116: David Fenton, Activist & Advisor to Anti-Bullshit Media Company Yellow Dot Studios
Guest Name(s): David Fenton
Join Matt for an inspirational and enlightening chat with the trailblazing David Fenton. Fenton started his career as a photojournalist in the late 1960s – his book Shots: An American Photographer’s Journal was published in 2005. He was formerly director of public relations at Rolling Stone magazine and co-producer of the No-Nukes concerts in 1979 at Madison Square Garden with Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and other artists.
David Fenton, named “one of the 100 most influential P.R. people” by PR Week and “the Robin Hood of public relations” by The National Journal, founded by Fenton in 1982, to create communications campaigns for the environment, public health and human rights. For more than five decades David has pioneered the use of PR, social media, and advertising techniques for social change.
David is the senior advisor to Yellow Dot and oversees communications campaigns for the environment. He is also the author of The Activist’s Media Handbook. He has also helped create JStreet, Climate Nexus, the Death Penalty Information Center, and Families for a Future. David is now a full time climate activist.
ACC #116 – David Fenton – A Climate Change with Matt Matern
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got a great guest on the program today, David Fenton, a PR guru. So if you’ve ever wanted to communicate or thinking that you might ever want to communicate to people or to a wider audience, you need to listen in because David is the master of communication. He’s the author of The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons from Fifty Years as a Progressive Agitator.
David has an amazing history going back to the 60’s being involved in the you know, movements related to apartheid, nuclear arms, race, climate change, death penalty issues. Got a great quote from Nelson Mandela up on his website for work he did with with Nelson Mandela, also the Human Rights Watch. Jane Fonda gives David a plug. So I mean, a lot of heavyweights out there that have appreciated your your services to them and your great work. Welcome to the program. Thanks for being on the show.
Thank you, Matt. Glad to be here.
Well, tell us a little bit about your journey. Getting to the PR world, I saw that you were a photographer in the 60’s and kind of what what’s your path to photography and kind of give us a little bit of your background?
Sure, well, I was permanently damaged in the 60’s. You know, Timothy Leary said, “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” And I did all three faithfully. And I dropped out of high school, actually, to my parents great chagrin, and dropped into being a photo journalist for a radical news service called Liberation News Service, which sent material to all that could be anti-war underground, countercultural newspapers of the late 60’s. And that became my education in media and everything else. And I got to photograph and learn from the great activists of the Civil Rights and the anti-war movement. And the counterculture. And I got to photograph a lot of great music also at the time.
So that’s how I came of age. And then I published an alternative newspaper in Ann Arbor for a few years, which is when I crossed over into doing public relations work for progressive causes. We started a third political party in Ann Arbor when they lowered the voting age to 18. And we took over the city government.
Our first act was to make the sale and possession of marijuana a $5 parking ticket. And then we opened free medical clinics and free daycare centers with the city’s money. And I did the press releases and the radio ads. And that’s how my career got launched. And then I came back to New York. And I worked at High Times magazine for a year as an editor, and then went to Rolling Stone and became their Director of Public Relations and started my firm a few years after that.
Well, I have to admit that I did purchase a few of the High Times back in the 70’s. Or maybe I just read them at some nefarious places where you buy paraphernalia, I can’t recall which but you know, I do recall the magazine now. Now, it was kind of cutting edge back then now it would be kind of considered conservative at this point.
That’s true. Yeah. Well, it was a tough place to work. You know, people that remember it used to sell 500,000 print copies a month, it was a big deal. It had a centerfold, the most beautiful marijuana bugs of the month. So it was a tough place to work because all the dealers would descend on our offices hoping we would pick their bugs to be in the center fault. So tough place to work.
That sounds terrible.
Ha ha. I got involved in energy in the environment for the first time at Rolling Stone when I met all these rock musicians who are concerned about nuclear power, and we produce the so called “no nukes” concerts in 1979 with Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt and Carly Simon and James Taylor, and the Doobie Brothers and Chaka Khan.
And I know some people in the climate movement are pro nuclear. I’m not but that was when I first got involved in this issue. And then I got to know Dr. Jim Hansen. And like I tell people, you know, maybe you don’t want to hang out with climate scientists that could ruin your life. So that’s what happened to me.
So yeah, when did you first started hanging out with Dr. Jim Hansen?
It was in the mid to late 90’s. We, we publicize the first couple of IPCC reports in the early and mid 90s. And so the climate issue became very apparent to me, you know, at that point, I also got to know Amory Levin’s The Great Clean Energy Guru who founded the Rocky Mountain Institute – rmi.org. And so at the same time, I was learning from Hansen and the climate scientists about the great dangers we’ve faced. Amory was inspiring me with all the great cost effective solutions available to us. So that became my climate education. And about seven years ago, I sold my PR firm, so I could work on climate change media and education full time. So that’s what I’m doing now.
Well, one of the things that you say is that, essentially, communicating about the climate has been one of the big failures of the left. And tell us about why you think it’s been a big failure. And I’d also kind of like to add in there – why you think it’s been a big failure in the Republican Party, which at one point in time, certainly had some environmental bonafides. But for the most part, have abandoned them in the last 20-25 years, for sure. Not completely, but you know, they’re still members of the Republican Party that had some bonafides, but it’s a shrinking number. Unfortunately,
It’s actually a growing number, but it’s too small. The me there are some great conservative climate activists and champions, but they’re not well known. They don’t have much visibility. So they’re not affecting the debate in the conservative world very much. You know, that’s a big couple of questions there. The conservative issue…
Maybe you can write a book on it or something.
Ha ha, well, there is a chapter in my book called, “Climate Change: a Communications Failure,” that tries to dissect this. Well, let’s start with the data.
So only 20% of Americans know that all the climate scientists agree humans are heating the Earth. Most Americans still think there’s enormous scientific, there’s enormous disagreement among scientists, when there’s essentially none among published climate scientists. And why do they think that?
Well, that was the propaganda strategy of the oil, coal, and gas companies for decades to confuse people to think that scientists didn’t agree they learned that from doing that in the tobacco wars, when they said the doctors didn’t agree that cigarettes cause cancer.
So they spread doubt, and confusion, and they were very successful. Unfortunately, we’ve never reached the public with the truth about this at scale, which is a whole other issue. So two thirds of Americans report, they rarely or never hear anyone talk about climate change or see it in the media. These are figures from the Yale Project On Climate Change Communications, and only 25% of Americans fit the Yale category of alarmed about climate change. But when you press them, it’s a low priority issue for most of them.
So we really do not have an educated public, certainly not a mobilized one. And that’s why we don’t have the political will necessary to counter the corruption of our politics by the fossil fuel industry. So, you know, conservatives are confused about climate change. That’s pretty easy. It comes from the Republican Party being in the throes of fossil fuel money.
That’s the main reason, you know. A secondary reason is that conservatives are suspicious that if they accept the science of climate change, it will mean violating their ideology and supporting massive government intervention in the economy. It actually doesn’t have to mean that. But that’s a whole other issue.
Now on the progressive and liberal side, you know, basically, people that study the humanities, the law and the sciences, that’s liberals and progressives, by and large. They don’t like the notion of marketing and advertising and simplifying and communicating, they look down on that. That’s dirty and manipulative to our world. Whereas the people in the fossil fuel industry who largely go to business school, they study cognitive and marketing science and they have to use it to advance their careers to sell products and services.
So they have a natural focus on propaganda and public opinion. And we have this kind of quaint notion that great ideas magically reproduce and sell themselves because of their intrinsic brilliance. The linguist George Lakoff calls this the Enlightenment Fallacy, and it is a fallacy. So there’s a lot of money in the climate movement.
There’s many, many, many hundreds of millions of dollars, but almost none of it is spent to teach the public what this is, and what we need to do about it. And so the public really is doesn’t know that. Also, another factor, of course, is that our news media, certainly our television news media, does an atrocious job of covering the link between extreme weather and fossil fuel pollution.
So you know, most Americans, it’s kind of pathetic. If you ask them, what causes climate change. The number one answer you’ll get is the ozone hole, which of course, has nothing pretty much to do with it. And when you ask Americans how you solve climate change, the number one answer you’ll get is “reduce, reuse and recycle,” which is, you know, have limited value in this.
So yeah, it’s the public doesn’t know that we’re in effect under attack and have to hurry up. I mean, try finding someone who knows that the very conservative IPCC scientists from Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia all unanimously agree that we have to cut global pollution in half and seven years to have a 50% chance of maintaining a livable climate under 1.5 degrees centigrade. So anyway, you know, it’s kind of a mess out there.
Well, yes, definitely, I guess. We will be hearing more from David Fenton, the PR guru, who wrote the book, The Activist’s Media Handbook, when we get back from the break and go into these topics in much greater depth. So tune in or stay tuned, and we’ll be right back.
You’re listening to A Climate Change, and this is Matt Mater. And I’ve got David Fenton, who’s a PR guru who’s written a book The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons from Fifty Years as a Progressive Agitator.
David, just before the break, we were talking about kind of a languaging problem for the environmental movement, and also the failure to have conservatives that are environmentalists involved or getting their voices heard.
I actually interviewed somebody last week, Rex Paris, who’s the mayor of Lancaster, he’s a republican and his entire city council in Lancaster are Republicans, and they have created the first net zero city in the, in the US and I believe, potentially in the planet. And his pitch has kind of been – yes, it’s we’ve got a climate catastrophe coming. But it’s also good business sense for his for his city. And they’ve got huge solar arrays, they’re working on hydrogen, they have an electric bus manufacturing facility there. And they’ve just done a tremendous amount of great work, building homes that are net zero things of this nature.
Unfortunately, you don’t see people like him kind of front and center when you look on Fox News ever. So what can we do to get Rex on, you know, Fox News or someplace. so that I think it would blow the minds of a lot of Republicans out there. See here, whoa, this guy’s doing this stuff. And he’s making it work. And he totally gets the climate science too.
No, California. It’s a city of about 150,000 in northern LA County.
Oh, I hadn’t heard of that. That sounds terrific. Well, you know, you can buy ads on Fox News and it’s not that expensive. And I’ve been urging people in climate philanthropy to do this. For me, for example, excuse me. In Washington, DC. I asked people how much Do you think it costs to buy a 30 second ad on Fox News in Washington DC to reach opinion makers and members of Congress and the media, etc? How much do you think it costs Matt to buy a three second ad on Fox and DC? Take a guess?
I don’t know 3,000 bucks?
Oh, you are good. It costs $4,500. Most people answer that question with $50,000 to $100,000. So we have the money to do things like this, but we don’t do them. But the fossil fuel industry does it because it values opinion forming public relations, advertising, marketing, and propaganda. And, and we don’t. So that’s a big problem. You know, we live in a world where the media is very fractured. And so to get enough attention these days, it’s hard to do it if you don’t buy some of it.
And that’s anathema to a lot of liberals and progressives and philanthropists, who again, think that, you know, great ideas magically work by themselves. So buying media, that sounds very slimy and manipulative. But there’s plenty that can be done. I mean, for example, most conservatives in this country when they go online, which is where they get most of their news, all they ever see about climate change is it’s a hoax.
So why would we expect them to think anything else if that’s their entire information flow? So I’ve done some measured experiments, and bought climate videos into the social media feeds of conservatives, featuring conservatives who talk about how climate change threatens conservative values, like freedom and prosperity and security. And they work. You know, we published the results of this in peer reviewed journals, we hired a Republican polling firm to measure the results.
But it’s very hard to get philanthropy to support this kind of activity, unfortunately, and you know, I would urge those listening, we really can reach more conservatives, and we have to, but we have a bigger problem, which is the language of the scientific community. And the climate movement generally, is pretty inscrutable to most people. You know, most people don’t know what “net zero” means. And they certainly don’t know what an intersectional environmentalist means.
So what they do know is that they know what pollution is. And the thing about pollution is, everybody not only knows what it is, but no one will defend it. Pollution is always bad. So this, this speaks to cognitive and linguistic theory.
So as we’re exposed to language over the course of our lifetime, especially in childhood, it forms literal circuits in the brain, and these are called frames. So when you want to communicate with people successfully, you want to use language that activates existing mental frames. So when you say “pollution,” everybody knows what you mean, that’s activating an existing frame. When you say “net zero,” everybody goes, Huh, what’s that? So we really do have a problem, that the language is complex. And we also don’t unify the language in our community.
And that would give us a much more powerful echo chamber, you may notice that the, the right and the fossil fuel industry, they always say the same things, and they say them over and over, because they know that’s how the brain learns. So this is a big problem for us, we also haven’t established a simple explanation of what causes climate change in the public mind, as I said, most people will tell you, it’s the ozone hole or something.
And we know what the most effective visual metaphor in language for this is. But we’re not using it very much. And that is the concept of “the blanket of pollution we have put around the earth” that is trapping heat that used to go back out to space. And it’s like when you were a kid, and your father would put an extra blanket on you while you were sleeping, and you’d wake up sweating. That’s what we’re doing to the earth. People understand that. And, of course, as you trap all that heat energy, it has to go somewhere.
So that’s why the storms and droughts and fires and floods are getting worse because that’s a lot of energy. How much energy? Well right now it’s the same amount of energy is exploding a million Hiroshima sized atomic bombs in the Earth’s atmosphere, the very thin Earth atmosphere every single day. A million H bombs a day. Now people can understand when you talk like that. And we don’t enough. We’re using very abstract concepts and scientific language and rhetoric. And, you know, I urge us, let’s use kitchen table simple language and images and all say the same thing. And we will raise the level of public knowledge and urgency, which will change the political dynamic in this country.
Well, it makes sense. So, you know, on a practical level, should we change the name of the show from A Climate Change to something like, Let’s Stop The Pollution Blanket, or…
I don’t know about changing the name of the show. But I tell you a slogan I like a lot is, “We Can Change Climate Change.” How’s that?
Okay. Yeah, yeah.
Or “Under The Pollution Blanket,” that might be a good name. Sure. Or at least it’s a tagline.
I, you know, when people don’t have a visual metaphor for what we’re doing. So, you know, I liken this to, I mean, look at this situation. So we have to transform the entire energy, transportation, that built the agricultural, environment, and facilities, and infrastructure of the entire world. We have to change the whole thing, every car, every plane, every factory, every motor, every house, it all has to be changed. So that’s like mobilizing for war. So how are you supposed to mobilize the public for war? If they don’t know they’re under attack? And they largely don’t. So we need to get out of our bubble and make sure we’re reaching the public repetitively.
Well, I know that I picked up this from your from your website, that this was your messaging strategy is to craft simple messages everyone can understand. Speak to the heart firs, the mind second. Stories need good and bad characters. Repeat, repeat, repeat your messages, practice framing your issues, use symbolism, tell the truth, ensure you’re reaching people by using advertising. Recruit celebrities, influencers and cultural figures. Fight falsehood and disinformation immediately. It’s who you know. So is that a fair statement of what you want us to do as climate activists?
Yes, yes, yes. Yes, ensure we reach people don’t hope we reach people. You know, the great thing about social media is you can ensure your reach people you can know who you reach, and you can measure what happens. So we need to be doing a lot more of that. We also need to use more celebrities and musicians and sports figures to help us communicate this and, and bring it more into the culture, which the great film director Adam McKay is now starting, and I’m privileged to be helping him and we could talk about that perhaps.
Yeah, definitely want to we’ll pivot to that as our next topic. So you’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got David Fenton on the program. And David is involved in working with Adam McKay who did Don’t Look Up with Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s also been involved in The Big Short, Anchorman, Stepbrothers, and many other great movies. So let’s talk about that when we get back from the break.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got David Fenton, noted author and PR guru on the show. David, you worked with Adam McKay, and who’s done all these great movies. And I saw one of the videos that was recently produced by Yellow Dot, the Darth Vader spot praising Exxon, where Darth says “deeds so treacherous. I become envious.” You know, I thought it was abrilliant spot.
Yeah, great. Thank you. Yeah, people can go to yellowdotstudios.com – yellowdotstudios.com to see the work that Adam is producing with his team. Adam is completely dedicated on climate change. He knows how you know what a tough situation we’re in. And he really wants to help us educate and wake up the public and use a lot of these principles that we’ve been talking about.
And you know that Darth Vader spot is part of what you have to do and good storytelling – is stories need good characters, and they need evil characters. And boy, do we have some evil characters on this issue. You know, I kind of think they might be the most evil characters who ever lived. Because imagine these executives at the oil, coal, and gas companies, they’ve known since the 70’s. Their scientists told them that their planets, we’re going to cook their products, we’re going to cook the earth.
In fact, they predicted almost exactly how much warming we would have right this year back then. So they’ve known all along, and they purposely lied about it, so that we wouldn’t regulate them and phase out the dirty energy. This is all well established facts. So imagine what Shakespeare would do with a morality tale like that. People who would wipe out every living thing on earth, in order to make money for 20 more years knowingly.
That’s Exxon, and Chevron and shell and the Western States Petroleum Association. Yeah, pretty evil characters. And we don’t really call them as such. So Adam is doing that. And also, we’re highlighting solutions. And we’re working with a number of celebrities, you’ll see more all the time and Tiktok influencers, to, to work to teach people more about this issue.
And also to, you know, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. So we’re using humor and satire, which is very important. Because, you know, psychologists have theorized that, when you think about climate change, you use similar mental circuits as thinking about death and dying. And who wants to think about that?
So Gannett, using humor and pointing to the excitement of solutions is a very important part of the mix. So you know, Adam and his team are planning to do all of this. So it’s a very important, you know, new entity in the climate field. And then they’re also working with people with large social media followings to help distribute this material from them, and from other climate movement groups. So I think you’re going to see over the next few months, more and more people with very large social media followings getting involved in educating the public.
I know there’s a group of musicians, and people in the music industry talking right now about helping to start a new musicians climate organization. And I think, you know, the urgency of this is, is really increasing participation. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, when the sky turned orange. And it was terrifying. And it was accompanied by this weird, low pressure system, there was this weird, cold wind and the sky was orange, it really felt like you were in a sci fi movie. And I think a lot of media executives and celebrities in New York got really freaked out. So I think you’re gonna see a lot more of this kind of activity. And Adam is leading the way. Bless him very much.
Well, tell us a little bit about your involvement with Adam, and what kinds of things you’re bringing to the table. I know you’re, you’re a humble guy tends not to toot their own horn. But, you know, please give us a few ideas of what you do in that process.
Well, I’m an advisor, you know, I’m suggesting ideas and, you know, being part of the creative brainstorms and, you know, looking out for the scientific accuracy of the material that we create, because, you know, one of the principles in my book is, you know, always tell the truth. You don’t need to, and we never should distort it, we should simplify it, but you can do that accurately.
So, you know, I’m basically a voice in the room that suggesting ideas and providing feedback, but the project is being run by Adam, and a really fantastic producer of his named, Stacy Roberts Steele, and they’re full time on this now – yellowdotstudios.com. Please join our list and help us post and distribute the material.
Yeah, it seems like it’s getting it’s off to a great start based upon all the views that I saw of the Darth Vader spot, which was, was fantastic. And I agree with you that certainly humor just makes it something that’s accessible and more likely to be shared with other friends and family members. When you see something like that Darth Vader’s spot, it’s very easy to share it with somebody versus as you said, using that similar mental circuitry for death and dying, which is kind of your standard environmental spot. You don’t get as many listens or likes when you share that with your friends and family.
That’s true. Well, Adam made a spoof of a Chevron commercial a few months ago. Did you see that?
Did you see that one?
Yeah, I saw that one too.
Yeah, that guot 8 million views in less than a week. And, you know, we, we were wondering if Chevron would come after us for using their logo and spoofing their ad format. So you know, when that happens, the lawyers will send you a thing called a cease and desist letter. Right. So we were ready. We were going to send them if they did that a cease and desist polluting the planet letter.
But they didn’t. They didn’t come after us.
Yeah, they probably are smart enough to realize that you them coming after you, it’s not going to help them like they’d be better off kind of pretending you don’t exist, because all the publicity generated from that is going to be bad for them and good for you probably.
Well, we’ll see how smart they stay.
We will see.
Well keep baiting them. You know, you’ve just gotta bait them more. You were too nice to them the first time.
Don’t worry, there’s more coming.
Yeah. Well, I do you know, getting back to evil characters, there’s no doubt it is. And it’s unfortunate that I that most people in America would not know that Exxon had generated this report and knew that their actions and the actions of other fossil fuel companies would cause the, you know, carbon CO2 levels to rise to 430 parts per million back 30, 40, 50 years ago. And unfortunately, that message is not being communicated to the public. Why not?
Well, again, the professional NGOs in the environmental field, they do a lot of great things, they do great law, they sue the government, they sue polluters. You know, they do great policy work. They do really important science work. But they’re not, they don’t do much communications work, except to fundraisers. So you know, it’s just not in their worldview, that again, these are policy people and scientists, and they don’t really invest in public knowledge and communications. And the other side does.
You know, as Dr. Anthony Liza would said, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication puts it, you know, we’re in a propaganda war. The problem is, there’s only one side on the field. Now it is improving. There’s a group called The Potential Energy Coalition of Advertising Agencies working on this problem. And they’re doing great work, they help start a group called Science Moms – sciencemoms.com. And these are climate scientists who are mothers who talk about how they do what they do for their kids.
And they’ve made very poignant, very heart touching videos and ads using these science moms. And so that’s, you know, attracting more and more support. And I’m hoping that we’re going to see more of that. And now there’s Adams project, there’s another great project called The YEARS Project, which comes out of the TV show of a few years ago, the Years of Living Dangerously, they’re doing fantastic video and work. So there is more, but there’s not nearly enough yet.
I actually interviewed the guy who is the founder of the sciencemoms.com. And he, he was telling me about how his his son told them, “hey, what are you doing about climate change?” And, you know, he said, them not really a whole lot recycling maybe, or something. And he said, You’re going to have to spend the weekend figuring out what you’re going to do.
And so he started calling up his friends and came up with with this idea eventually. And so he’s doing great work and, and quite frankly, he was using the “pollution blanket” term that you’re using. So it’s not, it’s not surprising…
…Right, that the PR professionals are getting it right. But somehow, like, you need to have a con fab with all the environmental groups, which are 1,000s of them, because we started working with 1% for the Planet, and they have just on their list of approved providers that they can, you know, will direct contributions to 4800 or 5600 environmental groups, so there’s just tons of them. So, have you touched base with 1% for the Planet and talked to them about getting their message out to them?
Not that group, but a lot of others and I do work with John.
I’ll have to, you know, get you in touch with them because we need to get this message out a lot more widely. So you’re listening to A Climate Change. It’s Matt Matern. And I’ve got David Fenton on the program. David is PR guru and author of the activists media handbook, we are going to be right back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change, this is Matt Matern. And I’ve got David Fenton, PR guru on the show today. And, David, if you could talk to us a little bit about what the solutions are out there. And in terms of communicating, should we be focusing more on solutions? What’s kind of the right weighting between kind of the Darth Vader type ad and focusing on the evil, versus focusing on where we need to go?
Well, the formula I like to use that the research upholds is, I call it two thirds hope and one third fear. So, as we’ve discussed, people have to have hope, because otherwise, it’s really hard to contemplate the devastation of unchecked climate change. So you have to have hope. At the end, you should there’s a we can solve this. It’s a political challenge, not a technological or economic challenge, really.
At the same time, you have to have some fear. Because without fear, there’s not much urgency. And we’re in a ridiculously urgent situation, we have to cut pollution globally and half in seven years, and we’re nowhere near on track to do that. That’s what the IPCC scientists tell us we need to do. So you know, I have friends who say, Well, don’t worry about climate change, you know, technology in the market is going to solve it. And they’re right, it will. But by itself, it is very unlikely to solve it in time.
You know, the problem, as you know, is that the carbon emit, carbon pollution stays in the atmosphere for centuries or millennia. So it doesn’t come down. You know, most people, when you say pollution, they think of a smokestack and the smoke goes up and eventually comes down, this stuff does not come down on the human timeframe. And there’s already far too much of it in the atmosphere.
And we’re seeing the results and all this crazy extreme weather already. So it has to, we have to teach people that it’s urgent, because it is, but we also have to show people that it’s solvable. Now, most people think that clean energy is more expensive than dirty energy. And that used to be true, and it isn’t true anymore. But they don’t know that. Clean energy is properly financed. It’s cheaper. You know, like, even the Tesla Model Y now is the least expensive SUV in its category, not among electric cars among all SUVs, and people don’t know this yet.
And when you add in all the savings and not having to buy gasoline, and rarely if ever needing to service your car because electric cars don’t need service departments, which is upsetting all the auto dealers because they make a lot of money on their service departments.
So electric vehicles are already cheaper to buy and operate. And like I’m sitting in a house here in Northern California, that I have essentially no electric bill. And yes, there was an upfront investment to put up solar panels and super windows and buy an electric high efficiency heat pump and a heat pump, hot water heater, and do more insulation. But the loan I took out to do all that. Even when you pay back the loan payments. That’s cheaper than what my electric bill used to be. So I got immediate savings.
And people don’t know that this is available in a lot of states now, I think it’s 23 states. You can buy 100% clean energy through your utility for pennies more. And, you know, this is something we really need to tell people about because the more demand for clean energy we create, the more we’re getting built.
So yeah, there’s an enormous revolution going on and all of this and it’s cheaper and it deploys faster. And of course, the other thing about the sun and the wind is they can never go up in price. You Isn’t that nice? And, and at least on the timeframe of humanity, they can never run out. I mean, in a few billion years, they’ll run out but not kill them. So we have a great story to tell, cheaper, cleaner, better, safer, faster. So let’s get on with telling it so that people want to do it.
And of course, the Inflation Reduction Act has, you know, enormous incentives, and rebates and tax credits and to enable people to do this, but the research shows most people have not yet heard of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. And when they hear about it, they’re very skeptical that the government is going to give them money.
So we need to work on that, too. I don’t blame them for being skeptical. But in this case, it’s true. The government is going to give you money to put solar on your roof and change your heating and cooling system to be much less polluting. And so, you know, we have an enormous opportunity to tell this story.
Yeah, you know, starting with the basics, that wind power is the cheapest form of, cheapest way to create electricity out there. I mean, it’s cheaper than the natural gas, it’s cheaper than coal. It’s. So it’s cheaper than nuclear. So these, this is something that I think the average person isn’t aware of. And, unfortunately, and so, like you said, a better job needs to be done communicating it.
And in terms, the IRA, I mean, it’s a fascinating political experiment, because a lot of this money is going to states that have normally voted Republican, and they’re getting billions of dollars in clean energy money. And it’s, I think, what are we seeing it start to change the politics out there? And what would you say in terms of messaging to help break through to get people who were Republicans to kind of see the benefits for themselves in clean energy.
It’s not changing the politics yet, you know, it just started is these, you know, not not even all the rebates and tax credits have phased in yet. So I think over time, it will start to change it, because people will see the benefits of this. But we’re in the early days of it, and we need to do a much bigger sales job, frankly, so that people know about the IRA and start to take advantage of it.
But I have no doubt that over time, this will convince more people in red states that this is the future of energy and the future of manufacturing and the future of transportation, that they’re going to be some holdouts. You know, like, in Texas they’re passing laws, saying that you can’t use clean energy and you can’t, you know, they’re trying to discourage electrification of vehicles.
And that is just Neanderthal stuff. But that’s because the fossil fuel industry totally dominates the Texas government. So you know, we have a long way to go down in places like Texas, and Oklahoma, and North Dakota and the fossil fuel producing states, where people don’t know that that just cannot and will not be their future, it just will not be.
What’s fascinating there is that Texas and Oklahoma get a fair amount of wind power, as does Iowa. I think Iowa gets more than 40% or more from their electricity from wind, as does I think Kansas and a number of other states in the Great Plains area.
That’s true. So that’s why again, I think over time, the politics will start to change. But you know, we have to tell this story more to people they don’t really know. And then there’s another problem in the clean energy story, which is people say, oh, yeah, you know, the sun’s great, the wind is great, but they’re not reliable. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow.
And it’s understandable that cognitively people would say that to themselves, because it’s true. But it’s actually not true. Because the sun does always shine the wind doesn’t always blow someplace and with the right transmission, we can integrate it. And they always shine and always blow in a battery. And in other forms of storage, which are becoming increasingly less expensive. Of course, energy efficiency is the greatest investment there is, and we’re not investing in enoug. You know, the rates of return on investing in using less energy can be 300% to 500%.
And many companies have done this but we’re just scratching the surface of it. Solar, you know is not all the way down its cost reduction curve. It’s going to keep getting cheaper, it’s going to get so cheap that we’re going to be able to over build it. So that when it’s cloudy out, you know solar panels do produce electricity, when it’s cloudy, they just produce less so we’ll be able to overbuild it. But there’s all this propaganda out there about this, for example, “oh, we don’t have enough land to solarize the country.” Well, they don’t mention we sure have enough rooftops. We sure have enough big box stores and warehouses.
You know, the lies these people spread are kind of amazing. And my favorite these days is all the whales being killed by offshore wind. Well, first of all, we hardly have any offshore wind. And they don’t kill whales. That’s just nonsense. But you know, Tucker Carlson, will go to town on stuff like that. Well, thank God, he’s off the air.
Well, I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger at an event here in the Port of LA a few months ago. And he was talking about the benefits of rooftop solar, because they they put in a big installation there that is going to give power to 800 homes and saying that if we put rooftop solar on every warehouse and California would produce enough electricity for basically the entire state.
That to me is something that we should be focusing on going forward is putting more rooftop solar, particularly on commercial buildings, but also on on residential dwellings. Of course, there’s a lot of pushback from the utility industry on that front, but it’s been great having you on the program, David.
David, author of The Activist’s Media Handbook: Lessons from Fifty Years as a Progressive Agitator. Please go out and buy David’s book, it’s a great one as well as tune into our climate change.com Look at us are listening to us on Spotify and Apple Music, as well as any other channels out there that were on, social media. Please tune in to David’s channels, as well as the Yellow Dot which Adam McKay is doing great stuff there.
So, pleasure having you on the program, David and look forward to working with you. Going forward to hone our message so that we can be more effective communicators.
I’m happy to help and thanks for having me.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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