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Messaging, misinformation, and more.
Hey, y’all, happy new year!
I used my break from work to catch up on the much-requested podcast transcripts. As you know, I (and my indefatigable helper Sarah) spend way too much time on these things, ensuring that they are readable. The good news is, I’m almost caught up.
Here are the new ones, with a few juicy quotes to persuade you to click through and read (or, if you prefer, listen). Tons of good stuff this round.
So what we find is that climate change itself has become this frozen phrase which is unhelpfully meaningless, instead of talking about what actually matters to people, which is air you can breathe, water you can drink, and a statement that at least implies causation, like “damage to the climate.”
One of the other messaging mistakes I point out frequently is that we like to sell the recipe instead of the brownie. We like to have our policies be our message, and that is a very bad idea. People like paid family leave, don't mistake me, but you know what they like even better? When we say, “you're there the first time your newborn smiles.” They like clean energy, but you know what they like even better? “You can feel great about the water you drink and the air you breathe.” We have to sell things in terms of the payoff, in language that gets at the lived experience of being inside that better policy.
What the right does so incredibly well is avail themselves of one of arguably the most persuasive things that anyone has in their arsenal, which is social proof. So it looks to the average person who is not paying attention to political details when they turn on their local news and see a bunch of parents yelling and screaming at a school board: “Huh, I guess people who look like me, who have kids that are like mine, think this way.” When in point of fact, both in our polling and in all of the publicly released polling, 80 percent, 83 percent, 85 percent of parents (it depends which poll), when you ask them, want kids to be taught the truth, the good and bad of history. They don't want books censored. They don't support these things. It is not a popular position.
But the right doesn’t care what is popular. They understand that the job of the message is to keep their base engaged and enraged.
The modern PR industry comes about when you have journalists criticizing America's captains of industry for the first time, you have the vote expanding beyond just land-owning white men; this is the late 1800s and early 1900s, the dawn of the 20th century. The US government passes its very first regulation on business in 1887. So there are all these reasons that industry across the board is saying, “Oh, wow, we really need a way to get a handle on this thing that's getting away from us.” I call it “creeping democracy.”
In the case of smoking, American Tobacco came to [Edward Bernays] with a similar kind of gender taboo: it was considered uncouth for women to smoke. So he had this idea to call up some of his friends’ young socialite daughters and have them stage a protest, walking up and down Fifth Avenue smoking, and say that it was a women's empowerment thing. Then he called all of the newspapers and told them about the protest, and they all covered it. It was in all the national papers. He called cigarettes “torches of freedom.”
He also really tapped into Freudian stuff about women and penis envy and etc. He was quite a dude. Within six months or so, this taboo had been totally broken down and the tobacco industry had doubled its customer base.
I wish that people would get beyond science denial being the only thing that the fossil fuel industry pushes. In being so focused on that, I feel like they're missing, and actually perpetuating, all these other frames that also come from the fossil fuel industry. They think if it's not science denial, it's not a talking point.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finally shone a bright light on methane; you saw the CO2 bar next to the methane bar and clearly, methane was causing a substantial amount of the warming, about half as much as CO2. Subsequently, the attention is growing, as it should, and as it has been for years, but finally, we're really reaching a crescendo here.
The leakage of potent methane substantially erodes the climate benefit of gas over coal, and depending on where that gas is produced, how far it's transported, and how it’s transported, the upstream emissions can vary widely. All of that needs to be factored in.
But I think comparison to coal is letting us off too easy. It's not the ambitious benchmark that we need, which is near-zero methane emissions.
We have the technology today. In fact, the International Energy Agency says that half of the [methane] emissions could be cut from oil and gas at no cost, and 75 percent could be done at low cost with existing technologies. So there's a lot of potential here.
The primary function is to accelerate the transition from carbon to clean, and do it in a way that helps low-income households and creates a lot of jobs and lowers instead of increases prices to the consumer. That’s the mission, and the mission would be pursued primarily through the network of state and local green banks, because most of the solutions would have to be local. Not all, but most.
If you were an investor, you'd be better off investing in Microsoft or JP Morgan, but the goal, in the aggregate, is to have all the investments be positive. And in fact, over the last 10 years, 99.38 percent of all green bank loans have been profitable. Not very profitable, but profitable.
The carbon-to-clean transition could be and should be the biggest investment opportunity of the century. The increase of wind and solar power from the current market share to the necessary market share is about a 4 to 5X increase in market share. That alone is about a $3 trillion business opportunity.
There's no way public investment should need to or ever would invest that much money. The goal is to catalyze it and to have almost all of it be private money.