Adam Wolfensohn Introduction

On February 27, 2013 Adam Wolfensohn, an environmentalist who works with businesses and government agencies to enact sound environmental practices, spoke with Hunter College undergraduate students about his work. Jonathan Fanton introduced Mr. Wolfensohn before his talk.

Adam Wolfensohn Introduction
February 27, 2013

I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Adam Wolfensohn, Managing Director at Wolfensohn and Company, an investment firm that focuses on investments in emerging market economies. Mr. Wolfensohn leads the firm’s environmental markets initiative, helping invest in environmentally-sound, low carbon energy companies.

He is an active member of the Roosevelt House Board of Advisors, which is guiding the development of our Public Policy Institute. From time to time we invite members to meet with students and share their experiences.

Adam Wolfensohn’s life work resonates with President Roosevelt’s vision 74 years ago. He comes to us with a unique perspective of environmental issues. He received a Masters in Environmental Management from Yale and is a board member of EKO Asset Management Partners, an investment firm that helps landowners, government agencies and businesses become more environmentally-conscious. Mr. Wolfensohn also serves on the board of the Verdeo Group, Inc., which aims to reduce carbon emissions in North American gas, oil, and mining sectors and is a trustee of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which helps preserve Alaskan wildlife. Mr. Wolfensohn recently brought this expertise to the Board of Directors of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors as one of its new members.

What sets Mr. Wolfensohn apart from other environmentalists is his commitment to broadening the public concern with climate change.  Trained as a musician at Princeton University, Mr. Wolfensohn — the composer of numerous film and television commercials — has fused his artistic talents to his push for sounder environmental practices. In 2002 and 2003, he worked with Conservation International to make the 2003 Pearl Jam concert tour carbon-neutral. He produced “Everything’s Cool,” a documentary on climate change that debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It illuminates the struggles of scientists to educate and mobilize an otherwise sleepy public to action against global warming.

Yet public action and mobilizing cannot do it alone. As Mr. Wolfensohn noted in a recent interview, government and legislative leadership is crucial to limiting the harmful and dangerous impact we as humans can have on our natural surroundings.

“Many of these debates [about the environment],” he says, “come down to how we can best transform our culture, politics, and economy. Is it a bottom up or a top down process? Do we need marches on Washington and mass localization to stir the hearts of millions? Or do we need strong leadership from Washington and public acquiescence that follows that leadership? I think the latter is the more likely scenario.”

It is this sentiment that makes Mr. Wolfensohn’s talk here today so fitting. Energy conservation and protection of the environment were central themes in our work at Roosevelt House. President Roosevelt would be pleased we are having this conversation in his home. He built upon the achievements of previous progressive leaders to institute striking environmental reform. His New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was designed, in his words, to “conserve our precious natural resources,” and he formed the Soil Conservation Service and enacted the Federal Wildlife Restoration Act to preserve some of the nation’s endangered species and non-renewable resources.

And he imagined an America where legislators prioritized the study of our natural environment and took action. Hear his words in 1939 as he implores Congress to begin a comprehensive study of energy conservation. (Transmittal to Congress of a Study of Energy Resources, February 16, 1939):
“…We now use more energy per capita than any other people, and our scientists tell us there will be a progressively increasing demand for energy for all purposes. Our energy resources are not inexhaustible, yet we are permitting waste in their use and production. In some instances, to achieve apparent economies today, future generations will be forced to carry the burden of unnecessarily high costs…

In the past the Federal Government and the States have undertaken various measures to conserve our…resources. [But] each of those efforts has been directed toward the problems in a single field: toward the protection of the public interest in the power of flowing water in the Nation’s rivers; toward the relief of economic and human distress in the mining of coal…It is time now to take a larger view: to recognize—more fully than has been possible or perhaps needful in the past—that each of our great natural resources of energy affects the others.”

So without further ado, let me turn the floor over the Mr. Wolfensohn, who will lead us in what I’m sure will be a rich conversation.

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