Doug Foy, an environmental advocate and businessman, sat down with Tina Woolston, director of the Office of Sustainability at Tufts, to discuss climate change at the final Tisch College Civic Life Lunch of the semester, titled “Extreme Weather, Climate Change & the Fight for Environmental Change,” on Nov. 10.
After the pair was introduced by Tisch College Dean Dayna Cunningham, they began talking about fighting climate change in different sectors, such as advocacy groups, government, private enterprise and academia. Foy, who has experience in all four sectors, believes they all will have a role to play in the future of climate activism but one, in particular, holds the key to the future.
“I actually have gotten to the point now that I think private enterprise is ultimately the only way we’re going to crack the code on climate change,” Foy said. “It is the place where solutions will have to be built. Enterprises have to scale and be able to create answers to the climate challenges that are both economically attractive, environmentally successful and respect the communities in which they’re lodged.”
To Foy, private enterprise is an extension of his “all hands on deck” philosophy in regards to climate change. He believes everyone’s individual skills and passions are needed to get real change made.
Foy emphasized the importance of capital in the race to save the planet. He talked about his experience in state government working for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as secretary of commonwealth development, and how they worked to more sensibly invest in energy development.
“Where you get the most leverage in many of the things that government can do is where it chooses to spend its money,” he said. “For instance, the commonwealth was actively supporting the construction of schools in farm fields outside of town centers. We tried to reverse that. We said, ‘Okay, we’ll help pay for more expensive playing fields in town. We want the kids to be able to walk to school.’ Those kinds of economic incentives are very powerful tools for government to use.”
Local government must also play a role, according to Foy. With methods such as zoning and town layout at their disposal, he believes that even small governments can still make a big impact on climate advocacy.
Foy’s ultimate test of a great community came down to a simple question: “Can I walk to get a quart of milk?” Foy pointed to his work on the cleanup of Boston Harbor as a key example of local government making a climate impact.
“The goal of that case was to allow the [high school graduating class of 2000] to be able to swim in their own harbor,” he said. “That was their water, and they were entitled to have it be clean and safe.”
Foy also described how improving energy efficiency would create more jobs and improve the lives of Americans who have been hurt economically and physically by fossil fuel energy.
“What we have to do is go into communities that have dilapidated housing, have inefficient furnaces and help those communities fix those facilities,” he said. “That’s an enormously interesting investment … think of all the jobs fixing those buildings, think of all the skilled workforce that needs to be doing energy efficiency in buildings all over the world.”
Foy then took questions from the attendees. He was asked about how to judge success in climate advocacy in the current modern, politically divided times. He believes that if private sector companies take the lead in climate advocacy, governments will follow suit.
“Those companies then start carrying that skill set and that investment opportunity to other places and … you can say to the other states ‘you might want to think about this,’” Foy said.
Foy also spoke about his work with the ELM Action Fund and the importance of climate-focused nonprofits.
“Groups like ELM are critically important players as they’re part of the advocacy function that we talked about in the four sectors,” Foy said.
At the end of the discussion, Foy again emphasized his “all hands on deck” ideology and how everyone can contribute to environmental change.
“You can have a beneficial effect on climate change regardless of where you’re located and regardless of what your talent bank is by focusing on the things you can do well,” Foy said.