Story: A Third Generation Coal Miner Turned Solar Installer

February 23, 2022

Matthew McFadden was born and raised in Wise County in southwestern Virginia’s coal country. In the mid-2000s, McFadden was working in sales at a local electronics company, while several members of his family worked as miners in underground coal mines. “I saw what my brother-in-law and my father-in-law were bringing in monetarily and explored that [profession],” McFadden said. 

It seemed like a natural career path for someone who grew up in a coalfield region. “It’s part of who we are,” McFadden said. Eventually, McFadden completed his training certification in underground mining.

Two miners uses pickaxes in a coal mine.
Coal mining in Wise County dates back more than a century. Photo: Virginia Coal Heritage Trail.

As luck would have it, on the day he went to meet a mine foreman for a potential job, he got lost; McFadden didn’t connect with him. He went to his father-in-law’s house afterward and as they sat on the porch, the two men had a heart-to-heart conversation. “He urged me not to pursue underground mining,” McFadden said.

McFadden’s father-in-law had more than 30 years of experience working as an underground coal miner. He lived through the industry’s boom in the 1970s and its bust in the 1980s when demand for coal from Appalachian mines declined significantly. Factors that contributed to that decline included clean air regulations, competition with other fossil fuels, and technological advances that replaced workers with machines

In some ways, a coal miner’s job is not too dissimilar to what their great-grandparents would have done, such as shovel coal deep underground. Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty.

“My father-in-law is a hero of mine,” McFadden said. “He loved what he did... He had fun down there with all the folks he knew, and [he] knew he was providing a good and honest life for his family. Being a life-long miner was something he was really proud of.” 

His father-in-law was frank, too, about the toll underground mining takes on the body and the danger of the work itself. “He said he didn’t want his daughter to have to worry every day – like her mom did – about whether I would come home or not.” 

“He said he didn’t want his daughter to have to worry every day – like her mom did – about whether I would come home or not” 

McFadden’s father-in-law isn’t wrong—Coal mining is a dangerous business. Even with the precipitous decline of coal use in America, seven fatalities have already occured this year, as of the writing of this article. The CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have known for decades about the cancerous effects of the carcinogens in coal mine dust that miners breathe while underground. All the while some coal companies have been found incorrectly denying miner’s medical claims from working in these dangerous conditions.

McFadden heeded his father-in-law’s advice. He continued to pursue a career in consumer electronics as a project and training manager. But this work moved him away from home to jobs in Charlottesville and Richmond. 

McFadden wasn’t the only one moving away from the region either. The coal mining activity in southwestern Virginia continued to decline through the Great Recession of 2008 and beyond. McFadden said many miners attribute those job losses to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Coal jobs that went away never came back. 

In part, the health and safety standards that the Clean Power Plan introduced made coal more expensive to produce, and in turn, it began to lose market share. A 2015 report by the Economic Policy Institute anticipated that gross job losses as a result of the Clean Power Plan likely would be geographically concentrated, “raising the challenge of ensuring a fair transition for workers in sectors likely to contract due to the CPP.”

While the Clean Power Plan made coal more expensive, coal consumption had been declining from its peak since 2000 across the country, 15 years before the Clean Power Plan was introduced. Since its peak decline in 2007 through 2013, coal-fired electricity generation fell 25 percent. Coal was unable to compete with cheaper energy sources, namely natural gas produced by fracking

“So people moved or they had to try to retrain on something else,” McFadden said. Most of the time, “they weren’t making anywhere near what they were making before. So it was quite a large life adjustment for a lot of these folks and for the towns and businesses.”

Making a living in different cities didn’t feel right for McFadden. He wished the money he was earning could’ve gone back to help his hometown, where he wanted to raise his daughter. 

When he looked into returning home, McFadden learned about up and coming jobs in renewable energy. He found a job with a company that makes commercial-scale solar energy affordable to schools, hospitals, businesses and local governments in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions.

Solar panels on roof of Duffield Regional Jail in Southwest Virginia, near Wise County. Photo: Christine Gyovai.

McFadden loves to work for a company that’s creating jobs with livable wages that support families and encourage young people to stay in town. 

“These aren’t just flash-in-the-pan jobs,” he said. “These are going to be jobs that people are going to be able to make careers out of by building these systems, operating and maintaining them.”

Renewable energy companies working in the region along with his are also working with community colleges to help create internships and training programs. They’re employing long-time skilled professionals, like electricians and construction workers. He thinks the region is well suited to continue its legacy as an energy producer. 

“Why not take advantage of what we’ve done in the past?” he said. “We’ve got areas that have been stripmined where the land is useless. We can take that land and put something that makes somebody’s house light up… that powers their computer. Whatever it is, we can still be an energy powerhouse.”

Creating a livable and brighter future for his daughter also motivates his work in solar energy. “Climate change is real,” he said, “and we need to make the world a better place for not only our children but also our great, great grandchildren… so that the world is not 100 degrees on average and the ice caps aren’t melted.” 

“Climate change is real, and we need to make the world a better place for not only our children but also our great, great grandchildren”

His company will soon install solar panels at his 9-year-old daughter’s school. McFadden’s face lights up at the thought of his little girl looking up at the solar panels at her school. He knows his daughter will feel proud and “know that her dad helped make it happen.” 


The Energy Transition is about People Power

February 16, 2022

By now, you might have a pretty good sense of what the clean energy future looks like, at least from a technological standpoint. Maybe your neighbors are installing solar panels on their roof, or you’ve started driving a hybrid or electric car for your daily commute. But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in the energy transition that might be less apparent. A key trend is the shift from top-down ownership and control of our energy system toward greater “people power.” So what does this mean?  

From centralized to decentralized energy

Most Americans still get their electricity from a relatively small number of big power players— utilities that, together with governments, set the rules for how energy is produced, distributed, and valued. But the growth in distributed energy resources—a fancy phrase for technologies like rooftop solar, electric vehicles, and energy storage—allows us to keep energy local, offering a chance to flip the current model on its head. Distributed resources, like solar and energy storage, can save us money on electricity costs, reduce pollution, and boost local economies, while being scalable and ready to deploy now.

Distributed resources, like solar and energy storage, can save us money on electricity costs, reduce pollution, and boost local economies, while being scalable and ready to deploy now.

By 2025, the combined capacity of these energy resources in the United States is projected to reach 387 gigawatts, driven by a whopping $110 billion in investment over a five-year period. Communities are embracing distributed energy as a way to tackle climate change and boost local resilience in the face of extreme weather events like wildfires and hurricanes. Falling costs for solar panels and batteries have made distributed resources increasingly affordable, especially when coupled with tax credits and rebates that soften the bite for everyday Americans. 

Power to the people

Distributed energy resources empower us in other, critical ways. Under the current energy structure, power monopolies have an outsized voice, not only influencing how the rules are made (and who they benefit), but also holding sway over our elected officials through lobbying dollars. Power companies typically extract wealth from our communities, with our utility bill payments leaving the local economy. The existing energy system isn’t just unfair and undemocratic—it reinforces centuries of structural racism, with the highest energy burdens falling on low-income communities and communities of color. 

The shift to distributed (decentralized) power can change all this. It creates opportunities for more dispersed patterns of ownership and control of energy production. It allows for a more democratic energy system where “we the people”—local communities, businesses, and households—take back our power by producing our own electricity. We gain more leverage in the energy system by being involved in the planning, funding, management, governance, and execution of clean energy projects. 

Greater people power can also lead to more equitable energy outcomes, helping to address race, class, and gender inequalities and enabling a just transition to a decarbonized energy system.

Centralized < Decentralized

Examples of people power

The possibilities for energy democracy are diverse and growing. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Prosumer” households and businesses: At its simplest, we can take back control over our energy supply by installing a few solar panels at our home or business. In our new role as prosumers (both consumers and producers of energy), we can generate all or part of our own energy and even make money selling our excess generation back to the grid (if state policies allow it).
  • Community energy: At a collective level, we can join forces with our neighbors, a community group, or a local utility to create a community energy project, such as a solar array on a local church or a locally owned wind farm. As of 2019, there were around 834 community solar projects in the U.S., dominated by projects in Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado. 
  • Energy storage: By adding a battery bank, we can store the excess electricity we produce on-site for later use. The PowerBank Community Storage System in Mandurah, Australia, enables residents in one neighborhood to store their excess solar production in a shared Tesla Powerpack and then withdraw energy when they want, up to 8 kilowatts a day for a small daily fee. Similarly, vehicle-to-grid technology allows owners of electric vehicles (including school districts that own electric school buses) to store power in their vehicle batteries for later use or to feed back to the grid.
  • Aggregation: Some locales are making it possible to bundle, or aggregate, the power generated by multiple individual or community energy producers in order to make the electricity supply more reliable and consistent, and to make it easier for others to access and trade this power. Some places have combined several smaller distributed wind or solar resources into virtual power plants.
  • Peer-to-peer energy trading: Through this model, distributed energy producers use a digital trading platform to directly sell any excess power they produce to other local residents, essentially sidestepping the traditional utility relationship. For example, members of the Brooklyn Microgrid in New York City use a digital app to buy and sell energy on a local marketplace, helping prosumers profit from their extra production and giving their non-power-producing neighbors access to cheaper, clean energy.

Accelerating energy democracy

Despite the vast opportunity, many distributed energy technologies remain inaccessible or unaffordable to folks who lack the financing or who live in rental properties. To overcome some of these barriers, the 30 Million Solar Homes partnership aims to power 30 million U.S. households (about 1 in 4) with rooftop or community solar over a five-year period, including in historically marginalized communities. 

Power companies can support distributed clean energy by embracing new business models, like solar leasing, that share more of the benefits locally. The role of utilities will change with the shift in energy ownership. They may soon be paying us to access the distributed resources in our buildings, rooftops, and cars. As they strive to meet our preferences and demands, their political influence may weaken. 

Governments can facilitate energy democracy by supporting communities in the design, ownership, and management of energy systems. This includes embracing policies like net metering that compensate local producers, and supporting community energy projects through low-interest loans, preferential procurement, and by providing access to public spaces. Governments can also enact regulations that mandate the integration of local, community energy into neighborhood developments.

With the growth in distributed energy resources, it’s time to take control of our energy system. Ideally, we’ll get to the point where we can fully design our own energy mix, selecting the specific projects that generate the energy we want—whether from our own rooftops, from a neighbor’s solar installation, or from a local wind farm. With this shift in power, we could usher in an era of true energy democracy.


How to be a voice of reason in an age of misinformation

February 9, 2022

You’ve heard the myth, in one form or another: Clean energy is unreliable. At this time last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others hawked a version of that theme when winter storms plunged the state into deadly, widespread power outages. The problem, you’d hear if you were watching Fox News, was “a reckless reliance on windmills.”

Explainer after explainer debunked the false message that frozen wind turbines drove the Texas grid’s disastrous failure—several factors, including lost generation from natural gas and lack of winterized equipment, played a role. As the state faced more icy weather this month, Abbott shied away from bashing wind again—but he’d already provided fodder for others interested in undermining renewable energy momentum.

Even a modest amount of complexity seems to invite the spread of false information. The U.S. electric grid, and the infrastructure that serves it, is run by an alphabet soup of decision-makers, from the local level on up: IOUs and POUsRTOs and ISOs, PUCs, FERC… don’t get us started! 

“Fighting Evil Robots Center” does sound familiar though…

So it’s not surprising to see people gravitate toward easy answers when a crisis hits, even if those answers are wrong. Climate-related issues can be scary, and there are plenty of unknowns, so it’s not hard to find all kinds of myths about climate change

But on another level, it’s simple: We know what’s causing climate change, and we know what to do about it. How do we avert fear-based falsehoods and stick to the facts? The answer isn’t simply to push our glasses up on our noses and provide a correction.

“Fact and ‘alternative fact’ are like matter and antimatter. When they collide, there’s a burst of heat followed by nothing,” writes communications researcher John Cook, adding that people will just lose faith in facts. “Fittingly, science holds the answer to science denial.”

Here’s a look at the science on why misinformation is so rampant these days, as well as what tools we have to deal with it. 

Why is this happening?

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, has outlined three reasons why truth seems to be going off the rails, and they aren’t likely to surprise you. One, misinformation thrives in a polarized society where people feel the need to “ingroup,” or identify with a particular tribe. “Greater partisan divisions in social identity,” Nyhan has written, “have seemingly increased the political system’s vulnerability to partisan misinformation.”

Two, this desire for identity-affirming messages attracts political and media personalities who will say what they know polarized people want to hear, regardless of whether it is true. And finally, social media amplifies and reinforces false beliefs, rewarding the purveyors with approval and/or attention.


Check out the latest episode from the podcast


The waters become even murkier when you consider how much vested economic interest there is in the status quo. Attempts to downplay, or outright deny, the negatives of fossil fuel dependence have been happening since way before Facebook was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

Another contributor to misinformation? The Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how people get way overconfident about what they know. “The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club,” says psychology professor David Dunning in this entertaining Q&A about his work.

What can we do about it?

This may be the least appealing advice of the lot, but when it comes to countering misinformation, we would do well to start by looking at ourselves. “Think about what you don’t know. That is, check your assumptions,” Dunning counsels. “Be a little bit more careful about what pops out of your head or what pops out of your mouth.” 

He points to the “superforecasters” chronicled by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock. “The people with the best judgment,” Tetlock has found, are “gathering evidence from a variety of sources, thinking probabilistically, working in teams, keeping score, and being willing to admit error and change course.” Public accountability, he adds, also boosts forecasting performance: Even the most opinionated types will become more cautious if they know their accuracy will be scrutinized against others.

We all possess this ability to scrutinize our own assumptions, and this can keep people from spreading bad info. A 2021 paper published in the journal Nature found that people generally don’t think about accuracy when deciding whether to share an article online, but that “subtly shifting attention to accuracy increases the quality of news that people subsequently share.”

Too many times, though, an inaccurate or misleading narrative does get shared—a lot. In those cases, it’s better to “redirect” a myth than to argue with it head on, according to a 2018 study from Princeton University. That research showed people can be swayed by hearing repeated, related truths that effectively replace the previous bad information. Their example: “If a policymaker wants people to forget the inaccurate belief that ‘Reading in dim light can damage children’s eyes,’ they could instead repeatedly say, ‘Children who spend less time outdoors are at greater risk to develop nearsightedness.'” (You could argue the news these days basically refutes the idea that “global warming is a hoax” with headline after headline about the “related truths” of wildfires, 100-year weather events, floods, etc.)

But this tactic only holds true when people are on the fence about an idea. A false belief, once it is deeply held, is difficult to dislodge. At a certain point, combating misinformation becomes less about changing minds and more about speaking up. As discussed in our earlier post on six ideas for talking about climate change, standing up for facts is about two things: providing solid sources for anyone who is actively evaluating information and affirming that false narratives should not go unchallenged.

This isn’t exactly what we meant by “challenging false narratives.”

Another idea to prevent misinformation from taking hold, inoculation theory, suggests that we can use aspects of fake stories to “prebunk” them. Researcher Cook explains, “Inoculating text requires two elements. First, it includes an explicit warning about the danger of being misled by misinformation. Second, you need to provide counterarguments explaining the flaws in that misinformation.” Cook and his co-authors describe this approach in the Debunking Handbook 2020—the idea is essentially to forewarn people about common misinformation tactics, such as trotting out fake experts to endorse a false notion. (Cook also provides a handy chart showing how to neatly refute 50 common climate myths, in part by pointing to the logical flaws in them.)

Finally, don’t forget the power of humor. For people who engage in “greentrolling,” that means relentlessly calling out tone-deaf corporate campaigns on social media, and laughing in the process. “Climate action often looks depressing and sad, but this is fun!” said “Godmother of Greentrolling” Mary Heglar in The Washington Post.

Humor is also a way to open up truths that often feel intimidating, notes Esteban Gast, who hosts our new podcast that you should definitely check out, Comedians Conquering Climate Change. Humor can invite people into a conversation. And when people feel invited in, Gast says, they are inspired to learn more. “If you’re going to make change,” he says, “It is going to be easier with a little bounce in your step. With like a little small smile on your face. That is an easier way to fight this fight.” 



A Clean Energy Conversation with a Comedian

February 2, 2022

Today we have an extra special Flip the Script article featuring a Q&A with Generation180’s very own podcast host, Esteban Gast. Even if you haven’t gotten a chance to check out the podcast, Esteban’s special brand of humor shines in this conversation about how we can all be invited to the clean energy table.

We think Esteban is a funny guy who knows how to find the center of “your skills-joy-good work” and we hope you’ll have fun listening to (or reading) this interview. Enjoy!

Listen to the podcast or read the Q&A below


Matt Turner: Hey, everyone, my name is Matt Turner, I’m the editor for Comedians Conquering Climate change, and we have a very special podcast episode today. We’re going to have Esteban Gast, the wonderful host for Comedians Conquering Climate Change. We’re going to have a conversation with him, kind of get to know who he is. Who is Esteban Gast? What makes him tick? What is his favorite smoothie flavor? What stuff does he have in his fridge? I know you’re going to love it.

Esteban, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me. It’s good to finally have a conversation with you and not just like, cutting together your voice in the editing room. Appreciate you coming on, man. Thanks.

Esteban Gast: Yeah, no, this is amazing. Thanks for being here, and thanks for being a very patient editor for every podcast. People don’t know this. They’re four hour interviews that end up somehow 15 minutes. Nothing makes sense.

MT: It’s mostly Esteban just talking about himself a lot, and I just easily cut those out for the first hour. The solos you do…I know you think you’re a good singer. You’re not. Stick with comedy.

EG: No, the world deserves to see my music career and you’re holding it back. But you know what? I respect it. I respect it. One day I’ll win you over with my songs.

MT: That’s our next podcast. Comedians Chorusing for Climate Change. I don’t know. I don’t have a good C.

EG: It still is a C.

MT: Yeah, well, cool. Thanks for giving us and the listeners an opportunity to kind of know who you are. Like, who is Esteban? You do a ton of stuff. So give me a kind of breakdown of who you are today and what you’re up to.

EG: Wow, who I am today.

MT: It’s a big question.

EG: Yeah, this is big. All right. Are you ready for this four-hour answer that you’ll cut down to fifteen minutes?

MT: That will have a one-hour musical in between?

EG: The only way for me to properly answer that is in song. I think I’m someone who comes from a lot of different worlds. And I mean that in the way that my parents are Colombian. I’m 100% Colombian and go back to Colombia every year. My extended family is there. But I spent time growing up in Puerto Rico, which is a different place. In like Chicagoland and literally the corn of the midwest, like three hours away from any city.

So these are like places that I live that are formative. Those are pretty distinct in different worlds. I taught high school for little. I taught college for a little. And like, you know, helped write this book on creativity and was in the education world. And then, and then left that to be a touring stand-up comedian. And to clarify, like touring, you know, like making like $100. Touring is generous. Like, I was like, if you went to a small Comedy Club in Topeka, Kansas, then you’d be like, “ Oh I remember Esteban.”

Sometimes people were like, no way. What stages were you at? And like, you know, I was like, oh, no, I didn’t go to New York, I went to like Jersey. And, you know, like, yeah. When I’d go to New York, I’d do like a show on Long Island. Yeah, like the weirdest.

MT: Oh, you’re on, you’re in Times Square? Yeah, there’s like a side back alley. There was at least two homeless people and a few stray cats.

EG: Yeah.

MT: Got it.

EG: Yeah, I was huge with this stray cat community. It’s weird. Once they got adopted, they’re no longer fans. They unfollow me on socials. It really hurts.

MT: Oh man, that’s sad.

EG: Yeah, but I made a living from comedy, which in itself feels like a victory regardless if it’s mostly cats. And then I went and ran this eco-community, which is like an off-the-grid community, all about sustainability in Panama. And if you’re like, wow, that sounds really interesting. Did anyone make a television show out of it? They did. I moved to LA with this TV show. It’s called JungleTown about this community that I was helping run. I was the president. There are four parts of it, and I was the president of one of the parts of it. So it’s very intense, very strange. I lived in a tent for almost two years.

MT: And who did that show? What was that on?

EG: It was on Viceland? It was also A&E and A few other networks, but it didn’t do well because cats can figure out how to tune to the right channel.

MT: That makes sense. 

EG: So we missed a lot of my audience. But it was a really cool show. It was executive produced by Spike Jones, who’s a hero of mine. So it was fun for him to be like, “Oh, there’s something here.” And then America unanimously decided there is not.

MT: Spike Jones, you were right in a lot of things, this is not one of them.

EG: Yeah when he looks back on his career, he’s like, wow, I had a lot of hits. And then that one time I bet money on Esteban. That’s a miss. So then I moved to LA and ever since then, I’ve sort of thought, “Hey, what happens if I combine everything on this education side and, this sort of like, you know, almost sustainability side?” We were trying to live in a completely sustainable town, literally experimenting around sustainability and how we can work together to help climate change. Anti-climate change just to clarify. We weren’t on the side of climate change, right? We were anti-change. Climate stay the same.

MT: Got it, OK. Not confusing.

EG: And then comedy and writing stuff. So the last few years in LA, I’ve been, I would say, at the intersection of entertainment, comedy, writing, you know, like meaningful climatey things, all that good stuff.

MT: What a segue way to the next question. So climate and comedy are the intersections of the podcast. And that’s pretty important for us at Generation180. So you’re a perfect fit for that as far as climate and comedy. And we know there’s been a ton of progress in that space as far as climate goes—tons of work to be done. So why is humor a helpful way to contribute to the anti-change climate, the climate-stay-the same-movement? We’re working on that. I’m going to workshop that name. How does humor help out with that? Why is that an important tool?

EG: Yeah you know, in the yearbook, when you write, like, “I love, you never change.” That’s what we’re trying to do to climate, right? Like, please don’t change. We love you, right? You know, you never change. I think a few things when I was created in a lab when Generation180 was looking for someone to do that podcast…

MT: I remember that. Yeah, a little bit of this, a little bit of Al Gore, a little bit of Spike Jones. 

EG: Spike Jones is like, do not tarnish my good name again. First, I help your show, and now look at you.

Man, I think it is so, so important. I think for a few reasons. If you talk to people about climate change, they get really serious. Right, there’s a weight to it. There’s an “Oh my goodness, are we really going to talk about this? This is heavy. I don’t want to ruin my morning” sort of thing. So I think for anyone to engage with anything around climate change and clean energy in a way that doesn’t feel heavy, in a way that doesn’t feel like here’s more bad news, I think…that touchpoint is really impactful. For people to be open to the conversation. Because not every time they have the conversation, it is doom and gloom.

And I think the second thing is when we come from comedy, and this place of opportunity, your optimism, it is from an informed place. I think sometimes I tell people I’ve got this new podcast with this great organization, Generation180, it’s really awesome. And it’s Comedians Conquering Climate Change, and we’re trying to do this thing. And people are like, “Oh, are you delusional?” You know, “What is your angle? Delusion?” And I think I’m like, no. I don’t think you realize that there’s a ton of progress being done. We talk about this, literally, on every episode. It’s a bunch of good news—and some difficult news, right? We’re also not ignoring it. But the fact that we come from this place of optimism and opportunity is from an informed place. Is from the work that you’re doing, Generation180 and other nonprofits and even other companies, and especially what people and some politicians, some countries are doing.

So I think, for people to engage with it in a different way is critical because I think people don’t, I think people are scared to talk about it. They don’t like talking about it. It’s like, I’ve got this spinach in my fridge and it’s really old and it’s moldy. And I’ve thought about throwing it away. But I like, don’t want to. So I just open up my fridge and I look at it and it’s sealed, you know.

MT: Yeah, because you’re going to have to smell it right. You’re going to have to…you might get your hands dirty. You’re going to have to clean that.

EG: There are so many steps. I don’t know if that analogy sticks out, but I think to have to invite people in and say, first off, there is hope and optimism. Secondly, we can talk about this in a way that doesn’t feel heavy. Third, I bet we are more mobilized and science shows we are much more mobilized to change if we feel like it’s not all over. If we feel like we can do something about it, we can talk about it. And we can use humor to process pain. We can use humor to communicate breakthroughs that are less clickable, right? 

Because I’m going to click on something that says humans have three years left. I’m probably less likely to click on something that’s like algae is doing something cool in the ocean.

MT: Yeah, that reminds me. I don’t know if you saw that, “Don’t Look Up” movie yet that everyone is talking about. I noticed you weren’t in there as a star. Cast along with Leo and all of them. But anyways, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the very last scene, they’re all sitting around this table and it’s all about this comet that’s going to come to Earth. And they had all this time they could have done something about it, but it’s too late now. So they’re all sitting at the table and they’re just making talk about nothing that matters, right? It’s the coffee talk. It’s the whatever. And so I think, I wonder if a lot of people feel like that’s where we are right now, we’re at the table, it’s happening.

But what we’re trying to say is Generation180, and I think you do a good job with the Comedians Conquering Climate Change podcast, is like, no, no, no, no, we’re not there yet. Like, we are actually well in the beginning of the movie. And unlike an asteroid, it’s not a one-and-done thing. It’s not like there is a Yes or No answer to it. There’s a scale here. And I love the idea of how humor can just open up that conversation and just let people know, oh, yeah, we’re not. It’s not all over, right? And not only is it not over, but things are happening. A lot of good things are happening. We have a lot of momentum that’s happening.

EG: That’s great, man. That’s such a better analogy than my spinach, one that I’m almost threatened.

MT: What’s your experience on editing? We could swap these roles. I feel like I might have a comedy—at least a thing for metaphors.

EG: You’re coming in with your perfect metaphors. But no, but I think you’re absolutely right. I think instead of waving and telling people, “We’re not there yet, you guys!” I think literally, a better tool, rhetorically and emotionally, is to come in with humor. So I think, yeah, I think we’re in the business of helping people, you know, shifting people’s hearts and minds. Helping people expand their awareness, a little bit, on what things are happening. The dominant narrative is fear, and fear works really great at cutting through things.

I think a better way, a gentler way, a more human way is, I think, through humor and levity, and optimism. And I think that is also an effective tool to shift hearts and minds in a way that they’re like, oh, you know what? There is hope. We can do this. We can work together. Yeah, this isn’t the end. There are a lot of really good things happening.

MT: Cool. Well put. Let’s shift over to the people you have on the show. I do have a lot of fun cutting your 13-hour—they just keep getting longer. Your two-day marathons.

EG: It’s like Coachella, but only me and someone else with a microphone. It’s three days… 

MT: You have a lot of hilarious people on board and it’s super wide. Some are standup, some are improv, some are writers, some have, like policy backgrounds. And now they’re doing comedy and they’re really good at it. So what do you look for in some of those guests that you invite on the show?

EG: I think comedy can come from a lot of different places. Sort of like we’re talking about, right, there’s comedy that is also fear or frustration. You’re like, “Oh, look at this thing. I’m so angry and everything makes me angry.”

MT: The Lewis Blacks of the world.

EG: Yeah, that is my Lewis Black. “Can you believe?!” It’s Lewis Black meets Gilbert Godfrey I think. “Absolutely unbelievable.” And I think those people are great, right? That this is not a criticism of them.

But I think for me, I think people that I would love to be on the show and that I seek out are 1) very funny. But I think, 2) curious and open. They can bring their comedic identity and their sense of self into the show. But I think…comedians, I think, have this gift to listen and absorb. Take information and process it in their own unique way. And call out inconsistencies, or find the really funny thing, or find that small thing that they can make bigger. All these, this toolbox of a comedian. Use a metaphor like you have used Matt. Matt, the metaphor man, as he will forever be known. 

But I think all of that starts with someone who’s really open and curious. So for me, a lot of times people are like, oh, I don’t know much about this. Or some people know a lot more, right? We’ve got comedians who have a background, like you said, in politics and policy. Or even MK Paulson is a wonderful comedian. His episode is great. And MK plants trees. And I knew that. I knew that he loves trees, but he had never connected that to climate change, if that makes sense. He had never been like, oh, I’m someone who’s curious about the Earth. He just was like, I love plants and trees. His parents have a ranch in Texas, and he’s helped plant trees.

So I think there’s something beautiful to that…you’re thinking about these things, but you don’t even know you’re thinking about these things. But I know, I know MK is relentlessly curious and open to things. So I think people who yeah, I really think curiosity is, to me, in the way that I view comedy, and the way that I want to do comedy in the way that I want to invite people to do comedy, I think curiosity is really the key. So they don’t need to know about, you know, they don’t need to read Grist. Or like, do some of this, you know, like climate change-y things that are difficult. I think they just need to be really curious about what that means.

It’s also a way to invite people into the conversation around climate change. It’s like everyone’s invited. You don’t need to know a certain thing. You don’t need to have read a certain thing. You can ask; there was a headline. It was like something, you know, parts per million of carbon dioxide or whatever greenhouse gases. And yeah, someone’s like, what does that mean? And I was like, “I don’t know.” We should know. But I say it was like, you’re totally right to call me out for saying that. Let’s do research and find out what this means together.

MT: I think that’s really helpful. I love the idea of inviting everyone to the table because you’re right. Like at times, it totally feels like the people that are having these conversations or politics or massive companies that are buying solar or whatever. And it kind of feels like to some people that we don’t. I mean, even that’s something we say at Generation180 is like, a lot of people don’t feel like they even have a role to play. Like this isn’t their game, and we’re not even on the sidelines. We’re in the stands watching. And so I love what Comedians Conquering Climate Change does is say that like, you have a role, like you can get in the game. It’s no longer like, yeah, maybe 20 years ago when solar was not something you could do, and electric cars were not something you could do. And all of these other things that you can do just really weren’t easily attainable.

Things have changed and things are different. And sending that invitation in a really friendly, fun way is a lot of fun to listen to.

EG: Yeah, again, there are two ways to deliver that. It could be like, “Hey, adjust your narrative. You’re out of date. You don’t think that solar has been affordable for like a while. Come on”. That is genuinely one way to do that. And I think sometimes people feel rightfully frustrated in the Climate Change Movement that they’re like, we need to move faster. You haven’t done this yet. Come on! There’s this sense of urgency. Again, totally rightfully so.

And I think there’s a role for someone, I think a role for someone like me, in the way that I can contribute is being like, hey, I also didn’t know. And to me, in the way that I operate in the world, I’m like, oh, that’s the way to have this conversation. Like, invite people in that way.

MT: So man, I think we’ve even answered this last question I wanted to talk about, which was like, what do people come away with? Like, what’s your goal if I had to pick a goal? What do I really want people to come away with when they’re done listening to an episode or two? I know we’ve hit a lot on that, but like, wrap that up for me. Put a big ole bow on it. Put it under my Christmas tree. What is it?

EG: Wow, it’s February, so. So this is going to be both. I think it’s going to be both like a birthday and Christmas.

MT: It’s my Valentine’s Day present. We have just a couple of days.

EG: I think there are two things. In the podcast or a podcast episode, I think my hope in my dream is that people walk away and they feel like they are invited in the conversation. They are welcome in the conversation. My hope is that this is an opportunity for them to engage with this topic and they like, want to learn more. That you’ve got like a little momentum. This is a bit of that spark. This is a bit of that momentum. Man, how beautiful of a gift. If someone feels like they’re invited, if someone walks away and they’re inspired to just learn more, right? They walk away with a bounce in their step.

Because I think if you’re going to make change, if you’re going to sign pledges, you’re going to, you know, push politicians and everything. It is going to be easier with a little bounce in your step. With like a little small smile on your face. That is an easier way to fight this fight. 

And I think the second thing is an even bigger “We are all invited.” Like, I don’t have a background in whatever climate. I’m not a scientist. I think for a long time I thought, well, who am I to talk about these things? This is something I like, read books about and all these people are smarter than me. I mean, Bill McKibben is great, and I will just kneel at the altar of Bill. And then I was like, oh, the things that I am doing in my life, the things I’m uniquely good at, can be. We can talk about climate change in this way. And I think it is, dare I say, almost like a responsibility for all of us to think about the way that we can show up for the Earth and for each other. And I genuinely believe, whatever you are into, right, I’m a strange comedian, you know, education teacher, hybrid dude. Like for me to have a role in this means that literally, literally, everyone has a role in this. 

So it’s like 1) invited literally to the conversation invited to find out more resources—every show has a call to action. and 2) at a bigger existential level, you are invited regardless of what you do. Even if you’re like, I don’t know how juggling is going to help the climate. But it actually will. But I guarantee you it actually will. Anything that you are into.

MT: It reminds me of that episode that you did where you talked about that Venn diagram. On one side, it’s alright, what can you do? What are your skill sets? And then, what brings you joy? What makes you happy? And then what’s the good work that can be done? And there’s something in there in between, in the middle of those three circles, there is something and this podcast kind of seems like it’s pretty daggone close to yours. You look like you’re having fun. I can’t tell. I don’t know if you’re just that good of an actor, but it looks like it sounds like you’re having a great time.

EG: Oh, I’m a bad actor.

MT: Oh I wouldn’t know if you were having a bad time.

EG: Yeah no, I couldn’t fake it. No, I am! But I think it also is, I think comedians come on and I’m like, yeah, what does this look like for you, for the ways that you’re doing? It doesn’t have to be a podcast. It can be write a joke about it or you write a story about it, or in the script that you’re doing, you bring an element of it. There’s so many ways. There is no right way to be good to the Earth and each other. There’s a lot of wrong ways to do it. Not doing anything is a wrong way. Like pouring oil into the ocean. Wrong, right? But if you’re like, “But I’m a surfer!”  I live in LA  and the surfing community has done so so much for the oceans. And even in LA they just passed an oil drilling ban.

MT: Like no pouring oil in the ocean anymore? That used to be a thing?

EG: It took a while.

MT: It’s 2022.

EG: But anyway, like, I’m like, oh, surfers are like leading. You know, in LA, they are some of the loudest voices. I’m like, yeah, everyone’s invited.

MT: That’s a good gift. I like it. It’s a big present. Took you a long time to wrap it. A little too many bows. You got a little carried away, but it’s still a present. It’s still gift-wrapped.

EG: “A little too many bows” is such good feedback just for me as an individual.

MT: Oh yeah, I agree. I’m the same way. I probably talk too much. I probably should have ended this podcast Q&A a while ago. But on that note…

EG: No this is great!

MT: Esteban, I really appreciate you talking to me, talking to our listeners, I think this is a really helpful way for us just to get around like, hey, what’s the point of this podcast? Like, what are the good things about it? And then it’s also nice to know you and just know more about you. You’re a good guy Esteban and I appreciate your work.

EG: Hey, Thanks for editing. And you’re a good guy.

MT: Aw, shucks.

EG: No. Thank you. And thanks for the whole team at Generation180 who is genuinely walking the walk in terms of flipping the script. And I think being really, really thoughtful and intentional about shifting some of those narratives. And also just like, I mean, yeah, I can’t I can’t believe truly, you said this. I can’t believe I get to do what I do, which is get support to, like, make silly jokes with people I love, about a topic I think is important. 

MT: All right, Esteban. I’ll talk to you the next time the podcast comes out.

EG: And we won’t speak before then. Remember our rule.