Q. You invented the word Climaturity. Can you define it?

Climaturity is a call out for a calm, pragmatic and transparent dialog about the climate, which is pretty much impossible to have these days. We're stuck between the polar extremes, with one side screaming at the other side who isn't even listening, while most of us exist somewhere in between. No one is telling the complete truth about the climate, and trying to find a path towards responsible climate policies and practical solutions was just elusive. I started to advocate for something down the middle aisle, where we talk openly about what we know and don't know, along real solutions that we can afford. Climaturity became a rallying cry for this new approach.

Q.  You shared with me early on that your daughter had come to you in fear and the impact it had on you was the catalyst for this book.

Maybe this is my DNA from having worked so long in the solar industry, where we were really careful about the story that we told. Early on we were just so proud of the narrative and felt like we were telling the truth and making an important and incremental difference.

We didn't overclaim, we didn't under under-claim, we were just telling people what alternatives would be. Fast forward twenty years, and those messages have morphed into we're-all-going-to-die-by-Thursday.

My daughter's generation is hearing these messages nonstop, literally hearing that she's going to die from climate change before she can grow up and have a life. 

I also hear it on campus where I teach from students. They feel  hopeless, like why even bother trying to build a life because it won't matter anyway. We've got ten years to reverse the entire planet's decline, so why bother? 

These messages are just disheartening, and I got to thinking "how did we fail our children so badly? How did we allow this to be the only message they're hearing"?

Q. Why did you choose to write the book?

This really motivated me to try to develop a new narrative, and let's be honest -- we're not making any progress whatsoever on the climate. We've spent trillions on so-called solutions that haven't made a dent, the rhetoric has gotten more divisive and apocalyptic, and the only tangible results are scared children and really expensive and ineffective climate policies. Yelling isn't working, panicking isn't working, scaring children isn't working, throwing money at incomplete solutions isn't working, and our climate problem is getting worse and worse. By all measures it's just not working, so we need a new way to approach it.

Right now, the whole process is really just one side yelling at the other side, who isn't even listening. We've got proposed policies that are spending trillions and will have virtually no impact on the climate.

I decided to just come up with a different way to talk about it, because if we really want to solve this problem it's going to take all of us.

I want to have a reasonable and open dialog about what to do, one that require us giving up our kids' college funds to pay for climate solutions.

They is no shortage of expensive proposals with no real insight into how they're solving the problems.

That's why I decided to write this book, as an attempt to start walking down in the middle saying we need people from both sides of political aisle. We need an open discussion. We need to complete all the half-truths that are out there and understand the limitations of what everyone's telling us.

Q.  Would it safe to say that you discovered in your research, there's some self-interest that's working its way into the policies and the recommendations and solutions that we're all paying for?

Of course. One of the advantages I have now is that I don't have a product to sell, even though I've had a product to sell for 20 something years. Everyone is telling us their version of the story.

We like to demonize big oil, but I don't know one person who is not using the benefits of big oil. Not one. You can't make any solar modules without lots of oil, you can't make windmills without lots of oil. Fossil fuels are part of our everyday life, part of our modern world, and it's not going anywhere soon. Why can't we just acknowledge that and come up with a real plan?

I see stories about how certain energy sources like solar are the cheapest. I know from my background that it's just this tiny little slice of time, this little snapshot, where that's true. Most of the time, like when the sun goes down, it's not true because a billion dollars can't even power one light bulb when there's no sun.

There are all of these half-truths are out there, and if you stagger them around together you can't get the true story. No one knows what the real story is, how bad it is and what some of the solutions are.

Q. Are we doomed and heading towards this direction of no return?

I think we know that the planet is warming. It's not warming by 20 degrees, but it's showing that in general, things are warming up a couple of degrees. Certainly not tragic. I look at the entire 20th century where the world heated by one degree, and humanity prospered just fine. In fact, we've doubled in population and cured hundreds of diseases and it's not fatal. One degree is not going to destroy the planet and it's certainly not going to make humanity extinct.

We know that temperatures are rising. We can show that CO~2~ is rising as well, we can show correlation between those two and the jury is still out as to whether or not one causes the other.

Plus, it makes logical sense that with 8 billion people on the planet we are having an effect on it. But our ability to adapt is extreme, and there aren't billions of people heading towards their imminent death because the climate is turning against us.

Q. Is anyone out there giving us a clear story of what is happening with the climate change?

There's a few. There's a Danish economist named Bjorn Lomborg who's produced of a couple of films and books and has been putting dollar numbers to a lot of these solutions, which I appreciate. In practical terms, if the goal is to save humanity, then there's a lot better ways to spend our money.

Roger Pielke writes about energy policy and the IPCC, typically in Forbes magazine.

Michael Shellenberger is a reformed hardcore environmental activist who's now a nuclear proponent, who often writes for Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.

Q. Can solar windmills, electric vehicles, all these solutions that we're spending billions of dollars on solve the problem of global warming?

That's the question with all of these things - what's going to help?, Will solar help? Of course. Will windmills help? Of course. Will EVs help? Of course. Will they help a lot? No, and there's lots of reasons for that.

Solar was always meant as a supplementary power source, it was always meant to be plugged into the side of the existing grid to just help give it some flexibility and some "cleanness" if that's the right word. But now it's being promoted as climate salvation and you know, how can a resource that works only 30% of the time be something that you can rely on?

It's not a replacement, it never will be. People say, well let's add batteries, which means we're digging up the earth for a different type of energy, just replacing one type of depleting resource with another.

Look if we solarized the planet, if we switched everyone over to EVs tomorrow, would we meet any of our goals? No, we wouldn't even come close. And the math is really simple. That's what frustrates me about a lot of this and why I started down this path, which is that dollars matter, dollars per CO~2~ reduced matter.

We have to be having that discussion. If we spend $2 trillion on electric vehicles, will it get us towards our goal? Almost not at all. The best thing we can do for that is just driving less.

Q. Is public transportation a good alternative?

Yes. Oddly enough, the best thing that happened to the climate was COVID. In 2020, we cut our emissions as a country by 11%, 15% in transportation. In one year, we did what 45 years of aggressive climate policy couldn't do. We did it in months by just using less stuff.

The cheapest and quickest way to lower emissions is through conservation. Turn off lights, drive less, use less stuff, don't replace that TV. Find ways to not do more. And imagine if governments had policies in place to incentivize us to save resources, to actually pay us to conserve electricity and water. Utilities already do this when they're anticipating heat waves and such that could cause blackouts, so the mechanisms are already in-place.

And then there's hundreds of natural solutions like trees and carbon sequestration that we just are completely ignoring. In terms of the dollar impact they're much better and easier to implement.

Q. If lowering CO~2~ is the goal, what solutions are the best?

The goal of all our climate activities is temperature mitigation, and by proxy, CO~2~ reduction. We need to lower total CO~2~ levels. Conservation is the quickest and fastest way to do that. Energy efficiency is also important, helping buildings use less resources. Then there are the hundreds of natural solutions like reforestation and agri-farming and soil replenishment that all capture and sequester carbon. Then we need to be developing and deploying carbon capture technologies as quickly as we can.

The main problem I have with massive decarbonization is that it still continues to add CO~2~ into the atmosphere. All energy sources emit CO~2~, so replacing capacity at a coal plant with solar, for example, can potentially reduce future CO~2~ emissions, but solar still has a CO~2~ footprint and therefore increases total CO~2~ levels.

That's where we get into this funny climaccounting gray area, where we replace some bad energy source with something better that might yield benefits over time -- but those savings vary based on dozens of factors and we can never prove them. There is no such thing as a neutral energy source -- solar, wind, batteries, coal, gas, nuclear all have CO~2~ footprints -- so the idea of replacing one energy source with another and hoping to lower total CO~2~ is fiction.

Adaptation doesn't get talked about much as a response to climate change, but it's a realistic approach to handle it. It doesn't spend trillions to try and lower CO~2~, it acknowledges it will rise at some level and that humanity will adapt. Every species adapts to climate fluctuations already, and we're no different.

A great example is New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2007 and killed thousands; in 2021 Hurricane Ida slammed the city but caused 150 deaths. What changed?

They rebuilt the levee system after it collapsed during Katrina, which prevented further deaths with Ida. Instead of relying on trillions to lower global temperatures, New Orleans adapted to their local conditions.

Q. You introduced me to this concept of climate credits. Is it driven by politicians and public policy?

I don't know how many people understand how climate credits really work and how companies are being given incentives and how they can purchase credits from other companies. But is that an example of where the politicians and the policies are just sending us on this trajectory, in the wrong direction.

The idea with climate credits is you can buy someone else's right to pollute. This is typically when governments decide they're going to regulate their emissions, they put a cap and trade like we've done in California.

Q. They penalize you financially if you pollute too much?

That's cap and trade. You're allowed to emit a certain amount of CO~2~ from your operations, and if you go above that you're penalized. The way that you get around that is you buy that excess pollution space from other companies.

I personally am in favor of financial markets like this, because it starts to put price tags on climate change. It gives companies financial incentives to emit less, which is a good thing. It can work, but like everything, it just depends on the implementation and who oversees and manages the program.

Look, people have to be able to make money at it. Making money is not a terrible thing. We're not going to completely gut the entire economy in order to reverse climate change, it's just not going to happen. People have to have jobs, things have to make financial sense. I personally don't care about demonizing oil companies because I've seen what happens when they focus attention on solving problems. If you can show them a way to make money by pulling carbon out of the air, watch what happens. Watch all those resources get focused into actually making things better.

Q. Companies can use climate credits in their business model?

The biggest one I can think of is Tesla. Since they produce only electric vehicles, they're given carbon credits and yes, they can trade them to other companies who need them. In 2021 Tesla earned more than $500 million in carbon credit revenue. It's a huge part of their business, one you don't hear much about.

The global carbon trading market set to be one of the hottest industries in the next 30 years, for all these reasons. It has potential to be fraudulent, like any other financial transaction, but it's getting a lot of attention right now and it's a viable business.

Q. The goal for California at a very high level is to get to this place called net zero, right? Is that a realistic goal?

Whether or not it's a realistic goal depends on the solutions they're going to implement and the amount of money they're going to spend. We certainly won't get there with public EV charging stations and green-painted bike lanes. But even if we find enough money, I question whether or not it's even the right goal.

Net zero has become synonymous with climate salvation, but think about what it really means. Net zero means that we're going to zero out the growth of our CO~2~ problem, not eliminate it. It just means we're going to slow down its growth over a long period of time, and with a great deal of expense.

I call net zero the avoided donut fallacy. Imagine your doctor said you had to lose 100 pounds or else you'd suffer severe health consequences. You're used to eating 20 donuts a day, so you decide to stop eating those 20 donuts a day. Great! But did you get skinny from doing that? No, you just stopped yourself from getting fatter. You can't use an 'avoid donuts' strategy to slimness, you still have to lose those 100 pounds. Net zero is the equivalent of avoiding those 20 donuts per day.

Even after we spend the trillions and the decades it will take to get to net zero, we still have to lose the weight; we still have to remove total CO~2~ from the atmosphere. That's why net zero is, in a sense, fool's gold: it makes us think we've hit the climate jackpot when, in reality, we still haven't solved the problem.

Wouldn't a better strategy be to not stop at net zero but actually go carbon negative? Microsoft has committed to doing just that. They've committed to actually removing all of the carbon they've emitted since their company beg in the 1970s, not just stopping its growth in 20 years. That's a real commitment. How and whether or not they get there remain to be seen, but I applaud the commitment. That's what it's going to take.

By the way, in our donut scenario, installing solar or switching to EVs is like going from eating 20 donuts per day to 5, then taking credit for saving 15 donuts. Either way you're still 5 donuts fatter tomorrow than you are today.

Back to your original question, are net zero realistic goals? Maybe after decades and great expense, but they're the wrong goals.

Q. We can do everything right here in the U S which we have control over, but ultimately, aren't we are all impacted by the actions of other countries who are struggling to get their own economies under way, but not being playing by the same rules?

I would love to see the U.S. lead this with a brand-new approach. Again, this is why I wrote this book, to try and begin a different dialog about it all. We need only do we need a collective policy, but also a collective ethos, one that's based on truth and transparency.

I would love to see us do this as a country. Just say, here's the way we're going to tackle this, we're going to be open about it, we're going to talk about the limitations of climate science, what's real, what's not.

Here are the things that we're guessing at, here are all the options that are available to us, the pluses and minuses. Is it really an emergency? If so, then why isn't anyone driving to the emergency room? And if it isn't, quit saying it. Hell, we all have collective boy-who-cried-wolf-syndrome anyway.

Here's how much money we think we can reasonably spend and then create a real model that we can look at and say, all right, developing nations, here's something that we can report. Because developing nations, they need guidance. They need a blueprint.

Developing nations are not going to give up oil. They need reliable energy, something they can count on, so a total reliance on intermittent energy is never going to happen. They need a reasonable path to prosperity, and us First World nations are the only ones to give it.

We need to create a blueprint that's manageable and doesn't require a complete reversal of everyone's way of life in order to make it work. I would love to see us work towards something like that.

Q. Do we need to have full disclosure if we stand to benefit from the solutions we recommend?

It needs to be transparent to everybody because you have to question the policy should be being made by people have there's no bias and full disclosure is means you kind of lay out all of your cards. And then we know for sure that you're coming from a place of truth, because I think what's ultimately happening is there's just a lot of bias that people carry into this conversation that they don't even realize they have.

Q. And implicit bias too?

Look, we all have biases, I know I certainly do.

My view on energy options is we need them all. I mean, oil is not going to anywhere in our lifetimes, and for those who have this need to rid the world of fossil fuels then I invite them to quite using those products today, just like you would any other product you don't like. It's certainly your right to do that. But to expect that the world will follow you is a bit ridiculous, don't you think?

It takes a lot of oil and gas to make products that use less oil and gas. Every single thing that we have - shoes, clothing, food, the microphone that this is being recorded on - is made with oil. We need it forever. It's not going away and it doesn't need to, but that doesn't mean we can't make a cleaner transition. But is all this yelling and screaming fear-mongering helping? My belief is that it's grinding climate progress to a halt.

We're not killing our kids. We're just not, they're going to be able to have kids.

Q. Are we using fear as a lever for change?

Writing the book itself was actually eye opening in a lot of ways, because I did a lot of research and uncovered that these are actual strategies.

It didn't happen by coincidence. If you're wondering where the media got this from, I can show you the blueprint. There's a labeling guide that says here's what you should call people if they don't agree with you, you're not allowed to say climate skeptic, they have to call you a climate science denier. This is Columbia university's journalism school, here is the blueprint.

Scared kids can't be the goal, scared kids just leads us to all this ineffective stuff. You don't want to force people to choose between their college education and saving the planet because guaranteed, everyone's going to put their kids into college. It'll never happen. So how about reasonable stuff that will actually make an impact, with results we can actually show.