Path to Zero
Path to Zero
3.07 - Waving a Magic Wand to Slow Climate Change

If some of the world’s leading climate experts were given a magic wand to change one thing to make the biggest impact with climate change, what would they do? We find out in this special episode as Tucker looks back on some of the more memorable comments by Path to Zero guests.


Tucker Perkins:
This is a special episode of the show, one where I’m looking back in time because this month, as you all know, is the month we celebrate Earth Day.

I have to say that this Earth Day feels like it’s full of both trouble and transformative opportunities. We see things like, for example, the trouble caused by Russia in the Ukraine. And then there was the latest International Panel on Climate Change, the special U.N. commission that’s been studying climate change for the past 35 years.

The UN Secretary General said this about the most recent release:

António Guterres, Ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations
“The jury has reached a verdict. And it is damning. This report…is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world. We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”

Tucker Perkins:
Pretty disheartening… but… I’m reminded of a recent article in the New York Times by Cara Buckley entitled “OK Doomers and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late.” Yes – it’s a riff on the GenZ rebuttal to all things that Baby Boomers say, but it’s got value to it.

What will surprise you about this article is how young people are rejecting this notion of doom-ism. They’re pushing past the dread and the feeling that come with it like “nothing matters, so why even try?” The young people featured in Buckley’s article are affecting change by refusing to believe the worst of the climate change narrative.

Reading their take gives you a lot of hope and optimism in the future. It also inspired me to go back into the Path to Zero archives to find more good examples of why we can and should focus on solutions versus shame.

One of the people in the “OK Doomers…” article said this:

“It takes a whole group, but it takes one person to start. One person to inspire. One person to raise a voice.”

That’s right – and here’s to that sentiment!

It occurred to me when I read that line, that we have heard WAY more of what Buckley’s article refers to as “hope-ium” -based ideas than doomer ideas, and I wanted to go back and get my own dose of “hope-ium” and share it with you!

So, let’s rewind the tapes and hear from those who raised a voice on Path to Zero this past year. I’m going to do this by focusing on a question I ask EVERY Path to Zero guest, the one I call the Magic Wand question. It sounds like this:

Alright… I’m going to hand you a magic wand, and it’s a good one. You can wave it and wish for one climate change-related thing to change in the next year. How would you use your magic wand? What would you wish for?

That’s the interesting question, and I want you to enjoy listening to a few really wonderful responses.

The first came from Dr. Scott Tinker. Scott is a geologist, he’s the State Geologist of Texas if you didn’t know, he teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and runs the 250-person Bureau of Economic Geology department there. He’s an energy expert, and through his nonprofit, Switch Energy Alliance, is also a documentary filmmaker.

Dr. Scott Tinker, Geologist/Founder of Switch Energy Alliance

Episode Link

“I would waive the magic wand and have everybody on earth have a reasonable understanding of energy. And if they did, they would be able to vote in a way that elected leaders who would be probably happy to enable and enact policies and regulatory systems that would be reasonable to a real energy. So, I would, I would waive the education wand and have us all come up to a certain level, the level where we think we are, but we’re not. And, in doing that, I think it would address so many issues.”

Tucker Perkins:
You might expect an educator like Scott Tinker to want people to be educated, but his point is important. Too often, the politics of climate change get synthesized down to sound bites. When that happens, we lose traction because the complexities of climate change require us to lean in and really think about solutions.

Nik Weinberg-Lynn made the point pretty well. He’s heading a project for Phillips 66 in California to create one of the largest renewable fuels plants in the world.

Nik Weinberg-Lynn, Manager, Renewable Energy Projects at Phillips 66

Episode Link

“I’d take my magic wand and I’d make it clear to governments to citizens out there, that there is no magic wand, that there is no magic bullet to this and to folks that have set ambitious goals out there and sometimes those deter real progress. And it won’t be something overnight right you look at our project and you look at reducing carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 65%. And you can do it tomorrow.

We’re taking 1.4 million cars off the road from an admissions equivalent standpoint and that sounds great. But if you’re in the mindset that you have you think there is a magic wand, where you can go to full electrification tomorrow, that project doesn’t sound the same, and so I think folks need to realize and the people, setting the legislation and the rules and getting in front of it and writing and talking about the climate issue that that there is no magic wand to get there, and we need to make incremental progress along the way, and sometimes looking at those progress in the path.If you look at it in totality that’s when things can be done and can be exciting.”

Tucker Perkins:
I agree with Nick that there’s not one solution – one silver bullet – that’ll make everything better. Instead, I’m a card-carrying member of what you might call the silver buckshot gang. We have a number of different solutions we can bring to bear on the problem of climate change. Let’s listen to a few of them.

This is Meredith Angwin, a chemist, an author and an expert on the electric grid.

Meredith Angwin, Electric Grid Expert

Episode Link

“I would wave my magic wand and I would make sure that all nuclear power plants that are operating safely now can continue to operate for the next year and then to be extended probably for the next 20 years. And that would be the fastest change that we can have in decarbonizing our grid.”

Tucker Perkins:
She’s not the only fan of nuclear power. Drew Bond, former Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush at the Department of Energy and co-founder of C3 Solutions, doubled down on Meredith’s idea.

Drew Bond, Founder, C3 Solutions

Episode Link

“I’d use that wand for fusion. Fusion is one of those technologies and the energy, you know nuclear space that has always been five years away and the joke, is it always will. Every time I talked to a scientist lately, you know it seems to be kind of backup on the priority list in terms of some breakthroughs that are happening and. So, fusion is basically what the sun does right it’s a fusion reactor, and so, if we could design small fusion reactors that power large cities and countries, I mean that would just be an incredible magic wand so I’ll take that.”

Tucker Perkins:
He’s right. We’ve been making small nuclear reactors for decades without much trouble at all. We put them is Navy submarines and ships. It’s something we don’t think of very often, which reminds us that sometimes, solutions are right in front of us.

The guest that offered up a solution I found to be breathtaking in its simplicity was Jigar Shah. This was one of my favorite episodes because Jigar, who leads the Department of Energy’s Loan Office Program, a $40 Billion fund, was expansive in his thinking. I was just about to ask him up the magic wand question, and then, he got very specific on a single issue that hit me like a brick.

Jigar Shah, Director, Loan Programs Office at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Episode Link

“I think the fact that we haven’t been able to get the propane natural gas industries and the heat pump industries together to eliminate fuel oil, seems to me like a lost opportunity. There really shouldn’t be… I mean, remember, EDF negotiated a deal to bring in number two diesel or whatever into buildings in New York City to move them away from something that was dirtier. I thought that whole thing was crazy. Right? And so I think if we could find a way to actually eliminate fuel oil, which really does have direct implication to people’s lives being shorter.”

Tucker Perkins:
I remember saying that I visit ports on the coasts and see some places using fuel oil or diesel fuel that is essentially like cavemen burning wood. We have SO MANY better alternatives for forklifts, port tractors and even ships! And Jigar reinforced the idea with more transportation related insights.

Jigar Shah
“The $17 billion that we have in the advanced technology vehicle manufacturing program is for all technologies that significantly reduce carbon emissions in the vehicle space so propane as well, as you know, there’s a company called Clear Flame that I think modifies diesel engines to be able to burn ethanol all of these kinds of companies qualify, and so I think it’s important for folks to realize it while electrification is interesting, because so many people can just charge at home, there’s lots of other technologies as well that are eligible for the money that we have and should be deployed as we continue to bring diverse solutions for American independence.”

Tucker Perkins:
Does that idea of energy independence strike a chord for many of you? It certainly does for me, so I couldn’t resist bringing some of Scott Tinker’s conversation back into this episode. Have a listen to his thoughts on the same subject.

Dr. Scott Tinker
“China controls 60% of the world’s lithium, 70%, 70% of the world’s cobalt. They’re starting to grow in their nickel. They are controlling the minerals of the and rares of the future, which are batteries and copper. So, we’re moving from OPEC to China. If that makes you feel more secure, when you’re talking about moving from liquids, for vehicles to batteries, it’s just moving the fuel source to a different region who controls it.”

Tucker Perkins:
It’s not hard to believe that the Path to Zero has some hidden twists and turns in it. The whole idea of exchanging molecules for minerals and the attending geopolitical implications of that shift are enough to give anyone pause about how we move forward. But we do have to move forward. How we do that is how I want to wrap up this special episode of Path to Zero. Several guests just made my day — and I bet those who Cara Buckley interviewed who are under the influence of “hopi-um,” will agree.

Here are three big thinkers that waived their magic wands well. Dr. Wil Burns from Northwestern University gets us rolling.

Dr. Will Burns, Visiting Professor at Northwestern University’s Environmental Policy and Culture Program

Episode Link

“I think I think probably the way I’d use my wand, is that I would put a meaningful price on carbon right yeah you know this is going to sound kind of wonky but one of the things that we’re looking at United States and most countries, look at is something I referred to before which is called the social cost of carbon right we try to calculate is how much burning carbon costs society right in terms of human lives, you know lost workdays lost agriculture production heat deaths, all the all the things that are associated with climate change and burning carbon.

In my mind if you really price that all out right and made sure that that was incorporated into the price of products, it would send the kind of market signals that would encourage innovation right and it would reduce the use of fossil fuels and drive more embrace of renewables and other kinds of alternatives and, from my perspective, this this isn’t a liberal or conservative issue.”

Tucker Perkins:
What you love about Wil Burns is how he not only has a solution, but it’s one that politically, most people already agree on!

And here’s someone who agrees with Dr. Burns, the world-famous –– and that’s no exaggeration. It took us nearly a year to get her on the show –– the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy and a pre-eminent climate scientist, Dr. Katherine Hayhoe.

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Climate Scientist

Episode Link

“If I could just wave a magic wand to put a single policy in place, I would put a price on carbon. Because, we are already paying that price, but in a way that we can’t currently see. And I think everybody deserves to be making appropriate financial decisions so that they’re not sort of caught when something bites them from behind because we didn’t realize that climate change was increasing the cost of our insurance or disasters or you know that we lose our crop insurance so that’s a, you know, a sort of a quasi-realistic magic wand just getting it in place.

The United States is now more politically polarized, and it’s been since the civil war, because the idea of pricing carbon is offense essentially a free market solution. Almost every economist in the world, including the two who won the Nobel Prize, two years ago, supports and endorses it.

There’s a bipartisan climate solutions Caucus and Congress and the Senate made of half democrats and Republicans who agree on it, there’s the climate, the climate leadership Council with a lot of major corporations whose names you’d recognize like at amp T and a lot of the even the big oil and gas companies who support pricing carbon. I’m from Canada where there’s a national price on carbon and there’s a lot of support from it, but we live in a society now where, again we see compromise as weakness, we see the other side’s loss as our gain.

And so, anything that people could possibly agree on across the aisle seems to immediately fall into that chasm that divides us that just getting wider and wider every day. And that’s why again to circle right back those conversations that each of us has is so important, not arguing not trying to convince people not trying to change people, but just trying to say look, we all have reasons to care on this you care because of this, I care because of that hey you know we might even disagree on that. But let’s come together and what we can agree on because there’s so much more we agree on that we disagree on, and if we could just work on what we agree on, we could get so much done.”

Tucker Perkins:
That’s a fantastic message, isn’t it? So, you see, Path to Zero listeners, we don’t have to be Doomers. The work we’re doing in the propane industry is as much a part of the solution to climate change as any other big idea, which is why I’m so proud to be able to talk about it on the show from time-to-time.

I know we need to wrap up, but I just can’t leave out one of the best thoughts that our friend Jigar Shah shared with us.

Jigar Shah
“Well, I think that the way that we talk about climate continues to be in the vernacular of “shared sacrifice;” that we all need to have shared sacrifice to get to a more climate-positive future. And I think, in general, this is not shared sacrifice.

This will be the largest wealth creation opportunity that human beings have ever seen. And that in general, it will improve the lives of everyone it touches, whether it’s people who move to more energy-efficient appliances, people who move to more climate-friendly transportation; whether it’s all these other things. We already have all these things. But if I had a magic wand, I would move the entire conversation from “shared sacrifice” to “the greatest wealth and job-creating opportunity of our time.”

Tucker Perkins:
How’s that for a big finish? I hope you enjoyed this special Earth Day edition of Path to Zero. As always, I’d love to hear from you. If you want to send me a note to comment on an episode or give me a new topic to consider, just shoot me an email.

The address is:

[email protected]

I look forward to hearing from you. With that, a big thank you to everyone listening. See you next time on Path to Zero.