My dad has consistently reminded me to “talk nice” for my entire life. In his honor, I wrote this piece in an effort to help people to find a way to take the discussion on climate change as an opportunity to teach, learn, and talk nice. I have been frustrated watching the discussion being taken as an opportunity to question the politics or morality of someone who does not fully understand the opportunity that lies in front of us to combat climate change. -Kevin Schulte
Removing Politics & Morality from the Climate Change Conversation
I must admit that I have biases. I believe climate change is a monumental catastrophe that awaits humanity if we do not act urgently. I also believe every individual on the planet has a role to play in solving this crisis. And lastly, I believe that businesses can be both a force for good and earn a profit. Since my first college class in 1996 when I was 18 years old, I have been dedicated to implementing technological solutions to address the climate change crisis. Today, I am the CEO of GreenSpark Solar, a for-profit company located in Rochester NY that believes locally generated clean energy is a cost-effective, market-based solution to combat climate change and an important strategy to strengthen our local community.
Frankly, I am discouraged because the discussion around climate change and the proposed responses and solutions for climate action has fallen into a discussion of politics, a set of questions around morality, and an overwhelmingly divisive discourse. I believe that this is a bigger threat to our society than the climate crisis. To truly slow the earth from baking, we need every person to engage. We simply cannot accomplish that level of engagement through divisive discourse.
So, we have to elevate the level of dialogue to bring people together and not alienate them. We need to relate solutions to an individual’s or business’ daily life and economics, and remove morality and politics. With this positive attitude, we can educate so many more to do their part to take meaningful actions to combat climate change and improve our communities.
Let’s look at the economic opportunity presented by my adopted hometown Rochester, NY as an example. In 2017, Rochester Gas and Electric (the local brand for a multinational utility company) made $358 million dollars from energy sales, to approximately 1.1 million people. Currently available solar technology could replace 42% of this, taking a huge step towards de-carbonization of the Rochester electricity market (not accounting for transportation). I encourage you to look at your own businesses to see what economic opportunities lie in sustainable transformations such as energy efficiency techniques.
Rochester’s economic opportunity is just one large example of the financial benefits accessible climate solutions present. There are small, simple solutions too of course – changing light bulbs to LEDs, making sure the dishwasher is fully loaded, turning the light off in a room when we leave. These simple actions positively impact our bank accounts, and they help solve our global problems. The fact of the matter is that solutions to the climate crisis exist right now. The problem is the population at large, and our elected leaders, don’t understand that not only will these solutions provide a live-able planet for us to inhabit for the long term, but will also make a positive impact on our daily lives today.
The point being, you don’t have to believe in the climate change crisis to see the unprecedented economic opportunity to rebuild our country on the foundation of clean, efficient energy technologies.
It’s useful to look to our history to find moments when we have collectively confronted global problems with successful outcomes. World War II is looked upon as the last event that truly mobilized and united our country to overcome a monumental, global challenge. It’s the touchstone of the Greatest Generation’s historical contribution and a highlight of the “good ol’ days” that Americans seem to yearn for.
However, it’s important to remember the WWII unified national effort and broad-based support didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tracked public support for the US to engage in World War II and revealed that it took the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor to get 91% of Americans to support World War II.
The colossal, national effort to confront and defeat totalitarianism required every American and every business to commit their resources/will power to the effort. And the result, in addition to ridding the world of a horrific evil, was a modern, efficient, technologically-superior economy that made America the shining example of the post-war world. The effort to combat climate change will require this type of unified support and can result in the rebirth of the American economy. For us to solve the climate change challenge we need the type of support that was required to launch the D-Day invasion – a massive coordinated effort.
Transitioning our infrastructure from energies of the past to energies of the future is one of the answers. This can be viewed as a means to avoid an environmental catastrophe or as an economic opportunity measured in the tens of trillions of dollars with massive benefits to be gained in job growth, investment, infrastructure improvements, and public health.
In order to seize this opportunity, we need to focus our local economy to be a part of this national and global economic development.
At GreenSpark we hope to continue to have a positive influence. And I would like to challenge everyone to speak about the business case, speak about the benefit to our households, speak about the ease of adopting solutions, and for this Rochester and Western NY community to rise up as a leader in the economic development opportunity that is in front of us.
Kevin Schulte, CEO