Vote with your Vote

I was recently at a conference where I participated in an intergenerational panel. There were a few of us “older” folks and quite a few young folks, college and high school age.


Pete Johnson, Executive Director

The younger ones had an edge of anger in their comments towards our generation because of the damage we have done to the environment and our apparent apathy towards solutions to climate change. I believe they had a point, to a certain extent.


I accepted what they were saying but I also pushed back somewhat. The baby boomer generation is not perfect but those over fifty years of age do one thing well, we register and vote at much higher rate than any other generation, certainly more consistently than our youngest citizens of voting age.

When it comes to caring about how our planet, our agriculture and our economy will function today and years and decades to come, younger folks are more active in protests and online efforts but they often fall short when it comes to voting.

Like it or not, our elected officials can do more than any other group or institution to hurt or heal our environment. We need to elect people who accept science and are willing to think and act long-term.

At this conference was talk of “voting with your dollars.” This is a valid effort but I made sure I made the point to these young folks on the panel and in the audience to make sure you “vote with your vote.” That has to be first and foremost if they want to address this crisis.   

The mission of Project Green and Grey is to do our part by harnessing the political power of those over fifty to mount the massive, sustained effort that is needed to ensure a livable planet for all generations. Yes, we need young people to vote, to vote for a healthy climate AND to encourage their parents and grandparents to consider the climate when they vote.       

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Let’s Keep It Simple

I have kids, well, young adults really, and I love those kids. My kids will probably have their own kids someday and I am certain I will love them too. Right now, I just want to do as many things as I can to ensure my kids and my future grand kids have a chance to live a good life.

Why am I focusing so much on the obvious? Because I want to keep it simple. I could spend my life searching for my own answers to what exactly is going on with the climate but I’m choosing to depend on the professionals.

There should not be anything called a “climate debate” in our society. Science has settled this question. However, if you’ve had the unfortunate occasion to read the back and forth between climate skeptics and anyone else, you know it gets complicated very quickly. Climate deniers can throw all kinds of “facts” at you with great confidence. These facts are not based in any sort mainstream science.

Yes, I threw in the qualifier “mainstream” but I do it proudly. The mainstream should not be a dirty word like it is, in say, the phrase, “the mainstream media.” The doctor analogy is overused so I will use a mechanic instead. If your car is making horrible noises when you apply your brakes and 9 out of 10 mechanics tell you your brake pads are shot, the nine are the mainstream. The advice of the mainstream, in this case, could save your life.

If you don’t have the time, money, capacity or desire to get your PhD or if you are a PhD and have better things to do than experiments on the climate, what are you to do?

Let’s break it down. 

Science (not Democrats or liberals) tell us that we have burned so much carbon-based fuels that it is causing our planet to heat up and bad things are starting to occur and those things will get worse. I see it as my duty as a dad to respond and that is what I am doing.

It is NOT my duty to take up a position in an extreme minority or to try and see conspiracies around every corner. Science tells us lots of things and yes, sometimes science is wrong or incomplete but we usually find this out fairly quickly. Science is why we fly in airplanes and step into elevators or take medicine. Science is why we cross bridges in our cars and it is why we are living longer than ever.

I will once again repeat the often heard statistic that has been checked again and again and again and…There are thousands of scientists that do nothing else but study the climate and 97% of them agree that our climate is warming and it is our actions that is causing it.

You, Mr. or Ms. Skeptic, you did not find something that all of them missed. Sorry, that makes no sense. Also, while we’re at it, there no conspiracy to make up some story to secure funding because it is not possible for that many people to keep a secret. Is it possible, however, for a few people, say the heads of corporations with an incredible financial stake in burning fossil fuels to keep such a secret? Yes, but even that secret will be leaked eventually, as we have seen.

Bottom line: These is no time to waste with skeptics who have no ground to stand on. I’m going with the scientists. We’ve got too much work to do.

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What Can I Do About Climate Change?

Rick Photo
By Rick Gardner, Guest Columnist

If you are like me, you feel some sort of impending disaster awaits us with climate change.  Clearly, something must be done to avert this disaster, but instead the deniers are out in force attempting to discredit the conclusions of 97% of climate scientists.  Reasonable people are outraged by climate change deniers, but in truth, even if the deniers disappeared tomorrow, we would still be hard-pressed to solve the climate problem.

As an environmental engineer with the Navy, I used to lecture on climate change to audiences in the government and local communities.  My lectures focused on the inexorable rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a rate of two parts per million every year.  Right now, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide exceed 400 ppm, which may be compared to 280 ppm at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.  The current levels of CO2 haven’t been seen on this planet in millions of years.

Ever since the early 1800’s, scientists have known that carbon dioxide triggers a greenhouse effect, a warming of the atmosphere.  Scientists now use models to calculate the extent of warming and its concurrent effects such as changes in precipitation patterns, sea level rise, acidification of the oceans, and so on.  Some of our leading scientists insist that we must reduce atmospheric levels back to 350 ppm to avert disaster (see their web site here).

The fundamental problem with the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is that it is directly related to our modern civilization.  The primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is produced through combustion of fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal.  Our power plants, automobiles, aircraft, and other modern fuel combustors continually pump this gas into our atmosphere.  As long as we continue business as usual with fossil fuels, we will never reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Worse still, even a drastic reduction in use of fossil fuels will still add unacceptable levels of carbon dioxide in the air.

This is the logic trail that I have developed over the years.  My conclusion has been that we are doomed … that the human species will become extinct within a few short centuries.

But now I see a glimmer of hope … actually more than a glimmer of hope.  And that hope has the awkward name of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).  For the first time, there is something that you and I can do to stop climate change in its tracks.

What is Community Choice Aggregation?

CCA is a process whereby a community takes control of its use of energy.  California passed Assembly Bill 117 in 2002 whereby communities are allowed to “aggregate” their energy loads and purchase clean sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and so on.  This has already been accomplished in Sonoma and Marin Counties in Northern California, and Lancaster has just embarked on a similar program in Southern California.

So how does this work?  Think of Southern California Edison as an entity that purchases energy from multiple sources, mostly fossil fuel power plants but also some renewable sources. Edison then distributes this energy as electricity to our homes and businesses.  On a monthly basis, Edison bills us for this electricity based on our consumption profile.

With CCA we separate out the energy purchasing from energy distribution.  The community sets up a governmental agency to directly purchase the energy.  It is then distributed by Edison who also bills us based on our use.  We buy the power, and Edison continues to deliver it.

Here is a utility bill from Marin Clean Energy (MCE) showing how it works.  Notice that their utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), provides the bill but separately shows the cost of “electric delivery” (PG&E’s charges) and “electric generation” (MCE’s charges).  In this manner PG&E receives the money it needs to maintain the electric lines while MCE receives the money it needs to buy power from diversified suppliers.  The California Public Utilities Commission oversees the rates to make sure that PG&E, MCE, and the consumers are treated fairly.

Channel Islands Clean Energy

Say that Ventura County [in California] establishes a CCA and that all its cities agree to participate.  For argument’s sake, let’s say that the new CCA is known as Channel Islands Clean Energy.  Once the arrangement is blessed by the Public Utilities Commission, then all customers in the area will be automatically enrolled in Channel Islands Clean Energy unless they choose to opt out and return to full service by Southern California Edison.

Based on the experiences of Sonoma, Marin, and Lancaster, Channel Islands Clean Energy customers can expect to see a 5% savings in their electricity bill, even with a 5% increase in use of sustainable energy.  If the customer chooses to go 100% renewable (see the term “Deep Green” in the MCE bill above) then his/her monthly bill will only increase by about $5.

Based on the experiences of Sonoma and Marin, Channel Islands Clean Energy may accrue as much as $1 million per month to be plowed into local energy projects that will further increase our sustainable portfolio.  With the on-going reduction in renewable energy costs, we could virtually eliminate our use of fossil fuels within a decade.

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I’m a Baby Boomer, What is My Responsibility for Fighting Climate Change?


By Pete Johnson

You think this is going to be about blame and guilt, right? It’s not. I’m a Baby Boomer and I’m not out to cast blame for our warming climate. However, the climate is changing and we are seeing the effects. This crisis needs to be addressed and there’s no time talk about how we got here. Solutions are about looking forward.

However, Baby Boomers do have a unique opportunity to respond to this crisis. With the Clean Power Plan under legal scrutiny, it is more important than ever for our congress to act and Boomers are uniquely positioned to make an impact on efforts to influence lawmakers.

What follows are some of the attributes Baby Boomers possess that are critical to moving what only feels like an unmovable object, the US Congress.

Political Power

According to the AAPR website, in the 2012 elections, for the first time, older voters (50+) made up the majority of voters. Older Americans register and vote at a much higher rate than any other age group. According to the 2010 US Census, Americans ages 18 to 24 vote at the rate of 38%. Those ages 45 to 64, however, vote at a rate of 63.4%, while people 65 years and older vote at the astonishing rate of 69.7%.

Legislators tend to respond to those they know will vote in the next election. When a Baby Boomer speaks up, legislators see someone who will most likely follow up, speak up in their state and, ultimately, vote.

Many Baby Boomers are not concerned about the climate, but many are and we don’t need everyone to respond to make our point. Moreover, not as many seniors are conservative as conventional wisdom would have you believe. According to the AARP, in 2015, 67% of those ages 50 to 64 self-identify as Liberal or “mixed.”

According to Jeremy Deaton, a guest contributor on the Think Progress Website in September, 2015, “Few things strike fear into the hearts of politicians like a disgruntled grandparent entering a voting booth. Seniors wield immense political power in the United States, a fact made plain by their voting record. In the 2014 midterm elections, a year of historically low voter turnout, nearly 59 percent of adults aged 65 and older pulled the lever on Election Day. Just 23 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds bothered to do the same.”

Economic Power

Those over the age of 50 are, according to the AARP, a group 100 million strong and control 70 percent of all disposable income in the US. This age group buys two-thirds of all the new cars, half of all the computers and a third of all movie tickets. As the AARP’s Jody Holtzman puts it, “adults 50 years and older are the third largest economy in the world, trailing only the gross national product of the United States and China!” Isn’t there some saying about those who control the gold, make the rules? A group that represents so much wealth has to have a large amount or political influence. It is really a matter of putting that influence to work building a legacy of a clean and livable world.


What I am going to say here is more a matter of opinion but I am confident it will resonate with Baby Boomer. The older you get, the more the idea of your legacy comes into focus. Most of us Baby Boomers have kids, if not grandchildren. We have done and continue to do countless big and small things to assure the safety and well-being of those we love. Does it make sense to stop now?


The average age in the US House of Representative hovers right around 57 while the average age in the Senate is 61. These are the people we need to influence. Baby Boomers can speak to them peer to peer. Legislators are just people, like you and me. We all feel more comfortable with someone who shares our experiences. Knowing what life was like before computers and social media is just one of many ways that binds those of us around the same age. This sort of thing matters when connecting with a legislator.


If you are retired, it would follow that you have more time than you did when you were working. Even if you are still working but you are an empty-nester, think back to when the kids were little and the craziness of keeping your household from being swallowed up by all the things it takes to keep your family moving in the right direction. Young people (college-age), have time, care about the future and will turn out to rallies but they are notoriously unreliable at the voting booth and this fact saps their political power.

Young parents are just starting to think of their legacy because they love their children but are they are also inundated with the day to day effort that goes into raising those children. They often want to be on the phone with their legislators’ office but instead they are on the phone with their child’s school or day care or at a doctor’s appointment or picking up the dry cleaning. You get the picture.

At this point I hope you are realizing that, to a large extent, this solution to this crisis is in our hands. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is far too dramatic to say that what we do, right now, will echo throughout history and determine whether our children and grandchildren will experience a bright future or something too unimaginable to contemplate. This is that one time where it is absolutely appropriate. Your move.

Pete Johnson is the Executive Director of Project Green and Grey



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An Insanely Great Way to Solve Climate Change

Rick Photo

Rick Gardner, Guest Columnist

“Insanely Great!”
– Steve Jobs referring to the new developed Macintosh computer in 1984

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and to just live your life inside this world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. 
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
– Steve Jobs

Steve JobsI am a big fan of the late Steve Jobs.  He had a transformative view of the world and felt that, if we only believed strongly enough, if we had enough passion, if we worked hard enough, we could change the world for the better.  He lived this belief system using it to build the highest valued company in the world, Apple.  He did it by envisioning the future and the consumer experience in that future … and then working backwards to make that future happen.  He did it by designing and building one product after another that was “insanely great,” that was designed and engineered to perfection.

Jobs was not a proponent of complex processes and focus groups to develop products.  He felt that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  This philosophy led to the revolutionary Macintosh computer, to iPod, to Apple TV, to the iPhone, products that provided people new capabilities that they didn’t even know they wanted or needed.  The world has been changed immeasurably for the better … in the vision of Steve Jobs.

The Doom and Gloom of Climate Change

So what does Steve Jobs have to do with climate change?  I bring him up to counter the “sky is falling” attitude that climate change activists, myself included, invariably display.  They accurately point to the inexorable rise in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.  The rise in carbon dioxide, as shown in the chart below, is certainly alarming.  We have shot past 400 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  That’s an increase of 120 ppm since the beginning of the industrial revolution 200 years ago.  It’s 100 ppm greater than the highest level ever experienced in the atmosphere over the past 650,000 years.  The greenhouse effect from carbon dioxide and other gases has led to a string of warm years.  The hottest year was 2015, and 14 of the 15 years since 2000 have been the warmest in recorded history.  The increased energy in the atmosphere is leading to storms of greater magnitude, retreat of the earth’s glaciers, acidification of the oceans, droughts in some parts of the world, flooding in other parts of the world, and the slow but steady rise in sea levels that threaten to submerge whole island nations.  Scary indeed!

As an environmental engineer with the Navy, I was one of the point persons on climate change.  I was especially concerned about sea level rise at coastal Navy installations world-wide, which would pose a major disruption to our port operations.  I and my colleagues developed a quietly apocalyptic view of our future, not just for the Navy but for all of humankind.  It was hard to see how humanity could escape destruction from anthroprogenic (human-caused) climate change, particularly in view of the denial movement being led by the petroleum industry.

After all, modern civilization, as we know it, was created through the use of fossil fuels.  The combustion of these fuels has created the energy needed to operate electrical plants; to power homes; and to run transportation systems across the seas, over the roads, in the air, and even into space.  The leap in technology from the nineteenth century to today has been breath-taking, and it has been based on coal, natural gas, and petroleum oil.

Combustion of these fuels resulted in air pollution problems, which were handled by various pollution control technologies with the aim of stoichiometrically combusting the fuels (complete combustion leading to carbon dioxide as opposed to carbon monoxide).  But climate change has shown that this perfect combustion process is itself a problem since carbon dioxide is driving the greenhouse effect that is changing our climate.

So now we have huge fossil fuel industries under varying degrees of governmental regulation that extract the fossil fuels (companies such as Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, and BP) and the electrical utilities that burn the fuels to generate and transport electrical power to the consumer (companies such as Edison, Sempra, Dynergy, and NRG).  We have created a “powerful” industry that constitutes a big climate changing monster, or should we say dinosaur since its continued operations will lead to our collective extinction.

The Computer World of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs grew up in a dinosaur world of mainframe computers produced by a few behemoth companies, most notably IBM.  These massive computers were first developed after World War II.  The mainframes were owned and operated by large institutions such as Federal and state agencies, universities, and Fortune 500 companies, and the computers were based in special climate-controlled buildings built around their exacting requirements.   People depended on computer specialists to access these machines.  The user would use a keypunch machine to punch cards containing computer code and job control language (to tell the computer how to run the code).  The user handed these cards (typically hundreds or thousands of cards) to the computer specialist, who would run the program through the computer.  After a day or so, the user would get a print-out back with the results; if there were any errors at all in the punch cards, the program would fail, and the user would have to correct the mistake and rerun the deck of cards.  The users had to be highly proficient in coding languages such as Fortran, COBOL, Algol, and others.  But even they didn’t understand the complex hardware involved.  The whole mainframe computer technology was cloaked in technological complexity that the ordinary person couldn’t hope to understand.

Enter Steve Jobs with his personal computers.  For the first time people could take control of computing at their homes and offices.  They could personally write and produce reports, do complicated calculations, create drawings … and effectively by-pass the need for cards, programming languages, secretaries, bookkeepers, illustrators, and of course computer operators.  This democratization of computing was immeasurably enhanced by the introduction of people-friendly software and social media.  To get an idea of how miraculous this seemed at the time, check out this video with Steve Jobs introducing the game-changing Macintosh computer in 1984 …

Steve Jobs and Energy Technology

So let’s do a thought experiment.  How would Steve Jobs approach the transformation of energy systems?  As was his wont, he would probably focus on the consumer experience with energy technology and not dwell in the doom-and-gloom world of climate change.  He would give decentralized control of energy to the individual and cut the large companies out of the equation.  And he would do this through innovative, plug-and-play products.

I would like to think that Steve would settle on solar power as the ultimate energy choice for the individual, as opposed to wind, geothermal, ocean, and other sources of power.  The individual would be empowered, just as with the personal computer.  He/she would now have the power of the sun at his/her beck and call without need of a central utilities company.  No power plants, no transmission lines, no fossil fuel burning, no climate change.  No coal fields, no oil extraction, no natural gas blowouts, no fracking.

Steve Jobs would understand the technologies that must be developed: more efficient collection of solar power and better energy storage so that power generated by the sun could be used at other times of the day or year.  These products would be developed by entrepreneurial engineers, possibly in a place like Silicon Valley, a place with teenage hobbyists working out of garages, a place with excellent universities, cadres of talented engineers working at mainline energy companies, and with governmental resources.  Just like Silicon Valley, groups of investors would search for start-up companies to develop new energy products and storage technologies for use by individuals.  Of course, much of this is already happening.

The California Approach to Renewable Energy

Where could this lead us?  Well, not long ago I spoke with the head of Lancaster Choice Energy (LCE), which is run by the desert city of Lancaster in Southern California.  Operating through a legal mechanism created by California (and a few other enlightened states) known as “community choice aggregation,” LCE is working with the local utility, Southern California Edison, to provide electricity to the citizens of Lancaster.  Normally Edison would purchase electricity from suppliers throughout the state and beyond to distribute to the users.  But under community choice aggregation, LCE buys the power instead.  They also generate some of the power themselves using solar technology.  Edison then delivers the electrical power to the customer through the existing transmission lines.  The beauty of community choice aggregation is that it leads to a rapid increase in use of renewable energy.  In Lancaster, for instance, LCE is focused on rapidly increasing the use of solar energy to spur business growth in the community.

The head of LCE is a business-oriented individual, but he acknowledges the value of community involvement in energy generation.  He even posits a future where solar energy, once installed, would be virtually free to the community.  This future is much more likely under a government-run operation.   In my jaded view, If utilities such as Edison continue to run things, utility bills will continue ad infinitum with the company executives and shareholders pocketing the profits.


It is no accident that Steve Jobs lived in California.  The state thrives on innovation, and this is becoming more and more evident in energy technology.  California does not disparage the role of government in technology as do many red states … but instead leads the way by setting audacious goals for industry to achieve.  And industry does respond … with amazing creativity and speed.

California set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.  To help achieve this reduction, the state required 20% of total energy to be derived from renewables by 2010.  This goal was easily met with current levels of renewables at 25% of total energy sales.  The state has now set goals of 33% renewables by 2020 and 50% by 2030.  This does not include large-scale hydroelectric plants which contribute another 10 to 15% of electrical generation.

Renewable energy has jumped so fast in California that in peak periods it already provides half of the energy generation in the state.  The state has a renewable operating capacity of 21,700 MW, which includes 3,500 MW of solar photovoltaic generation by individual residences and businesses.  Key to solar generation by individuals is the concept of net metering where solar panel owners are compensated for the electricity they produce from their panels that’s in excess of what they use from the power company every month.  The California Public Utilities Commission has stood firm in support of net metering in the face of opposition by the utilities.

Wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric energy have typically been major components of California’s renewable portfolio.  But solar is quickly rising and will soon surpass all other sources of renewable energy.  Utility-scale solar jumped from 1.9 percent to 5 percent of the state’s total power generation in just one year.  California isn’t just producing the most utility-scale solar electricity of any state; it’s producing more than all the other states combined.  There are now an estimated 55,000 solar workers in the state.

The Final Transformation

So now we stand at the threshold of the final transformation in California … where solar will surpass fossil fuels as the dominant form of energy generation.  To take solar to the next level, we need to empower the individual.  We need to create our Steve Jobs future.  Unlimited power at the beck and call of the individual, and free to boot.  And best of all … no climate change.

As with the computers that Steve Jobs built, this technology will be plug and play.  It will “just work,” like the iPhone or Mac OS X … with a great user experience.  A driven perfectionist like Steve Jobs will have figured out how to make it answer the user’s needs and desires.Rick2

The people of the future will look back on the old way of doing things … when the primitives actually dug miles into the ground to extract buried fuels … that were then burned in massive central plants to generate electricity … which was then sent tens and hundreds of miles over high-voltage power lines.  And to think that these people of old actually put the planet at risk by burning these junk fuels and polluting our air and changing our climate.

They will marvel at the stupidity of the old ways when the power of the sun was available to all, right where they lived.

That’s the future I want to see.  Now wouldn’t that be “insanely great”?


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Why We’re Not Ready to Give Up on Congress


Big problems call for big solutions. Only the United States Congress, the legislative body of the one of the largest emitters of carbon pollution, can make the sweeping changes that will transform our economy from fossil fuels to clean energy. Congress needs to step up and do its part to address climate change. Those of us who will be affected by climate change, which is to say all of us, need to hold Congress to a higher standard than just more gridlock and denial.

Those of us in the “AARP set,” those 50 years and over, the baby boomers especially, need to lead this charge. Boomers know from past experience that change always involves a hard struggle and perseverance. Those 50 years and over register and vote a higher rate than any other age group and thus command more political power. Sure, money is powerful in politics but so are organized, dedicated citizens with the savvy that comes with years of experience and skills honed over decades.   

There is great work being done in US states and cities to address climate change but we are not ready to let Congress off the hook. Yes, at the moment, the politics are not in our favor but that is reason to double our efforts, not to give up. The effects of climate change are progressive. Attitudes that seem entrenched now can and will change as the crisis grows and the effects become more “local” and more acute. What was once about polar bears and stronger hurricanes is quickly becoming about property values, disaster spending and drought. Soon enough it will be about food prices, refugees, diseases appearing were they have never been before and fights over water, just to name a few.

As these things start to happen the political pressure will build. Will Conservative’s suddenly proclaim, “we were wrong all along?”  Probably not. Certainly not while there is money to be made from an energy status quo. Moreover, Conservatives are people and people are proud by nature and all of us have a need to save face. As this crisis becomes impossible to deny, what we will probably see is a situation where Conservatives will just stop resisting efforts to address the problem without admitting there is a problem. We have already seen this happening in the most recent budget where, without much fanfare, there were provisions to protect and promote clean energy technologies. That budget was passed by a Republican-controlled house.

A lot of promises were made by our country in Paris at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) this past December to fight climate change. For better of worse, the fulfillment of those promises goes through one body, the US Congress. In our system, power is shared between the three branches. We can’t expect that president can do it all. Congress can do so much more and like our Judicial system, Congress can also stand in the way of progress.

Your representative to this body is just a phone call or a few clicks away. Sadly, very few will take advantage of this amazing privilege. What this means, however, is that your voice will carry more weight with these legislators because they know you are informed, interested and you will consider their response to this crisis when you vote.   

Let’s get to work!

Find your member of Congress and their contact information with just your Zip Code

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No One Asked Me

Have you ever been called on the phone or stopped on the street to participate in a poll? Me neither. I hear about them all the time and rotunda_1sometimes I’m pleased with what they say, sometimes I’m not. I do, however, often think; I wish someone had asked me.

Many of us feel we have something to offer to the political discourse. Any number of issues are controversial enough to require constant monitoring of shifting opinions. Climate change is not at the top of this list but much has happened in this past year, the Climate Conference in Paris (COP21) coupled with an exceptionally warm winter (it’s not El Nino) , has people talking. Legislators need to hear what’s on our minds.

How to do we express our opinions if not through a poll? Easy, contact your legislator. You don’t need to wait years to express yourself with your vote. If they don’t call you, you call them. It’s free, it’s your right and with technology today, it’s easy.

My voice won’t make a difference, you say. Let’s look at that. Yes, you are only one of millions of Americans but when contacting a member of Congress, they represent hundreds of thousands, not millions. And, the percentage of people who actually will take the time to express their opinion is very low, making the pool of constituents they actually hear from very small.  

Moreover, polls are expensive. If members of Congress can get a sense of what their constituents care about without spending money, they will do so.

Legislators care only about money, you say, and not my opinion. It is true that money is big in politics and the Citizen’s United case has made things infinitely worse. However, most of the money is needed for television and radio ads. This way of getting a message out will be valid for a while but do your kids sit through ads on TV? Mine don’t. In fact, if my kids (ages 19 and 17) are in front of the TV at all, they’re watching Netflix, no ads. My point is that the need for gobs of cash for TV ads is changing and it’s changing the landscape of politics.

Bottom line, legislators still need our votes to get elected. They also need to know what we care about. Those of us who see climate change as a crisis, for all those we love and cherish, have something urgent to say. Legislators will only act when we are demand action. Why are we being so shy?  

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I’m on an Airplane, am I Ruining Our Planet?


I am writing this from an airplane and I am feeling a little guilty. Should I feel guilty? Air travel contributes something like 5% of all carbon emissions in the world but that is all planes combined, not just mine. And, I am on just one plane and it only has two engines, not four.

This is how I think sometimes. I want to live my life and not feel guilty but also contribute as little as possible to the warming of the earth. This particular plane is taking my wife and I to see our 19-year-old son who we haven’t seen in 6 months. He, and our other son are a biggest part of what we live for and the reason we work to address the climate crisis.

Maybe by now you recognize yourself or maybe you think I am crazy to think this way. Either way, I know many just say to hell with it, I have to live my life, I will try not to think about how my actions affect the planet. This type of thinking is understandable.

If we want good people to not be indifferent to climate change, we need to make caring about our carbon footprint less about lightbulbs and not eating beef and walking and biking everywhere. Many of us, especially those 50 years and older, myself included, are pretty set in our ways. We need to know that Congress is doing the big things so we don’t feel like fools for doing the small things. We need a broad swath of the public to rise up and express, at the very least, a concern about all these things we hearing about the climate. To do this we need to make this about sweeping changes that will allow us to live, if not exactly the life we live now, at least one that we recognize.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.” I don’t know who originally said this and frankly, I don’t care, but it is a good saying. I was at a climate event when a somewhat prominent recording artist and a well-known vegetarian exclaimed from the stage, “if you’re not a vegetarian, your climate efforts are wasted.” If this wasn’t the perfect being the enemy of the good I don’t know what is. We need an enormous amount of our citizens to contact, maybe for the first time, their representatives in Congress. We can’t be telling those people that they are not worthy to speak up on this issue.

In other words, we need to let the “sinner” into the great cathedral of climate awesomeness. Why? Because we’re all sinners. Most of us fly and drive cars and turn on a lights. Acknowledging our own “sinfulness” means welcoming non-vegetarians, internal-combustion-engine drivers, Republicans who want climate solutions as much as we do and anyone else who doesn’t perfectly fit the stereotype. Otherwise, our sermons will be echoing off the walls of an empty, cavernous room.

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What to do About Climate Deniers? Ignore Them

EPAAt some point you and I were presented with the facts about climate change. How we first heard is different for all of us. When, where, who told us and how urgently the problem was presented, are all variables unique to each of us. Why some accept the science and become activists, why some understand the science but choose to do nothing and why some reject the science and become deniers is beyond me.

The question is, how should we deal with the deniers? To this I say, Ignore them. It is true that reading comments on Facebook and Twitter from deniers can be very frustrating, to say the least, but it is a matter of doing the best we can with the limited time and energy we have.

Deniers operate on their own facts so it’s never a real debate. The world(s) we live in allow us to get our news from sources that reinforce our own point of view and this often makes it impossible to ever hope to change someone’s mind. The only time I heard of someone doing a 180 degree turn on their denial was when they had the time, resources and know-how to do an independent inquiry of the data, a rare occurrence.

Our time is better spent elsewhere. There are many in our country that do accept the science but don’t see the urgency or maybe they don’t want to be seen as an “environmentalist” or a liberal or maybe the issue and the solutions are too wonky and, in their minds, best left up to others. These are often good people who love their kids, get up every day, work hard, are conscientious and care about the future but grassroots engagement with a government official is just foreign to them.

It is a waste of precious resources to bang our heads against the brick wall that is deniers. Going head-to-head with a denier takes its toll emotionally and intellectually. If you are an activist, we need you to take care of yourself, to be in the fight and not allow yourself to burn out because you are engaging with those who would like nothing more than for you to quit.

Deniers have access to the same data climate scientists rely on and they reject it. As arrogant as that is, it is their prerogative. Argument-wise, there is nowhere to go from there. You could say to someone, “science tells us, based on centuries of a strict application of the scientific method that 99.99 percent of scientists agree that gravity makes things fall to the ground. Then, a gravity-denier could say, “no it doesn’t.” Where do you go from there? You could say, “yes it does” or restate the basis for your assertion but they could respond with, “I know a guy who has data that proves that trees cause things to fall to the ground.” Where do you go from there? More importantly, should you go there? What is the point?

That effort is better spent convincing those who do accept the science to speak up. Grassroots pressure is time well spent. It’s not easy; we are often fighting against powerful interests. However, calling, writing letters and e-mails, visits, marches, donations to grassroots based groups is the best way to fight for solutions. It never feels like it is working, until it is. Ask anyone who has fought for civil rights or marriage equality. You often don’t know if progress is years away or just around the corner. You have to just fight on and have faith.

Lastly, the best excuse to not engage deniers is because we need to save some energy for after we have “won.” Again, ask someone who has fought for civil rights or marriage equality, the fight goes on after the victory. A lot of time and effort is currently being spent on defending the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, an actual plan to address the largest source of carbon pollution, power plants.

It is better to support a group like RepublicEN. They are stepping out from their party because they see what is happening and want to have their say in the solution. That seems fair and this problem is too big to worry about winning a partisan battle for its own sake. We just need solutions that work, wherever they come from.

The climate crisis is too important to waste any of our precious time and effort on things that will produce no fruit. As tempting (and yes, I’ve indulged) as it is too fire off the perfect zinger at a denier, resist the temptation and instead, invite someone to a rally or write a letter.


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Food Prices and Local Impacts

fruit-for-sale-1410197434yp3Americans don’t care about Polar Bears. And, Americans don’t really care about their children’s future in the larger, long-term sense. Americans do, however, care about food prices, their own “local impacts.” This is a harsh statement, I admit, but I say this because maybe if we accept the reality of what typical Americans really care about, it will help all of us to react more strategically to this unfolding crisis. Even in a post-Citizens United world, the American people is where political power lies. You may be confused by this assessment of what Americans care about because if you are reading this, you are probably the exception to this rule. I have no study to demonstrate what exactly Americans care about but based on experience, this assessment is legit.

Read: Most Americans accept that climate change is real, they just don’t care that much about it.

Food prices represent our immediate needs. Food prices are going up on some items we all love, like fruits and vegetables that are grown in California and due to the drought which is exasperated by climate change, are harder to come by. Prices on all types of foods will go up as water becomes more scarce and our climate is disrupted.

I am not putting down caring about immediate needs. My wife and I are at the tail end of raising two kids (adults), 19 and 17 years old and it was often all about immediate needs, a series of getting us from-here-to-there moments that got us to where we are today. We would have liked to have thought more long-term but too often meeting immediate needs was the best we could do and we resented being made to feel guilty for doing what we had to do.

It does get easier, in some ways, and in others ways it gets harder but we can think a little more broadly and longer-term now. This is why it is critical that empty-nesters and seniors are active in the climate fight. Many of those 50 years and over struggle to find meaning as they transition into these categories but this crisis is urgent and your experience and acquired skills are absolutely critical.

How do we motivate those in a constant time crunch to take a minute to let legislators, the only ones who can make sweeping changes, know that the climate crisis is at least on their minds and will be on their minds in the voting booth.  One way is to talk about climate change in terms of food prices. We’ve heard for a while that we need to talk about local impacts to break through the din of modern life. Is there anything more local than our access to food?

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