Grassroots vs. government: How the climate-change battle is trickling up

Throughout the world, governments have vowed to lower their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change.

But while having the government take the lead in curtailing global warming makes sense for many countries, it can be problematic in the U.S., where the people are the real authority and a distrust of government hovers, said Frank Dalene, the author of D”ecarbonize the World: A Market-Based Solution to the Climate Crisis.”

“Many European countries, including my birth country of Norway, are social democracies, meaning they are governed from the top down,” said Dalene, who is president and CEO of Telemark Inc., a construction services business that has become a leader in embracing the latest in energy efficiencies. “The United States is structured in the exact opposite way. In the United States, power comes from the bottom up.”

That’s why in the U.S., solutions to climate change work better when they begin at the grassroots level, allowing the free market that many Americans cherish to lead the way, Dalene said.

He’s been trying to do that himself. Dalene developed a system called ICEMAN (International Carbon Equivalent Mechanism Attributed to Neutrality), which gives companies a snapshot of the carbon emissions generated by their products, processes or services.

The ICEMAN system assigns an index number based on a product’s greenhouse emissions. An index number of 50 indicates the product, process or service is 50 percent carbon neutral; an index number of 100 indicates it is 100 percent carbon neutral.

The push for non-governmental solutions
Dalene would like to see others in the private sector and at the grassroots level follow his lead, finding climate-change solutions that may be stronger than anything the government can devise because they are less likely to generate the resistance that government efforts so often do.

Dalene is not alone in urging for non-governmental solutions to the problem. Just recently, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in an interview with Reuters that he believes “the private sector has the ability to win this battle for us.” He made similar remarks at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda event in January, saying that “no government in the world has the amount of money we need” for the transition to green technologies.

At that same Davos event, Bill Gates stressed how important it is for businesses to invest in those technologies.

The role consumers play
Dalene notes that consumers already show a preference for purchasing green products and services, and many businesses seek a competitive advantage by promoting the green attributes of what they do.

“I’ve seen this play out first-hand in the construction industry, where all sorts of energy-efficiency programs are being implemented and becoming part of the building code,” he said. “While some are now required by the government, it all started with the U.S. Green Building Council – another great illustration of a system growing up from the grassroots.”

That grassroots includes those consumers, he said.

“Consumers can influence corporate decisions and behavior and thus make an impact on the global economic structure,” Dalene said. “Right now, the international pressure, such as it is, is not incentivizing these countries to reduce their emissions expediently. It’s time to let the free market do the work.”

About Frank Dalene

Frank Dalene, the author of “Decarbonize the World: A Market-Based Solution to the Climate Crisis” (, is president and CEO of Telemark Inc., a construction services business he co-founded with his brother Roy in 1978. Over the past four decades, Telemark has become known for being a national leader, embracing the latest in energy efficiencies. Dalene is innovating the manner in which companies can assess their carbon footprint. Through his ICEMAN (International Carbon Equivalent Mechanism Attributed to Neutrality) methodology, companies can get an accurate snapshot of their product’s carbon emissions on a standardized scale. Dalene has presented keynotes across the world on sustainable construction, carbon neutrality, and ICEMAN. He also has been quoted or his work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, New York Post, Architectural Digest, and The Wall Street Journal.