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Seven practical steps to save our planet: An interview with Hal Harvey

November 9, 2022

Regardless of the final outcome of the mid-term elections, there are concrete steps that you, individually, can choose to take right now for clean energy progress.

In The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet, co-authors Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis lay out how and why individuals can make a big impact. In this week’s issue, Gen180 Executive Director Wendy Philleo interviewed Hal–a leading strategist in the nonprofit sector’s efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change–on what he hopes readers take away from the book.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. See the full video interview here.

Wendy Philleo: All right. Well, welcome Hal Harvey, good to see you again. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your new book, which I have here, The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet that you wrote with Justin Gillis. 

Hal Harvey: Thank you. It’s a delight to be here. And I really appreciate the chance for this conversation.

WP: Great. Can you share a little bit about your background and a little bit about why you came to this decision to write this book. Why now?

HH: Sure thing, I’m an engineer by training with degrees in both civil and mechanical engineering. I got involved in the energy business when I turned 18, because I was obligated to go register for the draft, because Jimmy Carter reinstated it in order to build the so-called Rapid Deployment Force in the Mideast, which was aimed at protecting American interests against foreign oil producers. And so that put a pretty sharp focus on the question of oil and oil imports. What I was doing at the time was home construction solar homes with my brother. And we came to realize that it was not very complicated or difficult to build a solar heated home. 

And to have this dissonance on the one hand between getting ready to go to war, not so long after the Vietnam War wound up in its tragic way – and on the other hand, having readily available technologies to save energy. And this was at the time when cars got an average of 13 miles per gallon. So we weren’t just importing [oil] we were wasting it in just copious quantities, we still are.

WP: Your book felt like almost a call out for a revitalization or renewal of civic engagement, in a way, because you talk a lot about citizens flexing their muscle, exercising influence and finding these levers – sometimes secret levers, because people don’t know about them. Can you talk a little bit about a few actions that you think are most important for people to know about?

HH: So this is the right question, because what motivated us to write the book is to identify the places where citizen actions can make a big difference. I mean, the normal reaction to a political issue that you care about is to write a letter to your Congressperson. That turns out not to be the most effective thing to do. Civic engagement is wonderful, but if you know who makes the decision that most affects the planet, then you can make a strategy for changing that decision. 

And that’s what the book is all about. When you send in your utility bill at the end of the month, does that money land on green choices or dirty choices? Who decides whether your money goes to solar and wind or coal and natural gas? And the answer is the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of your state. How many people have stood before their state’s Public Utilities Commission and said, ‘Hey, let’s get this straight. We need to quit cooking the earth.’ How hard is that? And how complicated is it? And what happened? So we tell in this book, not only how to identify those levers of power, but stories about how people got involved and pulled those levers that made a big difference.

WP: Just how many Public Utility Commission Commissioners are there in the U.S.? 

HH: Just over 200. So roughly five per state. These people control 40% of the carbon emissions in our economy. That’s amazing. That’s a big number, and those 200 people are obligated to listen to you. They’re called Public Utilities Commission’s because they’re supposed to serve the public. They have hearings and you can stand in front of them and make your point. Now, a lot of the conversation at these meetings is a sort of a regulatory patois between utility lawyers and PUC lawyers. And that requires lots of specialized knowledge. 

But let’s say you live downwind of a big coal-fired power plant and your kid has asthma. The PUC is obligated to listen to you and your kid. You can tell them what it’s like to be a mom to have a kid who can’t breathe, and that it’s the PUC’s responsibility for that, and therefore it’s on them to change. You know, the climate change picture is pretty horrifying if you study it closely. My suggestion is people should study it enough to get concerned, but then flip to the solutions as fast as possible.

“People should study it enough to get concerned, but then flip to the solutions as fast as possible.”

Because that’s enabling. It’s energizing as well. And when you focus on solutions, your strategy becomes much more pointed than just raising awareness. It turns into how do I save this planet? How do we keep it from just burning right up?

WP: I think the problem with energy issues is that it feels complicated, and it feels like it should be left to the experts. Right? So what do I know about building codes? Or what do I know about utilities? I do feel like there are barriers around this type of engagement—how does the average person get comfortable doing this?

HH: Well, it’s good to have some logic, I would recommend a couple of days study before working to intervene in one of these decision-making venues. It’s also a great idea to look and see who else is doing this work in your region and if you can piggyback onto them. 

Every good argument has ethos, logos, and pathos. So ethos, this is your ethical standing. Every single National Academy of Sciences scientist has argued for rapid action on climate change. You don’t have to be that scientist, but it’s totally legitimate to point out that they are all saying it, there’s your ethos. Your logos, it’s now cheaper to build a solar farm from scratch than to just pay the operating costs of a coal-fired power plant. It’s amazing. Again, you don’t have to fight every detail there. And pathos – how does it make you feel when your kid has asthma or when soot is sitting on your windowsill at the end of every single day? So take those elements, put them in human terms and present them. It turns out, that’s a very hard combination to defeat.

WP: Love that. That’s very empowering. How has the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act changed the equation for you in terms of the recommendations that are in this book?

HH: We wrote the book before that all happened. So the question is, do those recommendations survive? And it turns out, they not only survive, they thrive. We argued for rapid decarbonization of the electric grid by switching from fossil fuels to renewable fuels. Well, the IRA just made that even easier because economics is now a tailwind instead of a headwind. So across the board, I think it accelerates and emphasizes the suggestions in the book. We have reached an interesting point in the energy economy of the world – it’s now cheaper, I often say, to save the world than to destroy it.

“It’s now cheaper, I often say, to save the world than to destroy it.”

WP: I think one of the things that’s frustrating is knowing that renewable energy is popular across the ideological spectrum – that most (70%) of Americans support climate action. It’s actually a more popular issue than people realize. How do you deal with the disconnect in how people see momentum at the state and federal levels? 

HH: Well, to some extent, the waters have been purposefully poisoned by people who resist change. I mean, if you look at the Koch brothers who have made close to hundreds of billions of dollars in the oil and gas business, and then you look at their political contributions, the answer becomes sort of glaringly obvious in some cases. But we also have some responsibility ourselves to think about civic action and how to overcome this. It’s often counterproductive to talk about climate change, instead of clean energy, because the numbers for clean energy are even higher than for climate change, regardless of the fact that they’re the same thing. Start with interests, bring in local examples, and identify those secret levels of power – there’s still powerful economic interests that will fight this, and we can’t win by being too precious. 

WP: I thought it was really interesting at the end of your book that you added a chapter around religion. That was a surprise to me, and I thought it was really interesting. Can you talk a little bit about why you added that and more broadly about what role you think culture needs to play in terms of speeding up this transition?

HH: You know, there’s a great moral question hanging over all of this, which is, do we have the right, as citizens of today, to leave behind burnt offerings for citizens of tomorrow?

“There’s a great moral question hanging over all of this, which is, do we have the right, as citizens of today, to leave behind burnt offerings for citizens of tomorrow?”

Do we have the right to destroy the topsoil, to alter the weather patterns to extinguish life in the oceans, to let mighty forests burn, to flood out entire towns? More than half of Pakistan was underwater this year, in terms of the population. So I don’t think we have that right. I don’t think we have the right to cheat future generations for our near-term. And I don’t think we have to. We have to make some hard choices. Avoid doing that. So from my perspective, it is an ethical question, not a religious one. I’m not a religious person. But I hope I’m an ethical person – I try to be on a good day. And that’s where the question arises, you know, what is our obligation? 

WP: And from a broader cultural perspective, what do you feel needs to happen on that front? It feels like a real shift needs to take place in terms of speeding up the rate that we need to act. 

HH: You know, we need to first of all be optimistic about the future, rather than harp on problems. A little bit of optimism goes a long way. I had a friend who said optimism is a social change strategy.

“Optimism is a social change strategy.”

And he’s right. That’s one thing we have to do – ‘pull up your socks’, as they say, in England, go get something done. 

WP: I think that’s part of the challenge, right? Like how do we make building codes, heat pumps, you know, Public Utility Commissions sexy so people think about these issues? It’s not an easy thing, but I think there’s a way to do that and starting with the solutions and the optimism and reaching people in different ways is really important. I’m glad to hear that you feel optimistic and that we’re up to the task. If there is one takeaway that you want to leave people with, what is it?

HH: There’s a lot you can do. It seems like a big intractable problem, but there are opportunities in every corner. In order to find those opportunities, you have to know something – not a lot – but something about the energy system in which decisions are the most critical, who makes those decisions, and how you can intervene in those decisions. It takes a couple of days of homework. It pays to look for groups that are similarly strategic in your region, and then jump in without fear. Right? If we have an ethical duty and great opportunity to quit poisoning our children, let’s do that. 

WP: And take advantage of this opportunity of innovation and economic gain as well.

HH: Yes, exactly. It’s all right there in front of us. 

WP: Well, thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. 

HH: Thank you Wendy, really delighted to have this chance to catch up.

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Meeting the Moment—What’s Next for the Clean Energy Movement

October 5, 2022

This blog comes from the desk of Wendy Philleo, the Executive Director of Generation180.

As we head into a very busy fall season, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the new clean energy landscape before us and what it means for Generation180’s work and our potential for impact. 

A year ago, the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) was being signed into law. That $550B action paved the way for the $54.2B in the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS) and the largest investment in clean energy America has ever made with the $369B Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed into law this summer. 

Combined, the brain (CHIPS), backbone (IIJA), and engine (IRA) will spur clean energy innovation while building out essential infrastructure to scale clean energy technologies quickly. They will also create long-term certainty for industry to keep innovating and driving down costs.

All of this is to say, these three pieces of federal legislation are a very big deal. They make the biggest investment in clean energy and climate in U.S. history, and while it took decades of advocates demanding action to get here, arguably the most challenging work is now ahead of us in implementation. Now that we have federal funding, let’s get to work and start proving how clean energy benefits all Americans. 

While it took decades of advocates demanding action to get here, arguably the most challenging work is now ahead of us in implementation.

Here’s where we see the greatest gains for solar schools, electric vehicles (including school buses), and homes.

More Schools Powered by Clean Energy

With nearly 50 million students attending over 130,000 K-12 schools, the education sector – schools in  particular – have an important role to play in our country’s transition to clean energy. Our recent Brighter Future report  found that since 2015, the amount of solar installed at K-12 schools has tripled. Despite this growth, only 9% of schools have gone solar. 

We are on the path to a brighter future, but we have a long way to go to reach our goal of 100% clean energy powered schools. More than $500 million in new federal funding will soon go to readying schools across the country for clean power solar installation and more energy efficiency. These investments benefit schools and the climate while improving indoor air quality and introducing Pre-K students to STEM. Schools ready to go solar can find out more here.

How students get to class each day also matters. There are nearly half of a million school buses on the road today, and the vast majority are dirty diesel buses. The millions of children currently riding these buses are breathing in toxic tailpipe pollution, and we have the opportunity–with more than $5 billion in federal funds for school districts–to switch to clean, zero emissions buses, charging infrastructure and operations.

Electric buses improve air quality and health outcomes, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately suffer the harmful effects of air pollution. Switching all of the nation’s school buses to electric would reduce the emissions equivalent to taking over 1 million cars off the road.

Electrification of Everything Becomes Easier

Which leads us to the choice that all drivers have to make their next car electric. The recent legislation has incentives that make EV ownership a no-brainer with rebates for new and used electric vehicles, $5 billion to build the nationwide network of fast chargers deployed across all 50 U.S. states, and the added benefit of supporting a renaissance of American jobs and manufacturing with EV battery plants and semiconductor factories dotting the country. 

U.S. automakers have picked up on this market demand signal and are working to deliver new EV models at unprecedented speed. With transportation being the leading source of climate-harming carbon emissions in the United States, EV adoption could come at no better time. Our national Electrify Your Ride campaign is helping to capitalize on national momentum around electric car driving by busting myths and encouraging Americans to sign the Going Electric pledge. 

Electrifying your life may begin with a major decision like owning an EV, but it doesn’t stop there. Choices we make every day–like what kind of transportation we use, how we heat the air and water in our homes, cook our food and dry our clothes–can all be electric. 

Americans in every zip code across the country can reduce their energy bills and electrify their homes through new federal tax credits and direct rebates that offset up-front costs. In addition to solar system and EV rebates, benefits for homes include credits for electric stoves, dryers, battery storage, heat pump water heaters, breaker box upgrades, home energy audits, electrical wiring, weatherization, and efficiency improvements. These seemingly small changes add up to big benefits for your wallet, climate, and personal comfort.

What You Can Do

Through this influx of new federal funding, individuals are incentivized to take action. For specific steps you can take, check out our list on how to make your energy matter. The best way for individuals to maximize their impact is to use their voice to influence change at the local, state, and national level.

The best way for individuals to maximize their impact is to use their voice to influence change at the local, state, and national level.

We need to discuss this issue at the dinner table and in our daily lives. Almost 80% of Americans support climate policies, yet a recent study shows that we underestimate popular support for climate action by nearly half. Americans need to raise their voices on this issue and show up to vote for clean energy at every election, whether it’s a local, state or national race.

While this nearly $1 trillion investment spanning the next 10 years is significant, the process of drafting and passing these bills largely left out environmental justice communities – key voices who experience frontline injury from entrenched fossil fuel interests across the U.S. These investments are only a beginning in terms of supplying critical resources to bolster community resilience to floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters made worse by climate change. 

Unprecedented Times Call for Unprecedented Communications

We are in uncharted territory with this new funding. For this earthshot to be successful, organizations, leaders, and advocates will need to double down on efforts to help schools and communities understand and utilize these new clean energy investments. 

We need a historic investment in communications and outreach to help Americans take advantage of these incentives. These incentives are useless if Americans don’t even know about them. In addition, we need to pay close attention to state implementation to ensure rapid execution and deployment of the funding in these bills and keep the pressure on at the local and state levels.

This is a moment for our country that we will never get back. We have a limited window to make the changes we need in time. Fortunately, we have the solutions and public support to fight climate change is at an all-time high. We just have to step on the accelerator.  Our collective momentum as Americans to demand a better  – a cleaner energy future for all  – is dependent on what we do in the coming years to make the clean energy balancing act finally tip in our favor.

Together, we’ve got this.

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In predicting the future of climate change, we are the X factor

April 20, 2022

Over the past few decades, climate modelers have been busy tinkering with their datasets and scenarios to try to make sense of where we’re headed. For the most part, it looks daunting – greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and at the current rate we’re unlikely to be able to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century (the stretch goal of the Paris Agreement). But most climate models are telling only part of the story – and that’s actually a good thing, especially for those of us who want to make a real difference on climate and clean energy. 

Current modeling relies on a few key solution areas when developing pathways for how we might (collectively) avoid the most devastating impacts of a heated planet. Most of these scenarios hinge on the critical role of “supply-side” technologies to bring down emissions – things like ramping up wind and solar power, finding more efficient ways to heat and cool buildings, and shifting to low-carbon ways of getting around, like electric vehicles. These are all good things, of course. (Some models also consider options like removing carbon from the atmosphere, which is less proven and more controversial.)

Fossil fuel companies (rightfully) get the lion’s share of the blame for the crisis we find ourselves in. They have rigged the energy and political system for years — including bold-faced lying to Congress for decades and showing no signs of stopping. However, our individual lifestyle choices have also contributed to this mess. With all the focus on techno-solutions, models overlook this key variable: us. Or more specifically, human choices and behavior.

In part, it’s our activities and lifestyles – and the infrastructure and systems that we’ve developed to support them – that contribute to carbon emissions. We need to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their actions, but it turns out that individuals can have an outsized impact in being part of the solution.

Our hidden human potential

A quick glance at the data reveals what’s at stake here. Studies show that around two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to household consumption – by our rapacious demand for everything from energy to the latest iPhone, from burgers to… all the rest. So while we unquestionably need to adopt new clean tech that will enable us to keep fossil fuels in the ground, changing how we live (i.e., our behavior) is also crucial. What we eat, where we live, how we travel, and what we do for fun all have an impact on our planet. And all of these individual choices add up — far more than we think. According to the United Nations, to achieve the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, each person on Earth, on average, would need to be emitting around 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, and only 0.7 tons by 2050. For comparison, the average American emits 16 tons annually, one of the highest rates in the world. Getting to a climate-compatible future would require reducing U.S. lifestyle emissions more than 90 percent.

Getting to a climate-compatible future would require reducing U.S. lifestyle emissions more than 90 percent.

Fortunately, our daily activities and choices are also our secret emissions-fighting weapon. Studies show that, individually, we can make the biggest difference on climate by cutting our emissions in food, housing, and transport – transitioning to plant-based diets, adopting clean energy by installing solar or participating in community solar programs, and choosing alternatives to personal car use and frequent flying. As individuals – and collectively, as families, neighborhoods, and societies — we can make decisions overnight to change our behavior – for example, to stop eating beef or to take a bus or train instead of a plane. Often, this can have quicker results than, say, waiting for our local electricity system to transition to renewables (which of course also needs to happen). 

Shifting the narrative

In taking climate action, we need to operate on multiple fronts, recognizing that while we have impacts as individuals, our decisions are also constrained by the systems that surround us. That’s why we need all hands on deck: we’ll have to shift our lifestyles as well as the systems that normalize how we live. But advocating for behavioral change is tricky: nobody wants to tell people what to do. So it’s no surprise that modelers, policymakers, and even environmental groups have tiptoed around lifestyle interventions as a climate solution. 

The thing is, we’ve been telling the story all wrong. Living more sustainable lives isn’t necessarily about “giving up” or “reducing” (unless you own five mega-yachts, but that’s a different story). It’s about finding opportunities for all of us to meet our needs and live healthy and happy lives, but in ways that use fewer resources and release fewer emissions. This requires thinking more broadly about our ways of living and asking: how can we enjoy many of the same pleasures and relationships, and feel the same sense of abundance, but with vastly lower carbon footprints?

The good news is that, compared to a decade ago, the narrative is already shifting. Nearly everywhere you look, people are embracing creative new approaches to living sustainably. More than 70 percent of Americans are now interested in buying electric cars (and they’re feeling good about it). This year, the UN is focusing World Environment Day (June 6) on the theme Only One Earth, highlighting the need for “transformative changes – through policies and our choices – towards cleaner, greener lifestyles.”

In even better news, a clean energy lifestyle brings a higher quality of life. The reduced pollution, cheaper prices, and better experience of clean energy all improve our lives in tangible ways.

Tweaking the models

Which brings us to why – just maybe – we can start to be more optimistic about climate modeling. Because modelers haven’t been telling the full story about the role of human behavior in shaping emissions, there’s a lot of potential for tweaking – potentially radically adjusting – our scenarios, to get to more informed (and perhaps more hopeful) outcomes. Rapid change in human behavior isn’t just possible, it can have real, measurable impacts – we only have to look back to the Covid-19 lockdowns for proof that behavior change (like driving less), at a massive scale and in a short time period, can lead to a dramatic drop in emissions. Popular lifestyle changes, like adopting an electric vehicle or rooftop solar, can go viral quickly as people influence family, friends, and peers to make the switch.

 

We only have to look back to the Covid-19 lockdowns for proof that behavior change (like driving less), at a massive scale and in a short time period, can lead to a dramatic drop in emissions.

Studies affirm this. For example, researchers with the University of California at Davis recently tweaked their modeling to explore how evolving social norms and behaviors could lead to potential tipping points in the uptake of clean energy, thereby accelerating emission cuts and changing the global emissions trajectory. Of the 100,000 possible futures generated in the model, nearly a third showed emissions falling rapidly due to positive feedback loops linked to human behavior, resulting in warming of only 1.8°C by 2100 – close to the targeted 1.5°C, even without the use of carbon removal technology. Overall, the study finds that by considering social factors, global warming could be around 0.5 degrees Celsius lower by 2100 compared with what was predicted following last year’s UN climate summit.

Encouragingly, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in early April, gives unprecedented coverage to the role of cultural and lifestyle change in reducing emissions, noting that incorporating human behavior into climate models “will expand and improve long-term mitigation scenarios.” The IPCC report highlights the value of modeling “low energy demand” scenarios that factor in more efficient resource use and adjustments in people’s consumption patterns, such as shorter showers, lower heating settings, reduced appliance use, teleworking, avoiding travel, shifts to public transit, uptake of less meat-intensive diets, and reducing food waste. Such interventions could result in additional gigaton-scale emission savings – “beyond the savings achieved in traditional technology-centric mitigation scenarios” – and at lower overall costs. 

Given the IPCC findings that lifestyle choices — when adopted at large — can make significant impact in reducing global emissions, and the UC Davis findings that individuals — when acting communally — can instate positive feedback loops that convince others to adopt these lifestyle changes, it is clear that individual actions matter — a lot. Your sphere of influence is larger than you think it is, and when your actions help inspire collective action, bigger pieces fall into place—both politically and in your local community. Alice Larkin of the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says “while governments do need to take tough action, they derive their courage to do so from the conduct of citizens.”

Lifestyle interventions aren’t just “another area to consider” in addressing the climate crisis. They’re critical to advancing our climate and sustainability goals — here’s the kicker: in combination with structural changes and political action that enable us to make low-carbon choices. 

So yes, there is a (really big) role for individuals to play in the climate and clean energy movement. In fact we need individuals to adopt a lifestyle that aligns with their values and then talk about it — to their friends, families, employers, and legislators. We need a secret weapon in the fight against climate change, and it turns out it’s the person reading this.

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Say what? We need a new way to talk about clean energy

March 9, 2022

Ever wondered how the photovoltaic power of a residential solar + storage system (solar array working in tandem with a battery storage system) uses net metering while producing net zero emissions? Did that sentence make sense to you? If not, you’re probably not the only one. 

When it comes to talking about clean energy and renewables, there is so much technical jargon thrown around that the average person can quickly lose interest. The incredible benefits these technologies can bring to our lives – and to the planet – can get lost in terminology that sounds like a foreign language to many of us.

A debate about how cleantech terms need a rebrand emerged on Twitter recently on the hot topic (pun intended) of heat pumps. As worded, these devices sound merely like something involved in heating your home. On the contrary, heat pumps act more like a “home comfort system” that both heat and cool. Even more importantly, they are a readily available climate solution that helps reduce gas emissions and pollution. 

In order for the majority of Americans to catch on to clean energy, cleantech gurus need to make these terms more accessible and meaningful.  To get this conversation started, we’ve taken a few super important words and phrases in the clean energy lexicon and paired them with some analogies to help them (hopefully) make more sense.

Net metering

Net metering is a techie-sounding term that belies an incredible opportunity to transform people’s relationship to energy in their homes and communities. Are we exaggerating? We’ll say more and you can decide. 

Net metering is what allows your solar panels to produce energy from your rooftop while saving you money on your electric bills. If your panels generate extra power from the sun’s rays that you don’t need, your utility company will give you a credit for it (that is, if net metering is offered in your state. It is in most.). This billing mechanism with a boring name should really be called, “sun dollars” or even “energy freedom.”

A 2017 public opinion poll found that most Americans support net metering, including 62% of “very conversative” respondents. However, utilities have long attempted to rollback net metering because it threatens their profits. Legislation is currently on the table in both California and Florida that threatens to repeal net metering altogether (Florida) or regulate it in a way that could benefit utilities (California). 

Net-zero

Net-zero: the state in which the amount of non-carbon emitting energy procured by an entity is equal to the amount of carbon-emitting energy used. In other words, buying renewable energy or carbon offsets to balance out the non-renewable energy. It’s like when you eat a full pizza by yourself, and then to make yourself feel better, you immediately go run a marathon to “run it off.”

Net-zero is a very good thing in theory, and many corporations and governments are pledging to become net-zero as part of their climate commitments. But as the New York Times climate desk explains in this helpful overview of climate buzzwords, “when governments or companies pledge to go net-zero, they’re not always promising to stop emitting carbon dioxide altogether. Often they’re saying that they will reduce fossil-fuel emissions… as much as they can and then offset whatever they can’t get rid of through other means.”  Critics say commitments that include carbon dioxide removal and other carbon offsets aren’t enough to balance out the emissions that actually get put into the air.   

Photovoltaic solar system 

That’s the same thing as solar (or solar panels).  ‘Nuff said.

Solar + storage

Solar + storage is solar (on your home or business) taken to the next level. On top of having solar power that is connected to the power grid (see next topic below), you also own a battery that can save excess energy generated from your solar panels. 

It’s sort of like your crunchy neighbor’s rain barrel. When it’s raining, you have more water than you need even after all your plants have been watered. You’re then storing extra water in this barrel, which you stockpile for when you really need it.

Solar + storage allows you to use energy either from the grid, or your battery–you get to choose. The stored energy in your battery can be used later for personal use or even for others in your community (e.g., as backup power during electricity outages). Schools across the country with solar + storage are serving as emergency centers during times of natural disasters, helping to keep the lights on while also providing emergency power to their neighbors. EnergySage provides a good overview of how solar and storage works

With its power to protect and mitigate the effects of natural disasters and emergencies, solar + storage should really be called something more heroic like, “resilient power.”

COMEDIANS CONQUERING CLIMATE CHANGE

Check out the latest episode from the podcast

 

The electrical grid

The electrical grid or, “the grid” is the network and infrastructure involved in generating energy and getting it to consumers. It’s how we get our electricity. 

To help explain the grid, let’s use the analogy of a coffee shop. Picture this: You’re sitting in a cute boutique coffee shop, you’re munching on a chocolate croissant, sipping your coffee beverage of choice.  The key here is coffee = electrical energy. Here’s a very basic look at how the grid works:

  1. Electricity gets made at a generator, a power plant. It’s made by burning fossil fuels, collecting wind, solar or water energy, or from nuclear reactions. (that’s the coffee maker. Mmm, espresso). 
  2. Next, the power travels to substations, which transform the voltage from low to high or high to low, depending on power needs. This is the cream counter. Coffee too strong? Add in some creamer. Want to ask for another shot? Now’s your chance.
  3. Lastly, electric power gets distributed from the stations out to customers via power lines. This is when an intern eagerly rushes away with 12 coffees in hand, to deliver to his co-workers.

What’s remarkable about powering your home or business with renewable energy (like solar power) is that you can connect this solar to the electrical grid, and when the sun isn’t shining,  you can also pull electricity from the grid. And by contributing to it when the sun is shining, you are helping keep the grid “cleaner.” You also have the option of storing the energy you generate (see solar + storage) and operating “off-grid.”  

Learn more about electricity and how the grid works from Generation180’s Energy Basics Bootcamp

Clean energy and renewables

Lastly, while terms like “clean energy” and “renewables” have made their way into the mainstream, and are therefore more broadly understood, we define them here just so we’re all on the same page. 

Clean energy, or renewables, are energy sources that come from natural sources or processes that are regularly replenished, such as sunlight, wind, and water.  Clean energy differs from “dirty energy,” such as gas, oil, coal, which are finite and when extracted and burned are harmful to the planet and people’s health. 

For more on this, the Natural Resources Defense Council provides a detailed look at solar, wind, hydropower, and other types of clean energy

On this front, we’d say that the cleantech PR guys got it right.

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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.

COMEDIANS CONQUERING CLIMATE CHANGE

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.” 

 

Blog

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.

Blog

Envisioning the Clean Energy Future

January 19, 2022

With all of the amazing breakthroughs and advancements towards a clean energy future this past year, it’s exciting to imagine what our clean energy future will actually look like. As technology advances, prices continue to plummet, and more and more localities begin to see the benefits, it can help to envision what that looks like in our own lives. Visualizing the future you want with positive expectations can help you make the changes you need to in order to create it, and motivate us to achieve those expectations (instead of just fantasizing about them).

From oddity to ordinary

While the phenomenon of producing electricity from sunlight was first discovered back in 1839, most of us were introduced to solar panels by those ubiquitous solar-powered calculators of the 1990s. Baby, would you look at us now! Solar panels are inexpensive and efficient enough for a lot of Americans (4 out of 5 homes get enough sunlight to make solar viable) and it’s easy to see if they are for you.

Solar energy is one example of how clean-energy innovations, and policies to support them, can transform daily life for the better in a relatively short period of time. Solar, wind, and battery storage will account for nearly three-quarters of all new U.S. electricity added in 2022. A decade ago, that figure was less than a third—methane gas power still dominated. Same with electric vehicles (EVs), which have grown from a few thousand sold in the U.S. in 2010 to well above 300,000 annually since 2018 (more than 430,000 in 2021). Solar panels, wind farms, and EVs are now everyday sights rather than anomalies.

So the clean energy future that seemed perhaps dubious when the U.S. was in the throes of a gas and oil fracking boom is already here in many respects. What does the next chapter of clean energy look like, and how do we get there? Here are some themes to watch. 

(More) new clean energy sources

In addition to foundational renewable energy technologies like wind and solar, we also need a gamut of other clean energy sources and technologies to help power and decarbonize all sectors of our economy. 

In the future, we’ll be relying more on offshore wind turbines that can generate large amounts of energy for coastal communities. The United Kingdom, China, and Germany are leading the way so far, but the U.S. is also pushing ahead with offshore wind. The nation’s first commercial offshore wind project debuted off Rhode Island in 2016, and more are on the way, with Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York pushing ahead on new projects. Marine energy—harvesting motion from waves and currents in water—isn’t quite as far along as offshore wind, but is another active and potent area of development

To power the bigger, hard-to-decarbonize sectors like industry, trucking, and aviation, a variety of efforts are underway, but it’s too early to declare any winners. Time will tell whether these sectors mainly will run on hydrogen, massively powerful and light batteries, biofuels from waste products—or something no one has invented yet. The big key for all of these technologies will be to bring the scale up and the costs down. 

Electrifying everything

In the meantime, more of our homes, businesses, and cars will run on clean electricity. California is on track to begin requiring solar panels on new buildings in 2023; more U.S. municipalities are ditching gas as fuel for homes; and bans on new sales of gasoline-fueled cars, coupled with mandates for EV charging, continue to roll in across the globe. Expansions of community solar—one array that powers many homes or a building with many tenants—will open up clean energy access beyond those who have been able to install them at home.

Picture this: The clean-energy home of the future will have solar panels, a heat pump for climate control, all-electric appliances (including an induction cooktop instead of gas), and a fast EV charging station. Your thermostat, appliances, and chargers could be set to run when power prices are lowest. Your energy bills are likely to be a lot lower—the average U.S. household stands to save $356 a year by going electric. Beyond homes, shopping centers may offer the ability to order food to be delivered to your car while you charge up. And electric-powered drones and small aircraft could transform mobility and deliveries in cities.

Reclaiming real estate (and carbon) from fossil fuels

“The fossil fuel industry is actively battling the rise of renewables,” writes New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. “But at most, it can only slow things down. A carbon-free energy economy is coming whether oil and coal companies like it or not.” Given that reality, part of the new clean energy economy will be based on remediating territory once dominated by fossil fuels.

Already, former coal power plants have been repurposed, such as an athletic facility and a medical marijuana farm. And inactive oil and gas sites across the U.S. amount to more than 2 million acres of restorable land, a study found last year. Companies are finding ways to repurpose carbon into products we need like fabric for clothes, cutlery for eating, furniture for your home, and even fish food.

Building up a new workforce

New tech goes hand-in-hand with new jobs, and renewables, energy efficiency, and EVs are no different. Solar, wind, and energy storage already employ more than 415,000 workers, and turbine technicians and solar installers are still two of the fastest-growing careers in the U.S., (making 130% of the median worker’s salary in America). The White House has just announced a new Clean Energy Corps dedicated to research and deployment of clean energy solutions, and has proposed policies that would create an additional 500,000-600,000 clean energy jobs.

All of these scenarios are possible because of what President Biden’s Science Advisor Eric Lander called “ferocious innovation” in a recent rundown of the administration’s research priorities to reach zero emissions.

“Sometimes in science, we get so worried about why things might fail, that we don’t devote enough imagination to how things might succeed,” Lander said. “Ferocious innovation means setting bold goals, overcoming the fear of failure, and focusing on how to succeed, even on really hard problems. We need to open the lens and try many possibilities in parallel.”

Ferocious innovation doesn’t always work like the flip of a switch, transforming the world with one breakthrough after another. It might be more like your LEDs at home, a smart thermostat, or an electric car: Modest but major improvements that build up over time and make it hard to imagine ever going back to the old way of doing things.

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Five ways to make a big climate impact in 2022

January 5, 2022

Happy 2022, Flip the Script readers! 

With a new year comes a new chance to focus on what matters most. If you’re one of the many Americans feeling concerned about climate change but not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. 

But first, a shot of inspiration. 

Reading news reports on climate disasters can be paralyzing. Fortunately, there’s much more to the story: the transition away from climate-harming fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources is well underway and has unprecedented momentum. Here are a few examples of what we mean: 

What’s more, individuals aren’t waiting around for broad policy changes to be a part of the clean energy solution. Technologies like home solar and electric vehicles are cheaper than ever and will only get more affordable. If those aren’t feasible, raising your voice to support clean energy policies that make clean energy more accessible is equally important.

Here are five high-impact ways you can take action on clean energy in the year ahead – as a consumer, a community member, and a voter. 

Five ways to make a big impact on climate and clean energy

  1. Consider driving an electric car:  Transportation is the leading source of carbon emissions, so switching to an electric car (with zero tailpipe emissions) will make an immediate impact. In the market for a car? Check out the new and used EV markets. Not in the market? Pledge to make your next vehicle an EV.
  2. Go solar or start a solar school campaign: Like EVs, solar power cuts emissions significantly while saving money. You can explore whether rooftop solar is right for your home or if you rent or live in an apartment, explore community solar here or here. Is your child’s school solar yet? Solar on schools has more than doubled in the last five years. Schools that have switched to solar are reinvesting their energy cost savings into teacher pay, school supplies, and other ways, while teaching kids about STEM and sustainability. Find a solar school near you to get inspired, and check out our Campaign Toolkit or Help Desk to kickstart a solar schools campaign in your community.
  3. Be a clean energy advocate and voter: Show up online by using your voice on social media, engage with your neighborhood and community through conversation, wear your support for clean energy, or share art that communicates the core message that Americans want bold government action on clean energy—now. Among the many issues vital to our country’s future, clean energy will most definitely be “on the ballot” in midterm elections this November. We need to let candidates know we care about clean energy and plan to elect candidates that do, too. Stay up-to-date on upcoming elections in your state and sign up for action alerts from the League of Conservation Voters to speak up for issues that matter throughout the year.
  4. Dig into the action underway in your city, state or region: Dig into the action underway in your city, state or region: What climate commitments have been made? How is energy generated in your state? What is the deal with your utility’s clean energy offerings? What’s the deal with FERC? Write letters to your local papers, to city council, and join local and state clean energy and environmental groups to learn more about how to engage and put pressure on your utility, your city council, your school board, etc. 
  5. Stop funding fossil fuels:  Our financial system has a massive role to play in accelerating a clean energy future. Tell your bank to divest; tell your stock broker you want ESG funds, tell your university to divest (or thank them if they have already), and don’t support businesses that funnel money to politicians that aren’t helping address the crisis.

Lastly, whatever you do, evangelize:  Behavioral science finds social pressure and cues influence others’ behavior toward clean energy. For example, solar has a strong “contagion effect”: when you see your neighbor’s solar panels, it makes you consider getting them too. This kind of peer pressure can also influence your buying an EV and other choices.

Lastly, remember you’re not alone. Our collective actions can influence communities—and ultimately build widespread political will—leading governments and businesses to respond more quickly and effectively. 

Together, we’ve got this.

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This holiday season, don’t clam up about climate

November 24, 2021

Welcome to Thanksgiving 2021. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: Engage with that relative who loves to talk about how climate change is a hoax every time the mercury dips below 50 degrees. 

We’re here with some tips. But first, a spoiler alert: No one has yet devised a proven rhetorical tool for boosting the relevance of scientific fact over emotions, conspiracies, and plain old inertia. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be in a climate crisis to begin with. Already, you know better than to hope your fossil-friendly uncle or cousin is going to walk away from a dinner chat thinking, “Hey, maybe I was wrong to talk trash about Greta Thunberg. Now what should I research first, an electric car or solar panels?” 

Why bother then, you might ask? It can be frustrating to talk with someone who is denying or dismissing an issue so fundamental to our survival on this planet. And then there’s the concern that if you drop some facts, you might inadvertently cause your relative to double down on climate change denial—we’ll get to that one in a minute.

The debunking dance

A good goal for any conversation about climate change, aside from retaining your sanity, is simply to counter misinformation, and to do it without shaming people or arguing them down. 

When you do this, you are achieving two things: You’re preventing that bad info from “sticking” with other people in the room (especially kids), and you’re actively refuting falsehoods where they have already taken hold. Both of these are strategies laid out in the helpful Debunking Handbook 2020, written by a team of 22 scholars and posted at the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. 

The debunking handbook, appropriately enough, debunks a common perception about debunking: The aforementioned notion that a person will hold tighter to false beliefs when presented with evidence to the contrary. This is called the backfire effect, and it seems especially relevant in a world where one can go to any number of websites that peddle fave denier ideas

But recent research suggests the backfire effect, though it does happen, is not inevitable. 

“Backfire effects occur only occasionally, and the risk of occurrence is lower in most situations than once thought,” say the Debunking Handbook authors. “Do not refrain from attempting to debunk or correct misinformation out of fear that doing so will backfire or increase beliefs in false information.”

The debunking handbook suggests a sort of fact-sandwich strategy that lends itself to a written debunk, say, on social media. You lead with a simple fact, nod to the myth, explain the problem with the myth, and close by restating facts. 

For example: “Turns out the last seven years have been the warmest on record. So when the weather turns cold and you hear, ‘It’s 30 degrees out today, there is no such thing as global warming,’ know that that’s ignoring the wider trend. Yes, we still have cold days. Overall, though, the world is warmer than ever, and the hot days are getting hotter.”

Six ideas for talking about climate change

Okay, maybe that fact-sandwich approach gets you a few likes on Facebook. And maybe you’re the type who can coolly rattle off some climate facts over crudites like it’s nothing. For the rest of us, it’s useful to have some guidance for in-person encounters. To that end:

1. Have a conversation, not a debate. Climate scientist Astrid Caldas, who speaks to all kinds of audiences, says in a video about combating misinformation, “It’s never a lecture. It’s a conversation.” If you try to “win” with the most facts or get emotional to the point of having a heated argument, both sides lose. 

2. Ask questions—and listen to the answers. One of the best ways to start a conversation, of course, is to ask a question. The organizational psychologist Adam Grant has suggested that motivational interviewing, a technique developed to treat addictions, can also get people to reconsider false notions. Even without trying to change someone’s mind, asking questions can give you a better sense of what their concerns are.

3. Find common ground. Caldas also recommends knowing your audience—that, along with asking questions, helps locate where you might agree. “Connecting with people is easier than people think,” she says. “There is always something that we have in common with somebody.” Maybe your dad thinks all this talk about ditching fossil fuels to save the planet is nonsense. But he might have an open ear to spending less on gasoline with a fuel-efficient car or lowering the monthly power bill by installing solar panels.

4. Talk about what they care about. Many studies on communication and behavior confirm the importance of appealing (or avoiding a challenge) to a person’s sense of identity. Research shows that people may respond best to peer pressure (do any of your dad’s buddies have EVs?) or messages that confirm their own world view. One study found Republicans were more likely to recycle in response to messaging about civic duty, as opposed to being green. When making your point, you don’t have to reference environmental groups and Democrats, which could undermine your message, depending on your audience. NASA has a ton of great facts on climate change. Or you can bring up how the military was still powering ahead with clean energy under Trump, because it’s strategically smart.

5. Focus on the positive. This goes back to the common ground idea. Rather than get bogged down in whether or not humans are causing climate change, can you agree that some aspects of the clean energy economy are really cool? There’s a reason Republican Texas is also the country’s top wind energy state. Human ingenuity has driven job-creating sources of homegrown, renewable energy. Heck, there are electric cars out that can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 3 seconds. Who cares that they don’t burn gasoline?

6. Know when to let go. Remember not to be what Grant calls a “logic bully” who is out to convert or defeat opponents. If you’re talking (civilly) about climate change at all, that’s a win—as climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has pointed out, conversations are “the only way revolutions ever started.” Not speaking out leads to a “spiral of silence,” the Debunking Handbook says, where a “mute majority cedes a narrative to a vocal but misinformed minority.” 

Denial comes in many forms. As it gets harder to ignore the pervasive reality of climate change, some saw plenty of climate change denial 2.0 at COP26. The hallmarks: downplaying the urgency of the crisis, dragging feet on action, or watering down commitments. Your cranky aunt certainly isn’t the only one facing this crisis with folded arms.

But it’s also worth noting that the number of Americans who say they are alarmed about climate change has increased 50% over the past five years, while the “dismissive” camp is shrinking. And solutions are out there. You might not be able to change anyone’s mind over a single meal, but you can stand up for facts and hope

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What’s hope got to do with it? Emotion’s role in acting on climate change

February 3, 2021

This article is from the February 3, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

Coronavirus, climate change, ongoing racial injustice. We humans are grappling with some heavy stuff (and that’s just naming a few).

But pair that list with what else we know: People are getting the vaccine. Climate solutions are here. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it is bending toward justice (to quote Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.). That doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, but hearing it makes the heavy stuff feel just a little lighter, right?

While the behavioral science research on the subject isn’t quite that simple, this exercise helps illustrate what the experts know: Words, stories, and images elicit emotions. And feelings like fear, despair, hope, awe, and pride all play a role in how we feel and think about problems—and whether or not we are inspired to act on them.

At Generation180, we’re focused on inspiring people to act on clean energy. To better understand how emotions play a role in motivating action, we interviewed social scientist Ezra Markowitz, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, to talk about his work on environmental decision-making and communication. Here is that interview, edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!

Dr. Ezra Markowitz
Dr. Markowitz is an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist and publicly engaged scholar interested in leveraging our understanding of human behavior to promote environmental sustainability and social well-being.

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Generation180: What does “environmental decision-making” mean? 

EM: In the broadest sense, it refers to pretty much any action people take, individually or collectively, that impacts natural and built systems. This includes everything from everyday household choices that affect energy and water consumption (think: choice of light bulb, length of showers), to transportation mode choice, civic engagement, and activism oriented towards environmental sustainability or societal challenges (think: protesting, boycotting, writing letters to policymakers).

Generation180: Why is it essential to elicit a range of emotions — sadness and anger but also pride and hope — in order to inspire action, when it comes to climate change?

EM: We can’t expect everyone to respond to a complex, multifaceted problem like climate change in the same way emotionally, or even for the same person to have just one set of never-changing emotions about climate change. We need to engage the full suite of human emotions when communicating about climate change, allowing individuals and communities to respond in the ways that are most productive and supportive of meaningful, positive action for them.

Thoughtful man sitting watching the sunset.
Probably contemplating a lifetime of “environmental decision-making”

Research also shows that individuals are willing to take action—even if it requires some level of effort or sacrifice—in response to an array of emotions, such as awe, pride and anger. Eliciting negative emotions can grab someone’s attention but to sustain it over time, as in the case of social movements for example, positive emotions such as hope and gratitude need to be elicited too.

Generation180: What are some of the most effective stories to tell about climate change if you want to motivate people to act?

EM: Effective stories are ones that find a way to meaningfully and honestly weave together what we know from climate science—including our best predictions of what the future could look like—with the narratives and experiences that already resonate with, and oftentimes come directly from, our audiences. It’s about working with your audience to identify what aspects of climate change can be integrated into their existing ways of understanding the world around them, and providing a new, yet relatable, lens through which to reassess what they know.

This means finding and working with the metaphors and idioms, widely shared cultural models, values, and interpretations of lived experiences that people already hold and use in their daily lives. For example, using the language of self-reliance and renewal to talk about clean energy technologies can help some people and communities see them as opportunities to be pursued rather than mandates being forced upon them by others for ideological reasons.

Generation180: Our mission is to equip and inspire people to take action on clean energy. We want to shift the conversation from one of helplessness and apathy to hope and action. Do you have advice on how we can achieve this, based on your research?

EM: Despite the deep political polarization that surrounds climate change and nearly every other major societal issue we face in the U.S., clean energy projects and policies are relatively free of the political baggage that has slowed large-scale action on climate change over the past two decades (e.g., putting a price on carbon). People across the US tend to view clean energy technologies very positively and, by-and-large, want the energy grid to move towards them aggressively.

Clean energy projects and policies are relatively free of the political baggage that has slowed large-scale action on climate change over the past two decades.

Now that many renewables and other clean energy technologies are at, or in some cases, are below price parity with fossil fuel sources (at least in most parts of the country), I think there will be even more enthusiasm for moving to expand capacity quickly over the coming decade.

That isn’t to say there won’t be challenges and roadblocks from vested interests; and, it’s also important that clean energy advocates take seriously concerns about how a transition away from fossil fuels will negatively impact certain groups and communities within the U.S. That’s not just for people who work directly in fossil fuel extraction and refinement. Think, for example, about all of the car repair shops and gas stations, many of which are small businesses owned by individuals or families, that will be forced to shift their business model as we move away from gasoline-burning vehicles. Integrating themes around improving public health, addressing existing and novel inequities, and making the energy system more reliable and resilient will be really important in maintaining and strengthening public support for the coming energy transition.

Generation180: Can you point to some specific examples, from your work or in the field, of effective communications efforts that yielded positive behavior change around climate?

A recent program from Inside the Greenhouse

EM: I think there is some great, innovative work going on these days in the climate communication arena, so I’ll just point to a couple. The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s How We Respond project brings together a diverse set of case studies and resources that are practically useful and inspiring, in part because they leverage local, relatable stories. Inside the Greenhouse, based out of the University of Colorado Boulder, is another group that I think does creative, evidence-informed climate communication work. The Center for Climate Change Communication out of George Mason University has done really exciting and innovative work helping TV weathercasters and journalists integrate climate change into their on-air segments. And of course there is a new generation of activists who are doing critical work to build a true social movement around climate change.

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Ezra also makes a compelling case for pairing crisis narratives with solutions in a recent Washington Post oped co-authored with writer Lucia Graves: “Being bombarded with threatening information only produces positive outcomes when people are also given practical, meaningful ways to reduce the highlighted threat… Even when the path forward is difficult, solutions-oriented narratives and imagery offer a positive vision that can promote greater issue engagement, efficacy and large-scale public action,” he says.