Young, Green Entrepreneurs Flock to Carbon Market Once, if you were in your 20s and wanted to save the environment, you might have joined Greenpeace. But climate change and a billion-dollar carbon market that trades in carbon credits — as if they were pork bellies — have created a new career niche: carbon entrepreneurs.
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Young, Green Entrepreneurs Flock to Carbon Market

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Young, Green Entrepreneurs Flock to Carbon Market

Young, Green Entrepreneurs Flock to Carbon Market

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We've been on a global journey for the past year called Climate Connections with National Geographic. Now that journey is ending.


Our final stories come this month. We are profiling the young people who will witness the shifting climate and also shape it. We will hear from a young climate change skeptic in Maine, Kristin Burns.

Ms. KRISTIN BURNS: In middle school, I remember everyone was like, global warming, the world's going to end, stuff like that. I never really believed in it.

INSKEEP: We will also meet Kelly Greenman, who traveled to U.N. climate talks and heaps scorn on American policies.

Ms. KELLY GREENMAN: Our way of life is non-negotiable, therefore we can nothing but impede the negotiations.

INSKEEP: And later today on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, young people in Ukraine, where getting used to capitalism seems more urgent that tackling climate change.

MONTAGNE: And this morning, though, we meet the whiz kids who are pioneering a new economy based on carbon. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and the big player in global warming. Now it's spawned the market where traders wheel and deal in something largely invisible: the right to emit carbon dioxide. Fresh out of college, carbon entrepreneurs are discovering that it's a way to make money and, they say, do the right thing for the environment. NPR's Christopher Joyce has the story.

(Soundbite of scraping sound)

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Joshua Alban(ph) lives in a brownstone in the part of Washington, D.C. favored by young professionals on their way up. He's having friends over for dinner, Anna Arino(ph) and Nathaniel Bullard(ph).

Mr. JOSHUA ALBAN (Carbon Entrepreneur): How you doing?

Ms. ANNA ARINO (Carbon Entrepreneur): I've never been to your house before.

Mr. NATHANIEL BULLARD (Carbon Entrepreneur): It's good to see you.

JOYCE: All three got jobs right out of graduate school.

Mr. ALBAN: Feel free to just throw your bags on my bed and…

JOYCE: They're in demand and they know it, because they know the carbon market.

Mr. ALBAN: Carbon trading is super sexy. I can't tell you how many friends I have that are in big law firms or in investment banking or in med school that just fall all over themselves because this stuff just sounds so cool. You get a chance to make a little bit of money, and you're actually doing something that might actually make a difference.

JOYCE: Two years ago, European governments helped create the market by slapping quotas on how much carbon dioxide many companies can emit from smoke stacks. That created a trade in carbon credits, essentially permits to emit. The company that emits too much can buy credits from a company that emits less than its quota or from someone who builds a green energy project that reduces greenhouse gases. And that's created a swarm of carbon traders, green energy experts and market analysts. It's not uncommon to start out making 60 to $100,000 a year.

(Soundbite of banging sound)

JOYCE: So what's for dinner?

Mr. ALBAN: I've got some fresh sol, and we're going to let it marinate for a little bit.

JOYCE: Are you going to carbonize the fish, blackened sol?

Mr. ALBAN: Blacked sol, exactly.

JOYCE: Josh grew up in a family that sold carpet. He has a salesman's quick smile and restless energy. He wrote reports at an environmental think-tank, but he found that boring. Now he travels the world, matching buyers and sellers of carbon credits for a company called World Energy.

I think that's fine. Do you need a hand with anything?

Mr. ALBAN: Uh, I think we're good. If want to…

JOYCE: Sure.

Mr. ALBAN: …crack (unintelligible).

JOYCE: Yeah, I can do that. You get the (unintelligible)?

The market also attracts people like Nathaniel Bullard.

Mr. ALBAN: This is Nat.

JOYCE: Nat's a trim 30-year-old with a close-cropped beard. He used to teach school in Egypt. Now he's an expert in green energy projects, things like solar collectors and wind farms. These projects generate tradable carbon credits. He says people come to him all the time with weird questions.

Mr. BULLARD: Hey, I've got a big pool of, you know, methane oozing manure at my hog farm in Iowa. What can I do with that?

JOYCE: And, in fact, the farmer could earn money on the market by capturing that methane instead of letting it rise into the atmosphere. The third dinner guest is Anna Arino. Dark-haired, elegant and precise, she grew up in Madrid.

Ms. ARINO: I have like - as much as I like my Spanish (unintelligible).

JOYCE: Anna works for a company called NatSource. She analyzes the carbon market for business clients.

Ms. ARINO: This makes money now. Everybody's jumping on the boat. There's momentum. There's excitement. It's dynamic and it's global, and I guess that goes with my, you know, personality.

(Soundbite of banging sound)

JOYCE: Anna learned about carbon in the European market.

Ms. ARINO: Personally, I started my career in the power sector, and this is the sector that is monopolized or predominately white, 60 or 70 and above males, you know. And so this is a lot different.

Mr. ALBAN: This is better. I think Anna's got that exactly right. It's also a chance to really make something happen in that sort of 1950s science fiction terra forming way, make a world look like what it could possibly look like. So, I don't know. It's also a lot of fun. It's nice to be sort of geeky and get obsessive about strange bits of the carbon market that end up being of interest to a lot of other people.

JOYCE: Many people object to the idea of a carbon market, however. It allows a company in Europe or the U.S. to shop around for permits to pollute. They can get them from, say, a factory in Mexico that reduces its CO2, or a new wind farm in India. Critics say these are like papal indulgences. They say rich countries should bite the bullet and cut their own emissions instead of paying others to do it for them. Josh disagrees.

Mr. ALBAN: If you really think that the way we live is fundamentally amoral, then just shut everything off. Just shut down all your utilities. I mean, if you really this is a moral issue, then you have a responsibility to stop living the way you are. In the reality, that's not a possibility. We need a mechanism to transition to a carbon neutral economy, and there are a couple of different ways you can do it, you know, market based solutions and carbon trading is one of them. It's absolutely not perfect, but I think it's moving in the right direction.

Ms. ARINO: It's not like God is coming down to us and saying this is moral, this is immoral. No, it's just - you know, society thinking what's the smartest way to live, and what's sustainable?

JOYCE: But Nat says there is a moral question about who bares the burden for reducing global warming. Who should change their lifestyle first?

Mr. BULLARD: Should we place that burden on developed countries that have the wealth and ability to do so, or onto everybody in a blanket fashion? And that's a sort of tricky question to which I don't have an answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOYCE: Over dinner, talk to turns to the future of the carbon market. Yes, it's growing, but it's also supposed to help the world quit using fossil fuels. And if that happens, there's no reason to have a carbon market anymore. That isn't likely to happen soon, though, and in the meantime, says Nat, carbon marketers can do the planet some good.

Mr. BULLARD: This is a sort of hopeful possible future for the way we consume energy, and it's sort of good to be on the right side of history.

JOYCE: And make a pretty good living as well.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

Mr. ALVIN: We were joking about advertising an internship that said something like, girls, girls, girls, carbon trade.

Mr. BULLARD: I get that.

Mr. ALVIN: We just got the market cornered on jobs.

MONTAGNE: You can hear more stories at our Web site: And once there, you can get the latest features on global warming from National Geographic magazine.

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