I am the founder, and Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). ACE’s mission is to educate high school students about the science behind climate change and inspire them to take action to curb its causes.
I am writing this blog post in response to a PRWatch.org Special Report, “Does BP Have an ACE Up Its Sleeve on Climate Education?” It is unfortunate to get distracted from our important work, but this report is based on falsehoods and inaccuracies and we must set the record straight. This letter will lay out the facts on the most egregious errors in this report.
Let me be absolutely clear: BP has never funded, directed or participated in ACE in any way.
Pic Walker, Executive Director of ACE, has already stated publicly that ACE has no connections with BP, financially or otherwise. Unfortunately, the authors of the report failed to contact ACE to confirm this fundamental fact, or anything else.
This report states that I am the president of a BP subsidiary. This is false. I have never served as the president, head, executive or employee of any subsidiary of BP. Further, I have never had any financial interest in BP whatsoever. The crux of these allegations is based on this falsehood, which by my count, is repeated in the report 18 times.
The authors apparently confuse “Orion Energy Group LLC” (OEG) and “Orion Renewable Energy Group LLC" (OREG) - two privately held renewable energy companies of which I am President - with “Orion Energy LLC,” a wind energy subsidiary of BP Wind Energy. This is a critical error. I sold my ownership interest in Orion Energy LLC to BP Alternative Energy in 2006, which helped BP Alternative Energy to grow a wind energy business (now called BP Wind Energy). As part of the sale, I resigned as President of Orion Energy LLC. OEG and OREG - the companies of which I am President - are completely unrelated to and have no affiliation with BP whatsoever. For a time after the sale of Orion Energy LLC in 2006, I assisted BP Alternative Energy (without pay) in launching their wind energy business. The authors could have confirmed these facts simply by asking me.
The report also makes false statements about Jim Eisen, one of ACE’s Directors. Mr. Eisen is no longer employed by BP Wind Energy, and has not been since early 2010. He has never been a lobbyist for any company, including BP or any of its subsidiaries. Mr. Eisen is my long-time colleague, and as part of the sale of Orion Energy LLC to BP in 2006, he agreed to work up to three years for BP Wind Energy. During his tenure at BP Wind Energy, Mr. Eisen focused solely on expanding the use of renewable energy in the U.S. For the 18 months that Mr. Eisen was a Director of ACE while an employee of BP Wind Energy, this fact was included in his bio on the ACE website. Like me, Mr. Eisen has spent over 20 years working to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and now volunteers a portion of his time to support ACE. He has no financial interest in BP whatsoever.
The authors also criticize Pic Walker, ACE’s Executive Director, stating that he “does not have an education or science background” - while acknowledging his long background in environmental conservation. Had the authors checked with ACE, they would have learned that Mr. Walker taught environmental studies at Canterbury School in Connecticut from 2004-2006. ACE’s success is due in no small part to Mr. Walker’s leadership, and this article disparages Mr. Walker’s experience and leadership without checking the facts.
The report alleges that ACE is careful not to “interfere with the goals or sensibilities of big energy companies, including BP.” In fact, ACE’s core educational message is that the principal cause of climate change is the emission of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. ACE’s programs are aimed at reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, from our science-based high school presentations that make students aware of their carbon footprint to ACE Action Teams which undertake carbon-reducing projects. Last year, we started a national campaign with Alec Loorz (Co-Founder of Kids vs Global Warming) urging high school students to sign a “Declaration of Independence from Fossil Fuels.” Our programs are science based, and scientists agree that in order to stop climate change we must reduce our reliance on traditional, carbon-based energy - the production of which is the core business of many big energy companies.
I am proud of the work ACE has begun. In our first year visiting schools, ACE educators reached over 420,000 high school students at nearly 900 schools in 10 regions nationwide. We helped 14,000 students join Action Teams to take on carbon-reducing projects at schools, and gave away more than $130,000 in scholarships and school grants. We partnered with more than 150 leading nonprofits which are committed to engaging youth to combat climate change. Our program has received rave reviews from hundreds of teachers, administrators, students and parents across the country. Our work has received accolades from leaders including 350.orgfounder Bill McKibben and the Dalai Lama. All of the science used in ACE’s programs is based on the latest reports from the IPCC, which are some of the most heavily reviewed reports in history. To ensure our science is accurate, we are guided by our Science Advisory Board, which consists of some of the world’s leading climate scientists. And our staff has worked tirelessly to convey the severity and science of climate change to high school students, while providing inspiration and ideas for them to start working on solutions.
It is of public record that I was ACE’s sole funder in its first year of operations. I remain its primary funder today. With this initial funding, ACE was able to quickly launch its educational efforts and not lose precious time first having to fundraise. ACE has started to receive financial support from a mix of foundations, companies, and individuals that support our mission and expansion. To ensure complete transparency, we will post funding criteria on our website in the near term. We have also begun a process of expanding our Board by three to five people, which will be completed over the next year. Pic Walker was recently appointed to the Board, and we will update our website accordingly.
I believe climate change is humanity’s greatest challenge, and have spent virtually my entire career working to stop it. I founded ACE because I’ve always been driven by science and education. I believe the risks to our planet are high, and the consequences are extraordinary. I believe we need to listen to the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists - and act now and on a large scale. Most of all, I believe that today’s students will lead the change our planet needs, and that ACE’s work is critical to helping drive that process. In light of continuing government failures to address climate change, we need ACE and other climate change education organizations more than ever.
This report does not tell the true story of ACE’s work. Fundamental factual errors have been conflated to paint a deceptive and unjust portrait of our organization. The need for immediate action to combat climate change calls for collaboration among those who are led by the science and recognize the danger, not unfair efforts to demonize allies in that cause.
I will close by inviting the authors of this report to visit one of our assembly presentations or our headquarters - to speak directly to ACE management or any of our Directors – to understand our mission and the tremendous impact our educators are having with students across the United States.
Founder, Alliance for Climate Education