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The True Price Of Saving The Planet With Paula DiPerna

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Saving the planet is indeed an overwhelming undertaking. The world is a priceless place, but perhaps the best way to save it is to put a price on it. Corinna Bellizzi sits down with Paula DiPerna, a leader in the forefront of finance and climate policy who wrote the book Pricing The Priceless. She explains why money should be spent on rebuilding essential environmental assets rather than on dispensable resources that only benefit the powerful few. Paula talks about the valuable lessons he learned from underwater hero Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the benefits of funding coral reef insurance and forest resilience bonds, as well as the real impact of carbon credits in the current state of nature.


About Guest:

CMBB Paula Diperna | Saving The PlanetPaula DiPerna is a pioneer and leader at the forefront of finance and climate policy, from the Oval Office to Antarctica, coral reefs to carbon markets. She served as President of CCX International, the world’s first expansive emissions trading system to address global warming; President of the Joyce Foundation; and writer for underwater hero, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Currently, she is Special Advisor to CDP, the world’s only integrated environmental disclosure system. DiPerna is a frequent media commentator and public speaker.


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Show Notes: – Raw Audio

00:00 – Introduction

01:48 – Lessons from Jacques-Yves Cousteau

07:07 – Antarctica Treaty, Wellington Convention, and Madrid Protocol

12:23 – Writing Pricing the Priceless

17:56 – Coral reef insurance

29:11 – Carbon credits

36:22 – Forest resilience bond

42:45 – Meeting the pope

50:02 – Bringing forward the world’s beauty

52:56 – Closing Words


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The True Price Of Saving The Planet With Paula DiPerna

The Financial Transformation To Value The Planet, Solve The Climate Crisis, And Protect Our Most Precious Assets

Hello, fellow do-gooders and friends. I’ve got to say I’m very excited about this interview. We get to dive into something that I’m passionate about, and that is ultimately talking about how we can work to solve our climate crisis and protect our most precious assets, as we get to know Paula DiPerna, author of Pricing the Priceless. Paula DiPerna is a pioneer. She’s a leader in the forefront of finance and climate policy from the Oval Office to Antarctica, coral reefs to carbon markets.

She served as President of CCX International, the world’s first expansive emissions trading system to address global warming. She was President of the Joyce Foundation, and writer for underwater hero and one of my personal favorites, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. She is a Special Advisor to CDP, the world’s only integrated environmental disclosure system. She’s a frequent media commenter and public speaker.

Paula DiPerna, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much, and thank you for that very nice introduction. I hope I can live up to it.

I’m a scuba diver and an ocean advocate. I have to start here. Tell me about what led to your collaboration with Jacques Cousteau and what it was like and what you did with him. I would love to learn more.

It is one of those things that when you’re doing it, you don’t take the time to reflect, but on reflection, I realize it was the greatest experience one could ever have and perhaps one of the ten best jobs in the world anyone could have ever wanted or dreamed of. It all came about by coincidence because I‘ve always wanted to be a writer. Writing was the thing I always wanted to do. I did a little diversion to teaching, and I still love teaching. At one point, I thought I would be a full-time teacher. I decided, “Why not go back to this writing dream?” I started freelancing and writing articles about public education, which I was involved in. I thought, “Probably if you want to keep freelancing, you should learn about a few more things and different topics.”

At that time, I wasn’t particularly interested in the environment directly. I didn’t know anything about the oceans per se. I barely had watched a Cousteau film because it wasn’t necessarily my thing, but I knew who he was. I volunteered to work for the Cousteau Society because I was given a Christmas present by a dear friend of a membership in the Cousteau Society. There was a little ad that said Volunteer Writers and Editors Wanted for Cousteau Project, Global Almanac, etc., so I volunteered.

On the next day, they called back and said they had a paying job or a salary job for one person. They wanted to offer me that role. I took the job thinking I’d only be there for a year. I don’t know how many articles were for this project. The book was published by Doubleday. It was called The Cousteau Almanac. In the process of doing the book, I met Jacques Cousteau many times. He was a real character. I remember the French never worked during lunch. Work-life balance is very clear.

CMBB Paula Diperna | Saving The Planet
The Cousteau Almanac of the Environment: An Inventory of Life on a Water Planet

That’s a two-hour lunch in addition to transit time.

We used to go to lunch with him and chitchat and not really talk about the project. Certainly, we never talked about the films when we were working on them at lunchtime. One day, he took this $1 bill out of his wallet. He said, “When I was a boy, this used to represent a dollar’s worth of sweat of labor, but today, it represents a dollar’s worth of oil.” In his mind, it was the transition from hard, blue-collar work to oil being the underpinning of the economy. If he were here, he would say it’s a dollar’s worth of carbon or carbon pollution that is backing up the economy.

He was always coming up with some imaginative or creative approach to something. He was a charming person, very unassuming and down to earth. He carried his own suitcase. I went with him to many places. He has two bags. One is a briefcase and one is a suitcase. He had his hands full. People would come up on the street and say, “Captain Cousteau, I’ve always admired you. Can I shake your hand?” He would put the bags down and shake the hand always almost unfailingly polite. He was, in that sense, a role model.

We went all over the place. I was on the cliffs many times. I spent a year in the Amazon. I was with him in the White House when we were doing the Antarctic negotiation a couple of times in the Oval Office. We convinced George Bush to go to the Rio Conference. In one simple way, Cousteau says to the president, “Mr. President, if you don’t go yourself, you won’t know what’s going on.”

He was very down to earth. He told Ronald Reagan one time the US government was pulling its money out from the UN ocean program. He was dedicated to the UN oceans fund. It was under $1 million, the US conversation. He went to the White House and said to President Reagan, “Mr. President, if you won’t put the money, I will.” His reputation was such that people couldn’t resist that. To summarize, it was an extraordinary experience. We accomplished a lot. It was not only the films, but other things. I’ll leave it on this, which is very significant.

I will take some credit for this. People like Cousteau who are so famous and have such access, truly, when I was with him, there was no one who wouldn’t take his call or didn’t take his call. He could get into any office and see anyone that he chose to see, but he had no patience for the process. He would often suggest something at the highest level, and then we’d go out of the office. He wasn’t interested in finding out if they followed up with his idea. He was interested, but he didn’t have the skillset to follow the minutia of it. I don’t like minutia either, but I am an implementer compared to Cousteau who wasn’t necessarily. He invented things, but he wasn’t that good at the process.

For example, the Antarctica treaty was a very important agreement from the late ‘50s where the countries that had put a territorial claim agreed not to push those claims until the world agreed on how to divide up minerals and oil in Antarctica. That discussion never happened. For decades, there was no pressure, and then all of a sudden, one day, out of the blue, somebody somewhere revived that discussion. He said, “We probably should figure out how to divide up the spoils of Antarctica.” This diplomatic process was going on quietly.

It ended up in something called the Wellington Convention, which was on its way to being ratified. It pretty much said, “If you’re going to go to Antarctica to explore oil and minerals, these are the rules you have to follow.” It sounds good, except Cousteau says to me, “This cannot work. You can’t clean up anything in Antarctica. We have to stop this Wellington Convention.” That meant turning history back. All these countries had agreed to it except the United States and a couple of others. France was still hemming and hawing. He said, “We’ve got to figure out a way to stop this.”

We did stop it. Not only did we stop it, but we replaced it with something far more important called the Madrid Protocol, which declares Antarctica a land of science and peace and prohibits the exploitation of minerals and oil on the landmass of Antarctica, at least for 50 years. That conversation can only be reopened if there’s unanimous consent to do it. It’s in perpetuity. We replaced this idea of going forward under rules or you don’t go forward at all. That was a political victory of some importance.

Let’s stop for a second and think about what our world would be like if that didn’t happen. We probably wouldn’t have an emperor penguin anymore.

Probably not. I’m glad you see that because we’re right in the middle of that 50-year period. He would say things the way people can understand them, like, “Antarctica is our refrigerator. Why would we open our refrigerator so everything gets warm inside?” They were very basic things. Not only would we probably not have an emperor penguin, but we probably would have, much worse, melting.

You think of it not only as a refrigerator but as a massive reflector of that light, too.

Once there would be oil or industrial disruption of the surface, the reflective power would be disrupted. The Antarctic is huge, but still, it’s a pretty good deal. It was accomplished because of his personality and the belief and confidence people had in him.

This ties nicely with an episode I released the day that we’re recording this, which is June 28th, 2023. I had Maya van Rossum who wrote the book called The Green Amendment. We got deep into a discussion about the debt ceiling deal and some of the walk backs in it and environmental controls that got lifted in an unfortunate way.

Also, there is a need for us as a global society to price the priceless, think about where we are headed, and ultimately take action through government, treaties, and collaborative efforts on a global scale. We have to acknowledge we’re all part of this same global community. We have that cell wall that is our atmosphere, which is the only thing protecting us. We have to be very careful about it. As we dive into your book Pricing the Priceless, I would love for you to first start with what motivated you to write it. I then want to talk about your prose because I’m a fan of literature. We can segue into that as well.

CMBB Paula Diperna | Saving The Planet
Pricing the Priceless: The Financial Transformation to Value the Planet, Solve the Climate Crisis, and Protect Our Most Precious Assets

That’s great. What motivated me was Uber. I’m not trying to target Uber at all. It had something to do with Uber in the sense that the first time I experienced Uber, people were very excited. They said, and I describe it in the book, “We’re getting a car. It’s called Uber. It’s new. It’s right down the street. It’s coming. Here it is.” I thought, “So what? It’s a taxi.” I couldn’t understand how this became so magical. It was a disruptor of a pre-existing what is called a legacy business. It didn’t necessarily create anything new. It may have created a few jobs for drivers, but I couldn’t understand that. I then read the headline that Uber had more capitalization than GM.

They had no physical product. They had software.

It was that idea that made me ask the question, “How come capital markets put so much value into these intangible companies that don’t necessarily produce anything?” When you get to the atmosphere, which is indispensable, there’s no value. It’s valued at zero. Uber, in the billions, the atmosphere at zero. It also goes back a little bit to Cousteau.

This started to come together in my mind and also carbon markets. We were talking about pricing use of the atmosphere, which you referenced. Sixty miles is that shell between us and disaster. That’s a very scarce space. It’s free. We are using it as free, more or less, and using it not for nice purposes but for dumping grounds. How did that make sense? How can it be free when it’s so indispensable? Using it for free to dump is dangerous and potentially lethal.

Those were the framing things. It goes a bit back to Cousteau. You may remember when the Exxon Valdez ran aground at that point. That was a global catastrophe. Other countries had experienced big oil spills, but it was the first really big one in the United States in a very pristine part of Alaska, Prince William Sound.

It was a horrifying sight. There was so much destruction of wildlife. There were otters coated with oil. People were cleaning the eyes of seabirds with toothbrushes. Cousteau himself was not that upset in the sense of we were making a film, but he didn’t even want to go up there. He said, “You make the film with Jean-Michel,” who is his son. He said, “I don’t have to go.” I said to him, “How come you’re not more upset about it?” He said, “It is very sad, but the real crime or real tragedy is taking the oil out of the ground at today’s price and then wasting it.” It was the sight of this oil spilling out of the sea, being wasted by a stupid navigational mistake, which I can describe.

[bctt tweet=”It is a huge crime and tragedy to take oil out of the ground at expensive prices, only to end up wasting it.” via=”no”]

One woman was advising the ship to turn a certain way and they ignored her, The Third Mate. If they’d listened to her, it wouldn’t have happened. That being said, the water was being wasted on the surface and was being used at a very low price relative to its ultimate value. We understand that better because we realize that we’ve been burning this oil at a low price causing a tremendous danger, which is climate change. Those were the inspirational triggers.

I want to walk back to an earlier thing you said about Jacque Cousteau. That is this idea where he really knew how to see things, talk to leaders, and appeal to their egos a little bit, too. He can even say, “If you don’t go there, you won’t know what’s happening.” Suddenly, you listen a little bit more deeply. You think, “What would happen if I didn’t appear?” In this case, he’s choosing to focus on what’s right in front of him. His legacy was to help people connect with the natural world in a way that would inspire them to want to protect it.

I feel like overall, we have a few incredible leaders in that space. People often think of David Attenborough because of all the work he’s done narrating incredible documentaries over the many years of his career. It was to help people understand how delicate our ecosystems are and how the balance of each one of these animals is directly related to the future health of our planet. I wonder, as you talk about this whole concept of pricing the priceless, I feel like I know what your answer is going to be here. Do you think that this is something we can do in the near future in a term that will make a difference? Can we price the atmosphere in the natural world?

Definitely. If you take the carbon market as an example, it’s functioning. What it does is price the value of this increasing scarcity. The demand to pollute the atmosphere rises, but the room and the atmosphere are getting less. Supply and demand would tell you logically the price of using and the price of that demand. The cost to use that atmosphere should rise. The theory of the case is that the more it rises, the more expensive polluting becomes such that there is a point where pollution is prohibitively costly as compared to an alternative.

We’re lucky that renewable energy is becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuel energy. That being said, you can’t probably eliminate fossil fuels completely for the moment. At least, that means that the fossil fuel emissions that cannot be avoided are much more carefully considered because instead of it costing me $1, it’s going to cost me $100 a ton to pollute. That’s a big difference. We’re already, in that sense, pricing the pricelessness of the atmosphere.

You have some water markets. I’m not saying markets are the total solution. There needs to be some serious public policy to protect people of public interest, but you have market pricing on water. That’s a good thing because we do waste water. Certainly, in the United States, we do. There are other things that are much more innovative. For example, coral reef insurance. Whoever heard of that, why would you insure the coral reef?

The question is why do we insure hotels and beautiful homes that are on the coast? How can we value them in the billions of dollars whereas the coral reef, which is a physical barrier to storm surge, we don’t value at all? In fact, up to this coral reef insurance, we let the waves do what they were going to do, which is smash up the reef, leave the reef in smithereens, and move on. You’re a diver. What more beautiful part of the world could there be than the coral reef? I’m not even a diver. I have only seen them in films, and I snorkel.

CMBB Paula Diperna | Saving The Planet
Saving The Planet: It is baffling that people ensure hotels on the coast valuable, and yet the coral reefs that serve as physical barriers to storm surges are not valued at all.

I’m partial to kelp forests, but coral reefs are incredible too. I’ve been diving since the late ‘90s. It has been many years of time in the water. What I will say is that in that time, I’ve seen a pretty dramatic change in tropical waters. Tropical waters or subtropical are more sensitive to temperature changes because they can get to a threshold where it’s too warm for a lot of the species of coral that have been there to survive and thrive.

I’m diving and seeing nothing but dead coral in this entire area that I dove years ago and was thriving. We’re out of space now. We have hit what is the tipping point for some of those systems. To learn that a great chunk of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is no longer living is such a travesty. It’s a scale that I never expected to see in my lifetime.

The early science about climate change was pretty early. People were talking about the danger of carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere in the ‘70s and earlier even in Sweden. It is not only a travesty but it’s a tragedy. People haven’t come up quickly enough to understand what’s at stake. Back to your question, can we do it in time? We don’t have a choice. These are systemic changes. This is a real flip that we’re talking about, but it’s not so impossible.

Back to the coral reef insurance, what does it do? The destruction you saw, the coral bleaching, that’s pretty much out of our control. That’s due to the ocean temperature rising. The statistic is the ocean absorbs 90% of the heat that’s generated. If there’s a lot more heat being generated, there is a lot more going on in the ocean. I don’t know if coral bleaching can be reversed. What would happen potentially is receding the reefs with coral that is grown in a laboratory that is more resistant to temperature. That’s going on, but that’s a very nascent science. The coral reef insurance is even more concrete.

The principle of all these instruments that I talk about in the book is that there are environmental benefits. We’re not necessarily putting a price on nature. We’re putting a price on the benefits that nature brings or the economic benefits that nature provides. Nature is an unpaid worker. It is the world’s most exploited worker in history that is never paid. It’s exactly like that. It’s an unpaid worker.

We could price the work that nature does and the work that coral reefs do in blocking the coast and say, “The coast in a given area has a property value of X. The coral reef must be worth at least a portion of that property value.” It is a regular insurance policy except it’s a parametric. It’s called parametric insurance. The difference between that and liability insurance in a regular claim is if it is your house or your car, you have to show liability at some level. There’s a claims process. In parametric insurance, there’s no claims process. A particular event occurs that people have agreed on at the outset. When that event occurs, the policy comes into force right away.

Some innovative insurance companies have figured out how to insure coral reefs, bring economic benefits, quantify the benefits, and translate those benefits into a premium value for an insurance policy. They sell that insurance policy to the enterprises that are in charge of protecting the reefs. Mostly, those are governments. This was tried in the Caribbean. TNC or The Nature Conservancy started it. This thing has been expanded.

The parametric insurance trigger is wind speed. It’s pretty well-known that when wind speed hits a certain level, likely, the wave speed is going to be a certain level. Likely, the two combine and the reef is crushed at that wind speed. The wind speed is an accurate predictor of the physical destruction of the reef.

I never knew this, but it makes sense because hard coral is pretty much limestone and cement. The coral reef insurance kicks in the minute that wind speed hits a certain level. That triggers these diving crews that have already been trained and ready for something like this to happen. They get sent right out to the reef almost immediately after the storm is finished or subsided. They jump in the water. They have all these tools. They put the reef back together again. They pick up pieces and tie them back. They drill holes and put a piece of reef back into where it was. They’ve fixed the reef. I didn’t know this, but if you do that within a certain period of time, the reef can grow back on its own.

The insurance policy makes it possible to repair the reef. That’s because the economic benefit of having a reef intact can be quantified and translated into these insurance policy terms. It’s about pricing the benefits of nature as much as anything else. The more you understand the value of the work nature provides, the more you understand you need the work done, and then you’re willing to pay. It isn’t you and me necessarily that have to pay. It’s the banks, investment firms, and people who have all the money who should be moving their money from bad things to good things. That’s the point of the book.

[bctt tweet=”The more you understand the value of the work nature provides, the more you understand the work you need to do and how much you are willing to pay.” via=”no”]

I live here on the Central Coast of California. We had some of the worst storms I’ve ever seen here. They were some of the scariest, frankly. Winds came through such a force paralleled with an incredible amount of water. I heard a term I’d never heard before, which was a bomb cyclone. All of this weather came into Capitola town. That buried the downtown under the ocean for a bit. The waters eventually receded and took with them all of the beach. It damaged many structures.

Ultimately, it is something that, at this point, we understand could become seasonal, which is also very scary. There are even some recommendations from the government to people who have homes on the coast to surrender part of their property line and be prepared for it to become part of the beachfront as opposed to their property any longer because there isn’t a natural barrier reef there. Building one with very deep waters shortly off the coast is challenging to do. We’re in unprecedented times. Insurance policies may be one thing that can help us, but we need more support for infrastructure that can support people as well.

You talk about many things in pricing the price list from things like carbon credits, which have sometimes been controversial. That’s namely because we’re putting a carbon allocation to something like the future health of a tree or the future oxygen that tree will produce in carbon it will sequester. Where are we presently? Can you update the audience here on where we are with regard to carbon credits? Do things like carbon credits provide a viable solution for the pollution that many companies create?

This whole carbon market thing is complicated. Number one, there is a real distinction between the carbon market and cap and trade. Cap and trade is the tool that’s the most important one. Cap and trade means the following. It means that the emissions you are allowed to emit by a public enterprise, like the government, are limited. That permission that you have is increasingly reduced. Cap is reduced, meaning you will not be allowed to emit now as much as you were allowed to emit yesterday. The pressure is on you to figure out ways of reducing.

It’s easy for everyone to say that a fossil fuel plant should close or a coal-burning plant should close. There are downsides to closing them. They should be closed at some point, but as we saw, it puts people out of work and there’s political backlash. There are many reasons why you can’t shut a power plant down. There are also many reasons why you can’t open one that’s based on solar energy. These plants are built for twenty years. They’re not built for one day.

You have to assume that whatever changes the power sector makes are not made overnight and can’t be unmade overnight either. The power sector needs time. Google is 100% renewable, which they claim, for their data centers. They buy all their power from renewable energy. They’re buying offsets. Google buys offsets and everybody thinks it is okay. If a dirty company buys them, then maybe it is not so okay. That’s a dichotomy.

CMBB Paula Diperna | Saving The Planet
Saving The Planet: Google buys carbon offsets and everybody thinks it is okay. But if some dirty company buys them, it comes across as not so okay.

Once a company, whether it’s Google or any company, is under a cap, the burden is to reduce directly. You get those emissions not to be produced, no offsets. Once you’ve done all of that, then you are allowed a certain percentage of offsets to apply against your cap. It’s a bit like a diet. You say you’re going to lose 20 pounds in 1 year or 2 pounds in 1 week or 1 month. You think, “I’ll do that by eliminating carbohydrates.” If you eliminate all the carbohydrates but still haven’t lost the pounds, you look for something else. It is an offset to what cannot be directly reduced. That’s in a cap and trade. It’s not willy-nilly. There’s a limited percentage.

If we’re only talking about the voluntary carbon market where there’s no cap, it is like, “I’m Paula DiPerna. I emit 100 tons this year. I go to the market and I buy 100 tons of verified carbon sequestration credits from a bona fide credit source. The trees are still standing. They don’t burn down. 100 went up and 100 are held down.” That particular time that I do it, I’m not contributing to the problem. That’s all you can say. I’m carbon neutral. People are then like, “What about next year?” The price of the tons goes up. I don’t want to spend that so I don’t do it or I decide, “This year, I’m only going to do 50 tons.”

You could get a new job and you’re flying all over the place or whatever. There is variable input.

There are variables all the time. The variable market, the voluntary carbon market, or the net zero pledges, that’s where people have to look. Are companies pledging something that’s in their control within the next 5 years or are they pledging 2050 which is outside of anybody’s responsibility? It’s complicated. The cap and trade in Europe is working quite well in terms of reductions. You have 1 or 2 elsewhere. You have one in New Zealand. You have the beginnings of one in Australia. There are many different ones. There are two in the United States including California and one in the Northeast. They should knit together. That’s one of my big policy suggestions that the California market and the Northeast market should knit together.

That is because then, there’d be a cap over the whole country, which is good. We’d have a national carbon price. Beyond carbon, there are beginnings to be what are called nature-based solutions. They are like offsets, but they don’t necessarily apply to a carbon target. They are, in themselves, sought after. Cleaning up particularly wetlands and reforestation for its own sake is not necessarily against a carbon target for having the biodiversity in the forest.

It was in 2022 that the UN met again at the biodiversity convention. There was an agreement to set aside 30% of the world’s land, mass, biodiversity, sources, and oceans. We take 30% off limits by 2030, 30 by 30. That will never happen without investment in nature-based solutions. We invest in the preservation of 30% of resources for its own sake.

We talk about that 30%. We’re also talking about productive land and productive waters. We’re not talking about the barren deserts and the vast blue open sea where there isn’t much life.

This is to protect life. Why anyone would do that is because there’s going to be some level of financial return. That doesn’t mean by exploiting the resources. It means by the design of the product or the financial vehicle.

You mentioned the coral reef insurance as one example of something that could be moving largely in our favor. There’s also this idea of the Forest Resilience Bond. Can you talk about that?

That one’s very cool. That one has grown a lot since the original concept. That was a California innovation. We all know about wildfires. They’re getting worse. They certainly got worse in California very fast. They’re burning in Canada the day we’re speaking. The smoke is back in Chicago and even where I am in Upstate New York.

How do you prevent wildfire? One, you don’t throw matches. Human beings have a lot to do with wildfires because they are not paying attention to forest fires and campfires. There are sparks from utility poles and so on. On balance, if the forest is wet, it’s not necessarily going to burn. That’s a resilient forest.

How do you keep a forest resilient? It’s not only that it remains wet, but it’s also not burdened by a lot of excessively dry areas. Too much grass on the forest floor and dead branches here or there. All of which are kindling, and if there is a fire, it makes it worse. How do you protect the forest from the future burning capacity and the dryness that might come? How do you reap the benefits? How do you monetize the benefits of a resilient forest that we may not see for a couple of years or maybe a decade or more?

The brilliance of the Resilience Bond is that they brought together all of the beneficiaries of a resilient forest who are disparate. The California Wildlife Service is a beneficiary because if the forest doesn’t burn as much, they can save some of their budget for protecting the forest instead of what’s happening, which is spending it all on putting fires out.

Another beneficiary at the other end of the spectrum is hydropower facilities, which surprised me. It didn’t connect. If you have a hydropower plant, which we all want to function because they’re low carbon, if not zero carbon, it needs water. The water going over the dam is from rain and reservoirs but also from the water table. Trees put water into the water table. If the trees aren’t standing, the water doesn’t go into the water table. You might not have as much power over the dam.

The hydropower company is a beneficiary. You can count up the value of the coral reef. You can anticipate and quantify the benefits to the hydropower plant which won’t have to buy power from other people if they can generate their own. The California Wildlife Service and the local insurance company that would maybe pay fewer claims if there were fewer fires are the beneficiaries in the future. They have agreed to pay back investors who securitize upfront or put the capital in upfront to the bond, taking the risks that the benefits will appear later. If the people who benefit don’t have the cash upfront, the private investors come in and put the cash upfront. The beneficiaries agree to pay the cashback as they receive the benefits for premium.

CMBB Paula Diperna | Saving The Planet
Saving The Planet: Hydropower facilities can only be powered at low or zero carbon with water going over the dam from rain or reservoirs. That’s why they need trees that put water into them.

The Forest Resilience Bond was designed with some input from foundations who put money in and they agreed to a concessionary return. The rest were commercial investors who expect a market return. The whole thing has gone from a $4 million pilot to two funds of $25 million each on the infrastructure portfolio. The brilliance of the Forest Resilience Bond is it translates forests and re-categorizes them as infrastructure. If something is funded as infrastructure, it carries a requirement to be maintained. It’s a complicated story, but it’s quite simple. It’s like a bridge. If you build one, you have to maintain it. If the forest is standing, you got to maintain it because it’s an infrastructure. It’s a brilliant concept. It’s expanding quite a lot over the world.

In a way, this is another method of pricing that priceless item, which is the natural world. I’ve also covered on this show some research specific to the ecosystem wilting point, which is the point at which a forest is beyond return. If it got too dry for too long, it can’t necessarily recover in the same way that you might expect it to. It is something that the Forest Resilience Bond protects or issues in its present state.

I don’t know enough about the biology involved or the forestry involved to know at what point you cannot restore a forest. I’m sure there’s some point in time when all forests can be restored. Where the financing for that would come in, I don’t know. It is the higher risk theory. You would stretch out the timeline and would have to find investors who are willing to hold onto the risk longer.

Conceptually, it should be the same situation. It’s what we’re trying to deal with in the real world. You saw this reef destruction in your lifetime. We’re no longer talking about our lifetime. We’re talking about a decade. All the science suggests that in climate change, we will never get close to gripping the problem if we don’t start reversing it significantly. That means one thing. De-linking economic growth from emissions growth is the number one thing that has to happen.

[bctt tweet=”We will never get close to gripping the problem of climate change if we don’t start reversing it significantly.” via=”no”]

Back to pricing the priceless, it is a way to continue some economic growth as well as reduce emissions growth. People do need to work. We can’t say, “We’re going to stop every kind of fossil fuel use regardless of how many people suffer.” Certainly, back to the book in that chapter on off-limits. We are trying to address the demand that’s being placed on people who live in the Congo and Africa.

The Congo Basin is the last intact carbon sink that’s still absorbing carbon. Amazon has turned into a net emitter. It is no longer a net absorber. It is beginning to emit because of deforestation. There is a lot of pressure on people in the Congo who are dirt poor. It is one of the poorest regions in the world. How can we in the North say to them, “Don’t cut your trees, don’t release the carbon from the peat, don’t go after the oil because the world needs you not to?” We have to pay them not to.

I want to go to a discussion on your writing. You see a book put out there by Wiley Press. They do a lot of business textbooks. They have a lot of boring books, let’s be frank but good. They have great information and all that. This is not a boring book. You tell here stories about, for instance, what made you seek out the Pope to speak about carbon markets. You were advancing a conversation with him that was perhaps something he’d already dismissed and dismissed for a reason. I don’t want to spend all of our time going into that. I want to tell people there are some cool stories in here.

This is an example of your prose. This is from page twelve, so early on in the book. You say, “Indeed, pricing the priceless can be morally risky for it can also demean our most revered and valuables, labeling them as mirror commodities subject to fluctuation, speculation, gouging, or cheating.” This sentence sent chills up my spine. It’s also prescient for the issues that we could see as companies and markets start to respond to what had been externalities in the past and turn it into something capitalistic.

I want to state overall, I love your writing style. You’re pointing to solutions but also the challenges that we will face along the way. I’m a big fan of the book. I did want to ask you what it was like to go to the Vatican and pursue those meetings with the Pope. I don’t know that we have quite enough time to dive into that deeply, but can you give us the 30,000-foot view?

I was raised a Catholic. I can’t speak to the beliefs of people. As I say in the book, it was an occasion for which the word awesome does apply. Let’s have lunch tomorrow is not awesome. The inner sanctum of the Vatican, that’s awesome. I don’t want to address my own religious beliefs, which I don’t have, but I was raised with them.

It is the art alone. It is the whole scene of this rarity even knowing the controversies and some of the actions of priests and the things that we know. There was controversy and looting that occurred so some of this art could come back to the Vatican. In the presence of that kind of situation of you going to see the Pope and walking up a staircase designed by Bernini, it is awesome.

What I realized in that experience was, “This is what I’m talking about.” There were people who would live their entire life to meet the Pope. I met him twice. People could spend their whole life dreaming of meeting the Pope, and they would meet him like that. This is what nature is. You can spend your whole life thinking nothing is going to happen to it or that you have your whole life to protect it. You don’t. It could go like that. Look at the fires in California. That’s what I got out of being there. I had spent three years trying to get that meeting. I got it and it was over in minutes.

[bctt tweet=”We have our whole lives to protect the planet. If we don’t, it can all be gone in a snap.” via=”no”]

I want to ask people to pick up this book for nothing else but to read the letter that you wrote to the Pope to gain access. One of the things I have learned over my career and being a human being on this planet is that when you really work to understand the person on the receiving end and when you are able to step into their shoes and their viewpoint and speak to them in a way that they can hear you, what you can accomplish is bigger than you might have dreamed.

You envisioned that you’d be granted an audience at some point. That letter should be a lesson to anybody who’s in the world of business, sales, marketing, etc. I’ll tell people to pick up the book and read that. It’s not like this is an exorbitantly expensive book. It is $29.95 in the US and $35.95 in Canada. It’s available. If you’ve ever wanted to be persuasive, Paula, that was something. Thank you for sharing it because honestly, it’s an incredible work that you have put a lifetime’s experience into. The way that you’ve shared the stories that you experienced directly and indirectly and the research that you’ve conducted to create this book makes it very accessible.

Granted, I’m coming at this from a somewhat informed perspective. I spend a lot of time reading about sustainability, climate crises, and things along these lines. I’ve interviewed some incredible people like yourself. I felt like I could have come at this with a high school education and not a lot more and gain a deep understanding of what we could do to make change happen fast. This is an important work. I hope that everyone reading will pick it up. If you have any closing thoughts or if there’s a question that I haven’t asked that you think I should have that you’d like to answer, I want to leave you with the floor to do so. If not, then we can start to wrap.

The only thing I would say is, first of all, thank you for noticing the writing. It’s a craft that I’m very proud of because I did work hard on being accessible but also bringing forward the beauty of the world. What I learned from Cousteau is people will protect what they love and not much more. Invariably, we favored beauty over facts. It is not that we didn’t use facts, but the idea was, “This is what’s at stake. These are the beautiful things.” Anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic situation, can appreciate beauty. The best things in life can be free, beauty being one of them to a large extent.

The future is very complex. There are no easy answers and there will be challenges, but ambiguity is nothing to be afraid of. What we have to ask our leaders to do is help us moderate that ambiguity and make it more comfortable for all of us to live in these complexities rather than choose one thing or another. There isn’t a clear answer anymore for climate change. It’s complicated, but it’s doable if we work together as a team and set aside some of these rigidities with integrity. Integrity and beauty are the two things I would leave as my last two words.

Thank you so much for joining me, Paula. I so appreciated the conversation. I love the stories. Learning a little bit about Jacque Cousteau, I feel like I’ve touched moments of greatness through you to someone I revered forever, too. I appreciate you for that, too. Thank you so much.

Thank you for taking care. We should say there is a digital version also available for people who prefer to read on screen. It’s cheaper. That’s a little plug, but thank you for your attention, your care, and your hard work, too.

Thank you. For people to know, if you are on a time crunch, you can also have your applications read you a digital copy while you’re on the go. I sometimes do that on my Kindle app. I’m doing chores and the robot reads to me. Thank you so much.

Thank you.

What a treat that was getting to connect with Paula DiPerna, understanding her perspective, and having a taste of what it might have been like to spend all of that time with Jacques Cousteau to understand how he became such an incredible leader. It is even focusing a little bit on the audience themselves on getting to know the audience can ensure that you have a greater impact.

Her work with Pricing the Priceless is something else. You can learn by reading her pages. You can learn by reading the letter that she wrote to the Pope, one that helped her gain an audience with him, not just once but twice. This is an incredible work. It’s a lifelong dedication to help our planet succeed so that we can all live the best life possible.

I encourage you to go to You can review blogs. You can search for topics that you’re interested in exploring more, and you can even leave me a review directly on the site. What I have to tell you about the world of podcasting is simple. If you’re on Apple Podcasts, leave the podcast you love and review there. Give us five stars and a written review. It helps the podcast reach more people. It can even ensure that the podcast gets featured by Apple or other platforms. It’s one of the ways our message can get to more people so more people can join the community so that they can care more and create a better world with us.

For those of you that watch this on YouTube, thank you for joining me there as well. This YouTube episode is also published on You can even click the microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner and leave me a message. Tell me what you thought of this episode. If you have a question that you wanted me to explore more deeply with Paula, you could even share it. I could connect with her and then share it with you on the next episode I record.

The reality is that this can be a two-way conversation. You’ve heard plenty from me, but I also want to hear from you. A simple comment on the YouTube page, a written review, or even an email note or voicemail on my website can mean so much. It will ultimately keep the juices flowing and keep me wanting to do this thing. I got to tell you. While every episode brings me something, it’s also a lot of work to put into the world.

Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community. Together, we can do so much more. We can even create a world that values our precious planet, that prices the priceless, that respects that the air we breathe is a gift, and that respects that the trees and the forest provide us with that air that sequesters carbon that ultimately creates the future. We can live in that world together. Thank you.


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  • Paula Diperna

    Paula Diperna is a pioneer and leader at the forefront of finance and climate policy, from the Oval Office to Antarctica, coral reefs to carbon markets. She served as President of CCX International, the world’s first expansive emissions trading system to address global warming; President of the Joyce Foundation; and writer for underwater hero, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Currently, she is Special Advisor to CDP, the world’s only integrated environmental disclosure system. DiPerna is a frequent media commentator and public speaker.

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