Our February Climate Papa comes to us from New York City! Join Paul Reale as he shares his hopes and dreams for his daughter’s future and for our own. Follow Paul back to his roots – leaving a long and successful career in telecommunications – inspired by and inspiring, his daughter, her friends and all of our children to learn how to save energy and save our planet at the same time. Paul encourages us through his optimism, and he reminds us that we all can be part of the climate change “solution!”
Name: Paul Reale
Current project/position/adventure: CEO and Founder, Green Allowance LLC
Parent or grandparent? I’m a Dad.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, the steps you took, life events, decisions you made, that helped you arrive at where you are at today?
As an engineering student in college I worked on renewable energy projects – both solar and wind power – and I loved it. As I neared graduation, I caught the eye of the recruiters at the prestigious Bell Laboratories, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a free ride to my masters and a great job working with great people in the telecommunications business. Much of my experience there was incredible – I traveled the world and held a wide range of responsibilities – from system engineering to corporate training to management.
But more than twenty years after starting at Bell Labs I felt the tug back to my roots – renewable energy, and I immersed myself in those issues to find a career transition. Then in May 2006 I saw Al Gore speak at the kick off event of his press junket for An Inconvenient Truth. He said as a side comment, “we’re going to get 1,000 people to go out and give this talk”. I knew right then and there that this would not only be a good thing to do, but a great career segue for me. So I contacted Al Gore’s office – actually I hounded them a bit – with phone calls and emails for a few months, and they invited me to The Climate Project’s training program in Nashville. Since then, as a volunteer, I’ve given that talk in one form or another to nearly 5,000 people. It’s been very rewarding.
During one presentation to a group of 1,700 high school students in 2008, I gave them a solution. I suggested that at the dinner table that night, they cut a deal with their parents: “tell them you’ll save energy around the house, their electric bill will go down, and ask them to share the savings”. Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and I knew I was on to something. A few months later, I founded “Green Allowance”, and I’ve pursued it full time ever since.
We’ve just launched our web site and we’re rolling out our pilot program in Glendale, California. Exciting times, to say the least!
2. What inspires you to keep going, to keep fighting this challenging battle against climate change?
That’s easy – my daughter.
Globally, we’re pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. This is like a bad “planetary terra-forming” plot in a science fiction movie – bad because if you saw this on screen you’d say “Yeah right. Like the governments on that planet would ever allow that.” Yet that’s exactly what we’re doing, and it’s heavily stacking the deck against not only our kids and grandkids, but even against ourselves in our twilight years.
I have no doubt that regardless of how aggressively we tackle this issue on a global scale, climate change will have a huge effect on my daughter’s life. I need to be part of the solution. To me it’s part of being a good Dad.
3. What are the three greatest challenges you feel the world faces with climate change?
First, the transformation to 100% renewable energy sources is inevitable. Even the “pshaw” you get from the fossil fuel industry is accompanied by their claim that coal, oil and natural gas will be around for longer than you think – but certainly not forever. Still, the energy industry is the largest industry in the world, and it has a huge influence on governance. So I see one of the greatest challenges is in creating and implementing effective policies by which renewable energy can flourish unabated – and doing it quickly. This is critical not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to enable the world economy to continue growing so more people can be lifted out of poverty.
Second, and this one’s proven to be very difficult, we must reach an enforceable international agreement on emissions. Added up, the agreed emission targets must actually achieve the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that climate scientists are converging upon as the maximum: 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Currently we’re around 390 ppm, so we have some backpedaling to do.
Third is “adaptation”. There are a myriad of issues looming as a result of the climate crisis: water and food scarcity, sea level rise, floods, droughts, and more destructive weather to name a few. I’ll just pick one: sea level rise. If pressed for a number, given the trend in predictions becoming more ominous for the last several years, I’d say that by 2100 the oceans will rise at least three feet. Do you have any idea the impact that will have on humanity – not to mention coastal environments? It is enormous. Preparing for this alone is a remarkably huge undertaking – even if it takes decades.
4. Scientific predictions seem to be pointing to dire scenarios, a shorter time frame for a warmer planet and all of the negative ramifications that this will cause. What will it take for us to avert these consequences?
Some of the warming is already “in the pipeline”, so we can’t avert all the consequences. But to stave off the worst, and to quote Al Gore, it takes political will. And how do we get the needed political will? That’s what you get with an informed electorate.
If everyone understood where this situation was taking us, there’s no doubt in my mind that every government leader would have overwhelming support among the people of their nations to create and enforce policies adequate to minimize the risk of the worst consequences. So educating the public is a critical part of the solution.
5. Do you see any hopeful signs that people are waking up to the dangers of climate change?
Until 2006, climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions was largely an unknown phenomenon (to the general public). Boy has that changed. Now it’s all over the media. Tremendous coverage was given to the Copenhagen conference in December 2009, and everyone is aware of the green movement. So yes, that gives me hope.
I do become very concerned, though, when I see much of the television coverage. TV programs need to get people to watch, and to do so the producers seem convinced that they have to have some sort of smack down – one person that’s, say, a concerned expert on climate change with publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals who is eager to see action to address climate change, and another that says one of three things: one – it’s not happening, two – it’s happening but it’s not a problem, or three – it’s a problem but there’s nothing we can do about it. Put them on camera together, watch the sparks fly and let that network cash register ring.
I research the skeptics on these shows, and it’s extremely difficult to find someone that has used the scientific method to publish compelling evidence in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that negates the existence, seriousness and need to act regarding climate change. Be wary of these pundits dubbed “skeptics”; their motivations are often tainted.
6. What advice would you give to other Climate Mama’s and Papa’s, steps they can take as individuals and collectively to help change the course we currently find ourselves on with climate change.
Many people are completely overwhelmed with directives on “living green”. I don’t blame them. Every time I go to a green event, someone hands me a few pages or a booklet on how to change my life and be a responsible human being. Attempting to follow all those tasks at once is really way too much, and it’s very off-putting to a lot of people.
Just focus on one thing at a time. Pick one thing a month – something that will reduce your consumption of electricity, oil, gasoline or natural gas – and at least read and talk about it. Ideally you’ll make a change, but you won’t change unless you know about it first. Transformation takes time.
If you do this, you can set an example not only for your kids, but also for your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow worshipers – wherever you come in contact with people. You’ll also reduce your carbon footprint. And in most cases, reducing your footprint will actually save you money.
But don’t stop there. Tell your elected officials at the city, state and national levels that you want to see them address this problem. Hand-written letters are best. For critical environmental issues like climate change, legislation is key.
7. Other thoughts or ideas that you would like to pass on to our community?
Climate change is unusual: it’s a global engineering problem that requires a global movement to address it. And I’m sorry to say this, but it’s getting late, the urgency is rising and while global leaders are acknowledging the seriousness of the issue, they don’t seem close to an adequate agreement.
Still, there is reason to be hopeful. I like to think that climate change can bring us all together – that the people of all nations will band together to fight this common enemy that can harm us all. I’d like for parents to convey hope to their children, but with a dose of reality. Tell them yes, we will fix this, but it’s something that requires everyone, everywhere to work together. And with that vision in mind, we need to start setting the example for everyone.
8. Contact information or website you would like us to list with the article?
Why Green Allowance of course! It helps kids pick an energy-saving project, and with the tag line “Save the Planet, Get Paid”, they’re likely to act. With a little luck, we’ll motivate a huge number of families to take on projects at home. Or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. Favorite book or movie?
Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. It reminds me that anyone can change the world. I believe that’s true.