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The Environmentalists: Stephen Holle

Q&A

By Laura Paisley
November 12, 2013

Stephen Holle ’13 is a reserve administrator at the Los Angeles environmental nonprofit Climate Action Reserve. He graduated from USC Dornsife with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainability. Illustration by Niklas Asker.

Stephen Holle ’13 is a reserve administrator at the Los Angeles environmental nonprofit Climate Action Reserve. He graduated from USC Dornsife with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainability. Illustration by Niklas Asker.

Describe how your current job helps implement California’s landmark cap-and-trade* program.

The Climate Action Reserve specializes in the regulatory and voluntary carbon offset market. We work on projects related to forestry, livestock and landfills. In a landfill operation, the decomposition of waste creates methane — a greenhouse gas — that goes into the atmosphere. We create the guidelines for how to destroy the methane. Landfill owners then implement those guidelines and get it verified by a third party. This is where my job comes in. The verification body creates a report and submits it to us and as an administrator I review it and make sure the reductions are real and accurate. We’ll look for tiny details like, were they calibrating the instruments correctly, according to the guidelines we established? When we approve their project, we generate climate reserve tonnes, a unit with a price on the market. Companies buy these carbon offsets so they can mitigate their emissions profiles.

How did your Problems Without Passports (PWP) ecosystem management course in Micronesia shape your career interests?

That course was research meets policy meets global development. We did a case study in Guam looking at the impact of military development on the coral reef ecosystem, contrasting it with Palau, a well-managed marine environment. I saw how establishing a baseline is a key starting point in developing long-term resource management. It’s the same with the industry I’m in; without baseline data you cannot create effective carbon reduction projects. I also learned that business is the main driver behind climate change and the biggest area that must be shifted in order for the global population to reduce its carbon footprint.

How do you maintain a positive outlook in this field?

I feel cynical when the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to release rules for regulating emissions from power plants and it keeps taking longer and longer. Same thing with cap-and-trade. Money is being borrowed from the auctions to balance the budget in California, but those funds were originally intended for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But I see encouraging things in the private sector — companies that voluntarily offset or mitigate their emissions and find efficiencies. That motivates me to be a part of the driving force shifting some of the biggest companies in the world toward sustainability.

If you could implement one environmental/sustainability wish, what would it be?

I would install a worldwide smart grid in order to effectively integrate renewable sources of energy and end reliance on fossil fuels.

 

*Cap-and-trade is a market-based regulation designed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) from multiple sources. Cap-and-trade sets a firm limit or “cap” on GHGs and minimizes the compliance costs of achieving the goals of Assembly Bill 32. Called the Global Warming Solutions Act, the bill is an environmental and economic response to climate change.

Read more stories from USC Dornsife Magazine's Fall 2013-Winter 2014 issue