In the face of massive existential threat, how can we begin to take action at the scale required to protect the future of life on earth? This episode, I speak with James Glave, an author, editor, and communications professional focused on the low-carbon economy.
As principal of Glave Communications, James supports a wide range of companies, organisations, and governments committed to decarbonisation. He is also a cofounder and former communications director for Clean Energy Canada, and a senior fellow and lead communications advisor for Future 500 in San Francisco.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
James Glave is the principal of Glave Communications, a cofounder and former communications director for Clean Energy Canada, and a senior fellow and lead communications advisor for Future 500 in San Francisco.
He is currently working on the editorial team producing the REN21 Global Renewables Status Report, and is leading outreach on the BC Energy Step Code, an innovative building regulation that is transforming the built environment in British Columbia.
James also hosts 3Things.Energy, a podcast exploring leading energy solutions to climate change, which I recommend you check out if you want to dive in even deeper.
Written, recorded & produced by Nathalie Nahai © 2019.
NN: Hello, and welcome to The Hive Podcast. In today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with James Glave, an author, editor, and communications professional focused on the low-carbon economy. As principal of Glave Communications, he supports a wide range of companies, organizations, and governments committed to decarbonisation.
He’s also a co-founder and former communications director for Clean Energy Canada, and a senior fellow and lead communications advisor for Future 500 in San Francisco.
He’s currently working on the editorial team producing the REN21 Global Renewables Status Report, and is leading outreach on the BC Energy Step Code, an innovative building regulation that’s transforming the built environment in British Columbia. James also hosts 3Things.Energy, a fantastic podcast exploring leading energy solutions to climate change, which I highly recommend you check out if you want to dive deeper into some of the topics that we’ll be touching on today.
Thank you so much, James, for joining me in conversation. It’s a real pleasure to have you on. I thought we’d kick off by asking if you can tell us a bit about how you came to be in your current role focusing on growing low-carbon economies.
JG: I’m originally from Canada. I grew up here, and went to school here. My background professionally is in media, particularly magazine editing. I was a magazine editor in various roles after moving to the States in about 1995. I worked for WIRED Magazine’s online division, wired.com, and then went on to Outside Magazine, The Literary Adventure magazine. That was in first San Francisco, and then Santa Fe. I became a U.S. citizen in the 10 years I was down there and met my wife. We had us two children.
Fast forward to 2005, we moved back to Canada to be closer to my family when we had little ones. I just became more interested in the whole sustainability and climate change conversation. As a journalist, you’re always very, very curious. I sort of started to fixate on what needs to happen, why are the decisions so difficult, what is really kind of going on out there, and what is the opportunities around that. I began sort of shifting my work to make that more my beat, and profiling people that were changemakers and were active on climate change and so forth, and gradually eventually shifted from writing about people that were changing the world, to wanting to do it myself. That’s when I kind of made a jump to the NGO world, and I co-founded Clean Energy Canada, which was, and still is, a national non-profit that is sort of working to accelerate the shift to the low-carbon economy.
NN: Fascinating. From a personal perspective, I’m just really curious, when it came to reorienting your career from writing about people doing this kind of work to being someone who more proactively, practically does this kind of work, how did you grapple with that change?
JG: Well, you know, it’s a really interesting thing. I think journalists tend to be a pretty skeptical/borderline cynical bunch. Everybody is trying to sell you something, and everybody’s driving an agenda. I sort of applied that same lens, that kind of, I don’t know, you might call it a bullshit detector filter, to that whole other world of advocacy.
I was like, “Okay, who’s …” you know, had a very kind of, at the time, probably pretty cynical take on it, like, “There’s a real story here, what’s going on behind us?” I just kind of gradually got an education when I was forced to dig in and look at the evidence of what was happening, and what was driving it, and what were the biggest growing sources, and why it was going so long ignored. I just kind of became personally engaged and passionate around that. I went from that sort of disconnected, dispassionate, to more personally involved. It was really a great moment for me. I mean, I don’t know if it was an actual moment, it was more of an evolution, but I definitely felt better at the other end of it.
NN: Mmmm, so can you tell us a bit about what decarbonisation is? What is growing a low-carbon economy, how does it work?
JG: Yeah, great question. Decarbonisation is kind of a bit of a mouthful of syllables, but it essentially refers to this process of transitioning, and ultimately transforming energy systems so that we continue to have access and do the things that we love to do and enjoy getting around our communities, living comfortably, but without releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s essentially a, as the word suggests, it’s taking the carbon or the carbon dioxide pollution out of our economies, out of our transportation, out of our cars, out of our industries, and replacing them with other alternatives that don’t contribute to climate change.
NN: And how did you find that? Obviously there’s certain things that we can do more readily than other things, so for instance, cars, motorbikes… You know, where I’m living in Barcelona there’s lots of scooters, as there are in the states now, and in the UK and Canada – what about things like flights? Are there certain things for which we need to be searching different solutions?
JG: Yeah. Right. Sure. Well, at a very high level, I’ve sort of realised that there’s three things that generally need to happen, which is the genesis of the podcast that you mentioned, and thank you for the shout-out earlier, 3Things.Energy, and they’re kind of very systemic, broad, sort of high-level things that really need to be where we need to be putting our priorities to make this transition.
And really, the first one is what I call clean the grids, which is, essentially, take all of our electricity grids, power plants, and those that are running on fossil fuels, really, we should be transitioning those, turning those off, and powering them down, and accelerating the shift away from, in the U.S. right now, still a lot of coal, and increasingly natural gas, electricity production to non-emitting sources. We’re also going to need to increase dramatically the amount of that clean electricity that we produce, because we’re going to be increasing the demand in other areas. We can’t afford to keep wasting energy as well.
The second thing is erase energy waste, which is this, we wasted enormous amount of energy that we’ve produced through just inefficiencies in the systems, leaky homes, vehicles that consume more energy than they need to, even back in the days when we had incandescent lightbulbs, most of that energy was not light, it was heat giving off into the room. So the second is getting our efficiencies straight.
And the third, just very briefly, is electrify everything. Essentially, that is, you mentioned as well, the vehicles and so forth, anything that currently runs on a motor that uses fossil fuels – and vehicles is just one. I mean, imagine the whole spectrum, trains, trucks, eventually ships, and replace that out with an electric motor and batteries that can be charged from clean and renewable sources. Really, those are kind of the three cornerstones of what needs to happen.
NN: And in terms of making these things change, where do you think the responsibility lies? Obviously it’s probably not in one place, but how do you think that starts to divide, in terms of individual responsibility, organisational responsibility, political, economic, etc cause there’s a lot of different scripts running at the same time, people wanting different things for different reasons.
JG: Yeah. These are things that are so profoundly big, and the current models that we have are so deeply entrenched that, really, this isn’t something that we can change the level of the individual. There are ways we as individuals can participate to help drive those shifts, but really, we’re talking about the level of the whole economy, and that’s the realm of policy and of governments.
I went through this uncomfortable shift in my own evolution we were talking about a moment ago, where I wanted to like spread the word and get my neighbours engaged on how we can make a difference, and really that whole kind of like, “I want to start a citizen movement to drive positive change,” it’s just not going to happen at the scope and at the scale and at the speed that needs to happen now. It’s really, we have to kind of change the whole system at once, and so my big emphasis is on really trying to use those levers of government and really kind of try to support governments and policymakers and politicians who are serious about tackling these things, because it’s only through using those that there’s broad policy changes that shift the whole system at once is really the kind of the scale we need.
NN: So how does one go about that sort of large-scale, rapid shift? What needs to happen for that to come about? How many pressure groups need to apply, you know, their own stresses onto the current system to get it to change?
JG: Yeah. Well, yeah, exactly. I think there’s been a huge body of work about why humans are not wired to tackle this issue. Mostly, it comes back to, we don’t respond well to existential, distant threats. There’s a whole realm of other concerns. I mean, those who politically self-identify as conservatives, it’s in their core belief system to mistrust government and/or to not place faith in large government shifts and organizations, but really, that’s what this requires. So there’s a big chunk of society, and particularly speaking about America, is it’s become a politicized issue. It’s something that’s owned by the left, even though there are so many aspects of it that would appeal to the right. It’s challenging. It’s resulted in this vacuum of information, of knowledge, of active denial.
Getting back to your question, we really need [inaudible 00:11:23] … The strongest metaphor is the World War II level of mobilization, where the President pulled the top car companies into his office, and he said, “You’re not making cars anymore. You’re making tanks and fighter aircraft,” and that was that. They said, “You’ve got to do it by next week. There will be no 1940 Buick whatever.”
That’s an example of a very pressing threat that was a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the United States. It’s true. There was Pearl Harbor, there was, Hitler had marched across most of Europe. We don’t have that equivalent drive or imperative to act, and yet we really, really need to. We go on seeking our news from the same sources that we’ve always found it from, and we’ve politicized this issue, and push it far, far down on your priority list. I don’t have the answers [inaudible 00:12:28] key question, but I know that we will probably need some kind of a very large-scale event to really kind of focus our action on this issue, something of a Pearl Harbor scale in terms of a wound on the national psyche that can be clearly linked to this phenomenon.
NN: That’s so difficult, isn’t it – this umm, the psychological barriers to being able to a) confront the enormity of the challenge we face, and b) to pull through enough mental resources, emotional resources, to start to tackle this in any meaningful way.
JG: Yeah. So many people. I mean, the other thing is that we’re not only short-term thinkers, we can’t think beyond our immediate, but so many people, I mean, there are some profound inequities in our civilization right now, you know, racial inequity and class inequity, and there’s so many people that are just struggling just to get by, that it’s just, they can’t wrap their head around thinking about, “How can we direct our just emotional energy towards solving this, supporting this, speaking up for action and solutions.” It’s a real struggle.
NN: I wonder if this is also why for instance the school strike that we’re seeing happening all across the world now, why it’s this cohort of people, those who are young who don’t yet have the other, more immediate, short-term concerns, like putting food on the table, having rent or mortgage or whatever, that these are people who actually are the ones who can be most vocal because they experience the situation the most keenly. That’s the most present danger to their future.
JG: You know, Nathalie I am more inspired and excited by the school strikes movement than I have been by anything…
NN: Yeah, me too.
JG: I just… It is such an enormous injection of hope and energy, and the fact that it is spreading globally – you know, just a few days from now, there’s going to be another global strike. My two teens are going to be participating.
JG: And I’m super proud of them, and I’m just trying not to push it on them, you know like, hey it’s all you, this is you know, you all – you know, I can help support any way I can, but you know you’re all driving this one, so… It is super exciting because it truly is coming from a grassroots movement, it’s not an environmental organisation that’s, you know, top-down leading this campaign, it’s completely self-organised, and you can tell that there’s – when you see the interviews with the youth who are talking about why they are going on a strike, there’s just an enormous – you can see that they’re getting it.
JG: And you know, so much of our society is disengaged, there’s just you know, it’s such a great sign of hope.
NN: I wonder how that will translate to political pressure, I mean obviously Great Thunberg was invited to speak at the UN, she’s spoken in front of huge cohorts of people about the subject, but also it’s kind of – well, I wonder how much of it is in some senses greenwashing, people saying that they’re taking this issue seriously because it’s coming from younger mouths, and how much of it is actually going to impact upon the legislations that need to be made in order to make the changes that we need.
JG: Well, that’s why I’m so hopeful, because historically, I mean, you look at any jurisdiction anywhere in the world, and youth are one of the most underrepresented at the ballot box consistently. It’s dispiriting because they do have the most at stake. There’s many reasons many younger people feel disenfranchised, they feel that the political system is fundamentally broken, and their response is to opt out. There’s a lot of stereotypes about younger people who are more interested in partying or the latest Ariana Grande release or what have you, but you see it in these young people, they are committed. I know that they are going to carry that commitment forward to into the next elections.
NN: So in what ways do you see our current systems contributing to the problem, or exacerbating it, and in some cases, even promoting the destruction of our environment?
JG: Well, our economic systems do not account for the damage caused to the ecosystems by the things that we make and buy and use. Economists call that externalities, essentially, when I drive my car, I buy my gas and so forth, but the price I pay at the pump doesn’t reflect the damage to public health from pollution and to the atmosphere through contributing to climate change. People are very price-sensitive. So you see a lot of news stories around the summertime, Pain at the Pump, “Oh my God, the gas price is going up again.” So we’re kind of really detached from the actual costs of the things that we buy and do because we don’t understand there’s a larger tale of impacts beyond the initial purchase.
So that is a really troubling one, because we’re very price-sensitive. For example, only 57% of Americans currently believe that climate change is primarily the result of human activity. I know. Here we are in 2019, and we’ve been talking about this for a long time, and there’s still just, people just, they don’t get it. They either don’t trust that information, or it’s coming from the wrong places. That’s really, you know, I couple that with, there’s enormous investment in the current model, the current carbon-intensive system. There are powerful lobbies that don’t want anything to change because it represents a threat to their business, and there are political leaders who are beholden to those interests because of the lobbying and political campaign donations and so forth. It’s there, and you can’t deny that it’s a factor, and it is helping to reinforce the status quo.
NN: So I’m just curious, cause this is something that I ask myself a lot – for the people who are in the positions where they’re making their money, their livelihoods from these destructive systems – and we’re all complicit in some way, well, I would say most of us, maybe not all of us are complicit in this in some way…
But say for instance, when you know that what you’re doing is deforesting an area and killing loads of species, like if you know that, and you‘ve got that on your hands, what do you think the psychological bind is, that means that people can’t see, if they’re in this position, that actually if they deplete the earth too much, and we end up with catastrophe, they’re not going to have a business, because there won’t be any planet to have the business on! I know it sounds a bit odd, maybe, to put it in that stark frame, but to me it feels like a really clear… You know, if we don’t have a planet that is habitable, we’re not going to have an economy.
JG: Yeah, but if I don’t have a job, then I can’t put food on the table for my family, I don’t have a shelter over my head, and I’m not going to be able to get to sleep at night. Again, it’s that hierarchy of needs, you know, the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know, is placed very strongly in this. You take care of the most important things first, and for many people, where there are no alternatives realistically available to them, that’s what they go to do. It’s this enormous amount of guilt and worry that often manifests itself publicly as backlash and anger about a certain species at risk that’s been the basis of a decision to stop deforestation in a particular area, you know, that has an economic impact on people’s lives that’s real. I think that’s really where the Just Transition movement steps in.
Up here in Canada, where I’m living right now, the Government’s just announced a packet, or a task force was put together to make recommendations about how to transition coal-dependent communities, where there’s coal-fired power, it’s being phased out, how do we take care of these people? I think people need to see a space for themselves in this sort of sexy, cool, low-carbon future, where we’re all driving Teslas. If people don’t see a space for themselves in that vision, they’re not going to support it. They can’t get themselves to that place. So that’s really that kind of whole fairness and equity needs to be foundational to creating that.
NN: And do you think that there are certain changes to the economic system that need to happen in order to allow for that kind of shift on a communities-based level, or on a jobs-based level?
JG: Yeah. Well, I mean, fundamentally, we need policies in place that begin the shift by rebalancing the market so that cleaner solutions are more cost-competitive with not so clean ones. That will gradually start to shift, and hopefully start to quickly shift, but at the same time, we really need to put in supports underneath that for those who are going to be, essentially, their jobs are going to be going away. There’s definitely going to be impacts and losses. We just have to have a system set up to catch those people so that they have access to retraining, so they can retire early, or whatever different array of options needs to be made available. Because for sure, we need to completely transform our energy system, and there are going to be companies that make a lot of money doing that, and there are going to be companies that do not survive that shift.
NN: So where do you see some of the greatest positive impacts being achieved for decarbonisation, for some of this transition that we’re talking about?
JG: Yeah. Well, I have to say, when you want to look at a story of a complete turnaround, it’s China. China is a really exciting and interesting story. You know, about a decade ago, the ruling party leader said, “We’re declaring war on pollution.” We all see the stories, and whenever somebody says, “Oh, I’m not going to buy a hybrid because there’s a new coal plant opening every week,” it’s just, China is outpacing the entire world on investments in efficiency, in renewables, in wind and solar, electric vehicles. There’s like 20 different electric vehicle manufacturing companies in China. Tesla’s just a small part of that landscape. It’s an amazing story because their party leaders were concerned that there would be a revolution on their hands because people couldn’t go outside and walk in a park because the pollution was so bad, so they are going full on, and that is fascinating to watch. It dwarfs all other areas, California, you name it.
NN: It’s extraordinary, because also the whole thing of, again, the psychological element of “am I personally effected, does this have an impact on my day-to-day living?”, of course it does…
NN: And so it’s interesting that one of the most populous countries in the world is now having to do such a massive transformation. But of course, economically, maybe they can afford to do that because politically they have a system which allows for that kind of decision to be made without much of a challenge. Would that be fair to say?
JG: Yes. That’s fair to say. I mean, yes, it is a totalitarian regime.
JG: We can name that, for sure. There isn’t that pesky democracy and public process to get through. I mean, if you look at an example in the United States where there was a wind farm proposed for many years off of Cape Cod, off of Nantucket. Wealthy property owners along the shore fought that for so many years. Eventually, the proponent gave up because even though there’d be just tiny, little dots like the size of a rice grain on the horizon of wind turbines, they didn’t want to see that. So there is public process we do have to account for engaging with individual communities around the impacts of generation, particularly since we need to ramp up wind and solar so much.
But there are also great success stories, California. Oh my God, California is really up there with China in terms of just getting it done. There’s enormous, deep commitment by the state of California to completely do all of the three things we talked about. They’re going gangbusters to phase out all greenhouse gases on their grids. They’re going to be carbon-neutral by 2045, and they’re on track to do it. That’s a great example. I mean, that is a democracy. The former governor, Governor Brown, really kind of, before he left, he set a whole bunch of rules and legislation. So that is really a powerful example of leadership, certainly in the United States.
NN: Mmm. Do you think we have that much time? Until 2045 to go carbon neutral?
JG: Right. Right. Right. Well, I mean, the latest thinking out of the IPCC was, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, really, we have about 12 years to put in the kind of deep policy change that the really transformational work to prevent from going past that two degrees threshold. Two degrees of warming. Beyond that, we start to really unlock some pretty, pretty nasty feedback loops and so forth, methane releases, and so on. That’s the goal. That’s where we need to get to. And yeah, we don’t have a lot of time to get there.
I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine about whether we’re going to be able to put the motivation and the awareness and suddenly build that mass support, where it’s going to come from. But I’m not, just for the record, putting my own bank in some kind of a technology breakthrough. A lot of people, I think, in the back of their head are sort of hardwired to think, “Well, somebody’s going to invent something that’s going to fix this.” I just don’t think we can count on that. I think it’s going to take a huge shift in priorities. Again, I fear that will come from some large event, but I don’t know.
NN: It’s interesting, it’s this kind of sort of Messianic vision of salvation that we seem to be more comfortable with. This sense of “well, I’m gonna just deny that I’m going to take any sense of responsibility and just hope for the best that someone else will fix this problem and that it’ll be a panacea of some kind”.
Do you think with the issues of carbon sequestration, so for instance, planting loads of trees, I know that people are funding loads of different charities now that are doing this, so trees.org is one, there’s various different ones… Or those organisations that are actually supporting indigenous populations who have long been the stewards of very biodiverse ecosystems – do you think that that approach also can contribute to the changes that we need at scale that we need them?
JG: It certainly can. I mean, for sure, California, for example, is not going to get to carbon neutrality unless it plants a lot of trees. But the challenge now is that with hotter summers, those trees might burn two years later after they’ve been planted, and then you’ve lost that whole mitigation, that whole impact. Indigenous knowledge should absolutely inform any policy package that would get us there.
Those voices need to be represented, for sure. But it’s big pieces, you know? Certainly, a price on carbon would be helpful, but it’s also regulations that work away in the background that nobody really sees or knows about or cares about. If you can indulge me in one little anecdote that illustrates this beautifully…
NN: Yes please!
JG: A friend of mine, an energy economist up here in Canada, Mark Jaccard, he’s a brilliant economist who focuses on climate change. He’s on the IPCC. He asks a question whenever somebody says, “Well, what should I do? Should I make sure my tires are inflated? Should I buy a bike?” He throws a question back, and he says, “Let me put it to you, Natalie, what did you do personally to fix the hole in the ozone layer? Did you stop buying hair spray or …
That’s an example of a global threat that was solved through regulation, basically, governments got together, and they said, “Well, we can’t make these chemicals anymore because they are removing, they’re destroying and degrading the Earth’s ozone layer, which is protecting us from a high ultraviolet radiation level. So they all get together, and they said, “We’re going to stop making them.” So you couldn’t buy a fridge anymore with those chemicals in it. You couldn’t buy hair spray anymore or shaving cream, or anything in a aerosol can. You still buy hair spray, you could buy shaving cream, it just didn’t have that chemical in it. So really, it just kind of got legislated out of existence, out of the market.
It’s a similar thing, though, the energy system is much more complicated than hair spray, and there’s a lot more invested in it, but really, it’s kind of, again, this, you know, we’ve got to work on the boring stuff that’s in the background that just simply starts to remove greenhouse gases from our systems. They don’t have to be this big public-facing thing. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be. They should probably just be kind of industrial rules on car efficiency and so forth. That really kind of will really make a big difference, those things that really transform the system. Trees are awesome, a good friend of mine runs an NGO that plants millions of trees a year, but it’s only one part of it.
NN: So what are some of the impactful political and economic actions that people can take to help what you’re describing, so these sorts of standards that need to be rolled out within various industries – is there anything that people can do? If someone suddenly realises, “right, I need to change my life!”
JG: I thought you’d never ask. I was worried you’d never ask. Really, you can, it’s really important to engage with government, with the public process. The very minimal thing is vote, you know, say why this issue matters to you, why you want to save future, tell your friends that this is a priority. If a pollster calls your house, tell them it’s a priority for you. And not just federally, look at all levels of government, your local town, your city government, your state or provincial government, and your federal. You need to be engaged at all those levels.
And really, if you want to go even further, join a citizens’ advisory body, write and call your legislators, show up at hearings and speak in support of solutions like transit system expansions, neighborhood densification. These kinds of meetings matter, where people actually show up in person. That is seen to be having political value, as opposed to clicking Like or signing an online petition. Those have almost zero political value in terms of changing things. If that’s too much, you’re too busy for that kind of level of engagement, donate or join an organization that’s working to effect the systemic change.
There’s a few other things you could do. You could tell your financial advisor if you have retirement savings you want to move your money to reduce your exposure to carbon risk, that’s how you could frame it, say, “These companies have a lot of fossil fuels. Their valuation is based on how much oil they can pump out of the ground, or natural gas. I don’t want that because that’s going to have to stop, so I want you to move my money somewhere else.” Move your money to a credit union. Those are all kinds of things like that, you can do. But the point is to engage at that level, rather than at the level of individual lifestyle choices. That is not, in my mind, the productive place.
NN: And are there any specific organisations that you like, that you see having a significant impact with these sorts of actions?
JG: Wow. The NRDC does really good job on this, the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Union of Concerned Scientists does terrific work on this as well.
NN: So if you were to say what your biggest concern for the future is, how might you answer?
JG: Well, I fear that the current track we’re on is going to cause pretty large-scale disruptions of our healthcare systems, of our social safety net, and so forth. I guess my biggest concern is that we’ll feel overwhelmed at the point where we really need to buckle down and work together and bridge partisanship, and that World War II mobilisation thing, that we’ll be just too overwhelmed by the circumstances and what’s happening to move to that rapid mobilisation. I mean, that’s one of my concerns, that we’ll sort of instead hunker down into survival mode, both individuals and as nations, and we’ll see nationalism dominate rather than the spirit of, “Let’s work together and solve this.” I think that’s my biggest concern around this.
NN: And you had another couple, I’m kind of curious to open Pandora’s Box and ask what your others are!
JG: Oh, well, I’m concerned about AI and automation also displacing millions of jobs. That could be a situation where just when we need people to really feel engaged and inspired, there may be whole sections of society that are unemployable or, essentially, economically irrelevant. There’s no way of knowing where that would go. But it’s not going to help the situation, let me just put it that way, because it’s going to really put one of those stresses on the system that we’re already grappling with some of the impacts of climate change, and yet that’s kind of quietly marching along in the background. That concerns me as well. We need to definitely address that proactively through policy before it gets out of hand.
NN: So what vision would you say that you are working towards achieving in your ultimate fantasy of how well this can work out, given the restrictions that we have, so like a realistic utopian vision, if such a thing exists?
JG: Yeah, no, it doesn’t have to be utopian. I think, I guess, I’m working towards, if you’re thinking about a vision, working to support a society, again, at its fundamental, that’s de-coupled greenhouse gas pollution from growth, from opportunity, from creativity, where we can really enjoy the good life, you know, clean air, green cities, a wide diversity of eclectic communities, without all of the things that we just sort of deal with as stress of everyday life right now, like traffic, for example. “Oh my God, traffic was brutal.” Well, you are traffic, you know?
If we can sort of move towards these solutions, so many of the benefits that come with them, you know, health benefits, quality of life benefits, are just, you know, that is kind of the vision that I’m looking to create. It’s almost like the climate benefits just come as, they get pulled along by the train of these other things that people really can experience and feel that improve their life.
So that’s kind of the complete package, really, where we’ve kind of just fixed that and we’re gradually making our communities stronger, more resilient, and better places to live so where we enjoy the good life, like we do today. The best aspects of that good life for today will still be with us tomorrow if we’ve decarbonised the economy.
NN: And what things do you think we might be most reluctant to let go of but would actually be really worthwhile letting go of?
JG: Well, I mean, air travel is, you mentioned earlier. I can’t see a really logical path for, you know, air travel is growing at an astounding rate right now. In the U.S., there are all-time high air travel volumes. Over 2017 to 2018, I think air passengers traffic increased 38 million flights, individual bookings. There’s really no good way to address zero-carbon aviation, but there is high-speed rail, electrified. I’m really interested and energised by Hyperloop technology as well, which is, essentially, very high-speed transport inside vacuum tubes that could criss-cross the nation. That is kind of the only place where you could travel with the speed and the convenience of an airline, but without all the hassles that come with it.
I think that there are always solutions to the things that we … I know I do really want to let go of surviving a five-hour flight in cattle class across … It’s not something I want to let go off, what I want to hold on to, is being able to see the people I love who happen to live far away. Is there a solution that will allow me keep doing that? In fact, I’ll keep doing that, and my quality of life will improve because I won’t have some kind of awful leg vein syndrome or something, or suffer airline food, or something. So to me, I always take it and flip it on its head and you know, “What do you really want to hang on to that’s really important to you, and how can we deliver that without carbon?”
NN: I do wonder, because I have family spread all over the world, and I’ve been trying to cut down on my flights and also paying for trees to offset the carbon emissions, and it’s not far enough, but for transatlantic… Do you think transatlantic flights will become a thing of the past?
JG: No, I don’t think so. There’s no reason you couldn’t put a Hyperloop under the ocean by way of Iceland perhaps. I don’t see that necessarily as … Transatlantic travel will not end just because transatlantic flights significantly decline. You know, I wouldn’t say goodbye and we’re on the hydrogen-powered steamship now. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Certainly, it’s a big nut to crack, and there needs to be policy change to allow that innovation to really take fire and start happening.
NN: I wonder if we’re going to live in a world in which we’re all sort of powered by green energy from China, and hyper loops from… You know maybe, who knows? Maybe this is going to be an unpredictable twist to the story, that we end up being saved by a country that is not necessarily a country that we imagine we’ll be saved by.
JG: Yeah. Possibly. Well, I mean, China, you know, I could respond and say that China has, because it has invested so heavily in this, they’ve driven down the cost of solar PV and wind technologies to a level that was unheard of a decade ago. It’s just by sheer, I’m sorry, what’s the word, quantities of scale, you know, they’re able to influence the global market so much that they’ve made those solar panels, in particular, more accessible to developing nations. So there’s lot of hope to be found out there. And yes, there are always those sort of unexpected knock-on factors that I’m hoping will work more in our favour than against us.
NN: Yes. Ok, so I know we’ve talked about quite large, systemic change, but just to round it off, I want to ask if there is a single action that people can take today as individuals to build a more resilient future – what would you encourage people to do? Just the one action?
JG: Yeah. You know, yeah, one action is, I would just, at the most simplest level, find your tribe. If you want to act, if you want this to change, connect with others who feel the same way. That’s really as simple as it gets, you know, just don’t be in your own bubble. There are lots of organizations, individuals, even at the neighborhood scale or the community scale, I would just sort of dip your toe in that engagement to connect with others who feel the way you do, and who are committed to change and to solutions.
JG: It’s as simple as that.
NN: OK. Well, thank you – I’m going to link to the Medium article that you wrote with your organisations that you mentioned, and to your website, Glave.com, and to your LinkedIn profile – you’re also on twitter @_jamesglave, and then also – I didn’t mention earlier, but I will put it in the shownotes and include it here – the book that you wrote, Almost Green: How I Saved One Sixth of a Billionth of the Planet, I’ll include a link for that as well. Is there anything else that you want to point people towards?
JG: No, you’ve, I think, covered it all. Jamesglave on Twitter is a great way to keep up. I would love to hear from your listeners about this conversation. I would love to be challenged and hear about solutions that people are working on, so I send out an open invitation to your audience to connect.