Not Cool Ep 25: Mario Molina on climate action

Most Americans believe in climate change — yet far too few are taking part in climate action. Many aren’t even sure what effective climate action should look like. On Not Cool episode 25, Ariel is joined by Mario Molina, Executive Director of Protect our Winters, a non-profit aimed at increasing climate advocacy within the outdoor sports community. In this interview, Mario looks at climate activism more broadly: he explains where advocacy has fallen short, why it’s important to hold corporations responsible before individuals, and what it would look like for the US to be a global leader on climate change. He also discusses the reforms we should be implementing, the hypocrisy allegations sometimes leveled at the climate advocacy community, and the misinformation campaign undertaken by the fossil fuel industry in the ’90s.

Topics discussed include:

  • Civic engagement and climate advocacy
  • Recent climate policy rollbacks
  • Local vs. global action
  • Energy and transportation reform
  • Agricultural reform
  • Overcoming lack of political will
  • Creating cultural change
  • Air travel and hypocrisy allegations
  • Individual vs. corporate carbon footprints
  • Collective action
  • Divestment
  • The unique influence of the US

References discussed include:

It’s important to know that there are 25 companies in the world that are responsible for 50% of global emissions in the last 30 years. And it’s about 50 companies in the world that are responsible for about 85% of global emissions.

~ Mario Molina

Ariel Conn: Hi everyone. Ariel Conn here with Not Cool, a climate podcast. For episode 25, we’ll be joined by the executive director of Protect Our Winters, Mario Molina, who will continue our discussion about what people can realistically do to help address climate change. We’ll also tackle some of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the hypocrisy accusations that often get directed toward people who care about the environment, but who still do things like drive cars or fly. And, of course, we’ll consider what winter will look like in the future.

In addition to being the current executive director of Protect Our Winters, Mario previously served as international director at The Climate Reality Project, where he designed the organization’s climate leadership trainings and oversaw its post-Paris Agreement international strategy. Prior to his work at Climate Reality, Mario led strategy and programs as deputy director at the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). He has trained corporate leaders, government officials, NGO groups, athletes and activists, on climate change strategies, communications, and engagement. He has spoken widely on climate policy including for the World Bank, IBM, the Mexican Senate, the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, and various global stages.

In his free time, he’s an avid alpinist, snowboarder, mountain biker, guide, and life adventurer. 

Mario, thank you so much for joining us.

Mario Molina: A pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Ariel Conn: My very first question for you is just what is Protect Our Winters?

Mario Molina: Protect Our Winters is a nonprofit, and our mission is to turn passionate outdoors people into effective climate advocates. We work with elite athletes, forward-thinking business leaders and brands, outdoor recreationists as a whole to advocate for systemic climate change policy. That involves working with top-tier athletes across multiple fields — whether they be snowboarders, skiers, climbers, mountaineers, ski mountaineers, trail runners, mountain bikers — to use their voices and their platforms to mobilize both their constituents and their audiences, as well as using their voice and their platforms to show up at public utility commission hearings, to show up to lobby in DC, show up to lobby at the state level, and ultimately to motivate people to get civically engaged with climate change as a top priority in their civic engagement agenda.

Ariel Conn: We’re obviously struggling to get more people to do more with climate. Do you find that it seems easier to get people who are already interested in the outdoors to be more active and stronger advocates, or do you find that it’s just a challenge, period, to get people to take action?

Mario Molina: I think it depends on what group you’re looking at. People who are passionate about the outdoors are naturally going to be more inclined to care about climate change. But there’s a lot of misinformation and there’s a lot of confusion as to what people can actually do and what the solutions actually look like. And so educating the outdoor sports community is just as important as it is educating any other community, because that information is not widely spread across the outdoor community yet.

Having said that, I think that overall, the Yale study on Americans’ attitudes on climate change actually shows that most Americans — 76% of Americans — actually believe that climate change is real. 64% of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, believe that not only it’s real, but it’s human-caused, and that the government should do something about it. And so what we’re really trying to do is not necessarily convince people who don’t think that climate change is real; we’re looking at people who don’t quite understand the issue as well, or who are not as concerned as we all should be about the urgency of taking action.

Ariel Conn: And so with your work: how is it similar to, and how does it differ from, many of the other climate advocacy organizations?

Mario Molina: The traditional environmental base, or climate organizations, have done a really good job at building the base for the last 10, 20, 30 years: people who identify as climate advocates, and for whom climate change has been and is the top priority, and continue to engage on the issue. But what we’ve seen is that that base has not been enough to actually make the progress that we need to at the speed that we need to. 

We’ve seen it over and over again. We saw it in 2010 with the failure of Waxman-Markey bill, which was a cap-and-trade bill that passed the House but did not make it through Congress. We even saw it in the first term of the Obama administration, in the failure of the movement to make climate change a top priority for the administration over healthcare. And then we saw it with a slew of rollbacks that this administration has put into place that’s pretty much full on assault on any kind of progressive climate change policy that we’ve seen — from the rollback on methane regulations to the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction, the elimination of fuel standards for vehicles, tariffs on solar panels, etc, etc, etc.

Where we differ is we believe that we are bringing to the conversation a group of people who has traditionally not been seen as an important block on this issue, and that’s the outdoor sports community. These are people who first identify climbers, skiers, snowboarders, etc, whose passion really lies in the outdoors, who have not yet made climate change a top policy priority when they vote for their elected officials or on the things that they prioritize their civic engagement on. And that’s where we feel we can add that voice.

There’s 36 million people in the US who identify as either skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, climbers or trail runners. We don’t necessarily need all 36 million people; we need a few thousand people in the right places at the right times to show up and say, “Hey, this is something that we really care about.”

Ariel Conn: And how long have you guys been around?

Mario Molina: We’ve been around for 10 years.

Ariel Conn: In that time, what are some of the successes that you’ve had, especially in light of some of the rollbacks we’re seeing? What have you guys achieved that you think contributes most to helping?

Mario Molina: We see our success in two particular areas. One is the political will for change amongst the outdoor sports community, and the other is a shift and a cultural influence within the outdoor community to make this a priority. And so along those lines, in 2018 our sister organization Protect Our Winters Action Fund engaged in electoral work, trying to elect people who would be climate champions into office in mostly the House and the Senate. And then Protect Our Winters has done a lot of advocacy for state-level policy work.

And so in 2018, I think the biggest success that we had was helping to make voting a cultural norm amongst the outdoor sports community and educating people on the importance of voting, helping people make sure that they were registered to vote; then helping them make a plan to vote, making sure that there was the social pressure to get out and vote, as well as getting out the vote efforts.

In 2019, a lot of our work was at the state-level policy, so we were part of the coalition that supported the passage of HB 1261 here in Colorado — which, for those who don’t know, is the most aggressive climate change bill to pass any state legislature. And it seeks to make Colorado 80% renewable by 2030, and it does so across all sectors of the economy. So we mobilized the outdoor sports community in support of that bill.

We did it in Nevada in 2018 around the vote YES on 6, which was a ballot initiative to increase Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard, the amount of renewable energy that must be carried by a particular state in their energy grid. And then actually working to pass that ballot initiative: that one was signed into law as well earlier this year. We were part of a coalition in Maine, working also for an increase in RPS standards in Maine; and we’re now working with a coalition for 100% renewable municipalities in Utah.

So, our success really lies in bringing that additional voice to the conversation, and either leading where leadership is needed, or working in coalition where coalitions can really use the value of the outdoor sports community voice.

Ariel Conn: How many is your alliance?

Mario Molina: All total together across all three areas of our alliance — there are three types of alliance members: athletes, scientists, and CEOs and brands — there’s about 200.

Ariel Conn: If I understood the website correctly, you’re also global?

Mario Molina: Yes, we are. We have chapters in 10 European countries, and Europe is coming together under a single strategy umbrella this year that will launch a campaign on mobility in 2020, prioritizing low emissions mobility solutions in Europe. We have chapters in Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well. Now, most of those act pretty independently of headquarters; we started working with a lot more closely with Europe this year and we plan to expand to Asia and South Pacific in 2021.

Ariel Conn: One of the questions that I’ve been asking people off and on a bit is understanding what we can and should be doing at a local level, versus what we can and should be doing at a global level. What are you finding most effective so far?

Mario Molina: I always have a little bit of a hard time with the distinction between what we do at the local level and what we do at the global level. I don’t remember exactly who it was that famously said, “All politics is local.” Because climate change is a global problem with local sources, to me it’s very difficult to distinguish those two.

Having said that, supporting organizations that are doing the work and that care about the work is obviously number one. There are organizations that are working on climate in the Amazon; there are organizations that are working on climate and oceans. There are organizations that are working on climate in winter, like we are, or adventure sports. So figuring out which organization best fits your values and your lifestyle, and supporting those organizations, I would say, is the first step — if not the most important step.

But then also being really well-informed and learning about the issue. It is a complicated issue. It’s hard to actually expose both the problem and the solutions in 30 seconds during a presidential debate, for example, or in tweet fashion. It’s a complicated problem; it’s a large problem, and it has both local and global implications. But the information is there. The science is far, far ahead of the public’s knowledge. The policy solutions are far ahead of the public knowledge, and the technological and financial solutions are actually far ahead of what’s being implemented.

So studying those, understanding what are those solutions, what does the science say, and then from there getting an example — okay, what is keeping us from actually implementing those solutions at the scale that we need to in the timeframe that we have? Because the answers, in terms of what should I do and what can I do, start becoming far more obvious once we start understanding what the problem is and why we’re not actually taking the solutions that we need towards it.

There’s three components to the solutions, and one is we need the technology and the financial instruments to be deployed at scale in the timeframe that we have. So we need renewable energy, we need storage, we need electric vehicles and low emissions vehicles. Then we need the financial mechanisms that will incentivize research and development and investment in those technologies. Things like carbon pricing, but also incentives, stability in the production tax credit and the investment tax credits, which are tax credits for solar and wind.

And the thing is, we know that those exist. The technological solution exist, as do the financial instruments to deploy them. But what’s keeping us from deploying them at scale and in rapid fashion is the lack of political will. So we’re seeing states showing leadership, but what we really need is we need a full on transformation of what the priorities are for the country that put climate change at the very top — so that we address not only energy and transportation, but also agriculture, and start transitioning to regenerative agricultural practices that can actually help us sequester carbon rather than continue to emit more carbon and methane. That will happen when we have a political critical mass that makes it unacceptable not to prioritize climate change action in either one of the parties. And I do believe that we are getting close to that. It’s becoming harder and harder for politicians and elected officials of any party to deny the reality of climate change.

But then the third piece is we also need a cultural change, and we need to make sure that those policies are not only politically resilient — that they don’t go away with the shifts in administrations, where they go from Republican to Democrat, or whatever it might be in the future — so that they stay in place and that people will adopt those policies. So it’s one thing to have an offering of electric vehicles; it’s another thing to make sure that the public is invested in wanting those electric vehicles and making sure that the market is driving it.

That cultural change is really important. The example that I give is if anyone running for office were to stand up on a platform and say, “My platform is I think we should do away with drunk driving laws. We could sell more alcohol, which would benefit a lot of states. We could boost the economy; we could generate jobs by selling more alcohol to people who are on the go.” You’re laughing. We would all laugh. It’d be ridiculous. People would be laughed out of the campaign trail regardless of what political party they belonged to. But that was actually not that far fetched 20, 30 years ago. Drunk driving laws came about much by the advocacy of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We might all remember those campaigns, and they won that battle legislatively state by state. But the reality is that even though those laws exist now, it’s become a cultural norm that it is unacceptable to drive drunk, right? It’s unacceptable to drive while drinking.

It’s good to still have the laws, but culture has actually enforced those. We could say the same thing about tobacco, right? The decline in smoking, especially under age smoking, and the effects of the truth campaign: we need to get to a point where we hold the fossil fuel industry accountable the same way that we held Phillip Morris and the tobacco industry accountable.

Ariel Conn: And you feel like we’re getting close?

Mario Molina: I feel like we’re getting closer. I think our challenge, unlike that of any other massive social change that we’ve experienced, is time. Time is the enemy. I think it was Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad who said, “The stone age didn’t come to an end because we ran out of stones.” Fossil fuel is not going to come to an end because we run out of ways to figure out how to extract fossil fuels. You now have fracking, you have deep sea exploration, you have deep mining, etc. We can blow far past the carbon budget with the fossil fuel reserves that are still in the ground.

But the point is that we have to actually transition a lot quicker. We have to transition before we hit that carbon budget limit. The IPCC report says we’ve got about 12 years to really drive a significant transformation. I think we are far, far closer than we have ever been politically, in terms of making this a priority. There’s a famous economist who said, “Change takes longer to happen than you thought it would, but when it does, it happens far quicker than you thought it could. And I think that what we will see is it’s not going to be the gradual transformation that we hoped would happen 30, 40 years ago, when we could have taken this step-by-step approach to it. I think it will be something to the scale of the Marshall Plan, where we actually transform the entire economy, geared towards getting to net zero emissions by mid-century.

Ariel Conn: You’ve mentioned a few times now that basically the technology exists. But there are some places where, as far as I know, it doesn’t exist, and that’s things like flying. I don’t think we’re there with planes yet. One of the things that I saw — I see this generally, but also when I was researching Protect Our Winters — were attacks about hypocrisy. As far as I can tell, it happens to everyone who’s trying to address climate change. They’re being accused of being hypocrites; the idea of, in order to take these ski vacations, you have to fly places — it’s all fossil fuel based. How do you respond to that?

Mario Molina: I love that question, because it’s so ubiquitous and yet at the same time when you break it down, it stands on a very weak argument. Let’s break this down and start at the beginning. Understand that the fossil fuel industry — it is well, well documented that ExxonMobil, Chevron and a lot of the fossil fuel industry, through the American Petroleum Institute, actually funded a misinformation campaign starting back in the 1990s whose explicit goal, as described in the memo, was to make sure that there was enough public debate about whether climate change was real or not; that it was not perceived as established science. This was in response to the Kyoto protocol in 1998. One of the lesser known tactics of that campaign was to actually fund communication strategies that shifted the blame and the responsibility for carbon emissions from the corporations that are responsible for the systems that we rely on to get our energy from, to the individual.

And so you can go back through archives and you’ll find records of ExxonMobil actually funding environmental organizations that encourage people to recycle and to drive less and to eat less meat, etc, etc. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do those things; we should absolutely do everything that we can to reduce our personal carbon footprint. However, having said that, it’s important to know that there are 25 companies in the world that are responsible for 50% of global emissions in the last 30 years. It’s about 50 companies in the world that are responsible for about 85% of global emissions.

Ariel Conn: Wow.

Mario Molina: And when we talk about individual carbon footprint versus the carbon footprint of some of these corporations: on average, let’s say, the typical American citizen — just by the nature of living in the U.S — has a carbon footprint of about 20, 22 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That is because we rely on electricity that is powered by coal. That is because we rely on transportation that is powered by gasoline, and we have longer commutes than most of the rest of the world, etc, etc. People in South America, Guatemala, they’ve got carbon footprints about two or three tons. However, the reality is this: most of that carbon footprint is because of the systems that we rely on to live the lifestyles that we have. 

And so when you think about your individual carbon footprint — let’s say, okay, we’re going to take a ski trip. We’re going to fly overseas to take a ski trip. A pretty high carbon footprint for an overseas trip would be about six to eight tons of carbon dioxide. That would put your carbon footprint at about 30 tons. That is massive. That is 10 times more than the average carbon footprint of someone in the third world. Sure, not good. Problem. 

Now, let’s look at something like the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan was, during the last administration’s EPA, they proposed a plan to actually cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants by 20% to 30% on their 2005 levels. Just from the top 10 plants in the US, that would have saved over 200 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. We’re talking completely different orders of magnitude in terms of what the priorities are. When we are talking about shifting policies, we can put policies into place that would require relatively small changes to our lifestyle that could save, collectively, millions of tons of carbon dioxide, versus the 8 to 10 that we could save by individuals.

Because, let’s admit it, the majority of the population is not going skiing once a year. Yes, we can address that, but those are very marginal gains when we’re talking about what the massive bleeding is. What I compare it to is, when you train to be a wilderness first responder, you address the hemorrhage first. You don’t go for the little cuts and put bandaids on the little cuts; you address the arteries that are bleeding first. 

And so once you get to something like a country like Denmark: in Denmark, their average carbon footprint is, last I heard was about five, six tons. The argument like, “Oh, we can’t cut back on fossil fuel consumption, because we need it to live a first world lifestyle, or we’d have to cut back on our first world lifestyle” — nobody thinks that the Danes are living in caves. The Danes are doing just fine. But they have decarbonized their electric grid; they have improved their transportation system; they’re looking at agricultural solutions, etc. 

Once you get to that level, then it’s a matter of, yes, how do we actually change lifestyles? So our Danish chapter is working on, how do we encourage people to recreate locally or to take the train instead of flying? How do we increase local tourism, rather than trying to promote tourism coming in from China? Those are very valuable and valid approaches, trying to get from a per capita carbon footprint of six or four to three or two. But when we’re living in a society right now where most of our emissions are coming from the systems that we depend on, it’s not going to change because people stop flying to Whistler or stop driving to a crag to go climbing. That’s not going to get us there. We need large, aggressive, economy-wide approaches to climate policy that will cut emissions from the major polluters. That continues to be the fossil fuel industry. 

That’s the hypocrisy question. So when I advocate for climate policy but I’m still driving an internal combustion engine, I realize that there is a tension there, but I don’t feel like a hypocrite. Because as soon as we have more affordable electric vehicles in Colorado and I can upgrade my car at an affordable cost, because there are policies that are making that possible, I’ll be switching. In Colorado, the zero emissions vehicle executive order is going through and will likely be implemented here in the next year. I’m not doing a plug here, but I think it’s a Nissan Leaf — you can get a brand new electric Leaf for $17,000, $18,000. That’s far more affordable than electric cars used to be, but that’s thanks to incentives that are at the state level, the existing incentives at the federal level. That will actually help move the needle and transition the economy. So those are the choices that we’ll be able to make once we’ve addressed the policy and once we’ve addressed the political will piece.

Ariel Conn: To what extent can we influence change through how we’re spending money? There are corporations that are choosing to try to be as responsible as possible. How effective are those at driving these policy changes that we need?

Mario Molina: Hugely effective if we do it collectively. Something that people don’t think about is not just where we spend our money. Because let’s say I live about an hour from here. My gas was probably $80. Some people have $100 gas bill, $200 gas bill. Let’s play that out throughout the year: you’re talking about $2,400 that are going pretty much directly into the pockets of fossil fuel companies.

But we have to drive in this society that we live. We can go back and look at the history of why it is that public transportation is so ineffective in most parts of the U.S, and how it was that back in the 1920s you had companies that had a vested interest in having more cars on the road actually kill public transportation systems in Pittsburgh, in Boston, in many of the large urban centers. But this is the reality that we have right now. So, yeah, we can definitely try to drive less. We could all probably, without huge changes to our lifestyle, drive let’s say 30% less. That would cut our gas bill to $1800. That would be significant if we all did it collectively.

What we don’t often think about, however, is where is our money stored? Where are we banking, and what is that money being used for? Because I would dare say that, at least across most of middle-upper class America and above, you’re probably keeping more money in the bank than a year’s worth of gas. And that money is yielding interest, and that money is being invested, and that money is being used to leverage, to support debt, or to buy debt, etc. What is your financial institution doing with your money? 

Yes, there’s a political will, and you can tackle it through regulation and through legislation, and that’s very effective for sure. But there’s also the cash. How are companies being evaluated, and where’s the cashflow coming from, and how are they borrowing money? So if they can borrow money for cheap — I mean the reality is that most fossil fuel companies have either direct or indirect subsidies in the form of leases of public lands for coal extraction at under-market rates. Or, most recently, we’re fighting a battle to keep the Arctic refuge from being opened up for drilling; that’s public land. So there’s those subsidies, but there’s also the financing from private institutions.

Just as or more impactful than voting with our wallets at the supermarket or the gas pump — which yes, it’s an all out approach — is your financial institution divesting from fossil fuels? And not only is it divesting, but then especially when you’re talking about investment, there are plenty of well-performing funds in the market that will not invest in fossil fuel, either directly to the companies or to the infrastructure that supports it, but then will invest into renewable energy development, usually the catch-all term is socially responsible funds.

So to me, that is an often overlooked action that most of us can take that would have significant impact. Because if you talk about actually moving your 401K, that’s far more impactful in terms of what cashflow is available in the system than saying, “I’m going to reduce my gas bill by $800 a year.” There are banks who, as part of their investment strategy, they are not investing in fossil fuels. So a couple of examples that I can throw out there: Bank of the West, Alpine Bank — these are banks that you can rest assured that if your money is with them, they’re not investing in fossil fuels. And there are more and more of these institutions coming online. So an easy switch is just moving the money over.

And then your retirement plan, or your investment portfolio, sits within the company. Then that’s a form of advocacy, right there: actually asking your company to offer funds. A company doesn’t have to move their 401K provider in order to have the 401K provider, or their 43D provider, whatever it might be, actually offer portfolios that are socially responsible. It can actually be an offering, and give people the choice. And if that’s not the case, I think that is a form of advocacy right there within the workplace: it’s talking to your HR provider, getting enough people interested in it. And it doesn’t cost the company anything.

Ariel Conn: It seems to me, without having really looked into this — it seems like if you can get more influencers involved, that’s going to drive cultural shifts. Is that what you were seeing?

Mario Molina: That’s our hope. That is what we are hedging our work on.

Ariel Conn: And are you seeing that happening so far?

Mario Molina: In 2018, what we saw is we saw a cultural shift with respect to the outdoor sports community attitude towards voting, and all of a sudden it wasn’t a fringe topic; it wasn’t a boring topic. It was, that’s what people were talking about at the ski lift. That’s what people were talking about at the trail heads. We were driving the message of the importance of voting really, really, really hard. As for others, like Patagonia and Burton: influencers are not only the individuals, like our athletes — there are brands that are incredibly influential within the outdoor sports culture. REI, Burton, Patagonia, Northface.

Our hope is that by pushing this agenda as hard as we have been, we’re able to also get our partners on board. And we have been able to get partners on board that make it a priority as well for their employees, but also for their customers. It’s simple; it’s not easy. It’s a simple way for brands to actually stand by the value of civic engagement, and of climate. And that’s to get a message out around the importance of climate, and the importance of voting. We’re starting to see that more and more.

Ariel Conn: One of the things that I learned recently, that I was actually surprised by how shocked I was by it: we know that climate is getting hotter and hotter, and so we’re seeing these increasing extreme high temperatures. So it makes sense that we’re then not getting as many cold days. And it’s almost like it drove it home for me more to learn that we really haven’t had global cold extremes in the last few years. Those seem to be going away completely. We’re not getting those record breaking cold temperatures that we are very much getting on the other end of the temperature spectrum. So with news like that, you still seem very hopeful throughout this interview, and your whole organization is about protecting our winter. So I’m kind of curious, how hopeful are you? How do you remain hopeful? Do you have tips?

Mario Molina: We’re seeing a shift from the mean. I always want to be careful when we talk about weather to caveat it with the difference between climate and weather, because climate is the long-term trend, and weather is what we experience day to day, or week to week. And it’s still possible that we can see below-average temperatures on a given day. We still have this window. We have a relatively short, and shortening, window where we can avoid the worst impacts. That gives me hope because we have the solutions. We have the solutions; what we need is that political will to actually put them into place. Now, guaranteed, there’s enough latent heat in the system that we are still going to experience dramatic impacts of climate change over our lifetimes that we just can’t avoid. But what gives me hope is that if we are able to preserve some climate stability, we’ll still be able to find winter in places. It’s just not going to be as predictable as it has been.

What I’ve been trying, in order to protect our winters, has been trying to tell the ski industry is it’s not that we’re trying to preach doom and gloom, but it is going to get bad. It is going to get bad. The reason that you should care, as an industry, is because while we will still have places that experience winter, it will be a question about the reliability of the winter season, the duration of the winter season, and the predictability of where that winter is going to happen. So in the winter of 2017 to 2018, we actually saw the northeast had a lot of precipitation, and they actually had very cold temperatures. The west, we had a terrible winter — very low precipitation, above normal temperatures. President Trump said, “Oh, how about that global warming? Give me some global warming. It’s so cold out, and it’s snowing here.” Right?

And the reality of it is, it’s because of global warming. It’s because the jet stream, which usually keeps the cold low pressure systems in the Arctic, is becoming wobblier and wobblier as the temperature difference increases between the Arctic and the temperate and tropical latitudes. So that wobbling of the jet stream has these incredible effects of dumping a lot of cold, low pressure air further south, further into the continental US than it would otherwise. And if it hits a moisture pocket, then yeah, you’ll get snow, and you’ll get a winter. But that is variable. You cannot predict that. Three or four months ahead of winter, I think, is where the models are at right now. But it’s like, “Oh, this year it looks like the west is going to have a really good winter.” But we don’t know what’s going to happen next. 

So I find hope in the fact that we’ll still be able to chase winter, for those of us that are into winter sports; the fact that if we get this under control in the timeline that we have, we should be able to preserve a lot of the places that we have for other activities as well. But what gives me the most hope is the awakening that is happening. This is becoming a mainstream subject, and people are starting to really care about both the issue and what we’re doing about it. And that’s where I think the shift happens. We’ve known the science for the better part of 200 years, and really known the science for the better part of 50 years. We didn’t have the technology at a market competitive cost until, I would say, 15 years ago. But then something else that gives me hope is the price of the technology. Solar and wind now out-compete coal in every market in the U.S.

So the cost of the technology is dropping to the point that it’s market competitive. So to me that is really hopeful. And then, the question that we get often from people who may accept the reality of climate change — especially elected officials who accept the reality of climate change — but argue against the need for the US to take leadership, or to do more about it. And the argument is usually the following: “Yeah, it’s happening. But in the US we’ve actually reduced emissions, and we only account for 16% of global emissions. And no matter what we do, India and China are going to continue to increase their emissions as they ‘modernize.’ So we should not bear the brunt of the responsibility.”

There’s a logic to that argument, but what it fails to see is that there is no other country in the world that has the political influence, but also the cultural influence, that the US has. The reason that India and China are developing the way that they are developing is because people in those countries have seen the lifestyles that the people in the west — specifically in the US — live, and how those lifestyles are fueled. What they see is, that is the model of lifestyle that we would like to achieve, that we would like to be living, and the way to get there is through increased energy consumption. And the way to increase our energy consumption is through increased fossil fuel extraction.

If, as a country, we are actually able to maintain most of the lifestyle that we cherish, and actually shifted to be emissions neutral by driving electric vehicles, powering our grid with renewable energy, shifting our agricultural system to regenerative agriculture, etc, etc, etc — that model of a lifestyle, that’s what leadership looks like, when we talk about US leadership. That means that we’re leading not only technologically, but we’re leading culturally; that it is possible to live this fulfilling lifestyle — and in our case, for Protect Our Winters, that we are able to live a lifestyle where we go to ski resorts where the lifts are powered by renewable energy, and we either take public transportation that has low emissions, or we drive electric vehicles to get there, and the gear that we’re using is plant-based polymers, or whatever’s coming down the pipeline — so that we’re still able to do all of these things with a minimal carbon footprint. And if we’re able to model that to other countries, then they’ll see that they don’t have to develop based on a fossil fuel model. They can develop on a renewable energy model, and a regenerative agriculture model.

Ariel Conn: Is there anything that we haven’t brought up yet that you think is important for people to either understand, or something else that you think you’d really like to see listeners be doing more of?

Mario Molina: I would encourage listeners to follow and track any legislative bill that’s moving through either their state legislature, or through Congress, in the 2020 cycle. As well as join POW, and find out more about our organization, and our initiatives. And they can do that by texting ACT4POW, the number four, ACT4POW, to 52886. And make sure you’re registered to vote, and that you vote in 2020.

Ariel Conn: All right. Thank you so much.

Mario Molina: Thank you.

Ariel Conn: I’m both excited and sad to announce that the next episode of Not Cool, a climate podcast will be my last interview. But I’m definitely excited that our final guest will be Naomi Oreskes, who will join us to talk about her new book Why Trust Science.

Naomi Oreskes: t’s fashionable in some quarters to criticize consensus, to say that science isn’t about consensus. But actually science is about consensus, because that’s what you get after you go through this whole process — or maybe you don’t get it. But when you do have consensus, that’s when we say, okay, we know something. 

Ariel Conn: If you’ve been enjoying these podcasts, and if you think other people might as well, then please take a moment to like them, share them, and leave a good review.