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Celebrities join forces to promote "Global Cool"

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The Blue Canyon Wind Farm in Oklahoma is supported by TerraPass and has offset 15,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. (Courtesy of TerraPass)

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The Blue Canyon Wind Farm in Oklahoma is supported by TerraPass and has offset 15,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. (Courtesy of TerraPass)

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Prime Minister Tony Blair, KT Tunstall and Josh Hartnett at a Global Cool event at 10 Downing Street this January. **Please note small file size of 800x1200** (Courtesy of Global Cool)

Josh Hartnett and Orlando Bloom want to teach the world how to be “Cool.” The actors are part of Global Cool, the latest in a growing number of organizations dedicated to reducing the pollutants that people put into the atmosphere each day. The celebrity-powered Global Cool aims to cut carbon emissions by 10 billion tons over the next decade.

More than 25 billion tons of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are pumped into the air every year, according to a December 2006 report by Trexler Climate and Energy Services, a climate change consultant group that was recently acquired by EcoSecurities. Most world leaders and scientists agree that the greenhouse gases are causing a rapid global warming trend. The polar icecaps are melting, rivers are drying up and violent and unpredictable weather is becoming more common.

This trend, say people at Global Cool, can be reversed. “We want to make sure our campaign has a material impact,” said Fanny Calder, campaign director for the group, which was launched in late January. “We will need governments and businesses to step in, but our mission is to convince and excite people to understand they can make a difference.”

Stars like Hartnett, Bloom and KT Tunstall ask visitors to the group’s Web site to use an online “carbon calculator” to determine exactly how much carbon dioxide they emit each year, based on where they live, how often they travel and how much fuel they use to heat their home. Individuals who sign a pledge promising to reduce their carbon emissions can then get some video tips from the Global Cool celebrities, like unplugging chargers after use, buying energy efficient light bulbs and taking public transportation instead of driving.

Calder hopes the star power will make the group more effective. “We don’t want people to just pledge to do something,” Calder said. “We want to make the message fun and exciting to motivate them to do the things they promised to.”

Because there are some emissions that cannot be easily eliminated--most people need electricity and not everyone can walk to work--Global Cool also asks members to buy a “Ton of Cool” for approximately $38. The donations support organizations developing carbon-friendly technology and fund nonprofit and research groups looking to influence government policy. But the largest chunk of the donations is used to limit carbon emissions by buying carbon credits from renewable energy projects like wind farms.

In countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol, companies are limited to a certain amount of carbon emissions--or carbon credits--each year; any credits a company does not use can be sold to other companies either through the government or, in the European Union, on an exchange similar to a stock exchange.

While the United States has not signed the Kyoto agreement, there is a carbon exchange in Chicago on which companies can voluntarily limit their emissions and sell their extra credits.

Global Cool is just the latest in a growing number of organizations that are buying and retiring carbon credits this way. According to EcoSecurities, there are now more than 35 such groups compared with a handful just two years ago, and the number is continuing to grow.

“There’s been an explosion of providers online,” said Laura Kosloff, senior counsel at EcoSecurities. “We did that report two months ago, and I’m sure there are already new groups out there.”

The growth may be caused by more than an environmental conscience. “More people are seeing the business opportunity,” said Katherine Hamilton, carbon projects manager at Ecosystem Marketplace, a Washington-based group dedicated to providing information on the global carbon markets. Hamilton noted that as regulations on carbon emissions tighten, the market is growing; her group estimates the carbon market could be worth nearly $40 billion by 2010.

Still, many of these groups say protecting the environment is their main mission. TerraPass, founded in 2004 by students at the Wharton School of Business, purchases credits from wind energy and methane flaring projects across the country. The group has developed partnerships to promote its message with a number of major retailers, including Ford and Expedia, and this year it hit the big time at the Academy Awards. Rather than sending winners and presenters home with lavish gift bags, the Academy made donations to TerraPass to offset 50 tons of carbon dioxide and everyone got a TerraPass handbook on how to reduce carbon emissions.

“We wanted to take the opportunity to talk to the celebrities,” said Tom Arnold of TerraPass. “If we can convince them to change their ways--for example, flying first class on a commercial airline instead of in a private plane--it would make a huge difference.”

Global Cool hopes to make its own stamp on celebrity affairs. The group is currently working with an upcoming Bollywood event to make it carbon neutral by providing low-emissions transportation for guests, using alternative energy sources and offsetting any unavoidable emissions, Calder said. Global Cool has also begun to develop standards for carbon neutral events and has plans to work with a number of musicians to help them reduce emissions at their concerts.

It is the partnerships with major media and entertainment groups that Calder says will help them succeed. “It is one of the first times that an organization can really get that many people to come to us and stay with us for a 10-year journey,” Calder said. And as for their plans when they reach the 10-year mark, she said, “We’re going to have a really big party.”

E-mail: dh2296@columbia.edu