In my continuing effort to find challenging audiences and expand these climate talks outside my circle of Boston friends, I was pleased to accept a dinner invite from my Uncle Ramey and Aunt Carol. Ramey is my mother’s oldest brother and a retired accountant who lives with Carol (herself a retired schoolteacher) in Rutland, Massachusetts. I have many fond memories of their house, as my extended family celebrated numerous holidays and birthdays there when I was growing up. Some of that fondness revolves around food (Aunt Carol is a great cook), and some revolves around nature (there’s lots of property to run around on, and Uncle Ramey cultivates a large garden). But usually my excitement for a trip to Rutland focused on their three kids, my cousins. For kids, older is often synonymous with cooler, and so any trip to Rutland meant getting to hang out with the cool kids, playing with the cool kid toys, and making the cool kid mischief.
These days we don’t see each other very often…like most extended families, the years introduce a host of new in-laws and grandchildren that demand their own attention and make extended family get-togethers difficult. So when Sarah and I arrived, we had a lot to catch up on! Ramey and Carol have been retired for a while, and in my opinion they’re doing it right. Every year they take at least one serious vacation, usually a river cruise, so they’re always full of interesting stories from their last exotic get away. In their day-to-day lives they keep super busy, especially Aunt Carol. It seems like very day of the week she has activities planned, from church meetings to social outings to singing in a choir. One of her grandkids was similarly impressed: on display in the kitchen was a “quilt” made out of construction paper, each patch depicting one of Aunt Carol’s myriad activities.
Once we were done catching up and marveling at how much I look like their son Keith (yep, little bit), dinner was ready so we sat down to eat. Aunt Carol had prepared a feast that did justice to all of the wonderful childhood memories I have of her cooking. On my plate I piled helpings of pork with gravy, squash and green beans from their garden, applesauce, and salad. For dessert she had even baked an apple pie, and being the master of her craft, avoided the inevitable crack in the top crust that 90% of pies fall victim to. Everything was delicious.
As dinner was wound down, we got to talking about climate change and everything else. We weren’t able to use video for this talk; instead I recorded our conversation and have faithfully transcribed chunks of it below. To check out each section, simply click on the header and it will “unfurl” the text for you to read. You can then click the header again to “refurl” it when you’re done. Apologies to Internet Explorer users, this widget won’t work for your browser, all the text will just be dumped on to the page directly.
Natural cycles and going 'back to the Stone Age'
RAMEY: Looking at that chart: prior to the industrial revolution, you’re talking about cavemen. That’s when our whole lives changed.
RAMEY: …as far as betterment, between washing machines, refrigerators….
ERIC: Yeah, that’s the only reason we have modern life at all is because of this stuff [oil].
RAMEY: And I look at also millions of years ago you had an ice age in this country.
ERIC: Mmm hmm.
RAMEY: So therefore we’ve been having a warming trend for millions of years.
ERIC: Uh, well…
RAMEY: You know, I’ve seen pictures of the Ice Age, and how far down it went, it covered most of the United States…
ERIC: Oh yeah, I mean the Earth has been all kinds of ways, right? There used to be a jungle in the Arctic, it used to be ice down here…
RAMEY: You know, we’ve been increasing the temperature of the earth…forever.
ERIC: No. The earth was doing it’s own thing for a long time, and we weren’t part of the equation.
RAMEY: I know we weren’t, but nature was.
ERIC: Yeah, but nature had a stable carbon rate…
RAMEY: Before man decided to do scientific experiments, whether it be the automobile, the train, anybody or anything else, we were in our back yards doing our farming, doing our whatever we did, we never traveled anywhere!
RAMEY: And therefore, supposedly, the better way of life changed in the Industrial Revolution.
ERIC: Yeah, that’s how we got modern life.
RAMEY: That’s right. So is everybody gonna go back to…
ERIC: No. Not even close.
RAMEY: Sure we are!
ERIC: Nah, we don’t need that stuff anymore.
RAMEY: We need it!
ERIC: No, we don’t. We have all this other great new stuff now.
RAMEY: No we don’t.
(Sarah and Aunt Carol laugh at our exchange)
ERIC: We don’t have it on scale…
SARAH: Wait, are you in support of going back to…
RAMEY: No, I’m not in support of it.
SARAH: I’m just curious.
ERIC: I’m not either. I’m not either.
RAMEY: We can’t go back.
SARAH: It’s impossible.
Cape Wind, turbine tech, and those darn Kennedys
RAMEY: But you got…I look at maybe three alternatives…nuclear, solar, and wind. Wind to me is OUT.
ERIC: It’s out? Just like that?
RAMEY: Just like that.
RAMEY: I was seeing the other day, this guy had a windmill in the area of his thing…down in Stoughton, Scituate, somewhere down there? And every time the sun’s out, all you got is this flashing going around his house, day in and day out, day in and day out. And I’m saying: the guy’s right! Because we talk about putting a windmill up here in the center of town, and it makes noise. Now if you want to put the windmills out in the ocean somewhere, where no one’s going to be affected…
ERIC: We do.
RAMEY: Well maybe you do but…
ERIC: Well, everybody does!
RAMEY: The Kennedys don’t want to!
ERIC: Well, the Kennedys are going to lose that one. You’re talking about Cape Wind, right?
RAMEY: I’m talking about Cape Wind.
ERIC: They’re gonna lose that one.
RAMEY: You go up to the maritimes…they have winds…wind power, out in the oceans.
ERIC: Yeah, they have ‘em there and in a lot of other countries too.
RAMEY: That’s fine, but you’re not going to be able to put wind in the middle of the United States next to somebody’s house. Or Chicago or…
ERIC: Nah, we’re not talking about that. We’ll put it somewhere it makes sense.
RAMEY: Well…what makes sense?
ERIC: Well, hopefully away from people. That’s why it’s in the Midwest…and you said the ocean, there’s a lot of ocean!
RAMEY: Yeah there’s a lot of ocean, but you’ve got people who are gonna squawk like the fishermen, the lobsters, or whatever your case may be. Not to play devil’s advocate right here…
ERIC: Nah, I like that.
RAMEY: But on the other hand, y’know, look at the problem you had with Cape Wind, and I was all for Cape Wind, I still am…
RAMEY: But you’ve got people…well navigation problems, you got fish problems, you got lobster problems, you got whatever kinds of problems you got, and someone’s gonna look out and say “gee there’s a windmill out there and I don’t wanna see that.” That’s the problem you’re gonna have!
ERIC: It is! And it is a problem, except that people are going to come around to the fact at some point that this is gonna be necessary to prevent larger catastrophes.
ERIC: At some point. I’m not saying Cape Wind is going to be solved tomorrow…
RAMEY: …until all of a sudden, y’know, something major happens…
ERIC: If Hurricane Sandy had landed on Cape Wind they might have changed their minds.
RAMEY: There’s an old saying: “if it wasn’t for the last minute, a lot of things wouldn’t get done”.
ERIC: (laughs) Yeah, we are are incredibly short term animals, aren’t we?
RAMEY: We are! Exactly!
CAROL: They’re going to have to perfect…
RAMEY: Just look at our legislature, two weeks ago, whenever it was, I dunno.
CAROL: They’re going to have to perfect the windmills. Because they have them on one side of Mount Wachusett…
CAROL: …but they’re always breaking down! All the propellers and…and those things are huge!
CAROL: But they can’t seem to build one that doesn’t…doesn’t have consistent mechanical problems.
ERIC: Okay. The design is changing basically every year. I’ve been reading about ones this week that don’t have fiberglass blades anymore they have cloth blades, that save like 40% on cost on something like that…
CAROL: (laughs) Going back to the old windmills they had…
ERIC: The old tech is the best tech. I mean I’m telling you the technology is there now…to generate on scale. I mean, if you were o make a coal or an oil plant today it would be obsolete by the time you built it because the cost curve, which is another one I should bring with me, another chart, the cost curve is such that the renewables solar and wind are crashing in cost and oil and coal are going up because it’s harder to find, we’ve found all the easy coal and easy oil at this point. So just economically, whether you wanna deal with Cape Wind nonsense or not, economically in 5 years it won’t make sense to use fossil fuels. Like whether you like that or not, that’s just the way that it’s going, so we’ll get there economically one way or the other, but I don’t wanna wait five years, I wanna fix all of the weather problems we’re having now before they get too bad, too fast…I mean we’re paying $60 billion to clean up Sandy right now, and the drought in…
RAMEY: Yeah, but these things [storms and droughts] are gonna happen.
ERIC: How long have you been alive? Have you ever seen New York subways under water?
RAMEY: No, I’ve never been to New York.
Weather on steroids, broken records
RAMEY: We had the hurricane of ’38.
ERIC: What about it?
RAMEY: What about it?! You weren’t around! I mean you read that and the destruction that happened in all southern New England…
ERIC: You’re making my case though. The way climate change works is like steroids in a baseball player. It’s not like, visible outwardly, but you see the guy hitting home runs twice as often. So a hurricane that happened in ’38 and again in 2038 is gonna start happening every ten years, every 5 years, every 2 years…
ERIC: ….that’s the way that it works.
RAMEY: Ehhh…I don’t buy it.
ERIC: Why not?
RAMEY: I don’t buy that.
ERIC: Why not?
RAMEY: Nature…you can’t prove to me you’re gonna have another hurricane in 2038.
ERIC: No, I can’t tell you when we’re gonna have a hurricane, but I can tell you roughly how many hurricanes we’re gonna have.
RAMEY: How many hurricanes did we have that destroyed New York City? Prior to this one?
ERIC: …I don’t know…
RAMEY: El zippo!
ERIC: …and if we get another one tomorrow are you going to be convinced?
RAMEY: That’s right, we could have another one tomorrow!
ERIC: No, but I mean, what’s it gonna take? To convince you?
RAMEY: I don’t know, but how can you say just because…the Earth’s getting maybe a little warmer that’s causing the hurricane?
ERIC: Alright, well, let’s skip to that section, you wanna know?
RAMEY: I dunno.
ERIC: Let’s go.
RAMEY: I mean how can that be proved…
ERIC: Let’s do it.
RAMEY: …you got droughts, you got got, y’know, floods, you know, whatever you’ve got, we’ve had ‘em for centuries!
ERIC: Sure. So alright. Since the Industrial Era, we’re a degree hotter on the planet. A degree Celcius, which is like a degree and a half Fahrenheit. Which doesn’t sound like much, right? You go outside, you come back in, you don’t even notice a degree temperature change, right? But the world is a full degree hotter than when we started. And the climate is really a Swiss timepiece…like, the ecology is really meant, and evolved to stick where it’s meant to be, and we are this wrench that we’re throwing in to the whole thing. And so, just with this one degree, we’ve had the following things happen. So this year, 2012 was the hottest year on record, ever. Uh, and so you saw some pretty weird weather in 2012, you can go back and…
RAMEY: Records were made to be broken. All the time.
ERIC: Let’s talk about records. We broke that record 9 times out of the last ten years. The hottest…9 of the last 10 years have been the hottest year on record. So we break that record every single year!
ERIC: Don’t look at me like that! You can look that up.
RAMEY: I can look that up.
Drought and the Dust Bowl
ERIC: They [Australia] have this ongoing drought, they’re in the middle of this 50 year drought. And the American Midwest is in a 50 year drought. A full 60% of the United States in drought, and the corn crop basically got ruined, which is why we have to feed cows, y’know, gummy worms or whatever. And food prices are spiking as a result, and that’s basically the new normal, that’s what scientists are telling us, is that these areas, the Midwest, the Southwest, Australia, and lots of other places too, but those are the only ones I’ll bring up for now…are places of permanent drought, they’re places we’re going to be able to grow food very easily anymore.
CAROL: What are they basing it on?
ERIC: What are they basing it on? The climate models.
RAMEY: Because 80 years ago we had the…
ERIC: …Dust Bowl.
RAMEY: …the big Dust Bowl, in Nebraska or wherever it was.
RAMEY: So 80 years later, we get another one.
ERIC: Yeah, but the Dust Bowl was caused by humans, you know that, right? It’s because they dug up all the grass out in the Midwest, and all the topsoil picked up and blew away.
RAMEY: Yeah, but it was still dust…
ERIC: It was human caused.
RAMEY: …it was dust.
ERIC: …just like this one is.
The renewable energy of other countries
CAROL: How do you plan to convince…I mean I look at the people…you think it’s bad here in the ‘States, I mean, you go to Beijing, and it’s ten times worse.
ERIC: Toxic, yep.
CAROL: And they go running around because it is so bad. How are you going to convince those people who have now come in to, uh, monetary…
ERIC: Yeah, they want our style of life, right?
ERIC: They want our Western style of life.
CAROL: And they have…and even though there are a lot of bicycles…but the emissions over there…how are you going to convince, the scientists over there to convince those people, their people to get in to this climate change?
ERIC: The answer actually is, they’re ahead of us on this. A lot of countries are and America is actually the laggard. So, Europe is obviously way ahead, Germany right now generates 25-30% of their stuff. And China just passed us in terms of overall pollution, so uh, America is no longer #1…that’s actually a good thing not to be #1 in this category. But China has a strategy for this in a way that we don’t. They’re devoting 5% of their GDP every year to addressing these problems, and they are the leading solar people in the world right now, their panels are flying all over the world. And they have plan, and they’re enacting this plan to wean themselves off in a way that we are not. So, they are actually people that get it. I mean, China has a real fear of instability, and it responds…I mean they’re a Communist country and they do a lot of really bad things. But one thing they do well is they respond quickly and efficiently when people complain about stuff. And smog is one of those things that people hate now in Beijing. And they’re starting to enact this plan now where they’re taking away all their coal plants and starting to replace them with solar and wind. If you take a shower in Beijing, 50% of the showers in Beijing heat their water with solar power. They’re going slowly, they’re a huge country, and we’re going slowly, we’re a huge country….
CAROL: I didn’t see any solar panels when we were there.
ERIC: Oh, you didn’t? Did you look on the roofs?
CAROL: Oh yeah!
CAROL: The only thing we saw hanging out was the laundry!
ERIC: Alright, well check that out because…
RAMEY: A few solar panels on the roof of a hotel with 500 rooms ain’t gonna heat hot water. For 500 showers.
ERIC: You do these things to scale, right? The power that’s coming in to your house right now isn’t coming from your roof, it’s coming from a power station, somewhere. And that’s the way that we should still continue to generate power, we should have large solar plants, large wind plants, I mean it’s not…household use is good, you should start there, we still need large scale power generation and it just has to be a different kind of power plant. I mean that’s all we’re really talking about, it’s like take out the old kind of power plant and put in a new kind of power plant. Because right now they’re essentially cost equivalent and one is wrecking the planet and one won’t wreck the planet at all. So, it seems like a no-brainer…but it’s still a pretty hard sell to almost everybody.
More about solar and wind
RAMEY: But to create solar, you need massive solar panels.
RAMEY: And where are you going to put these massive solar panels?
ERIC: What do you mean where? You mean just where?
ERIC: Well, rooftops is a good start. Oh, you mean where in New England?
RAMEY: Yeah! Well you can put ‘em on rooftops but…
ERIC: Where are the power plants right now? We’ll just put ‘em…
RAMEY: They’re on poster-sized lots right now, compared to solar panels. Our neighbors down over here across the street in the subdivision got free solar panels this summer, or whatever the case may be.
ERIC: Oh yeah, you can get them for free now actually. They figured out the business plan, you don’t buy ‘em any more, you sort of….
RAMEY: Lease them.
ERIC: It’s good! They just come to your house and install them and you get the benefits right away, and the company gets to take back their end on the other side. So i mean that was the problem, and I never wanted to buy a solar panel when it was like “I have to pay $20,000 for this thing, and wait 20 years for the payoff?”
RAMEY: Not only that, but they leaked and all that other stuff. But that was years ago.
ERIC: Right. And the technology is way better now, too. I mean every year these things innovate further and further and further. I just read an article, they’re able to get 75% more energy with just a minor little engineering tweak.
RAMEY: But New England, whatta we got, maybe 40% sun? What do you do with the rest of it?
ERIC: I mean we got sun, and we got wind…
RAMEY: See wind, I’m not necessarily for.
ERIC: Why not?
ERIC: I wrote an article not too long ago actually about all the wind farms coming on in Massachusetts. There’s a big one called Hoosac, which is out in uhm…Sarah and I passed it, we were out in MassMOCA, where is that? What town is that?
SARAH: Like Springfield area.
ERIC: Springfield area. We just saw it. It was like 20 or 30 things up on mountain tops. Because the wind blows harder up on mountain tops, and people don’t really build up on those mountain tops anyway. And so they’re far from people, and all that kind of stuff. There’s places for these things. There’s still a lot of Earth left to put these things. And we’re tearing down all the old power plants anyway, why don’t we put these new things in their place?
RAMEY: Well they gotta be the right location, doesn’t it?
ERIC: The sun shines everywhere, doesn’t it?
RAMEY: It’s still gotta be the right decision. I mean you got trees…with wind you gotta be on top of hills, it takes away your beauty, like your cell phone towers and all the rest
ERIC: Well, alright. I think we’re going to have to sacrifice just that much beauty.
RAMEY: Really? I looked down here one morning and there’s a cell phone tower in the back woods. I mean what am I gonna do? I gotta live with it.
ERIC: It’s true. Well there you go, you gotta live with it. I’m telling you you gotta live with it.
The politics of climate change
CAROL: How do you get the political groups to agree, and…
ERIC: Good question.
CAROL: …redistribute money in to these areas of research that needs to be done?
ERIC: Good question. Uh, politically I don’t know. I’m hoping maybe I’ll get involved politically in a year or two. But really what it’s gonna take is a grassroots movement, because politically we’ve tried at the top end for 30 years and we’ve got nothing done. There’s a lot of vested interests, specifically the oil and gas companies that do not want anything to happen. Their golden goose is the way things are, the status quo is what makes them a lotta lotta money and charges us a lot of money at the pump. And so, if you look at their campaign contributions they own half of the Congress. They just do.
And so, if anything is gonna get done on this, it’s gonna get done with a grassroots political movement with regular people en masse, not from a top down solution. So that’s why I’m getting involved with all this political activism stuff, that’s why I’m going to stand around with a sign like a chump and protest a pipeline, uh, because that’s the movement that has to build, it has to come from people because it’s not going to come from politicians who have been taking campaign contributions for 30 years. So, that’s also why I’m building the site and starting with my family, because it’s going to take regular people getting off their butts to actually care about this stuff, which is the hardest thing in the world. I want nothing more than to sit in my house and watch television and play video games.
But that’s the angle, I think, that the politics has to start at because, I mean, we got Barack Obama back in office and he’s making noises a little bit about climate change, but he’s basically done nothing, so I’m not holding my breath on him. And, you know, I’m gonna be outside the White House yelling his name along with everybody else, even though I voted for him. He needs to do something, he needs to put up or shut up. So, I dunno. Politics is the hardest part. The easy part, believe it or not, is we have all the technology and all the money we right now that we need. The problem is eminently solvable.
RAMEY: Where are you getting all the money.
ERIC: Well, that’s a good question.
RAMEY: The only way you’re gonna do that is to tax.
RAMEY: Oh, you have to.
RAMEY: Where you gonna get the money? Where you gonna steal it from?
ERIC: I got an easy one, you ready? You wanna know where I’m gonna steal it from?
ERIC: Every year, we give billions and billions of dollars to oil and gas companies.
RAMEY: I understand that.
ERIC: It’s like 5 or 6 times what we give to renewables. So let’s start with an easy one. Can we give that money to the other guys? Can we do that one? Let’s do that one.
RAMEY: Yeah. You can do that one. It still ain’t gonna produce all the electricity we need.
ERIC: Uh, no…
RAMEY: So! Where are you gonna get the rest of it? Tax!
ERIC: Something. Something along those lines.
RAMEY: Yeah! You gotta tax.
ERIC: It’s a question of whether you wanna survive past 2050, or whether you wanna pay 10% more taxes. It’s really like…
RAMEY: Well, don’t argue with me, argue with the politicians and the rest of the people…
ERIC: Well I agree…that’s the world we live in unfortunately.
RAMEY: Look at what they did down in Washington, y’know, [Governor] Patrick over here, now wants to raise taxes on da-da-da-da-da, so we have transportation and…
ERIC: Yeah, we are very anti-tax here these days.
RAMEY: Exactly! The whole country is.
SARAH: I mean, people I think have a hard time paying for something they don’t necessarily see down the line? Nobody wants to pay to prevent further damage that a big hurricane like Sandy could cause. They’d rather…they don’t like it, but they’d rather pay money to help clean up versus doing more with prevention.
ERIC: It’s hard to even get money to clean up Sandy these days.
SARAH: Yeah. It’s one of those psychological things, too.
RAMEY: Well it’s the waste, all the waste.
ERIC: I’d be perfectly happy having a complete reorganization and waste and cleanup of government along the way. But I mean, it’s gotta happen collectively, I can’t solve it alone, and you can’t solve it alone, we need eachother and everybody else. And government is basically the expression of collective will that we have, for better or worse, so it’s gotta come from some kind of collective action, and government is what we’ve got. And you’re right, there’s a lot of money that’s involved and there’s a ton of political will that is not there right now, but this is not gonna get solved over night and y’know we’re not just gonna shut off all the oil tomorrow and fire up all these things that don’t exist yet, it’s gonna be a transition.
RAMEY: No, I understand that.
ERIC: But we’ gotta get started now, or we might as well not get started at all, uh, because we’re running up on these dates really fast. And where we are, it’s not happening fast enough. So…something’s gotta happen. Someone’s gotta get bitten in the ass, or, uhm, I mean the transition will come. That point where people wake up and say ‘oh it does behoove me to do this to save myself so much pain later’ will come, the question is just whether it comes because a giant storm tore the roof off your house, or you realized it by looking at a chart or a graph or by talking to somebody. So I think like any other large grassroots movement, like any other civil rights or suffrage movement or anything else like that it starts with regular people just discussing pros and cons an what’s out there and what’s viable and what’s not. And maybe we’ll go out and talk about it with somebody else the next day or the next day, and it will spread slowly. The technology will get implemented slowly, the politics even more slowly…it’s moving in that direction now, it just needs to move a lot faster.
ERIC: Not buying me on all that? Sounds pie in the sky?
RAMEY: I don’t dispute you. I don’t dispute you at all on any of that stuff. But I mean, y’know, it’s such a massive…
ERIC: It seems big, right? It seems real big.
RAMEY: Y’know, you can’t even argue politics about how much a coffee cup costs. Versus, you know, the cost of…
ERIC: Yeah. We have two kinds of politics in the world: we have everyday politics, and then we have crisis politics, right?
ERIC: So like, the optimism I take from…I’m actually very optimistic about this by the way. We’ve hit the emotional low point in the talk…
RAMEY: That’s good.
ERIC: (laughs) Sorry, I dragged you down.
Food riots and feeling threatened
RAMEY: (laughs) I’m not overly optimistic on this whole damn economy…
ERIC: Here’s where we bring you back. I’m actually optimistic about this, for a couple of reasons. One of them is that humans can change very very quickly when we move in to this crisis politics mode that we have.
RAMEY: Only when they get their ass kicked.
ERIC: Exactly. So I’m hoping that it doesn’t get to complete ass kicking, and maybe we just take a few punches in the gut, I don’t know. But we’ll get to that point, that point is out there in the future, I don’t know if it’s 5 years, 10 years away, 20 years or whatever…but we’ll get there. And my job, at least as I see it is to take that point and try to pull it, claw it back towards the present as much as possible. Uh, but picture Pearl Harbor, right? We dithered about whether to get in to WWII for years, basically, before we did. But it took us getting punched in the gut by Pearl Harbor. Within four days, the government had nationalized the car companies, it started rationing food and electricity and metals and that kind of thing, like when we realize, when we finally wake up and realize that something is really threatening us, we act like that.
You could say the same thing about the financial crisis in 2008. Uhm, which was on a slow burn for over a decade. And people were saying ‘oh, it’s going to blow up in our face’ and ‘what are we gonna do about it’ and nobody did anything and it blew up in our face. But within a couple of months, every country on the planet basically had rolled out a huge multi-billion dollar plan to buy up assets and close down businesses and uh, inject stimulus and new job growth in to countries. And we can argue about the merits of whether those were good ideas or bad ideas, but the point is that we went for it, and we went for it on short notice because we really felted threatened. We were like “oh, the economy is going to crash unless we do these things’. So, human response is very good, but only once we get our minds around the subject.
Uhm, so that’s what I’m trying to do with all of this, is to try to get people’s minds around the subject. Because, when you do, then what you do and how you do it becomes a lot more obvious. But if you don’t think about it, which a lot of people don’t, then it’s just some other issue for some other guy somewhere else.
RAMEY: See part of the problem was that Pearl Harbor was instantaneous.
RAMEY: 2008 was more or less instantaneous.
ERIC: Yeah…took about, whatever, a year…
RAMEY: So what happens when the degree only goes up 1/4 of a degree? Versus now it’s going to a 1/2 degree.
ERIC: Oh it won’t be the degrees that get us, it will be a major storm, it’ll be a drought where we can’t eat food for a year, it’ll be some major outcome.
RAMEY: Ehh, that won’t happen, because we’ll import it or export it or something.
ERIC: No, it’s global food markets now. So even now, if there’s like a drought in Russia…so like a few years ago there was a drought in Russia where all their wheat was wiped out. And our food prices here went up because it’s a global market. We buy their wheat, we buy whatever wheat is cheapest around the world, or anything that’s cheapest because it all gets shipped around. So if our wheat gets low enough we can try to buy from someone else, but if it’s in short supply, Russia’s just not going to sell it to us. That’s what happens when food is in short supply, is everybody gets real jealous.
RAMEY: See and this is where you’re gonna have the real problem. Because now you’re gonna have rebellions. Rebellions.
ERIC: People get really angry when they can’t eat.
RAMEY: And that’s gonna be the problem. That’s gonna be the big problem. It’s rebellion. People say ‘Gee I don’t have, he has, I’m gonna go steal it. I’m gonna invade’.
ERIC: Right. So this is the political instability part of climate change. It doesn’t seem like the weather is causing it, but it does. If you don’t have enough to eat, if it’s too hot, if people have water and you don’t, uh, you get pretty angry and you wanna go take it.
RAMEY: This is what I’m saying. That’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna get riots.
ERIC: Yeah, you are.
RAMEY: I don’t care if it’s the South vs. the North, if it’s East vs. West, y’know, or us vs. my neighbor…
ERIC: Right, so let’s stop the riots right now if we can. I say let’s stop the riots right now.
RAMEY: Well that’s easier said than done.
ERIC: Well at least we can start…start.
Spoiled people, and the local future
CAROL: So what do you or the people that you’re conversing with, uhm, proposing to use as an energy source for…y’know, I know cars are coming in to the batteries…
CAROL: You know, it’s like these new lightbulbs that came up that are supposed to be energy efficient. But they’re full of mercury!
RAMEY: They last half as long, and they cost twice as much!
CAROL: And they’re full of mercury and that means that they don’t solve…
ERIC: There’s some hits and some misses, I’m not gonna pretend that we have all the answers. But all I’ve got is the direction we need to go. What we do is set the goal, and let people organize around the goal. So I mean you’re right, the light bulbs were kind of a crap step, and honestly the Prius was kind of a crap step, uhm…
RAMEY: Yeah because it takes more energy to create the batteries than the gasoline they would’ve used, or close to it.
ERIC: Yep, so I agree that there are gonna be some crap steps along the way, but what the Prius and the lightbulbs are good for is to push the narrative. So they don’t do much to solve the underlying math problem, but if somebody sees that, or they see your light bulb, they start to internalize the fact that we need to start doing this kind of stuff because otherwise the consequences are very serious.
RAMEY: See people have got their hands in their wallet, I don’t care what you say.
ERIC: They do, you’re right.
RAMEY: People don’t buy things full price anymore, everything’s a sale.
RAMEY: Sale today, sale tomorrow, Valentine’s sale, Martin Luther King sale, Christmas sale, y’know Friday end-of-the-month sale, no one buys anything full price. That’s all people look for, SALE SALE SALE.
ERIC: I agree with you.
RAMEY: What’s the cheapest thing I can get? And that’s what it is, it’s cheap.
CAROL: And now the cheapest way to do stuff is with your fossil fuels.
ERIC: Yep! Cost parity is…
RAMEY: And that’s what I’m saying, that’s where you get in to the dollars and cents, and you’re gonna have to, quote, tax people, in order to create structures that are gonna produce enough energy, constant energy, in order to maintain the lifestyle they’re used to.
RAMEY: Y’know, all of a sudden the sun goes down and suddenly I can’t drive my car any more. Y’know, or the lights go out at 5 o’clock or something.
ERIC: Except, except…if you were in a warlike mindset, nobody minded growing a Victory Garden, nobody minded collecting scrap metal during WWII. Uhm, if you give people a larger narrative to work from where they are a part of a larger effort to solve a problem, they’re happy to make sacrifices.
RAMEY: Yeah, but people can’t grow Victory Gardens all the time. That’s fine for 4 month of the summer, but in the winter time you can’t go out there and pick my lettuce and…
ERIC: Yeah but four months is four months. Four months is a good amount.
RAMEY: But the trouble is we’re spoiled.
ERIC: We are spoiled.
RAMEY: …to the extent that, y’know…fresh tomatoes. I go to the grocery store today and get nice fresh tomatoes, grown in California and trucked up in 2 days. Bingo! Y’know, nice, right there. When I was growing up, hey, you had tomatoes at the end of the season, October, and you didn’t have any more tomatoes until next June!
RAMEY: You know, or strawberries or blueberries or any of this stuff.
RAMEY: So are we gonna go back to those days? And say ‘Hey all we have is peas and beans today, you’re not gonna get any tomatoes until next June.’ That’s locally grown.
CAROL: See, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.
ERIC: See, the future is going to be more local. Whether we like it or not, it’s going to be more local.
Changes in Rutland environment, scientific consensus
RAMEY: You know, I guess the world is getting warmer, I understand that. And…
ERIC: Do you feel it, too? Do you see it out in, as you’re walking around in the back property, do you feel like the birds are migrating at different times or the plants are flowering…I mean because it’s months off now.
RAMEY: I know the birds are…
ERIC: …cherry blossoms are, like, coming really early now, and…
RAMEY: …yeah, I know the birds have changed. I mean like you said the grosbeaks aren’t around here any more.
CAROL: Yeah the evening grosbeaks.
RAMEY: Now they’re gone.
CAROL: Now we have Baltimore orioles, and we have, uhm…
CAROL: …the red-breasted grosbeak there. Which we didn’t have before.
RAMEY: Yeah, but they’re moving on.
CAROL: The bluebirds stay around.
RAMEY: Yeah, there’s more birds sticking around in the winter. The robins around here…
ERIC: Yeah, right. If it doesn’t get below zero, the birds don’t migrate.
RAMEY: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t know what they…driving up I-190, buncha robins, it was sub-zero, it was about 5° below zero going to Kristen’s and there’s robins flying around picking berries outta the bushes. No, you know, I think it’s a problem, but on the other hand, I…
ERIC: It’s not going to be comfortable. One way or the other it’s not going to be comfortable.
RAMEY: …I don’t know…
ERIC: I mean it all sounds, even to me now, all this stuff sounds pie in the sky to me. Right? It sounds like ‘oh you’re gonna start this big global movement and people are going to rise up and there’s a big problem we need to do something about’…
RAMEY: They’re not gonna do that until you get a crisis.
ERIC: Yep! That may be the case. But I’m not willing to wait until that point. I’d like to start the groundwork now.
RAMEY: ‘Cause that where I think you’re gonna get, I say, the riots…
RAMEY: …because you’re gonna say, you know, ‘He has, you don’t’. It’s that type of thing and therefore we should share. Uh, you know, this is…I dunno what we’re doing. I think this is a real big problem.
ERIC: It is.
RAMEY: I’m not necessarily shutting down the oil line.
ERIC: No, and nor should you. What you should try to do is take this narrative and, like, tell it to other people, or just, you know, believe scientists when they talk about this kind of thing. Because that’s the biggest problem, scientists can’t get any traction.
RAMEY: Scientists, I mean, some facts, a lot of it’s theoretical. Some of it’s theory. And I’m not saying it’s all theory…
ERIC: So what you do is what you do with anything else. We can’t get a complete picture, we can’t ever know everything, right? But what you do is you look for the consensus, you look for the majority of people say. And right now, 97% of scientists will tell you this stuff is true. The other 3% are are basically compromised by Big Oil. Uh, so…there’s really no more debate on this, there’s no more doubt to be had unless you’re going out of your way to look for doubt. So it’s settled, we just need to get in people’s minds that a) it’s settled and b) that is really is as serious as it is. Because we keep thinking, and we keep working from old data and old models and we keep thinking the weather’s always going to be like it always was when in fact storms and droughts and wildfires and floods are coming more and more frequently and becoming stronger and stronger.
So we’ll catch on…one of these will punch us in the nuts just hard enough that we’ll catch on. And it’ll happen fast…when it happens, it’ll happen fast. Picture all that denial that we’ve got like water behind a dam. And uhm, every time a storm comes up, a flood or whatever, there’s a little crack in the dam. But when that dam breaks, it’s not gonna flow out, y’know, slowly…when dams break they flood and everything, the landscape is completely different on the other side. So let’s get to that point as soon as possible, because we’re really in a race against time at this point.
Consumerism, and grasping our global world
RAMEY: To me you got three big problems. One being climate, the other one being, y’know, water supply, and the third one is the debt of this country.
ERIC: Yeah, the economy’s bad.
RAMEY: The economy!
ERIC: They’re all tied together, by the way.
RAMEY: Yeah, they are…
ERIC: They are!
RAMEY: …in many respects. And it’s all going to boil down to taxation, somewhere along the way. But, I mean, to be honest with you, these three things are a problem.
RAMEY: Yeah, a big problem. And if you don’t ride over one you’re gonna ride over another one.
ERIC: I mean the problem is really like there’s so much humanity now, we cover the entire globe, we control all the resources, there’s so many of us that we’ve hit these growing pains now. Now we are truly the masters of the Earth but we don’t know what to do with ourselves and we’re not…we’re still a bunch of individual nations doing our own little thing, but globally we have all these impacts and we just ignore anything…it’s like when you’re raking your leaves and you throw them over your neighbor’s fence or whatever? Uhm, we can’t do that anymore because everybody shares the yard now and we’re all on this planet together. So, it’s starting to catch up with us.
CAROL: Yeah and people…until you travel people cannot grasp #1 the vastness of the world and they cannot grasp that the economies of all the countries are so intertwined.
ERIC: Yeah. Global world now.
CAROL: It’s just beyond what they can grasp. And until they can grasp that…
RAMEY: There’s a lot of individualism now, too. I mean, under these countries, towns…
CAROL: They…that’s how it’s always been! I mean Germany is Germany. Greece is Greece.
CAROL: They’re not like the United States, where we’re kind of a mishmash of everybody. And, you know, you go from Germany to France, well you need your passport to get in, or how do you get across the border. Here, you just drive to New Hampshire or Maine and nobody questions, and I think people just can’t grasp that the cultures are so different so it’s very hard for them to grasp that.
ERIC: And when things get rough they start to retreat, right? Europe at least as the EU, so you can drive from Germany to, whatever, France without showing your passport but now that they’re in trouble economically and stuff, everyone’s like ‘oh, I don’t know if we wanna be in the EU, we think maybe we can do it better ourselves’, so like…
RAMEY: Yeah because you’ve got part of them that’s going under…
CAROL: And they have been! A lot of them have been.
ERIC: Right. So that’s the other problem, as things start to get worse, people are going to shrink back in to their shells which is the exact opposite thing we need to be doing, so…the sooner we can start, the sooner we can help people not do that. Anyway, I hope Europe figures out their problems, because their economy…well like you say, it’s all tied together, so if they go down, they’re gonna take a chunk of us with them. So…I hope they solve that stuff.
CAROL: But the thing is, you know…people don’t want to do without.
ERIC: Yeah, it’s true.
CAROL: You know, I mean…
ERIC: There’s not much shared sacrifice anymore.
CAROL: I mean, the trips we’ve been on we always visit somebody’s home in the country. In a lot of the countries that we visit. And I mean, nobody lives…there’s so many that live substandard to what…they just don’t understand our living style. And we also can’t always understand theirs.
CAROL: …and in order to solve this we’re gonna have to understand.
ERIC: Little bit. I mean we just have a consumer-drive culture, right? Like it’s always a bigger car and a bigger house…
RAMEY: Oh yeah.
ERIC: …and part of our nature and our American identity is just to like consume more and more and more…
CAROL: And we…people work will work longer hours, they’ll do whatever needs to be done to get, you know, the STUFF. Where a lot of the Europeans, they’re living to survive.
ERIC: Yeah. And their living to live happier, too. Their goal is not stuff, their goal is happiness. There’s…the happiest places on the Earth, besides Bhutan, which is down in southeast Asia somewhere, are the Scandinavian countries, right? And they’re the ones with the highest taxes and the most social services. And they’ve got this wonderfully flexible society…they pay a lot of taxes, 30-50%, something like that, but they can move in an out of jobs as freely as they want, they have free health care…
CAROL: No, they pay for their health care…
ERIC: Well, they get state health care.
CAROL: Well yeah they’re paying it through their taxes.
ERIC: Well that’s what I mean, and then you just don’t have to worry about it. Like now we’ve got, you know, we’ve got to carry it with our job and we’ve got to roll it over, and you know, it’s also crazy expensive. That’s the other part.
CAROL: Well I’m looking at my cousin in Norway, y’know, she wanted surgery…she couldn’t get it.
CAROL: She had to wait, you know?
ERIC: There’s tradeoffs with everything.
RAMEY: See, that’s the trouble with the U.S., we don’t want to wait for anything. We want it today! We want it today, gotta have it today!
CAROL: But they’re also getting subsidized with the oil that they get off…in the north.
ERIC: Oh yeah. I mean everybody makes their money from…
CAROL: We went to one of their…remember we stopped at…we weren’t supposed to but we did?
RAMEY: Oh, that oil company?
CAROL: That oil…
CAROL: …refinery there.
RAMEY: (laugh) We could stop, we just couldn’t take pictures.
As I do more of these talks, the format has been evolving, and this night was a step further in that evolution. The original model involved me talking for ~20 minutes, with all questions and discussion happening afterwards. More recently I’ve taken a more blended approach that I think works better, where I start talking but encourage people to interject with questions and side discussions along the way. It’s more challenging as I need to be nimble enough to answer questions while still keeping my flow, but if all goes well it’s a more natural and casual experience. Along these lines, I thought the talk with Aunt Carol and Uncle Ramey went particularly well!
At the end of the evening I helped Aunt Carol get the wireless working on her Ipod Touch…it was nice to feel useful! Many thanks to Uncle Ramey and Aunt Carol for a fun evening and a delicious meal, it was great to spend time out in Rutland and reinforce all my great childhood memories.