It was a week of good news for EVs and climate action, as General Motors and the new U.S. president announced ambitious plans to tackle global warming. Both set a goal fourteen years out, which, although it’s later than the often-cited 2030 target from the Paris Agreement, is a profound move forward.
General Motors Makes a Commitment
Years ago, Charles Wilson, President of General Motors, and Eisenhower’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, famously said, “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors. And vice versa.” Democrats on the committee focused on the vice versa part of the statement, but in the modern case, it may actually be true either way.
When GM first stated its intention to move toward electric vehicles and rolled out its vision of Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, and Zero Congestion, I was skeptical. After all, this is the company that makes its money on gas-guzzling pickup trucks and Chevy Tahoes and has promoted Corvettes and Camaros. But they did introduce the worthy Bolt EV and were dabbling in green tech with the plug-in hybrid Volt before that.
With Tesla in their rearview mirror (or maybe now seen through their windshield!), one of America’s “big three” has officially put their bets on electric cars and has announced their plan to have a 100% electric fleet by 2035. GM will introduce 30 new EVs by 2025, including a new all-electric Hummer! They are developing a new flexible platform and the Ultium battery, which they will produce themselves. And they are putting $27 billion on the table to do it. With their long-established cross-country dealer network and factories in America, they have a good start.
Last night, I watched a recording of GM President Mark Reuss talking with Malcolm Gladwell at CES 2021 for GM Exhibit Zero. He said all the right things and laid out GM’s plan for 30 EVs by 2025 and all the rest. GM CEO Mary Barra has been quite forthright about the company’s plans, too.
Biden Steps Forward on Climate Change Action
Meanwhile, America’s new president put forward his plan, and it’s just what many of us have been waiting for. Immediately putting the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement and cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline were signature acts, but Biden’s announcement of moving to an all-electric fleet was an eye opener. It goes along with California’s 2035 target of no new light-duty internal combustion engine vehicles sold starting in 2035. The Golden State has been leading the charge towards lower emissions for decades. It also fits nicely into GM’s plan.
Ford is Planning and Releasing EVs, Too
Ford is investing more than $11.5 billion in electric vehicles through 2022, and zero-emission versions of some of its most popular nameplates are on the way, including the Mustang Mach-E, which starts arriving in dealerships this year, as well as a Transit Commercial EV and fully electric F-150 coming within 24 months.
The company previously announced its plan to use 100 percent locally sourced renewable energy for all its manufacturing plants globally by 2035. That means energy would come only from sources that naturally replenish – such as hydropower, geothermal, wind or solar.
However, as builders of America’s favorite vehicle for more than four decades, the F-150 pickup, Ford can have a big impact by putting an electric motor under its tall hood. And, leveraging the reputation of their most iconic vehicle, the Mustang, they have just introduced the category-bending, all new Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric four-door crossover that has the Tesla Model Y in its sights (with a heavy dash of Mustang traditional styling and performance). If these two pillars of Ford’s product line move the sales needle, Ford will be making an impact, too, and can start introducing more electrified vehicles.
It’s easy to see America’s two surviving American-owned car companies jumping in and writing big orders for all those electrified U.S. government fleet vehicles and making those American factories hum with green-tech jobs. It has win-win written all over it. Of course, making this huge transition will not be easy or instant, but the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence tells us we must do it now.
When Mark Reuss answered Malcolm Gladwell’s question, “Why now?” during the interview, he said it was because it was the right thing to do, and that he wanted a safe, healthy world for his three grandchildren. As a grandparent myself, I wholeheartedly agree.
Bold initiatives by corporations, states and national governments have proven effective in Europe and China, and now the U.S., under new leadership and in cooperation with its auto manufacturers, is approaching the EV tipping point. I have more faith now that we can and will make this happen. In the middle of the next decade, it will all seem like it was meant to be, and once-skeptical buyers will be sold on the new, cleaner, better technology. For now, I’m doing whatever I can to push us to and beyond the EV tipping point.
In the growing world of EVs, the Aptera stands out, for its unusual design, incredible range, and the company’s plucky chutzpah. I attended a fascinating Zoom presentation by Jason Hill, the company’s designer, where he kindly provided details and shared his excitement.
Company History, in Brief
The company was founded in 2005 by Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, but faltered and closed down in 2011. But—hope springs eternal, and after a circuitous path, Aptera rose again in 2019 under the original founders. They and their team worked quietly behind the scenes, including a painstaking redesign of the car as a full electric vehicle. In December of 2020 they introduced the Aptera 3 and announced a crowdsourcing campaign, which quickly generated 3,000 deposits from eager customers.
Jason Hill, Designer
Jason Hill remembers seeing the extremely aerodynamic original Aptera on the cover of Popular Science magazine. When the company restarted, the founders went looking for a designer, and through a friend Jason was offered the job.
Jason is founder and president of Eleven LLC, a design studio whose clients include Subaru and other automotive entities. He was the first designer at Porsche’s American design studio, working on the exterior of the Porsche Carrera GT show car.
“I support the vision of the efficiency model and what that means for mobility, transportation, and vehicle design,” said Jason.
Jason found that they had never really stopped working on the car, but he believes that now is the right time to produce it.
“The technology, processes, and general environment have caught up to where Aptera can be a leader in this space,” said Jason.
His task as designer is to mix the engineering with the aesthetics and uphold the company’s design ethos.
Aptera means “wingless” in Greek, and is a great name for the car, because it really looks like a wingless airplane. The company likes to translate Aptera as “wingless flight,” but is not taking inspiration from the actual wingless flying insects to whom the term is applied.
Design Is at the heart of Aptera, as Jason explained in detail during his online session for investors, journalists, and other interested parties.
The car has room for two people, and the designer’s goal was to maximize vision, comfort, and the “reach envelope” for the activities inside the car.
“We wanted the perfect shape for aerodynamic functionality, low weight and a high level of design,” said Jason.
The design goal was to tackle the question of housing both people and the powertrain, including the batteries. Jason says that for the Aptera 3 redesign, they started on the inside and worked their way out, rather than designing a perfect body and trying to fit the pieces inside it.
“We started with the base of batteries and balanced that with the needs of the shape for the best balance,” said Jason.
They put the batteries into smaller, higher-density packs, so they could fit them more precisely into the vehicle.
The overall design process, per Jason, is to seek the best advice, and not defer to a single decision or direction.
“If it fits, it goes that way,” said Jason. “Nothing is superfluous, and nothing is left out.”
That comes down to a “rightness” from having the best user functionality, where the reach to the controls, cupholder locations, materials, colors and finish have a premium feel but are cost effective to produce. As seen in other EVs, recycled materials appear here, and per Jason, there’s a much greater variety of sources now from which to procure them.
The Right User Experience
No matter what the shape of a car looks like, most of the human interaction with it is inside, so it has to be right. Jason has given this much thought.
“Functionality—needs and wants—has to balance out,” he said.
For instance, the original interior design had a single screen with all the information on it, and three rear vision cameras. Jason says they can do better now. He listens widely to the words he hears from leadership and tries to match them to the vision.
“That’s exactly what I was talking about,” is what Jason wants to hear when he unveils a new design.
The Aptera is designed to accommodate most people, so it’s designed around the 95th percentile human—typically a 6-foot-2 adult male—and for short people too.
The design ethos is about engaging the driver and passenger.
“We wanted it to be free of hassle and clumsiness,” said Jason. So, there’s no key fob, and not a bunch of buttons and distractions. We wanted it to feel clean and luxurious, but not to be missing anything.”
Unique Interior Features
The Aptera features a center console cover, which incorporates a phone charger. There’s also a soft glovebox that sits on the dashboard, not in it. Drivers can store items safely in a backpack that lives on the back of the seat. The rear storage area will be convertible into a camper with a new tent feature that’s being designed with a “tent developer.”
“We wanted to give freedom of mobility and heartfelt limited use of resources—to go far using little,” said Jason. This includes traveling to out-of-the-way places.
The steering wheel started out quite square but has evolved into a more rounded shape. Jason paid special attention to how it feels in your hands, aiming for the right thickness and providing adjustability.
The rear-view mirrors use a video camera system, with high-fidelity feedback—better than a regular mirror. You can also select a standard mirror with a click. The regular rearview mirror is tied in with side cameras for a wider field of vision.
A Different Exterior
Cars are starting to use phone apps as your key—a la Tesla—and the Aptera adds something special—three round lights on the side near the upper part of the butterfly-style doors. They provide a visual cue for locking and unlocking the vehicle. The owner waves their hand over the door pillar and the lights display sequentially upwards for unlocking and downwards for locking. The Aptera logo next to them remains lit all the time.
The Aptera looks a little like a stripped-down hotrod, with its exposed wheel linkages. The wheels are covered with wheel pans, which move with the wheels when turning. Design and engineering are working together to make sure changing a tire will be easy.
The surface and dashboard top of this latest Aptera are covered with solar panels, laid out in an elegant diamond pattern. Jason found that turning the square panels at an angle allowed more of them to be placed on the car. These panels generate up to 41 miles of range per day, so since most drivers drive less than that, you could technically never plug the Aptera in. This would be the first EV to be able to claim that distinction.
Why Three Wheels?
Three wheels instead of four eliminates some weight while maintaining stability. Of course, having the batteries at the bottom of all electric cars provides a lower center of gravity, reducing the risk of turning over and enhancing handling. Jason said they will consider different wheel sizes and widths that are most efficient and also can adapt them for different markets.
Jason Sums it Up
“The process is so rewarding—to be part of setting goals and seeing their manifestation,” Jason said. “The style part is one thing but mixing it with efficiency is even better. This gives us freedom of mobility.”
Tempted to have one of your own? Aptera’s website claims up to a 1,000-mile battery range at the top level, with a $44,900 price. The entry-level model, with a 250-mile-range, starts at under $26,000. You can get on the order list with a $100 deposit.
Climate scientists tell us we must limit the earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to reduce the risks of various catastrophic events. To do it, we need to lower our CO2 emissions by half in the next decade and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Replacing our fossil-fuel-powered auto fleet with electric vehicles is crucial to success. This change will be difficult and take time, but there is one big issue—the mining of battery components—that has been EVs’ dirty little secret.
KoBold Metals is a San Francisco Bay Area high tech startup, with Andreesen Horowitz and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate technology fund backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, as major investors. KoBold has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning solution for the sourcing and mining of the precious metals used in our current batteries—lithium, cobalt, and nickel. I met with KoBold’s CEO and co-founder, Kurt House, Ph. D to discuss what they are doing and the impact it will have. House is a serial entrepreneur with an educational background in physics and math and a career curriculum vitae in energy—both oil/gas and sustainable energy. He is also an Adjunct Professor in Stanford University’s Energy Resources Engineering Department.
The move to EVs is accelerating, and major auto manufacturers like Tesla, GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai/Kia, Mercedes-Benz, and others, are stepping up new EV introductions. However, for mass production of EVs, we will need a mass of the battery ingredients. And according to House, there isn’t enough metal around now to build the initial stock of EVs.
“To beat global warming, we need to electrify everything,” House said. “And we need to do it all in the next 30 years, so we need to build renewable like mad.”
Per House, there are about 1.3 billion cars around today, of which only 10 million are EVs. That total could be 3 billion vehicles by 2050. That means a lot of these metals need to be mined now.
However, while the mining industry does find some new materials every year with traditional methods, it isn’t moving at the pace needed to provide the materials for the batteries in a short time frame. There has to be a better, more efficient way that’s also sustainable and ethical.
House says there are two approaches:
Spend more money
Do better with the same money
The second approach obviously makes more sense.
“We need to find ore systems that can be mined with minimal impact, in reliable jurisdictions,” said House.
Unfortunately, much of the known cobalt is in Congo, where it is highly concentrated, some of it right at the surface and some in deep mines. Workers, often children, can dig it up by hand and bring it in for a few dollars—which in the poverty of the area is enough to be an incentive. This is obviously not a good long-term plan.
“We are trying to create a diversity of supply,” said House. “Major OEMs and battery manufacturers would rather have a sustainable, ethical choice in where they source their materials.”
That’s where KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology comes in. Here’s what KoBold’s website says about it.
“KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology combines never before used datasets with conventional geochemical, geophysical, and geological data in statistical association models to identify prospects… KoBold’s technology accelerates exploration by efficiently screening large regions and makes our search more effective by identifying the most promising locations.”
This means that KoBold uses AI and machine learning to look at all of the data, from 80-year-old maps to satellite data, to find the most likely sites for drilling.
“It’s aggregated from all over the world and structured into universal data schemas that can be interrogated by our algorithms,” said House.
What they are seeking is “compositional anomalies”—large chunks of rock that can be mined. As an example, House said that if you drilled for nickel under, say, your house, you would probably come up with dirt with 70 parts per million (ppm) of the ore in it. To extract the nickel from that would cost 100 times the current price for the ore. They want to find where it’s at 25,000 ppm, which would make it very economical to extract and process the ore.
So, why hasn’t anyone done this before?
“They couldn’t do what we’re doing even 10 years ago,” said House. “We are standing on the shoulders of trillions of dollars of high bandwidth computing networks that enable us to spin up and spin down dramatically large computing resources.”
KoBold’s Machine Prospector technology first makes predictions about where the ore is concentrated, and then collects additional data that helps to decrease uncertainty. The goal is to quickly eliminate any places that have a low chance of success so that when they do drill, it’s much more likely to hit paydirt.
Today, KoBold has field campaigns on three continents. Unlike many software companies, they do not license their technology to other companies—they use it themselves and partner with companies to do the actual drilling when they have decided on a location. Some projects they own 100 percent, and some are partnerships.
So, what does the market look like and what’s the best plan? Because battery components are nearly 100 percent reusable, they allow for a circular economy, which fossils fuels decidedly do not. House says we need to get all the metal we can in the next thirty years.
“With a circular economy, the metal stays in the system,” said House. “Circular economies require full renewable energy, so we just mine a bunch for a few decades and then we’re done.”
The manufacturers building the coming fleet of EVs want to ensure they have enough precious metals for the batteries they will need, and the battery manufacturers do too. KoBold, by locating safe, accessible locations and providing focused, high-percentage, sustainable extraction methods, helps assure that we can convert to an all-electric fleet in time and with as little environmental impact as possible.
This 2020 children’s book by Paul Comfort presents a charming and informative history of public transportation, from its origins almost 200 years ago to a look into the future.
Public transportation interests me, too. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by cars, but also by buses and trains. My sons were, too. I rode on the Santa Fe Super Chief at six years old and had my first bumpy airplane ride at around the same time on a propeller DC3. I rode the old Muni streetcars in San Francisco on the way to college and took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) when it first opened in 1972. I’ve taken a long Greyhound Bus trip, flown across the world on giant jetliners, ridden the trams in Amsterdam, and climbed the hills of San Francisco on the historic cable cars. More recently, I rented scooters and mopeds in San Francisco. Kids need to learn about this stuff.
Written by transportation writer Paul Comfort and crisply illustrated by Sudeep KP, Public Transportation keeps it simple, displaying a bright, colorful image of one transport method on each page with a one- or two-sentence description. The quality of light expertly mimics a sunny day and makes the images come alive, and cute, smiling children and happy adults appear in most of the images.
Balloons with “Did You Know?” and “Fun Facts” add interesting details for older children—and adults—to learn from. You could look at the pictures and point with a one-year-old or use it as a stepping-off point for a teenager.
The book engages children from page 1 with a bus to color. The Tom Thumb Steam Train, part of the B&O Railroad in Baltimore, Maryland, is the first character and dates back to 1830. It’s an enormous steam boiler in a rustic cart pulling men in top hats, but it loses a race to a horse when it breaks down. Transit has become much more reliable since.
Horses are the mode of transport itself on the next page, pulling multi-rider carriages. The book then moves on to a massive steamship, subways, and the historic transcontinental railroad in the U.S. with its famous golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. Hard to believe that subways go back even further, to the London Tube in 1863!
Then, cable cars, trains, and trolleys take center stage, with unusual projects like monorails showing a future that hasn’t panned out (except at amusement parks). After checking out city and school buses, Comfort introduces a global positioning satellite—the beginning of today’s high-tech transportation options.
Children get an introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which explains why buses they may encounter have wheelchair ramps or lifts to allow everyone to ride.
Moving into environmentally friendly transport, we see racks of rentable bikes and learn about electric buses. A page discusses mobility apps and high-tech ways to pay our fares, such as mobile phone apps and wearables. There’s even a nod to autonomous vehicles, featuring the first AV in regular service—Switzerland’s Trapizio.
Futuristic Maglev high speed trains would likely not be seen by American children unless they vacationed in Japan, China, or Europe, but they appear here, followed by a look ahead with the Hyperloop train and electric vertical takeoff and Landing (VTOL) passenger drones.
Before you know it, the book’s over, but reading it is a fun ride in itself and helps prepare kids for a future full of public transportation options.
The year 2020 was a difficult one. But now, it’s 2021, and I’m ready to renew my commitment to ensuring a safe, healthy, and happy future for my children, grandchildren, and everyone else who will be living in the second half of the 21st century, after I’m gone.
Reading an inspiring book is a great way to light the fire of climate action in your belly. So, I pulled The Future We Choose—Surviving the Climate Crisis off my bookshelf. Its two authors, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac have excellent climate credentials—they were the architects of the 2015 Paris Agreement. They are also cofounders of Global Optimism, an organization focused on bringing about environmental and social change.
I ordered the book last year when it came out, but for some reason, I only got through the first two parts before putting it aside. I got distracted and disturbed by the COVID-19 lockdown and six months of job searching, among other things. But with the U.S. about to re-enter the Paris Agreement under our new, climate-action-focused president, it seemed like an appropriate book to read right now. The book’s 210 pages went by fast, as the message is expertly written in clear, actionable prose.
Two Scenarios for 2050
Part 1 of the book, Two Worlds, offers a brief introduction and two views of life in 2050—one if we don’t act and one if we do. They are jarringly different scenarios, and of course, we want the second option. Chapter 1 opens the book with a brief review of the now familiar basic science of climate change. Chapter 2 presents a dystopian tale of rising temperatures and oceans, more powerful storms, mass dislocation, droughts, political unrest, and the other scary topics that Al Gore clearly laid out in his An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. Chapter 3 offers the alternative future, where we had the right vision and took action, keeping the earth a good place for people to live. In a way, it follows Mr. Gore’s slideshow’s template—education—emotion—action.
Three Mindsets for Success
In Part 2, Three Mindsets, the authors lay out three ways of thinking we need to practice in order to be good citizens of the earth and do what’s necessary to succeed. The introduction begins with a warning that we too often start “doing” before first reflecting on “being”— knowing who we are and what we personally bring to the task and what other people can do. The authors quote Gandhi, who said we want to be the change we want to see. It reminds me of ideas I heard in my college philosophy classes. It’s certainly important to be centered, grounded, and know what our goals are.
They also say that we need to make a total shift in our thinking. Part of why we’ve done so much damage to the planet is that we don’t see and feel how we are intimately connected to all of nature in everything we do, from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the materials we take from the earth and the waste we leave behind. We need to move to an attitude of connection and stewardship, away from one of exploitation and disposal.
The three mindsets are:
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and the complexity of the climate crisis, but the authors urge us to not feel helpless. By recognizing our thought patterns, we can start to transform them, and move towards optimism. Optimism, in their definition, means an intention to see beyond the immediate horizon, have comfort in the uncertainty of the outcome, and make a commitment to keeping this mindset.
We want to focus on positive thoughts, while also clearly seeing the real issues, remembering that another future is possible, but not promised. We can use the power of hope to create a new reality.
“Optimism is about having steadfast confidence in our ability to solve big challenges. It is about making the choice to tenaciously work to make the current reality better.”
Picturing the world as a zero-sum game gives us a perception of scarcity, even when there isn’t any. This leads to competition and self-centeredness, which historically has been very damaging to the planet. However, with a rapidly expanding population and reduced resources, the earth is now approaching actual scarcity, so collaboration is now our only option.
“The practice of abundance starts by shifting our minds away from perceived scarcity to what we can collectively make abundant.”
Regeneration here means two things. In one sense, our planet can no longer support one-directional growth, with continued extraction without restoration. One example of a solution is rewilding, where areas of the planet are allowed to return to their natural state. The other meaning of regeneration applies to us. The authors suggest meditation and mindfulness to stay personally grounded through the challenges of climate action. Also, time spent in the natural world is restorative, especially with so many of us inside suffering from “nature deficit disorder.”
Ten Actions to Take
In Part 3 Figueres and Rivett-Carnac lay out ten actions we all should take. They believe that while having the right mindset is crucial to success, we have to manifest it in our actions as well. It’s also important to reject the cycle of blame and retribution we get when looking at the past and embrace the shared endeavor while “transforming our priorities to an everyone-everywhere mission.”
“The time for doing what we can is past. Each of us must now do what’s necessary.”
Here are the ten actions.
Action 1: Let Go of the Old World
Fossil fuels have built our society, and brought a lot of people out of poverty, but it’s time to move on. We have to avoid nostalgia for the good old days and focus on where we’re going, not where we’ve been. It’s time to challenge our assumptions.
Action 2: Face Your Grief but Hold a Vision of the Future
With an uncertain future, we need to muster as much courage as we can. We need a vision, not simply goals, while keeping our eyes on what’s to come. It helps to believe that the world is worth saving and that a regenerative future is possible.
Action 3: Defend the Truth
In the internet age, there is plenty of disinformation and lies out there. We have to beware of “confirmation bias,” where we see truth in things that reinforce our existing beliefs. We should verify sources and learn to distinguish between real science and pseudoscience. We can make a positive impact by interacting with and listening to climate deniers to learn where they are coming from and find ways to communicate with them.
Action 4: See Yourself as a Citizen, not a Consumer
It’s crucial to resist the rampant and unsustainable consumerism of today, where “the good life” means constantly consuming new things. When you do buy things, be a good consumer and support companies that make their products sustainably. Even better, work to dematerialize.
Action 5: Move Beyond Fossil Fuels
This is a favorite of mine, as an EV advocate. Beyond moving to electric cars, the authors suggest making an energy audit of your home and systematically reducing your carbon footprint. And we can all demand 100 percent renewable energy from our utilities. We need to make the transition in a planned and measured way to keep the economy intact, but we must do it now.
Action 6: Reforest the Earth
Trees are natural, non-tech CO2 absorbers, and they are cheap and safe. By letting nature flourish we can undo a lot of damage. Trees help cool cities, too, where temperatures are already heading upward. Scary: 80 percent of the deforestation of the rainforest in Brazil is for raising beef cattle. Going to a more plant-based diet has a big impact. We can boycott products from companies that are contributing to deforestation.
Action 7: Invest in a Clean Economy
We need to move more in harmony with nature, repurpose used resources, and minimize waste. The book proposes moving away from using the GDP as a measurement of success—it’s based on extract, use, and discard. Places like Costa Rica and New Zealand are moving away from this model.
“We need to reorient our underlying sense of value toward quality of life.”
Action 8: Use Technology Responsibly
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool and has exponential potential if deployed and governed well. It’s important, however, to apply the technology to a society that’s already moving in the right direction. Using AI to extract coal faster obviously isn’t the way. Redesigning energy grids and preventing methane leaks from pipes are good uses of technology. Find out what your government and local community are doing.
Action 9: Build Gender Equality
It turns out that women are better leaders during a crisis. They are more open and sensitive to a wider range of views and are better collaborators. Opening up educational opportunities to women worldwide leads to smaller, healthier families, which is crucial for limiting a growing world population. Project Drawdown has made this point clearly, as well. We need all the deep listening, empathy and collective wisdom we can get.
Action 10: Engage in Politics
We need stable political systems to be responsible to the planet’s changing needs and citizens’ evolving desires. Sadly, corporate interests have captured our democracies. Although climate change action is a higher priority for more people now, it needs to become the top priority. Peaceful civil resistance and civil disobedience are the moral choice and historically have proven to be very effective. It only takes a small number of people (3.5% of the population, according to the authors) to move change in a society.
The book winds down by making two points, and then proposing an action plan. The points are:
We still have a choice—and every action matters
We can make the right choices about our own destiny
The action plan is a checklist called, “What You Can Do Now.” It proposes actions for right now and far into the future:
today or tomorrow
Thinking about these categories and planning what you will do helps you understand that your actions today matter, and that you need to be thinking long term, too. By 2050, those of us who are still around will know if our actions were successful.
Next: I’m going to fill in my What You Can Do checklist.
Figueres, Christiana and Rivett-Carnac, Tom. The Future We Choose—Surviving the Climate Crisis. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.
Today, armed Trump supporters stormed the sanctity of the nation’s Capitol and rioted, personally egged on by their toxic narcissist sore loser leader. This is just the latest outrage in the country where COVID-19 is labeled a hoax, mask-wearing is seen as a sign of weakness, and, yes, climate change is called a hoax, too.
I’m sitting in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, so I am far away physically and politically from this uproar, but I am deeply concerned about the future of the United States of America and the world.
The U.S. was a leader not so long ago. We have been a beacon of hope for acceptance, fairness, and democracy. We had elections where the loser called the winner to congratulate them, and then helped in a peaceful transition. We led by example.
Yes, our history is tainted with injustices to native people, minorities, and the poor. Our capitalism claims that anyone can be successful, but over time has reinforced class structures, with the wealthy getting more so, the poor losing protections, and the middle class having stagnant earning power.
Now, the world needs leadership to battle climate change—along with the worst pandemic in a century. This time, thanks in part to the reign of Donald J. Trump, we are unprepared to lead.
In 2018, I spent three days at the Climate Reality Leadership Training with Al Gore and other leaders and learned how to present the story of climate change. The former vice president is famous (and was awarded) for his An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. At the training, he showed us how to do our own version of it. The PowerPoint starts with basic climate science, then segues to some truly frightening photos of fires, floods, and droughts, and then some hopeful images of windmills and solar panels. The sections are “Must we do it?,” Can we do it?,” and “Will we do it?.” The “Will” section shows shots of the Paris Agreement and peaceful demonstrations.
Since late 2018, I have given nine Climate Reality presentations, including one just a month before COVID-19 crippled our ability to meet in groups. My personal focus, as an auto writer, has switched to electric vehicles, and I test and promote them enthusiastically.
The problem I see, though, is that in this social climate, presentations like this and simply reporting on electric cars may not be enough to get the job done in the short amount of time we have to make an impact. Today, a vast number of people are fed disinformation and lies, and last November, were willing to give a second term to an obviously dangerous COVID-19 and climate change denier. Away from the coasts and urban areas, there’s a vast distrust of science—you might even say a loss of reason—in the population. With social media, anyone can find a like-minded believer of any conspiracy theory, and right-wing media has promoted an alternative universe of beliefs and “facts.” It’s hard to know what’s the truth anymore.
But facts are facts, and one of them is that the earth is continuing to warm, and that it will lead to drastic changes, including coastal flooding, more powerful storms, droughts, loss of species, and a general disruption of what has been, for ten millennia, a stable climate. Unfortunately, while a small group toils to fix, update, improve, and change the situation, most people either don’t care or are too absorbed in their own lives to act. I know, because even as a trained Climate Reality Leader, I spend a lot of time doing things that either hurt or don’t improve the climate situation. And I know better!
What’s the answer? How can you teach even basic science, such as the basics of climate change or the essentials of disease transmission, to minds that are closed to being educated and whose emotions are focused on illusory things?
Do climate leaders, some corporate CEOs, and some nonprofit organizations have to be the parents who take care of all of these wayward children? How can we reach out across the wide political divide, and get everyone on the same page? We could have had our “World War II” moment with fighting the COVID-19 virus, but thanks to our disengaged, lying, self-centered chief executive, we are behind most other countries. There is no talk of sacrifice and no feeling of shared responsibility. My mask protects you! Why is that so hard to grasp?
When we are finally back to being physically together, how do we heal the wounds that we’ve suffered from this disruptive chapter in our history? Are Climate Reality presentations relevant anymore?
We need to act quickly, in a way that gets the message across. But what is it?