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Thanksgiving joy with a side of climate stewardship

November 17, 2022

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, your aunt Patty’s sweet potato casserole with the little marshmallows baked in. It’s a time to express gratitude, to be with our friends and family–and a chance for reflection on what the day may signify for Native Americans and celebrate Native American heritage.

At Generation180, Thanksgiving means thinking about our relationship with the Earth and our climate impact. Thanksgiving involves meat consumption and extra travel, which definitely produce extra CO2 emissions this time of year. But taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint on Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean self-deprivation or riding your bike to visit relatives two states away. 

The holiday can be an opportunity to try out new, more climate-friendly ways to celebrate—that actually add up to make an impact without taking away from the meaning of the holiday.

Pile on the delicious veggie sides

Lowering meat consumption is one of the most high-impact steps individuals can take for the climate. Fortunately, vegan turkey alternatives have come a long way—and some have made the switch to a meatless roast or Tofurkey as the centerpiece of a delicious, planet-friendly feast.

Comic credit: Mark Parisi

If replacing a traditional turkey is non-negotiable, consider purchasing an organic, sustainably-raised bird from a local co-op or market. You also might swap out meat- and dairy-heavy sides with plant-based alternatives.  For example, instead of pork stuffing, give locally-sourced vegetable stuffing a try. 

A big impediment to eating a more plant-based diet is not knowing which dishes to make, and not thinking they’ll taste quite as good. If you know your plant-based side recipe is a winner, it could be a great way to introduce your family and friends to new veggie options. 

Raising farm animals in the US sucks up around half of the freshwater supply. A single pound of beef can require up to 8,000 gallons of water before it gets to your plate, while a pound of tofu needs just 302. Lower demand for meat, especially beef and pork, would mean more precious water to go around, and a healthier environment overall.

It’s up to each individual to decide what they’re comfortable with. Moving on from turkey will make the biggest CO2 impact, but reducing meat and dairy based products will have an effect, too.

Moving people and turkeys around emits a lot of carbon

During last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, nearly 48 million people took to the roads. The ideal way to minimize your footprint consists of two parts—enjoying your meal close to home, and sourcing ingredients locally.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Buying from local vendors has a multitude of benefits, including higher nutrient levels,  supporting the local economy, and of course, fewer emissions. It’s impractical to try to source every ingredient from within a few miles of your home, but doing so as much as possible should be the goal. Whether it’s crab cakes from the local market in Maryland, or farm-to-table cranberry and strawberry sauce in California, take advantage of ingredients native to your neck of the woods.

On the travel side, commuting via an electric vehicle powered by renewably-sourced electricity is the gold standard. EVs are increasing their ranges every year, and charging stations continue to proliferate.

Showing up to your meal in an EV could prompt conversation among family and friends. Take the opportunity to extoll the virtues of EVs—not only are they better for the climate, but they are just better technology and tend to require less maintenance, and many states have tax breaks for new EV purchases.

Ultimately, the less transportation required to move you and your food around, the better.

Sustainable agriculture is making big strides

Emissions associated with growing food, and the deforestation that comes with it, account for a quarter of the global carbon footprint. In order to meet Paris 2050 targets, we’ll have to cut that number by 75%.

Yet other sectors, like transportation and energy generation, have historically gotten much more attention from policymakers and entrepreneurs.

The Biden administration is changing that narrative. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is about to dole out $1 billion in grants for “climate-smart agriculture” projects, and billions more in funding is in the queue. The investment represents an olive branch to farmers, who are often skeptical that directives from the top won’t hurt them in the interest of helping the environment.

Known technologies, such as rotational grazing and cover crops, should see increased adoption from this massive investment. The funding should also move new technologies, like carbon capture in soil and high-tech irrigation, further ahead.

Agrivoltaics are showing promise in improving crop yields in the face of drought and other changes in climate. Promising research has shown that growing tomatoes under solar panels can increase yields and protect farmers against weather challenges.

But growing food is only one piece of agricultural emissions—there’s also the problem of moving it all around. Transportation sucks up 14% of total energy used for food production.

Reducing food waste is probably the simplest way to reduce those emissions. You can get started by bringing extra food from your big meal to a local shelter, making full use of your veggies (homemade vegetable stock or carrot top pesto, anyone?), turning leftovers into sandwiches, and composting your waste. 

 

Photo credit: Delish

Have a great meal and reduce your footprint

If you haven’t been to your local farmer’s market before, perusing the stalls before Thanksgiving could lead you to discover ingredients you never knew were grown locally. A new plant-based side dish could be a hit with your guests, and become a staple of your meal going forward.

Even small tweaks, such as buying local ingredients, including more plant-based dishes, and reducing food waste can make a big dent in CO2 emissions related to the holiday.

So, be sure to enjoy the holiday, and don’t forget the opportunity to normalize talking about climate and clean energy.

 

Blog

Why Art Matters

November 2, 2022

Ultimately, our laws and policies change because the hearts and minds of people change. One way in which we can bridge the gap between scientific facts about climate change and the emotions necessary to inspire action is art.

The art of Nicole Kelner has attracted attention both in and outside the climate and scientific community. Learn more about her work and the role art has to play in the climate movement in this Q&A.

Generation180: Tell us about your background as an artist.

Nicole: I have not always been an artist, but I grew up loving art. I took AP art and took a college level class in high school that I had to drive all the way to Philadelphia for. I didn’t pursue any art classes formally after high school, but creativity has always been a part of my work.

Generation180: Can you walk us a bit through your background in the climate space and your shift into art full-time?

Nicole: I co-founded an after school program teaching kids how to code and sold that in 2019. After completing a zero-waste challenge in 2019, I had a wake-up call. I did a lot of research in order to live a zero-waste lifestyle for that long in a city and decided that I wanted to devote the rest of my career to working in climate. I didn’t know what that would look like, especially since I didn’t have a formal climate-related degree. I was overwhelmed thinking about how I could make a difference on climate as one person, but I eventually found my place.

I started by leveraging my operations background and worked with both Climate Finance Solutions and Dashboard Earth. During the pandemic, like everyone looking for ways to stay positive, I started painting for fun. I challenged myself to paint a watercolor a day for 100 days and began painting a lot of pieces about climate.

My art quickly gained a lot of attention. I quit my job in April and now make art about climate change full-time. I used to just be a member of My Climate Journey, but now I’ve come full circle and am thrilled to be part of their team as their artist-in-residence.

Generation180: You’ve gone viral on Twitter on multiple occasions. Tell us more about how you share your work with others.

Nicole: Primarily Twitter! It’s a great space both for finding inspiration, networking, and sharing my work with others. I also share my work on Instagram and LinkedIn, and offer climate art workshops.

I’m wrapping up my first book, A Brighter Future: Illustrating Climate Change and Solutions, that’s available for pre-order. 

Generation180: Do you have a favorite piece? Explain why.

Nicole: That’s a hard one. In August, I made a piece when the IRA passed that’s still being circulated widely.

It was one of the first pieces that I feel like I made unique content that is useful, actually helps people understand a wonky climate policy, and was fully formed in my brain alone. This piece really showed me that art can make a complex climate topics (read: 300 pages of policy jargon) accessible to everyday people. I’ve even made additional local and state versions, too. 

Generation180: Are there any recent projects that you’re excited about?

Nicole: I just finished a piece for The Guardian and got to work with an investigative journalist which was new for me. I also loved my latest work for RMI and UndauntedK12

Generation180: Who are your favorite artists and which influencers are you following?

Nicole: There are so many—lots of climate scientists and illustrators. I love Pique Action, Ed Hawkins—he inspired my climate stripes piece, creators like Alaina Wood, and illustrators like Mari Andrews.

Generation180: Do you have any advice for artists looking to engage more in the climate movement?

Nicole: We need more of you! Finding any way of taking your own superpower and turning it into climate action is my general advice for anyone, and it can be applied to artists.

“Finding any way of taking your own superpower and turning it into climate action is my general advice for anyone.”

Just get started! Do a side project in climate just to begin to dabble in it, like a musician could do one song in their next album about climate.

Generation180: What gives you hope about our clean energy future?

Nicole: Honestly, all of the investment going into it. By working with MCJ, I get to hear about the companies in our portfolio and learn about the inspiring, innovative technology being created to advance climate solutions. Then, I get hired by them to illustrate their mission. 

I am constantly in the hope mindset and I keep my art focused on hope (with a little dose of we need to do heavy lifting). But it’s essential for us to have hope to be able to get the work done. 

“It’s essential for us to have hope to be able to get the work done.”

Want more? Check out Nicole’s print shop here, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Five costumes that make Halloween (and our clean energy future) less spooky

October 26, 2022

Halloween is upon us. This spine-tingling night of goblins and ghouls also comes with something even more frightening: environmental costs. Luckily, we have some suggestions on how to make this holiday better for you and the planet, starting with your costume.

First and foremost, when prepping your fright ‘fit, try to leverage existing clothes and accessories you already have. Halloween costumes are a major contributor to the 12 million pounds of textile waste generated per year in the U.S.—eighty-five percent of costumes end up haunting landfills for decades, and you don’t want to add to that problem. By thrifting, using what you have, and getting creative, you can still find a way to compose a costume that impresses/engages/inspires fellow partygoers with a subtle environmental message.

1. Heat Pump

Show your support for heat pumps and dress as one—drawing inspiration from Rewiring America’s Sam Calisch, who converted a cardboard box into a heat-pump replica. With some white construction paper and a creative hand, you, too, can show your support for expanded investment in heat pumps that will enable Americans across the country to be the beneficiaries of accessible clean energy technology.

Credit: Rewiring America

2. Solar Installer or EV Technician

Credit: Tom Daly Photography; Our local Charlottesville, VA friends at SunTribe Solar

Are you a ten-minutes-before-the-party type planner? We’ve got the perfect two-minute costume for you. Instead of popping on a flannel and calling yourself a lumberjack, toss on a plain white t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a hard hat. Bonus points if you can add some safety goggles or can carry along some power tools.

If you’re not waiting ‘til the last minute, let your local solar installer know your costume plan, and they might be willing to send you a t-shirt to complete your look.

3. Landfill/recycling/compost bin

Not only is the waste from pumpkins on Halloween, but so is the sheer amount of food waste produced in the US annually. Roughly 40% of all generated food ends up in a landfill. 

You can draw attention to this issue with a creative landfill costume. Start by composing an all-black outfit. Then, attach pieces of crumpled paper, wrappers, apple cores, and other miscellaneous items that all end up in the trash. Go a step further and carry around a small plastic bin to point out what’s recyclable and compostable at the party.

Adorable “Mr. Recycling!” credit: Costume Works

4. Solar Panel

For this quintessential clean energy costume, simply break down a cardboard box, color or paint it black, and add smaller rectangles of aluminum foil on top. Boom—you have a solar array. It doesn’t get more classic than this!

Looking for a couples costume? Get your friend or partner to dress up as the sun, and you can walk around your Halloween party telling everyone how much money they could save by switching to solar. 

Credit: Ellensburg Solar

5. Greenwashing

With more Americans becoming concerned about climate change, companies are stepping up to act on climate, or at least appear to, in order to attract and retain customers. Unfortunately, many businesses make lofty public commitments to the environment and make false claims that present their products as environmentally-friendly, while actually doing very little to meet those goals.

Call out corporate greenwashing with a monochrome outfit. Dress in green from head to toe, maybe paint your face green, and carry around a can of green paint and a paintbrush. Attach labels to yourself that say things like, “Eco-friendly” “Sustainable,” or “Made from 3% recycled materials.”

More from the box of tricks

Want to level-up your green Halloween? Opt for candy in paper or aluminum packaging instead of plastic, like Hershey’s Kisses and Junior Mints. Skip the plastic decorations like fake spider webs and toys—stick to the classic carved pumpkin, which can go in the aforementioned compost bin. 

If you’re already being spooked by winter energy bills, take a look at these tips from Energy.gov to weatherize and make your home as winter-ready as possible to reduce your heating costs.

These didn’t make the cut for our top five, but we still wanted to share these runners-up costume ideas:

  • “I just voted” sticker – encourage people to vote for clean energy leaders.
  • Captain Planet – no explanation needed.
  • Mother Earth – either dress up as the earth or carry around a small globe all night.
  • Great Pacific Garbage Patch – similar to the landfill idea, get a (biodegradable) garbage bag and tape plastic trash to it – bonus points if the bag is a darker color which could also symbolize an oil disaster from risky offshore drilling.

Have a happy (clean) Halloween!

Blog

A comedian and a scientist walk into a bar…

August 31, 2022

Have you ever laughed at a moment when you shouldn’t be laughing — seeing someone trip, a work presentation, or Zoom meeting?

Laughing at a problem can help make a problem seem less intimidating, and even more approachable. Getting people to hear and talk and think more about climate is one of the necessary steps to making lifestyle and systemic changes possible; humor is a perfect way to initiate the climate conversation.

So, when we invite comedians to help us look at the climate crisis using humor, what’s possible? Together with our partners at American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact, we developed the Climate Comedy Cohort to find out.

Enter: The Climate Comedy Cohort

↑ Click to play! ↑

The Cohort is an unprecedented network of comedians who are coming together to learn, create new comedy informed by the hottest climate science, and take their work on the road in a series of live shows and short-form video content. All of this is designed to inspire daily, meaningful choices each one of us can make to support the planet.

Co-created and directed by Generation180 and the Center for Media & Social Impact’s GoodLaugh initiative, the Climate Comedy Cohort brings together comedians from around the country to flip the script on the way we think about climate change. The ultimate aim: to leverage humor as a strategy to change the climate narrative from doom and gloom to “we’ve got this!”—and shift how people see their role in clean energy.

The diverse group of CCC fellows—selected from a pool of 118 applicants from 10 states and three countries—all seek to amplify climate change solutions or refocus on environmental issues in their creative work. From the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, BET, and Comedy Central, to YouTube and TikTok, these comedians are some of the best. To learn more about each of the fellows, visit the cohort website.

The Climate Comedy Cohort is creatively led by a group of comedy writers, performers, and producers who have been all over television, popular podcasts, comedy clubs and festivals, and more. The comedy team has been in places like The Tonight Show, TruTv, VICELAND, Comedy Central, Spotify Original Podcast, Bonnaroo.

Earlier this summer, our nine comedian fellows learned from climate and clean energy experts, from Niklas Hagelberg from the United Nations, clean energy journalist David Roberts, activist Layel Camargo, and more) to help inform new, funny content and shift the climate conversation to make science more accessible.

The cohort during our Think Tank session with cultural strategist, artist, and founder of Shelterwood Collective, Layel Camargo.

The cohort concludes with a live comedy show tour (with a celebrity headliner) in Los Angeles, Mason City, IL, and Atlanta, October 2022. (Psst—near any of these cities? Sign up here for updates on when tickets go live!)

The cohort also involved a pitch competition. After much deliberation, we are thrilled to be awarding the Tree Huggers $20,000 towards making their idea, a comedy tour powered by electric vehicles, a reality. 

So, why comedy?

With a daily bombardment of doomsday headlines, it can be easy to feel stuck about the climate crisis. In fact, this type of global catastrophe narrative is counterproductive—it can actually feel paralyzing, resulting in no action taken at all.

70% percent of U.S. adults want to take action on climate change, but don’t know where to start. Studies show that narratives that rely heavily on scientific language and facts have failed to engage large audiences, and that gloomy interpretations actually prevent action. As more communities across the U.S. experience first-hand the extreme effects of the climate crisis, we need creative approaches to empower everyone to feel that their personal action makes an impact. Bringing humor into the conversation is exactly what we need right now to help shift hearts and minds. Comedy has a unique opportunity to play a role it has not yet played in the climate crisis: for hope and optimism and positive engagement, not scary messages.

Humor isn’t simply a way to temporarily distract us from reality. It has the power to effectively connect people, information, ideas, and new ways of thinking/acting—that’s why we stepped in. 

And you can, too.

Interested in more climate humor? Sign up for a weekly dose of climate humor in your inbox.

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The top five clean energy playlists and podcasts for your summer road trip

August 3, 2022

It’s August. We’re in the dog days of summer. This is the month Europeans take their vacations, so why not embrace that energy while you finally take that long road trip you’ve been putting off (because flight cancellations, snafus, and delays are very real). Keep your eyes on the road and head brimming full of clean energy and climate grooves (and ideas) by cueing up our curated list of climate podcasts and playlists. 

Playlists

  1. Outdoor Party Jams
  2. Clean Energy Vibes
  3. Canary Media’s Energy & Climate Compilation
  4. Cathedral Grooves Part 1 
  5. Summer 2022

Podcasts

How to save a planet Podcast Art

How to Save a Planet – Climate change. We know. It can feel too overwhelming. But what if there was a show about climate change that left you feeling… energized? One so filled with possibility that you actually wanted to listen? We love tuning in with journalist Alex Blumberg and a crew of climate nerds, as they deliver smart, inspiring stories about the mess we’re in and how we can get ourselves out of it.

Volts Podcast Art

Volts – It’s time to leave fossil fuels behind and Volts makes the case for doing so. Host David Roberts has been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and loves talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world’s most important fight for a clean energy future. 

Drilled podcast art

Drilled – Are you a true-crime junkie? Have you never missed an episode of Serial? Then here’s the podcast for you. Drilled is the perfect marriage of true-crime and climate, hosted and reported by award-winning investigative journalist Amy Westervelt.

Global Weirding Art

Global Weirding with Katherine Hayhoe – In this series, the hosts tackle climate issues head on. Why do scientists say that humans are causing climate change, while many politicians say exactly the opposite? Does fixing climate mean we have to shut down the economy? Why are the Pope and the National Association of Evangelicals piling on? Why do climate scientists get so much hate mail? Money and politics, God and global warming, every topic we avoid in polite conversation… they go there!

Broken Ground Podcast Art

Broken Ground – Just around the corner from Gen180’s HQ in Charlottesville, Virginia is our neighbor, the Southern Environmental Law Center. Their podcast digs up environmental stories across the American South. The latest season, out now, focuses on the grassroots organizing that led to the cancellation of the Byhalia Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline project that would have continued an unjust pattern of dumping disproportionate amounts of polluting infrastructure in South Memphis.

Bonus recommendation!

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning our favorite climate podcast (okay fine, we might be just a tad biased). 

ComediansConquering Climate Change Podcast Art

Comedians Conquering Climate Change – The funniest, friendliest, and shortest podcast addressing today’s critical climate and clean energy topics. Laugh along with comedian, writer, and teacher Esteban Gast as he enlists the help of fellow comedians to single-handedly save the planet.

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The Climate Culture Shift

April 6, 2022

If you watched the recent Netflix release Don’t Look Up, it probably got you thinking about climate change and how we’ve been relating to it—and that’s the point. The movie is the latest example of cultural strategy at work for positive social change. 

What’s cultural strategy, you ask? Here’s one definition: “Cultural strategy is a field of practice that centers artists, storytellers, media makers and cultural influencers as agents of social change.”

This idea is why organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council are turning to Hollywood to bring real storytelling into the issue of climate change beyond apocalyptic scenarios. NRDC is doing this, its Director of Content Partnerships told Variety, because Hollywood “has tremendous power to change culture norms.” The goal: To make climate not just a plot point but a part of the conversation in daily life.

Looking up

It’s not just Hollywood, though. This awakening has been playing out in many aspects of culture in recent years. Songs like “Feels Like Summer” by Childish Gambino and several others refer to the current crisis. Climate activist Greta Thunberg has become an inspiration and a provocateur to many, sparking conversations on social media. And Pope Francis in 2015 dedicated the first encyclical to the environment.

But not everything in the push for climate awareness has to be hyperconscious and gloomy. Humor and casual conversations can be incredibly effective communication tools. Witness the hilarious “Electric for All” campaign from the nonprofit group Veloz that features Arnold Schwarzenegger going undercover as a gasoline-loving car salesman, his pitch going over like a lead balloon with unsuspecting customers. A video on YouTube with nearly a million views illustrates the scale of renewable energy with a series of bike stunts on wind turbines. Content like this can be our best shot at action, because the more people talk about climate change (and talk about it in a helpful way) the better chance we have to inspire action.

Comedians are getting in on this, too: Check out our own Comedians Conquering Climate Change podcast and look out for comedy events from groups like the Dogwood Alliance  — There’s Nothing Funny About Climate Change Comedy Tour — and Inside the Greenhouse.

Already, the number of people who deny or doubt the fact of climate change in Yale University surveys continues to go down, while a growing number of us are feeling alarmed. And online, people are seeing and talking about climate-related issues significantly more in recent years. Last fall’s COP26 conference saw 20 times more coverage than the previous summit, according to media monitoring platform NewsWhip. In 2019, NewsWhip has also noted, more articles were written about climate-related issues than any other year, and engagement with those articles on social media dwarfed previous years. 

These are signs of shifting norms, and cultural strategy can help accelerate this shift. It’s happened before. Dozens of events over the past few decades, from Ellen DeGeneres coming out and having her own wildly popular talk show to Macklemore’s hit “Same Love” have resulted in strides for marriage equality, as noted in the cultural strategy guide Making Waves. Public opinion favoring legal gay marriage went from 27% in 1996 to 53% in 2013, when the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down

Another example: Logic’s song about suicidal thoughts, “1-800-273-8255,” released in 2017, may have saved hundreds of lives, according to a study released in 2021. How? More people called the number in the song’s title, which is the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Amplify the shift

We need a shift to transform mounting cultural awareness about the climate crisis into solutions. And we still need to work on the awareness part, especially in schools: Research shows climate change education in many middle schools and high schools is severely lacking.

“We as a society can only fully address climate change when it is reflected in our deepest values about who we are and how we should live,” writes Andrew Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at Michigan University.

All of us have the opportunity to reevaluate what we value most and seek new ways to align with that—not just with words but actions. We can make changes at home, certainly, to quit fossil fuels and reduce waste. We can also support a clean energy transition driven by people power. We can be clean energy voters who also ask for change from our leaders, business, and schools.

On our own, we can also share lighthearted and thought-provoking cultural moments that reflect both awareness and hope, whether it’s a funny video, an interesting podcast, or some striking “activism.” We at Generation180 lean on storytelling with long-form illustrations, videos, and cartoons to make energy issues more accessible. Many examples of cultural strategy have an important side benefit: They transcend barriers like language and economic status.

“Imagine if, instead of PDFs and newspaper-long reads, we shared the latest science through comic books, short stories, or virtual games,” writes climate justice activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan.  “Making climate activism accessible is about making sure that everyone can understand it.”

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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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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

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

Blog

How Comedy Can Conquer Climate Change

November 3, 2021

As another international climate conference gets underway, it’s understandable to feel just a wee bit exhausted. Almost daily we’re bombarded by a litany of climate horrors, from wildfires in our backyards to wearying news of floods, heatwaves, and melting glaciers around the world. With all this gloom and doom, it’s no surprise that the media is reporting rising incidence of climate anxiety and eco-guilt about everything from flying in planes to having kids. All this bad news is affecting our mental well-being, contributing to existential dread and depression, particularly among young people. This psychic numbing isn’t just unhelpful, it can actually lead to paralysis in our efforts to address the climate crisis.

Fortunately, bombarding readers with mind-boggling data and the urgency of taking action aren’t the only tools in our toolbox. And they likely aren’t the best way to engage the mainstream. Studies show that narratives that rely heavily on “scientific ways of knowing” have failed to significantly engage and activate large audiences, and that gloomy interpretations actually stifle audiences rather than inspiring action. With this in mind, climate communicators have sought to adopt “smartening up” approaches that can more effectively bring people together around a divisive topic like climate change.

Enter: climate comedy

At the heart of these “new” approaches is comedy, which is actually a time-honored medium for getting people to pay attention to an issue. Humor isn’t simply a way to temporarily distract us from reality. It has wide-ranging psychological and behavioral benefits, by “bringing some light to the darkness.”

[Humor] has wide-ranging psychological and behavioral benefits, by “bringing some light to the darkness

A quick scan of the late-night comedy circuit reveals that climate change has become a hot topic, with everyone from Trevor Noah of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” to Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” seizing the opportunity to use humor to increase understanding and engagement. In 2017, former Vice President Al Gore and late-night host Steven Colbert traded dueling climate change pickup lines on “The Late Show” (Colbert: “Is that an iceberg the size of Delaware breaking off the Antarctic ice shelf, or are you just happy to see me?”). Other notable venues that have integrated climate jokes into their routines include “Saturday Night Live,” “Last Week Tonight,” “Full Frontal,” and Sarah Silverman, as well as stage shows in Los Angeles, New York City, and Austin

Researchers, too, have sought to capitalize on the value of comedy as a form of creative climate communications. Maxwell Boykoff and Beth Osnes at the University of Colorado have done several studies on this, while also collaborating to get out humorous messages about climate change through the university’s Inside the Greenhouse projects (including “Stand Up for Climate Change,” where students write sketch comedy routines and perform them in front of live audiences). They’ve found that humor serves as an effective communications pathway for both the performers and the audience.

The genius of comedy

Comedy can influence the way we feel about (and act on) climate change. Here are a few of its advantages:

  • Tapping into emotion. Comedy (as well as storytelling, art, and other media) fundamentally engages people by tapping into their emotions, including feelings like fear, despair, hope, awe, and pride. All of these play a role in how we feel and think about problems—and whether or not we’re inspired to act on them. In a recent interview with Generation180, social scientist Ezra Markowitz noted that, “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.” Studies have shown that greater emotional engagement, such as through humor, is associated with more change in habits.

We need to engage the full suite of human emotions when communicating about climate change

  • Meeting folks “where they’re at.” Comedy also has the advantage of being a key element of popular culture, with comedians entering our psyches through everything from late-night television to hit podcasts and social media memes. Through comedy, it’s possible to bring climate stories to the masses, meeting people within their daily entertainment routines and challenging them to take on new information. As Markovitz explains, “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.”
  • Finding common ground. Humor is also a way to break down barriers and divisions among people and find common ground. That’s why cartoons and comics are considered a universal art form, transcending language and cultural barriers through their simple graphics and straightforward messaging (often with a twist). Comedy doesn’t simply lower people’s defenses, it “temporarily suspends social rules and connects people with ideas and new ways of thinking or acting.” As Boykoff points out: “Comedy exploits cracks in arguments. It wiggles in, pokes, prods and draws attention to the incongruous, hypocritical, false and pretentious.” In doing so, it can make complex issues like climate change seem more accessible and manageable.
  • Sparking reflection and evolving the conversation. Sometimes comedy can be disarming, exposing uncomfortable truths while also presenting the facts, all with a veneer of humor. In doing so, it encourages thought, reflection, and conversation about an issue that people may not otherwise engage on. In a 2018 study, Boykoff and Osnes analyzed a series of stand-up comedy shows focused on climate change, tracking how audiences responded over a three-year period. They found that climate comedy not only helps to raise awareness of climate change, but also brings an emotional element to the conversation, spurring both knowledge formation and problem solving. “Comedic approaches can influence how meanings course through the veins of our social body, shaping our coping and survival practices in contemporary life,” the researchers conclude.
  • Replacing despair with hope. The light-heartedness of comedy can also bring people to their “happy place,” giving them a sense of hope (and inspiration) despite the heaviness of the world. As psychologist Susan M. Koger has noted, “if there’s no hope, then there’s no reason to take action.” In a 2019 study, Boykoff and Osnes explored how “good-natured comedy” (as opposed to satire) helps people “positively process negative emotions regarding global warming” and “sustain hope.” The researchers found that after students participated in a number of comedy workshops related to climate change, 90 percent of the participants said they felt more hopeful about climate change, and 83 percent said they felt their commitment to taking action on the issue was stronger. 

If there’s no hope, then there’s no reason to take action

Overall, these findings suggest that comedy provides a way for participants to “process emotions that allow joy, fun, and hope to sustain their commitment to grow as climate communicators.” Moreover, the students reported that “flipping the script” on climate change—from doom and gloom to comedy—could also help others feel more empowered to take action. Ultimately, the goal of climate comedy (and similar creative communications) should be to “pair crisis narratives with solutions,” particularly by offering practical, meaningful pathways to action. As writer Nina Pullano concluded in a recent article: “Comedy won’t fix the climate crisis, to be sure. But in these trying times, it might be a key ingredient in helping us cope with the challenges—and respond to them.”

What to do…what to do…

Quick poll: even though the data seems to show its potential, does anyone think that humor has been leveraged enough in climate communications to date? We certainly don’t think so, and we’re ready to do something about it. Generation180 is thrilled to announce our brand-new podcast, Comedians Conquering Climate Change. It’s the funniest, most accessible, and shortest podcast addressing today’s critical climate and clean energy topics. Each week join comedian, writer, and teacher Esteban Gast as he enlists the help of fellow comedians to single-handedly save the planet.

Listen to our first episode below and subscribe on all of your favorite podcast services.

Blog

Why the energy transition needs the arts

July 21, 2021

We sometimes assume that the more people learn about climate change, the more they’ll turn their concern into concrete action, like switching to an electric vehicle or putting solar panels on their house. But it’s not that simple. Just because we know something, or have a solid scientific understanding of it, doesn’t mean we’re going to do something about it.

In most cases, we first need to go through an inner shift—changing our mindset and/or our personal values—before we (individually or collectively) actually change our behavior. There’s another important way to help shift people’s thinking and spark change that is often overlooked: the arts.

It might sound cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to the saying, “change the culture, change the world.” The arts—from songs and TV shows to visual arts and storytelling—play a crucial role in shaping our consciousness, and artists have long been agents of social change (helping to spur everything from the end of Communism in Eastern Europe to the mainstreaming of LGBTQ culture). On the clean energy front, concepts like the “energy transition” can be abstract, technical, or downright un-inspiring. But as one author put it, the arts can be the “open sesame” to animated discussions and deep questioning, pushing us to engage our emotions and provoking curiosity or outrage.

The power of ideas

Through music, art, books, and other forms of cultural expression, we can introduce ideas, expand our imaginations, and change the broader narrative to support positive social change. As artist Favianna Rodriguez has observed, art is “where people can imagine what change looks and feels like.” Art also inspires action: the most popular artists have the ability to motivate masses of people through their fan bases. In the case of clean energy, engaging the arts and culture can normalize or celebrate actions like installing solar or driving an EV (think about all the Superbowl ads this year that aimed to do exactly that).

Art is “where people can imagine what change looks and feels like.”

Some argue that, for social change movements to be successful, they need to have a strong arts and culture component, or a “cultural strategy.” In other words, the only way we’re going to change politics is by changing the culture (often behind the scenes and over time). Journalist and music critic Jeff Chang has likened political change to a wave: the peak of the wave is the visible, high-profile event or policy win, but in order to reach this peak, many divergent (and often less visible) forces must come together beforehand, gradually building power. Artists and other agents of cultural change help create the conditions that lead to these peaks, shifting and framing public sentiment through a process Rodriguez describes as “rain readying the crops.”

Visions of a better future

Artists are powerful agents of change because they have the flexibility and imagination to push boundaries and give us a sense of what’s possible. They aren’t confined to the world as it is, to existing political frameworks and systems, but can point to the possibilities for a better future. “[W]ithout the inspiration and visions artists provide, we won’t be able to give birth to the life affirming and just civilization we aspire to,” notes the Bioneers website. Because artists work in the idea space (and not just the action space), they’re able to present more complex messages and to “deal with contradictions and gray areas.” Art enables us to imagine desired futures (such as a world running on clean energy) and opens up a positive way of seeing things. It helps us focus on “what we want” and how to get there.

Humor as strategy

Comedy can be a particularly effective means of bringing attention to issues in a non-threatening way. Author Srjda Popovic notes how the use of humor was key to engaging young people in the overthrow of Serbia’s dictatorship in the 1990s, as activists encouraged youth to participate in low-risk performance art that helped alleviate fear while providing a sense of comic relief.

Comedy can be a particularly effective means of bringing attention to issues in a non-threatening way.

In Japan, manga (a term that refers to all kinds of cartooning, comics, and animation) has been used widely to facilitate public discussion of topics from sexuality to climate change. Comics are a powerful medium because they can be a flexible and humorous way to communicate information and develop awareness and empathy. Research has shown that using comics as an educational tool results in two key experiences that can lead to inner transformation: 1) “Aha” moments (or sudden insights into connections between facts, phenomena, problems, and solutions) and 2) laughter, which is often a sign of emerging creativity and insights.

Moving forward

So what does all this mean for the clean energy movement? It means we need to pay closer attention to how art shapes politics, and to think about how to build up a cultural strategy alongside a political one. It means making clean energy come alive through humor and art. It means joining forces to “make waves of political change,” especially in light of the overall decline in support for the arts. It means giving artists the space, time, and resources they require to be creative. And it means hiring artists (and not just policy experts and organizers) to work for social change organizations. As Rodriguez notes, we need to “build the infrastructure and networks needed to help socially engaged artists thrive…while they’re young and excited to shape the world around them.”

Want to see some recent creative projects of ours? Check out these fun videos, this long-form comic, and this children’s book.