human’s ability to survive and thrive on this planet.
Nathalie Virem: How do you fundraise to support this vision?
Terry Tamminen: Unlike many foundations that have an endowment where there’s money parked in the stock market, we believe that we should raise the money and get it out the door as quickly and effectively as possible. We do that for two reasons: (1) If we just raised money and parked it in the stock market, we might be backing companies that are harming our mission, and (2) There is a high sense of urgency here, and waiting to take action is not helping.
Nathalie Virem: As an expert on marine conservation, climate change, energy renewal, and other environmental issues, what meaningful statistics can you share with us today to paint a picture of what the state of affairs is?
Terry Tamminen: The most breathtaking statistic I can offer is this:
20 years ago Captain Charles Moore embarked into the Pacific to sample water. He found that there was 6x as much plastic as there was plankton. 2-3 years ago, he repeated this trip and found there’s now over 10x the amount of plastic as there is plankton. Plankton is at the base of the food chain in the ocean.
There are devastating images floating around of Texas sized waste dumps in the middle of the ocean. But we need people to know is what’s even worse is all of this breaking down into microplastics, which animals confuse for plankton. This, ultimately, works its way up the food chain to humans.
Nathalie Virem: What climate policies, bills, or acts are in the works today?
Terry Tamminen: When I was EPA secretary for Governor Schwarzenegger, we passed our Global Warming Solutions Act. Now 12 years later, we can see how it’s been paying dividends. It has saved a lot of energy and money for Californians. It has reduced pollution, and even asthma and lung disease.
The Chinese have modeled their own Cap and Trade system after California, and in fact, are in talks with California and a Canadian provinces to create a joint system which would create a larger market.
And at some point, that may link up with the carbon trading system in the Northeast and with the European trading system. So, within the next two to four years, we could see a price on carbon through cap and trade system that covers over a third of the world’s economy. At that point, there should be enough evidence to prove that this can happen without damaging any economy, and that it even helps save money, reduce fuel consumption, and bring forth better health outcomes for all.
Given the current state of affairs in D.C., we are really relying on states and cities to move initiatives forward. Beyond what’s happening in the oval office, rolling certain improvements back, there has been great progress in states and in cities on renewable energy development, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and cap and trade systems.
As for the implications of these policies, we look to Sweden, Denmark, and Norway who are far more advanced and progressive in their regulations. Take for example California. We are 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the United States due to regulation. Denmark, on the other hand, is about 40% more energy efficient than California.
Nathalie Virem: How can companies create a healthy intersection between the environment and profits?
Terry Tamminen: I think those two are inextricably linked. There’s no question that business as usual is going to hurt companies, shareholders, and consumers. Whether you are a company like Exxon that has all of its money tied up in fossil fuels, which are increasingly being regulated or reduced in their consumption, or another company that is just heavily reliant on fossil fuels, there are ways of looking at the books to be more efficient.
A company that is efficiently run and prepared for the future will be one that has measured and reduced its carbon footprint and is on a path to a zero carbon future. The smart companies are the ones that are really aggressive in this and setting very high standards.
Nathalie Virem: What is the future of the foundation, and what are you investing your time and money in?
Terry Tamminen: We want to fight for the future of this planet. We’re very excited about a lot of the things we’re doing in the area of climate space because that will have an impact on the work we’re doing for habitats and endangered species. We also are working with a variety of governments, NGOs, and companies to solve some of the core issues such as reducing carbon emissions and waste, by investing in initiatives, technologies, education, etc.
Take for example, the technology exists to convert that waste 90% of it back into original feedstock so that you can then make more paper, more glass, more plastics, etc.
And just so you understand the implications of this, Walmart realized the massive waste they were shipping to stores and trashing for no reason about ten years ago. Since they’ve been able to reduce the amount of waste that they were sending to landfills by about 60 percent. Instead of throwing something away, they’ve turned it into something that people can reuse or they could sell in the commodity market for recycling, which has turned into over $100 million in additional revenues.
Nathalie Virem: What do you think is needed to save the planet and us?
Terry Tamminen: The planet will go on without us. It’ll be just fine. It’ll heal. It’ll go on. It always has. We’re simply trying to preserve our quality of life and the potential for humans to have a sustainable future.
For our kids and grandkids, that’s important message to get across. This is not about saving animals or streams, this is about saving people and understanding our interdependence with those animals, streams, and with air, water, and other natural ecosystems, too.
We do this by moving towards 100% renewable energy, reinstating regenerative agriculture (without fertilizers and pesticides), reducing waste, and creating a safety net for the planet by stitching together the marine preserves, national parts, and other areas safe from development.
This starts at the individual level, by educating each other about problems and potential solutions. And really, it’s about action at the polls. I think if people vote their conscience and vote for conservation, we will be okay. Remember: this is not about saving the planet. It’s about saving us.
To learn more about The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and its global mission, or what you can do as a business owner to get involved in the cause, please visit https://www.leonardodicaprio.org.
Terry has deep international expertise in business, agriculture, education, public policy and the environment. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and later Cabinet Secretary, the Chief Policy Advisor to the Governor, where Terry was the architect of many groundbreaking sustainability policies, including California’s landmark Global
Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the Hydrogen Highway Network, and the Million Solar Roofs initiative. In 2010 Terry co-founded the R20 Regions of Climate Action, a public-private partnership bringing together subnational governments, businesses, financial markets, NGOs, and academia to implement measurable, large-scale, low-carbon and climate resilient economic development projects that can simultaneously solve the climate crisis and build a sustainable global economy. Since 2007 he has provided advice to Pegasus Capital Advisors and numerous global businesses on sustainability and “green” investing. In 2016, Terry joined the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation as CEO. An accomplished author, Terry’s books include “Cracking the Carbon Code: The Keys to Sustainable Profits in the New Economy” (Palgrave Macmillan). In 2011, Terry was one of six finalists for the Zayed Future Energy Prize and The Guardian ranked Terry No. 1 in its “Top 50 People Who Can Save the Planet.”