A decade ago, I lived in the most disgusting apartment anyone has ever seen. There was graffiti on the walls, rot in the furniture, flies buzzing over week-old dirty dishes, and toddler-height piles of cat feces stacked in the basement. But past the filth, it was also a household full of beauty, spontaneity, and a constantly rotating cast of interesting characters. An ambassador’s daughter mingled with an epileptic IT guy. Starving writers traded stories with rotten-toothed vegans and overweight sci-fi fans. The vibe was eclectic and bohemian and somehow it felt like home.
This apartment was the bottom floor of a double-decker and the apartment above could hardly have been more different. The upstairs apartment was populated exclusively by women, kept clean and tidy, and to the casual observer seemed something like a neo-feminist commune. Residents cooked and ate together, shared chores and bills, and spent leisure time watching artsy subtitled films. It was the upstairs heaven to my downstairs hell (though they still had their share of girl drama). Despite our obvious differences, on long summer nights the cherubs above would mingle with the morlocks below on the front porch drinking beer and swapping jokes. This is how I first met Shannon.
Shannon is a high school English teacher, a good friend, and one of the best people I know. She’s creative and funny, and she’s got the endearing habit of trying to crush the life out of me each time she goes in for a hug. Over time, her teaching persona has bled back into her overall personality, and the mischief-maker in me delights in earning her stern look of disapproval when I step out of line (I was able to elicit it several times in the videos below). Our apartment co-dwelling days are long over, so these days she lives a few towns over with her boyfriend Nick.
Nick is a permanent resident of the States who originally hails from England, and until recently was the owner of one of the greatest beards known to man. He and Shannon started dating about the same time that Sarah and I started dating, and so our relationships sort of “came up” together, if you know what I mean. Nick is tremendously smart, tremendously entertaining, and tremendously cynical. He’s also a wizard with anything mechanical: his job entails him flying all over the world to fix multi-million dollar pieces of scientific and engineering equipment.
Shannon and Nick own a house together, and it’s there we decided to have the climate talk. For dinner, Shannon made spicy lentil soup with sriracha (even more delicious than it sounds), while Sarah chipped in with a salad. What I’m lacking is a proper photo of our meal. I need to remember to snap a picture of the full spread before we eat, because channeling a little food blog for these experiences can’t possibly hurt.
After dinner we retired to the living room to drink beer and let our various pets walk all over us (my dog Bindi and Shannon’s cat Smaug can be seen strolling around in the videos). I gave the climate talk, and below are video excerpts of the Q&A that followed.
Nick starts us off by discussing the the Prius, and specifically the the high environmental costs its construction entails. I can’t disagree with that, but I make it known that I think that it’s a good first step and helps to begin changing the energy narrative.
Nick gives us some history of how product boycotts can make a difference to Big Oil. I make the bridge to WWII and the collective action Americans took there (Victory Gardens, metals collection, etc). Sarah throws out Pearl Harbor as the catalyst for action, and we explore what it’ll take for people to “wake up” on climate change.
We delve into a frequent topic in these talks: what do we do about the billions of people consuming energy and resources in pursuit of a Western standard of living? When we wind around to alternative energy, Nick gives us his theories on geothermal technology worthy of any comic book super-villain.
Also we slag on Donald Trump, because fuck that guy.
We talk about the shortcomings of the free market and how its goals for profitability aren’t the same as humanity’s desire to survive climate change (at least not yet). Nick tells a story about how the Dodge car company came to be, and through it explains why corporations aren’t legally allowed to be altruistic to employees or the community, because they must run their business to maximize shareholder return. Also, Mad Max didn’t drink tea because he was a badass.
Nick brings up the birth rate, and I do my best to assauge his fears about population spinning out of control. This, of course, leads us to a discussion of economic growth, and how that’s the real problem behind things. Here I also succeed in getting my first “look” from Shannon.
We talk about the drive to procreate, and the relationship between birth rate and standard of living. I burst Nick’s bubble and tell him we don’t need the global eugenics program he’s been angling for. Darn!
I challenge Nick and Shannon to think about a steady state economy and what that might look like. Shannon does a good job explaining how our per-person consumption has skyrocketed, independent of population growth. We delve briefly in to the growing DIY movement, but are also quick to point out its shortcomings in addresing our problems.
These days when I need an example of how systems influence behavior, I’m fond of leaning on the recycling story that Toni told me in a previous talk. From this story, we move to carbon taxes and how they put the correct incentives on products by reflecting true costs. Nick points out that any politician responsible for price increases is going to get hammered in elections. I agree, but state simply that someone needs to take the hit.
We discuss battery tech, and Nick tells us what he knows about the poisons in lithium-ion batteries. I give a general picture of our battery needs and where I think the tech is going.
Nick and Shannon both have jobs that require travel. Shannon commutes in a car and Nick flies all over the world to fix his machines. Realizing that their jobs are unsustainable in a future of reduced travel and energy consumption, they both laugh and give me shit about ruining their lives. Also this quote: “I don’t understand anything at the anatomical level. It’s all a mystery to me down there”.
We finish out the night discussing ways to affect change, and getting arrested comes up in the context of an upcoming Keystone XL protest in Washington D.C. Arrests have little practical impact but help to shape the narrative and underlying political discourse.
Many thanks to Nick and Shannon for the good conversation and delectable grub.