March 16, 2020

#88: You Voted for Clean Energy… So Where The Hell Is it?

#88: You Voted for Clean Energy… So Where The Hell Is it?
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In Episode 88, Quinn & Brian ask: You voted for clean energy… so why hasn’t it become a thing yet?

Our guest is: Dr. Leah Stokes, author of the new book Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States She’s like Captain Planet if Captain Planet was a powerful woman with a Ph.D. in kicking polluters’ asses AND public policy.

At the end of this episode, you’ll know exactly why your state is still building or spewing fossil fuels and how you can help burn it all down. The energy system in our country is functioning exactly as it was designed — poorly and toxically — but we do have the ability to reclaim our air, reclaim our water, and reclaim our health if we start working together now.

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Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy. This is the podcast where we try to bend the motherfucking arc of history towards a more livable planet for you and me and everyone else.

Quinn: Today, we're going to dive into a specific question affecting everyone on the planet right now.

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Quinn: Keeping everyone there.

Brian: Everyone.

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Quinn: I was a good one. But this week, we're asking, hey, Brian, you voted for clean energy, why the hell hasn't it become a thing yet?

Brian: And our guest, Dr. Leah Stokes. She's the most amazing fireball of action-oriented positivity, combined with hard-hitting policy know-how that maybe we've ever encountered. She's all, she's everything.

Quinn: She is. She's like, you remember Captain Planet?

Brian: Yes.

Quinn: Boy, I know some kids might not get that one, some of the younger folks.

Brian: It's sad.

Quinn: But, instead, she's a powerful woman, way less creepy, and super up to snuff on the legalities of fossil fuel utilities.

Brian: Like if Captain Planet had a PhD in kicking ass and public policy.

Quinn: Anyways, I mean, at the end of this conversation, you will know exactly why your state is still building or spewing fossil fuels, and how you can burn it all down.

Brian: Let's burn it down.

Quinn: This is a good one, this is how the system works, kind of like institutionalized racism. It was designed this way, and now we've got to break it on down.

Brian: Yep.

Quinn: Pretty pumped.

Brian: It's up to us.

Quinn: Let's do it. Our guest today is Dr. Leah Stokes. That's how you pronounce it. And together, we're asking, folks, you voted for clean energy, so, why the hell hasn't it happened? It's a great question. Dr. Stokes, welcome.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Thank you so much for having me on.

Quinn: Sure, sure, thanks for taking the time.

Brian: We are thrilled to have you on with us.

Quinn: Surprised you haven't left yet.

Brian: One of your four podcasts this week.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: But, should we refer to you as doctor?

Dr. Leah Stokes: No, no, of course, not. Please call me Leah.

Brian: All right, but you are a doctor.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, not a medical doctor. I think those are a little more in demand right now with the coronavirus.

Quinn: They might need you. I would just hold on your pants, we'll see.

Brian: Leah, could you please tell everybody real quick, just who you are, and what you do?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Sure. I'm an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and I work on energy policy and politics with a particular focus on climate change. I've been doing climate change research for 15 years now, which is shocking to me and everyone else. And, yeah, I got my PhD at MIT, and I worked on, how do we build renewable energy faster, and get more people to accept it, and help fight against fossil fuel companies and electric utilities who are slowing down the clean energy transition? And that's still where a lot of my work focuses today.

Quinn: Wow, Brian, you got one of those, what was it called? PhD from MIT, I believe?

Brian: Yes.

Quinn: I think you have all those letters.

Brian: All of the letters. Yes.

Quinn: They might be in a different order though.

Brian: Yeah, don't ask me what order.

Quinn: That's fine. That's fine. Awesome.

Brian: That sounds really wonderful and necessary and like you'll be fighting forever, probably.

Quinn: Yeah, good luck.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, it's my life's work, climate change. That's the downside. And the upside is it's my life's work, so, I know what I'll be doing for the next couple decades.

Brian: My goodness. Thank you so much for doing that. So, what we're going to do is provide some context for our topic today, our question today, and then we will get into some action-oriented questions, that we can all ask, to get to the heart of why we should give a shit about you and all of your years that you've already worked on this and we'll continue your worth on this.

Quinn: So many years. 50 years.

Brian: All of the years. I mean, if that sounds great.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Sounds great.

Brian: Let's do it.

Quinn: Awesome. So, Leah, we like to start with one important question to really set the tone for things, as if we haven't gotten there already. Instead of saying, tell us your entire life story, as fascinating as I'm probably sure that is, we'd like to ask, Dr. Stokes, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Oh, wow, I guess I need to get a bigger ego for that one.

Quinn: Be bold. Come on.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, I think that I have tried to orient my work towards reducing as many carbon emissions as I can. And I think that's vital to the survival of the human species, because we have already warmed the planet by one degree Celsius, and we are on a path towards three degrees. And people who live in California like we do, know how awful that has been for wildfires, the drought, extreme rainfall events which can cause mudslides, as occurred in Montecito, near where I live. But you don't just have to live in California to know that carbon emissions are bad. You can live in Australia, or Greece, or Siberia, or really any corner of the world which has experienced wildfires, extreme temperatures, crop failure, droughts.

Dr. Leah Stokes: I mean, climate change is at our doorstep already, and I think that it is the work of all of us to try to turn the tide on that. So, I orient most of my life to trying to make as big of an impact as I can on reducing carbon emissions. And I suppose I think that is the life's work of all of us right now.

Quinn: It should be, and we're really glad that you're our queen. So, thank you for that.

Brian: Please, just tell us what to do and we'll do it.

Quinn: Yeah, you just tell us what to do. Okay, to get a little context, I'm going to cheat today. Sometimes this is super technical, sometimes this is more philosophical, sometimes it's a historical rundown on something. I'm going to, again, cheat, and I'm going to read directly from the blurb about your new book, Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States (Studies in Postwar American Political Development). It's the shortest title on Amazon, and this is what it says, "In 1999, Texas passed the landmark clean energy law, beginning a groundswell of new policies that promised to make the U.S. a world leader in renewable energy. As Leah Stokes shows in Short Circuiting Policy, however, that policy did not lead to momentum in Texas, which failed to implement its solar laws or clean up its electricity system.

Quinn: "Examining clean energy laws in Texas, Kansas, Arizona, and Ohio, over a 30-year timeframe, Stokes argues that organized combat between advocate and opponent interest groups is central to explaining why states are not on track to address the climate crisis." Which feels like a complete understatement. "She tells the political history of our energy institutions, explaining how fossil fuel companies and electric utilities have promoted climate denial and delay. Stokes further explains the limits of policy feedback theory," can't wait to find out what that is, "Showing the ways that interest groups drive retrenchment through lobbying, public opinion, political parties, and the courts. More than history of renewable energy policy in modern America, Short Circuiting Policy offers a bold new argument about how the policy process works, and why seeming victories can turn into losses, when the opposition has enough resources to roll back laws."

Quinn: I can't imagine a more important investigative piece at this moment, as January 2021 is our first and maybe the last great chance to affect the climate crisis, to provide millions of green jobs, to help frontline minorities who are already and always the first to suffer, to help farmers, and our soil, and the ocean, so much more. But, in the meantime, so many localities and cities and states like the [inaudible 00:08:48] are attempting to, or its people are attempting to do the work to fight back, but it seems like a lot of time that's not translating to much of anything. So, examining why and how the system hasn't worked up to this point feels pretty essential. If we're going to use all this energy to get people to call their Congress people to donate money, and of course, to get them to vote.

Quinn: So, with that, we can focus on our question this week, which is, you voted for clean energy, why the hell hasn't it happened? Leah, I'm looking at the bio on your website, and then, again, I'm generally trying to figure out if among all your degrees, you've got the entire alphabet covered here. I honestly don't know what some of these things are. But I do have a... Well, I have a lot of questions. As much as, and like we said, we usually look forward and not backwards, I'm increasingly curious, as we talk to so many of the world's smartest folks, many of whom are women, and or people of color, I'm curious, not necessarily how they got to where they are, and like you said, you've made this your life's work, and what they're working on, but why?

Quinn: So, Leah, take me back just a little bit, why did you move from Canada to America? Are you lost?

Brian: Is everything alright?

Quinn: Did they kick you out? Are you okay?

Dr. Leah Stokes: I really love the United States. But even if I'm an immigrant, which many people don't realize, but it is true, and I'm proud to be one, and I really love this country, I chose this country. And I love Canada, too. Don't get me wrong. But, I think that the United States is the engine globally for innovation. And I felt that if I came to this country, I could make a bigger impact on the world than if I stayed in Canada, even though I love Canada and my family is there. Because, this is the place where ideas come from, where technologies come from, where policy is innovative. We can make changes in this country that will ripple out across the entire planet, and I really want to be part of making those changes.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, I'm really hopeful that the United States still has the opportunity to be the world leader on the climate crisis. And we are just one good presidential election away from making that happen. So, I guess, like many other immigrants, I'm patriotic in my own way. I really like the United States.

Quinn: The optimism is laudable. I hope so, too. And right, that's the thing about 2021 here is it's like, and this is the crushing thing about the Warren debacle as we just discussed, it's like, it is so within our grasp to do enormous things, if we can just get one election correct. I do want to ask those more serious question. I mean, we don't really do serious ones. But, why did you decide to focus so specifically on the discrepancies between voter behavior, and how that's not usually turned into actual policy, and so, the world is ending? What got you to that? And further, I guess, is there a specific relationship or a moment you can point to that was a catalyst to get you where you are today?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, I just keep seeing from public opinion research which I've done myself, and many of my colleagues have done, too, I just keep seeing how much people want action on climate change. And that's not surprising, nobody really wants to hand a damaged planet to their children, or their grandchildren, or their friends. It's not something that we want to do. And yet, we appear to be driving off a cliff. And so, I keep asking myself, why is that? I mean, it's not as if rich and powerful people live on a parallel planet where they're not going to be affected by the climate crisis. They are going to be, and are already being affected. And so, I get very puzzled as to why we are not making more progress.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And so, I have oriented my research towards answering that question, and a few answers have come up. First, there are powerful companies, electric utilities and fossil fuel companies that profit off of fossil fuel extraction and combustion. They make money by burning coal and coal plants by extracting oil and gas. And were we to pass climate policy, they understood, starting in the 1980s, that it would dramatically affect their profits. And so, they waged climate denial campaign for many decades. This has been documented by Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard historian, through her book with Eric Conway called Merchants of Doubt, and many other people's research. And it's also a big part of my book, which you talked about, Short Circuiting Policy, which I just discovered that is going to be an audiobook, which I'm really excited about.

Quinn: Whoo! Wait, hold on, who's reading it? Is it you?

Dr. Leah Stokes: I don't know. I only heard yesterday, but probably not me. I mean, I would be amazing, let's be real. Let my ego come out for that.

Quinn: For sure.

Dr. Leah Stokes: But I don't think it'll be me. So, anyway, you'll be able to listen to my book for those audio files out there.

Quinn: My kids are going to love that in the minivan.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, it's still going to be a little wonky, but it'll be, at least, audio delivered. So, the climate denial campaign has been hugely successful. I mean, this is something like, we don't know how much money has been spent, but let's say, a lower estimate might be 10 to $15 billion over the last few decades. Well, that amount of money has bought these companies decades of delay, and trillions of dollars, probably, in revenues and profits. So, it pays them to slow down climate action and to hold the rest of the planet hostage to their business model. That's a really destructive thing. But, the unfortunate fact is that they also have the ears of politicians. And I've shown that in my work in, for example, Texas, something I cover in my book.

Dr. Leah Stokes: A lot of people talk about how Texas is this clean energy leader. But, the fact is, it only gets a quarter of its electricity today from clean energy sources. And by contrast, California gets half of its electricity from clean energy sources. So, it's way behind what other states are doing. And that is because Texas has a legislature that only meets every other year, and only meets for six months every other year. And people might say-

Quinn: I thought Virginia was bad. Holy shit. I didn't know that.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, it's what we call is that is unprofessional state legislature, unprofessionalized. And the consequence of that is not, "Oh, great, now we don't have those politicians stealing our money," or something like that. Instead, is that we have special interest groups running the show in that state. When you talk to people in Texas about the way laws get passed, a lot of what happens is that lobbyists set up shop in people's offices and help write the bills. And it's not surprising that they help write the bills to eliminate clean energy requirements, and to boost oil and gas revenue and profits. And the same can be said of Congress.

Dr. Leah Stokes: I have this study which shows that chiefs of staff and legislative directors in Congress, these are the most senior staff in Congress, they do not know what the public wants on climate change. They dramatically underestimate the support there is for climate action. And that's particularly the case for Republicans, but it is still the case for Democrats. So, why is that? Well, the more that they meet with lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry, the more that they take money from them, the worst job they do at guessing what the public support for climate action is. And we've also replicated those results at the state level, with both state legislators themselves and their staff, for clean energy laws and for climate action.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, clearly, we have a system, as Elizabeth Warren would say, that is corrupt. That gives a lot of access to moneyed special interest groups that are extracting fossil fuels and poisoning people and destroying our climate. And we really have got to change that system, so that we can continue to have a stable climate for the future.

Quinn: Okay, I think we just do what she says. Right?

Brian: Yeah, that's all I want.

Quinn: That's amazing. Yeah, we linked to recently, about 12 times in our last newsletter, to The Guardian piece that said, in the 2018 midterm elections, oil and gas companies spent $84 million.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yep. And that's a drop in the bucket in terms of the amount of money they're spending in all kinds of races and ballot initiatives. They're creating fake astroturfing campaigns. And it's not just fossil fuel companies, it's also electric utilities. There's a crazy story out of New Orleans, I don't know if you've heard it, but a company named Entergy, literally paid actors to show up to a city council meeting, which was deciding whether or not to build a natural gas plant, a fossil gas plant. And they had these actors show up and pretend that they hated renewables and wanted the gas plant to be built. They paid them money. And I mean, that's not democracy, that's just craziness. That's not democracy at all.

Quinn: That's insane.

Brian: It's absolute bullshit. That is insane.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: Wow.

Brian: Well, we have and we spend considerable effort here, trying to help our listeners. And then with our newsletter, our readers understand exactly how much money we're talking about here, like when you just said this over $80 million in 2018 and the billions that you mentioned. Let's just try to get specific for people out, I want everybody to understand the dysfunction here, is there, maybe it's Texas, is there a state that you've studied where it is the absolute biggest mess? And could you take us through, I guess, is it possible to fix this ever?

Quinn: Can you just take us through the process of like, oh, people have shown up to vote, an example of like people have shown up to vote, and this is how they voted, and this is how it got fucked up along the way?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Sure. Well, Arizona has a wonderful case. Texas is a great one too, but I've already laid that out. Arizona is something I talk a lot about in my book. And there's an electric utility in that state called Arizona Public Service. It's a private monopoly company, meaning that if you don't like their business practices, but you live in a house in their service territory, they sell you electricity, and there's pretty much nothing you can do about that. And what they've been doing is taking the profits from people paying their electricity bills, and funneling them on the order of $55 million over several elections, into electing regulators that will continue to increase their profits and block solar energy in that state.

Dr. Leah Stokes: They spent, I believe, $40 million, trying to block a ballot initiative, which would have required more renewable energy in that state. And Tom Steyer, the person who was recently running for president, he was on the other side of that. He was trying to make sure that ballot initiative passed, and that we would have more clean energy requirements in Arizona. But unfortunately, the advocates for clean energy loss and the utility has had a real stranglehold over policymaking in that state for a long time. The one silver lining is that they've gotten so much bad press out of their corrupt behavior. I mean, we're talking about putting millions of dollars into primaries, so that they can choose who their regulators are going to be at the commission. And these commissioners are responsible for setting their rates and their profits because they're a monopoly corporation.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, there's finally been a backlash from the public and the CEO has been ousted and now we have a new CEO, and he claims that he will no longer put money into politics in Arizona. He won't be trying to buy races for the regulator, or block ballot initiatives. I'm hopeful that that could be true, but unfortunately, Arizona Public Service has lied many times in the past. If it wasn't for the work of fantastic investigative journalists, people like Ryan Randazzo at the Arizona Republic, we wouldn't even know how much money was being funneled into these efforts. Because, even though one of the regulators in Arizona tried to subpoena the corporation and say, "you need to tell us how much money you're putting into this," they resisted for years. I'm pretty sure they even sued him. They sued their own regulator.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, this is the kind of corruption that is really corrosive to our ability to take on the climate crisis. And we need our fossil fuel companies and electric utilities to stop this behavior and be held accountable for what they've been doing in terms of climate denial and climate delay for decades.

Quinn: Wouldn't it be great if we had a candidate who maybe based her entire campaign on anti-corruption?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, I know. It's, the world's sad. It's a sad day today.

Brian: One day, someday.

Quinn: One day.

Brian: Are there places, Dr. Stokes, states here or other countries, where that this is already outlawed?

Quinn: Are there examples where people have gotten money out of things like this? Obviously, money and politics is this huge problem, and we've got all the Supreme Court cases that have been such a nightmare about it in corporations or people. But, are there any success stories anywhere?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, California is a lot better. We have a program in place called the Intervenor Compensation Program. I believe it was passed in 1981. My book will fact-check me on that one. And this program allows for NGOs, independent groups to intervene in the regulatory process and get paid for it, so that they don't have to have deep pockets. Because, here's how utilities have the money to go to these regulators and demand policies in their interests, they get guaranteed profits. That's how it works. They're a monopoly, they charge money to customers, and then the regulator says, "We're going to pay you back for your costs plus profit." And that's fair on some level, because they're providing services that we all need.

Dr. Leah Stokes: But, if there's nobody else who can afford to show up at the regulatory process, then you have this total asymmetric situation where you have only one group that has the resources, and they're only lobbying in their own interest. So, what California has done is they've passed a law that allows other groups to show up and pays them to show up. And the analysis that's been done of this law is that it has saved consumers millions of dollars over the course of a few years. And I think it only costs each person living in California 17 cents a year to fund that program.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: Wow.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Pretty much, yeah, it's a huge return on investment, if you know what I mean.

Brian: That should be nationwide.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah. All of us have lower electricity bills, and we have cleaner electricity in the state, in part, because of this program. So, if we were to have these kinds of reforms in other states, I think we would see more advocates being able to participate in the process and hold utilities accountable. And that would allow us to make better decisions, to stop approving new fossil gas plants that are going to be open for decades, and to, instead, turn towards clean energy sources. So, California has a pretty hopeful case, and I think that other states could be following our lead.

Quinn: Before everybody in the other 49 states get super excited about following that, is there anything specific to California that has made that work that might not be repeatable elsewhere? Or, is it mostly repeatable?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, California, the Intervenor Compensation Program is a really key part of that story. Because there are advocates who I know and I've interviewed, who have just been able to show up for these battles at the regulatory body and the legislature year after year, to fight for the clean energy that we all need, because they're funded, and they don't have to apply for some grand, or worry about is the philanthropist going to stop funding climate change next year? They can get a guaranteed source of money. I mean, they have to apply for it, but then they can be paid back for their costs. And so, I think that is a model that other states can follow, and it can make a really big difference for other places.

Quinn: I don't know if I've ever heard of a program like this.

Dr. Leah Stokes: No, nobody talks about it. It's a very weird, wonky thing that I talk about in my book, and it only exists in I believe California and a couple other states. And Hawaii tried to pass it a few years ago, but they didn't. And I think this is a kind of small tweak that a lot of states could be making, that would start to make the playing field more even, where we could have people speaking in the public interest, speaking up for climate change and being funded to do it year after year. That's exactly what we need to start making progress.

Quinn: I'm from Virginia, which is why I'm so keen on it and also just, I mean, it's such a relief and so exciting to see everything that they're doing now. Also, as in, not professionalized legislature, which is obnoxious, but, hopefully, they'll be able to fix that as well. But I think about, I mean, there're deals with a utility called Dominion Power, which are just, they're basically just monsters.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yep.

Quinn: And how something, oh, my gosh, a policy like that just could change everything in that state. That's really fascinating.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, I mean, there are no silver bullets in this world, unfortunately. But, to me, that's a kind of change that can help fund groups, that we want to have more stable funding. And for those listeners who are really interested in understanding how bad utilities can be, I would really recommend checking out the work of an organization that I adore called the Energy and Policy Institute. This is a kind of group of ragtag people who work across the country, and they dig up the dirt on these utilities, and they try to make it public and get it in The New York Times and in the newspapers of the day, and they're holding these utilities' feet to the fire. And we're starting to see some progress through the works of groups like that.

Dr. Leah Stokes: For example, in Colorado, there is a rural electric co-op called Tri-State, which is very dirty, maintains a lot of coal plants. And in the last couple months, they've announced that they're going to start retiring their coal fleet. And that's in part because of activists putting pressure on them and highlighting that these plants that they're operating are dirty, and not only are they polluting the climate and the air and poisoning people's lungs, they're also not economic. Believe it or not, a huge amount of coal plants that are operating today, are losing money. And they're only staying open because the companies who own them have debt in them. They need to pay off that debt. And so, their goal is to keep the plants open as long as possible, so that they can continue to make revenue and pay down that debt.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And they impart have debt because they made terrible decisions. When there were regulations coming down the pike federally, things like the mercury rule, they faced a choice, electric utilities. They could either shut down these plants and clean up the air and find better ways to produce electricity, or they could sink more money into them and retrofit them, and have debt on them and keep them operating. And a lot of utilities made that choice. And that means that these plants, they're not operating to help anybody out. They're not helping out consumers, they're not providing cheap electricity, they're not helping out people on the planet, because they're poisoning the air and destabilizing the climate. The only thing that these plants are helping out is these utilities' bottom line.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, we've got to have campaigns to shut down coal plants all across the southeast, and in places like Colorado. I mean, there're just so many uneconomic coal plants. And the first goal has got to be, "Let's shut these things down."

Quinn: Well, it makes me think of two things. One is the news, I believe it came out last year that it is now, in many places, I don't think it's most places, but in many places, it is now cheaper, unless you are one of the people who has plugged a bunch of debt into one of these things, it is cheaper objectively to shut down a coal or natural gas plant and open solar or wind, then to keep running that plant. Which sounds insane because, for all we ever heard was the last leg they had to stand on was like, coal is so cheap, you can't beat it. Right?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yep.

Quinn: And now, they don't have that anymore. And like you said, it's down to these last folks who can't get out none of their debt, and that's going to be a problem, and that's going to devastate communities, and it already has. And we obviously need, again, if only there was a candidate who had just plans for all of these things, it would be super helpful. But, we have to help the secondary people who are going to be affected by that, but we do need to close them like yesterday. So, moving towards action, I want to talk for a minute about two very, very, very rich people. And the first is Michael Bloomberg, who is a endlessly complicated character.

Quinn: Because we're looking at things for a very specific prism here, and we'll ignore everything else, which is so much, and even his just environmental record alone, it is complicated, right? Because he's credited by a lot of folks rightfully for throwing like fucking Scrooge McDuck level money at the Beyond Coal Campaign, and helping those hundreds of plants. We can have a separate conversation about how he also funded campaigns for people who then voted for fossil fuels, which complicates the whole thing. But, the problem was, after Beyond Coal, we built a fuck ton of gas. Right? So, again, complicated. You have talked a bit publicly, like we talked about you're in every article, I believe, even stuff that's not climate change. I feel like I read about tiger-

Brian: No matter what you're reading, if you just say control Watson, search for Stokes.

Quinn: Anyways, you've talked about how you feel Jeff Bezos could most effectively spend his $10 billion climate stash that he's thrown out there. Obviously, when you look at the full plan of an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or even, I mean, Joe Biden, 10 billion, it's a drop in the bucket, compared to the trillions we need to overhaul everything and overhaul everything we know about energy and how we use it. But, compared to what's being spent right now, it could be a huge kick in the ass, right? So, where would you most effectively spend $10 billion? Go.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah. Well, I think that Michael Bloomberg is out of the race as of yesterday. God, it's all just changes so fast in the last couple days, it's been a crazy week. Anyway-

Brian: Yes, it has.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, I think we can all go back to not hating him quite as much as, unfortunately, he was loved the last few weeks, perhaps for justifiable reasons. But, at least, on the climate front, Bloomberg is not the enemy. He has put I think upwards of $80 million into the Beyond Coal Campaign at Sierra Club. And that campaign has helped in these kinds of regulatory battles that we've been talking about, to make sure that a group like Sierra Club is well resourced and can show up to the battles. And go to the regulatory proceedings and say, "Hey, you don't need to keep that coal plant open. That isn't justified." And to fight against these utilities trying to keep them open. And people might forget, but they blocked over 200 plants from being built in the first place.

Dr. Leah Stokes: At the end of the George W. Bush administration, there were a lot of coal plants being planned all across this country. And the Beyond Coal Campaign first started by blocking those plants from ever being built. And then they pivoted towards shutting down existing plants. And I think they've shut down over 300 plants now. So, we're talking about more than 500 coal plants that they have helped get offline. And of course, yes, there are other factors, there are economics, there are regulations or other things that are shutting down coal plants. But, Sierra Club showing up and having the resources and being able to put pressure on regulators to shut down coal plants, that has definitely made a difference.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And what Bloomberg did before he started running for president again, is he launched the Beyond Carbon Campaign, which was an expanded version of the Beyond Coal Campaign, but now at $500 million, so that more than 10 times the spending, well, maybe more like eight times the spending. And that was supposed to be focused, to some extent, on natural gas. Because what's been happening is that, in these proceedings, at state by state regulatory commissions, a lot of utilities have been saying, "We need to build gas now. We've got to build this gas." And a lot of new gas plants have come online. So, we're in the same place that we were maybe 10, 15 years ago for coal, as we are now for fossil gas. And we need a campaign to block those plants from opening.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, I think that that work that Bloomberg is going to fund, is really important and high leverage, and I could see Bezos doing the same kind of thing. For example, about half of all the homes in this country are heated and cooled, and they use cooking fuel from fossil gas. This is methane that is dug out of the earth and goes into our homes. And there's research that's suggesting that it even leaks in our homes, and it's really not good for our health. So, there's lots of reasons to get fossil gas out of communities. In the Northeast, for example, there's often leakage in the old pipeline infrastructure, and it literally blows up houses from time to time, literally. So, we've got to get this fossil gas out of our buildings.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And I could see Bezos funding a campaign to start that process, how are we going to get incentives at the county level, the city level, the state level, to help people get fossil gas out of their houses, to change to heat pumps, to induction stoves, to electric hot water heaters, all this new technology? That would be an amazing campaign. We can also see him try to fund grassroot groups that are putting pressure on our federal government to make sure that we can get Democrats elected to the Senate. And as of yesterday, one good news is that it seems like the Democrats do have a shot of flipping the Senate, actually. So, one thing that Tom Steyer has done a lot with his money is he's starting an organization called NextGen, and it has funded groups with ballot initiatives, people running in campaigns to try to get climate champions elected.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And I have heard some rumblings that Jay Inslee's team may be working on things like that, too, going forward. So, funding for Jay Inslee's former people would be brilliant, because I cannot think of smarter policy people, who have really... I mean, these guys wrote more than 200 pages of documents on how to transition the economy. And so, what if we funded some of their ideas as campaigns, and started to, for example, try to retrofit homes to get more energy efficiency, to get fossil gas out of that? Here's my real dream, do you know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are? Do you know who those people are?

Quinn: Yes, I definitely know who they're. They're building like a city, aren't they? I mean, it's incredible.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, they're like the Oprah Winfrey of home renovations. Okay?

Quinn: Oh, those? Yeah.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, here's my dream, I dream that those two, I think they have five kids, and in January, they were quoted in the media saying that they really care about protecting the planet for their kids and they want to do something good. Well, here is what Chip and Joanna Gaines could do, they could start making getting gas out of homes, a really cool thing to do. They could be marketing induction stoves, talking about heat pumps, talking about energy efficiency retrofits for houses. They could make this cool for everyday Americans. And the nice thing is, they're from Texas, and they're not lefties, so to speak. So, they would be wonderful messengers in terms of creating a big campaign. So, Bezos funding Chip and Joanna Gaines to sell induction stoves to America, that's one of my dreams for how this money could be used.

Brian: Nice.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And maybe this sounds weird to people, but the fact is, we've got to change a lot of infrastructure in this country. And some of it is at the plant scale, like coal plants and shutting them down. And that's something we should work on. But others of it is in people's backyards. It's in their own houses. And we've got to get rid of fossil fuels everywhere in the economy. So, there's a lot of work to do, and I'm really happy with Bezos, his decision to give this money. I know some people have been critical. But, to me, this is exactly what we need, so that we can scale up ideas and campaigns, and start getting leverage on removing fossil fuels everywhere that they exist.

Quinn: Important follow-up question, if Chip and Joanna Gaines hear about this, and Jeff Bezos hears about this, and, as again, because you're in every article, and they find out, "Oh, my gosh, Dr. Leah Stokes, up in Santa Barbara, this was her idea." And they say, "Dr. Stokes, in exchange for this idea, we offer you, we will renovate one part of your house." Which part of your house would you do?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Here's the dirty secret of Dr. Leah Stokes' house, I focus so much on climate change. I mean, I work seven days a week, I have a full-time assistant, I've run my house into the ground a little bit over the last 12 months, because I just feel like this is the moment I have to do everything I can do. And what people may not know is that my husband also works on climate change full time. So, that's our gig.

Quinn: Oh, boy.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And so, our house is half renovated. We have had a hole in the wall for about four years now. So, we're not focused on solving the problem of making your house look nicer, we are focused on solving the problem with the climate crisis. But the number one thing I really want to do, if and when I get the time to do it, is to get gas out of my home. That is something that I'm really passionate about, and I've been telling a lot of other people to do it. And I'm hopeful that some of your listeners might get inspired to do it, too. But that is on the top of my renovation list, getting a gas-free home.

Quinn: Not the hole in the wall.

Dr. Leah Stokes: No, the hole in the wall, one time, we took these upper cabinets off, and I don't know if you know when you take cabinets down, we then gave them away for free to somebody else. So, they were recycled, anyway.

Quinn: Wonderful.

Dr. Leah Stokes: We took them down. And afterwards, you'll see that it's not painted behind the cabinets. There's just some weird... it looks bad. And we've had that in our kitchen for four years. And one of our friends came over and they said, "Oh, is this abstract art on your walls?" And we said, "No, that's called half done renovations.

Brian: You could have said yes to that question. Absolutely.

Dr. Leah Stokes: I could use Chip and Joanna Gaines in my life, but I only want them if they're going to do it in this eco-friendly, deep decarbonization kind of way. Because, one of the only changes I've made to my home, if you must know, is, I put in these things called Indow window inserts. This is an American company, and they allow you, if you have single-pane glass, which many people in California have, to create a custom-sized insert that sits up against that single-pane glass in the window sill. And it's an energy efficiency measure. It blocks the amount of heat coming in in the summer, and the amount of heat leaving in the winter. And it's been really fantastic. So, my renovations are energy efficiency and deep decarbonization. That's what I'm working on.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And I have a good friend up in the Bay Area actually, who's already retrofitted his home to be fossil fuel free. And I really admire that. So, I think that that's where we should be headed. That's the cool new thing at home renovation, making things eco-friendly.

Brian: Is there a home renovation show, is there an HGTV show that is that? Because there should be.

Dr. Leah Stokes: I know, there really should be, don't you think? That'll be genius.

Brian: That'll be awesome.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Somebody in Hollywood should be listening to this podcast, and be thinking, "Let's make an eco-home renovation show. Genius.

Brian: That is so awesome.

Quinn: We have nothing else to do, Brian.

Brian: Come on, let's do it.

Quinn: Let's do it.

Brian: Oh, that'll be fun. Your positivity and optimism are incredible. Although, clearly, there are obstacles. What would you say are the biggest or what is the biggest obstacle that you run into, besides having to live in the States?

Dr. Leah Stokes: I think our biggest obstacles are fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. And more recently, there's a new campaign which people can get involved with, about the role that banks have played, including Chase Bank, and insurance companies like Liberty Mutual, have played in funding and bankrolling a lot of fossil fuel infrastructure. So, we've got to get these companies to change their tune. Electric utilities and fossil fuel companies could become allies in this fight. And so far, they have been obstinate. They're putting very little money into the transition. I have heard that Exxon Mobil spends more money advertising its algae biofuel campaign than it actually spends on its algae biofuel campaign. I don't know if that's true.

Brian: That's insane.

Dr. Leah Stokes: But I heard.

Brian: I wouldn't be surprised.

Dr. Leah Stokes: We're talking about just tiny slivers of research and development budget, it's like 1% that's going towards real deep decarbonization. And so, we have got to tell these companies that enough is enough, they have to pivot their infrastructure, they have to pivot their capital, and they have to start investing in deep decarbonization. Otherwise, these companies will not exist anymore. That is what we've got to be clear about. And so, one really exciting part of the campaign that's going on right now is called Stop the Money Pipeline. It's been launched by, I believe, by former people who worked at 350, and they're targeting Chase Bank, in particular. Jane Fonda is part of this campaign.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And on April 23rd, which is the day after Earth Day, there are going to be events at Chase Banks everywhere across the country. So, it doesn't matter where you live, I'm sure there's a Chase Bank in your community, and you can go and protest. If you are a Chase Bank customer like I am, you can cut up your credit cards, you can close your bank account, you can take money out of your bank accounts, you can go and talk to them and say how disturbed you are. Because, Chase is, I believe, the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure. And they do have a former Exxon executive, namely Raman, I believe he's on their board. He has a senior role with their organization. And the link between Chase and the fossil fuel industry is wrong, and we need to tell them that enough is enough, they need to stop.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, those are the obstacles. We need to stop the money flowing into the fossil fuel economy, we need to stop fossil fuel companies and electric utilities from continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry, and we need them to stop investing because research shows that we are already on pace for 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we build any new fossil fuel infrastructure, any new natural gas plants, new oil fields, put more natural gas in new buildings, if we do any of that, we will tip over past 1.5 degrees Celsius. And that is considered the safe level. As if one degree Celsius is safe, it certainly doesn't feel safe in California or in Australia or in Siberia or anywhere else. But, that is a really hard line that we need to not cross.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And so, now is the time to get involved and to start demanding that our institutions like Chase Bank, start changing their ways. So, those are the main obstacles. And then the last one I would say is unfortunately, we have a climate denier occupying the White House, and we've got to change that. Yeah.

Quinn: Yeah, that sums it up. That sounds pretty comprehensive. What are the biggest obstacles that you run into in your daily work? What's the shit that drives you crazy that you're constantly pushing up against? Is it just academia? Or?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, I think that a lot of people believe that climate change is an individual problem. And they believe that in part because fossil fuel companies like BP have run campaigns for a very long time, popularizing the idea of a carbon footprint calculator. Log on to BP's website and you can figure out how much you specifically are ruining the plan. And I think I started in this movement from an individual behavior change perspective. I was a psychology student, and I ran a campaign to try to get people to save energy, to try to get them to take the stairs, and turn off their lights, et cetera. And do all these changes that individuals can do.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And at the end of that experience, I woke up and I realized that, sure, I'd save maybe 10, 12% of the electricity in those buildings, and I may be empowered a lot of people to think about the climate crisis. But, I hadn't moved the needle nearly as much as we needed to. Because this is not an individual behavior change problem, it is a policy problem, and an institutional problem. If we could transform the behavior of fossil fuel companies and electric utilities, that would go so far into solving this problem.

Brian: True.

Dr. Leah Stokes: It's awesome if people want to buy an electric vehicle, I have an electric vehicle. It's awesome if they want to retrofit their homes, I fully support that. But I don't want anybody thinking because they took a plane last week, or because they eat meat, or because they used a plastic straw, that somehow they're not in the climate fight. They are in the fight, and we need everybody in the fight. I don't care how big you think your footprint is, how many children you have, as if you're responsible for your children's footprint. I deeply disagree with that. All of that messaging is divisive, and it doesn't build the big tent that we need. I fully support people being vegan, or making choices, riding their bike. I've done those things in my life, too. But we have to recognize that we need every single person in this fight, so that we can hold our politicians accountable, hold our institutions accountable, change fossil fuel companies and electric utilities, and really get the entire society on a pathway towards deep decarbonization.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Because, this is not a problem you can solve by yourself. Trust me, if it was, me and many of my friends would have tried to do it already. This is an institutional problem, which means that it's a political problem. Which means, the number one thing people can do is talk about climate change, and get involved in an organization to drive political change on this issue. It's not about self-purification, it's about political action. And Bill McKibben, Katharine Hayhoe, a lot of leaders in our movement have been saying that. And I just want to underline that that is very true, based on my own research.

Quinn: Yeah, I love it. I mean, it is. Look, I've always believed, and this is more sentimental than practical that, doing little things whether, obviously, buying an EV or little things like your lightbulbs or using less water or whatever it might be, or getting gas into your homes kind of in the middle, those things make you feel like you have, at least, it makes you feel, they can be so annoying at times. I mean, buying an EV is less so, but doing some of these other things are so annoying that it almost makes you want to hold the bigger institutions' feet to the fire even more. It's almost like, I've got my foot in the game, I'm doing my shit, why aren't you, guys?

Quinn: But it is important to know that whenever people ask us like, "Oh, should I do this? Should I do this?" I'm like, "Just fucking vote. Just start with fucking voting." I'm interested in seeing what California's turnout was for this primary, because the last primary, when everyone was saying how California was the vanguard of the resistance, turnout was 11%. And it's like, I'm so glad that you're using less water during our drought and doing the shit, but 11% is completely fucking unacceptable. And we have to get out there. And look, I'm not saying we've got to get to 100, we won't. The national averages for even presidential elections is whatever, 50, 51%. And hopefully, we can start changing that more with absentee ballot dating and same-day registration and all that stuff. But, it's got to be better. It's the number one thing, that's the thing. We have to get those people out of there and get the right people in.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah. And one thing I've learned from my research is how much leverage a person with ideas can have on the system. For example, the idea of a renewable portfolio standard. Maybe you've heard of it, it's this law that exists in majority of states, including in California, that sets targets for clean energy. There was a young woman who was doing her master's thesis at UC Berkeley, and she wrote about this idea in her master's thesis. And she then worked with organizations, there was a campaign across the country, and now, this policy exists most places. I mean, imagine what you could do if you decided that you wanted your city to ban natural gas in new buildings. This is something that's happening in Berkeley, for example, or up in the Bay Area and a bunch of other cities.

Dr. Leah Stokes: You could do that, you could get your city to ban natural gas, you could get your city maybe to pass an incentive program to give people $1,000 for getting rid of natural gas in their homes. That's something you could realistically do. I mean, there's a lot of people in politics and policy who are hungry for good ideas. And if you bring good ideas, and you get engaged in the process, you can make a difference in a totally outsized way. And that, to me, is the best offset plan there is. It's not about buying some credit about trees being planted somewhere in the world. It's about, what can I do in my community, to try to change this problem? And that could involve going to Sacramento, or going to your state capitol wherever you live, and trying to change policy.

Dr. Leah Stokes: It could involve being involved with a group like, a really amazing organization. Or Citizen's Climate Lobby, which is a bipartisan group. Those things can help you get plugged into, when are their big options? Like, right now, in Santa Barbara County where I live, there's a proposal to build a new oil project. And I don't support that, and I've spoken up and saying I don't support that. And I've supported campaigners who are writing reports about how we shouldn't build that project. And those kinds of things exist everywhere. So, think about what fossil fuels you can get out of your own community, what projects you can block, and how you can support better, faster deployment of electric vehicles, of solar, of electric hot water heaters, of induction stoves. We can all do things to try to change the infrastructure of our lives. And I think that that is really the goal here.

Quinn: Absolutely. I mean, that's the thing that's going to make the big difference. It's, again, the other things are fun, and they take some work, and they're becoming less expensive, but we will not see a paradigm shift unless there's a paradigm shift when it comes to the infrastructure. So, on that note as we get towards the end here, we have a fair number of elected officials and their staffs who listen to our show both statewide and federally, they read the newsletter, what can those people take away from this conversation, and further, your book, and specifically, the audio version, obviously? Where does change start for those people?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, look, there's this wonderful book called Designing Climate Solutions. I would suggest that any policymaker or staff person who doesn't quite know where to start, should check that out. It's a roadmap to all the different ways that you could pass policy to target emissions across the economy. And I would also say that every elected official and staff could download the 200 pages of the Inslee climate plans, or the 14 Warren climate plans. We have a lot of really good ideas out there. Those ideas are mostly targeted at the federal level, but there are ways that we can downscale this to the state and local level two. I have a report myself coming out soon, from the Roosevelt Institute and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, which is-

Quinn: Of course, you do.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Which is Stacey Abrams' new group, and we have come up with a list of things that cities, states, counties in the south can do to try to decarbonize. Because, unfortunately, the South is way behind the rest of the country on these things. So, there's lots that we can all do, and every person can make a huge difference. And particularly if you are a politician or a political staffer, I mean, wow, think about how much leverage you have, and how much you can change the system if you try. So, I just would encourage everybody to view themselves as a climate champion and not worry about purity tests or whether or not they have a big carbon footprint, just lean into this problem and see what there is that you can do in your state legislature, or your city council, or your county supervisor board, or whatever it is.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Everybody can play a role, and everybody can feel proud of playing a role. This is like a World War II scale mobilization. Just like in World War II, where people had victory gardens and they did many things on the homefront, helped support the broader campaign, that's the same right now. All of us can be making changes to really leverage this transformation together.

Quinn: Maybe the problem with America is we just need more Canadians, and maybe this is the thing.

Brian: This is what Canadians have been saying for years.

Quinn: This is the whole thing. So, they started just coming on down and being like, "Fine, we'll just fucking do it ourselves."

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, there's this funny story that I have, I actually have a lot of friends in the United States who are Canadian, and who are environmental activists and researchers and whatever else, and I kind of calls the secret Canadian environmental mafia. Because, we are in your midst, you can't quite tell that that's who we are.

Brian: Oh, my God, I want that.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And we are spreading the environmental gospel across this country.

Quinn: Right, it's like if you have a long enough conversation, you can maybe pick up on it depending on where they're from, but it's not one of those obvious things where you're like, "I don't know, maybe they're an agent. But I'm not 100% sure, we're just going to keep... She seems so lovely. We'll just keep going."

Brian: Keep on coming down. So, we've actually done a really good job, thanks to you, of covering a lot of the action steps that we can all take to get involved in, specifically in this conversation in an outsized way. I don't think anybody we've talked to is really harped on that so much. That's awesome to hear.

Quinn: It's great. Yeah.

Brian: Yeah. So, let's just sum it up and get specific here. We always, we talk about what we can do with our voice to try to change policy on our local and state levels. What, Dr. Stokes, are the very specific and actionable questions that the rest of us should be asking of our representatives?

Quinn: Think of like, literally, someone's going to type this out and take it into their city council meeting.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, is there a fossil fuel development in your community? I mentioned that in Santa Barbara County, we do have one, it's called Cat Canyon Project. If there's a fossil fuel development in your community, go and speak up. For example, Oxnard had a bunch of natural gas plant projects that were proposed, I believe, and people worked in that community to try to block those projects. So, is there a facility being proposed in your area? And what can you do to block it? Is there an existing facility in your area? What can you do to help shut it down faster? And if you don't know where to start on these things, there are campaigns locally. is an amazing organization. They have campaigns all across this country, little chapters everywhere. So, go and join them.

Dr. Leah Stokes: If you're not maybe as lefty or you don't want to block projects, you want to think about passing a carbon price nationally, there's a group called the Citizen's Climate Lobby, that has chapters all across this country, and that is working really hard to try to get carbon pricing passed. And so, you could join that organization. I would say that blocking things is great. And then, if you want to build things, go look at what Berkeley has done. Berkeley has blocked new natural gas hookups in new buildings. And what if you got your city to do the same? You could just get them to adopt exactly what Berkeley had done. Or, you could go farther, you could say, "We don't want it in new buildings, and we want to have an incentive program for existing buildings. And anybody in our city who gets rid of natural gas, we'll give $100 too, as a rebate."

Quinn: Gets a puppy.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, or get a puppy. Puppies are pretty nice. Yeah.

Quinn: Brian's a cat guy. Don't get excited over there.

Brian: I like puppies too.

Quinn: I'm a cat guy too, actually.

Brian: Yeah!

Quinn: Aargh!

Dr. Leah Stokes: But I'm an equal opportunity animal lover.

Quinn: Okay.

Dr. Leah Stokes: So, that's something you can do. Like, how can you get other community members to get natural gas out of their homes? And you can renovate your own home and get natural gas out of your home. I mean, that's a big thing to do. Because, let's say you sell your house, you sell your house to whoever buys it next, there's not going to be fossil fuels running their house anymore. So, that's pretty big. We're unfortunately facing a time when electric vehicles adoption might slow down, because the federal government has, as usual, abdicated its responsibility and not extended the credit for some of the main manufacturers. So, California still has a tax credit, or I think it's a grant actually that rebates.

Dr. Leah Stokes: California has financial support for people who buy electric vehicles, which is awesome. And so, think about buying an EV if you're able to, that's a big change. And think about how can we support campaigns to get federal policy back in place? And that might mean voting blue, no matter who, in the fall. And if you live in a blue state like California, think about, if you're going to travel to a nearby purple or red state, right before the election, to try to make sure that we flip those areas. I'm already thinking about, am I going to go to Arizona? Am I going to go to Nevada? All of us need to be doing everything that we can, to make sure that we have a federal government that's going to prioritize these issues. Because, the federal government is where the money is.

Dr. Leah Stokes: A lot of money can flow down to state and local initiatives, if we can just get The White House, and ideally, flip the Senate too. Those are some of the things that I would say. And writing to your federal representative is a big deal, because my research shows that they do not know how much public support there is for climate change. So, reaching out to your local officials, reaching out to your state representatives, reaching out to your federal senator and representatives, saying, "I am a climate voter, this really matters to me." We've got to break through the block that fossil fuel companies and electric utilities have put up, where they've convinced many politicians that nobody cares about this, this isn't a voting issue.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And then, the last year, we started to see polls in the Democratic primary that this is sometimes the number one or number two issue. So, we've got to make sure that Republicans, Democrats, Independents, doesn't matter what their political stripe is, they need to understand that climate change matters to people. So, send an email, make a phone call, write a letter, reach out to your representatives to tell them that climate change really matters to you. Because, if they start hearing from you, I think that we can start to change their perceptions about how important acting on climate change is.

Quinn: I love it. We're big proponents of, do you know

Dr. Leah Stokes: I do not. Tell me more.

Quinn: They're really great. Again, one of the million of little groups that started after 2016 election. And it's super red. It's an app on your phone or the website. The app on your phone is so convenient, it's crazy. So, you open it up and you put in your zip code, and it automatically populates all your representatives, from the federal level, on down. And you pick one of the listed issues, that's a current issue that are categorized, environmental, or gun control, whatever it is, you click on it, it gives you a paragraph of context. And then, you click the Next button, and it literally just gives you a script of what to say. And you push a button and it calls the number, and if they pick up, then you read the script. And if they don't, you leave a message. And then when you hang up, it asks you for feedback. Did they pick up? Did you leave a message? Or did no one answer?

Quinn: And it couldn't be an easier way to, like you said, they don't know how much people care about policy. You can call in the middle the night, leave a message. If you're scared, you don't want to talk to somebody. It's such an easy way to get involved and do the thing.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, and I love that, that's brilliant. And if people send an email or a letter, and they write it themselves, I think that that... I mean, I'm doing some current research on this topic. So, I don't really know. But my hypothesis is that, if you write your own message, it doesn't need to be long, it could just be like, "I really care about climate change." There're some bills right now, like the CLEAN Future Act, for example, in Congress, you could say, "I really support the CLEAN Future Act." Or, actually, crazy enough, there's a bipartisan bill in the Senate, and Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin's committee right now.

Quinn: I saw that.

Dr. Leah Stokes: It's not the perfect bill, I wish it would go farther, but you could write about that bill. You could say, "This bill really matters to me, it's really important we have to act on climate." So, writing your own message, this could take you three minutes. You don't have to talk to anybody if you're freaked out by doing that.

Quinn: For sure.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And all of these messages get read. I have talked to many people in congressional offices and they read them. So, don't feel like you're screaming into the void, we've got to change the perceptions. And I would be remiss if I didn't say once again that April 22nd is Earth Day, that's the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. So, everybody can go to some kind of party, but the day after Earth Day, which is April 23rd, that is this big campaign day against Chase Bank. So, mark your calendars, if you're interested in getting involved, you can go to to get more information. And think about if you can go to a Chase Bank that day, it doesn't take much. I'm sure a lot of your listeners have a Chase credit card or a Chase account.

Quinn: Sure.

Dr. Leah Stokes: They're really common. They're the Amazon credit card and the United credit card. I have those cards, I have an account, and so, I'm going to get involved, and I would really encourage people to think about, "Can I do this?" Because, look, if we can get banks to stop funding this stuff, ooh, that would be amazing.

Quinn: Sure. Absolutely. I love it. Brian, you'll be taking some time off from work, first to go star shoot up again.

Brian: Okay.

Quinn: Get ready.

Brian: I'll do it.

Quinn: Handing out some stickers, kicking some ass. This is fantastic and you definitely need to let us know where you're going, because we just want to follow in your wake, I believe.

Brian: Yes.

Quinn: Yeah, whatever that thing is.

Dr. Leah Stokes: You're stalkers, right? But then in the good way. There's this-

Quinn: The nicest one.

Brian: Oh, no, we've got to wrap this up.

Quinn: Oh, God.

Dr. Leah Stokes: One of my favorite pieces that Bill McKibben has written, he's a wonderful writer on climate, he's written this piece in The New York Times, I think it was back in 2014. And I think it's about like, "There are bad pictures of me on the internet," or something like this. Anyway, he gets stalked by right wing anti-climate people, and they take pictures of him with a plastic bag, or getting into a cab, or being an evil person in the world, who, of course, uses carbon because the entire world runs on carbon. And I love it because he says, "Hypocrisy is the price of admission to this movement." And so, don't feel like you need to be pure before you get involved, because you will never be pure. And we need everybody involved right now.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Yeah, I mean, if it wasn't clear, there's no purity going on over here whatsoever. I'm so sorry if there was a misconception.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Except, we do wash our hands, we do wash our hands. We're very good at that. And we don't touch our faces.

Brian: We must do this.

Quinn: 20 seconds, please. I mean, I have three small children and it's just constantly just like, "Oh my God, stop touching your face. Oh, my God."

Brian: Holy cow.

Quinn: Brian, bring it home here. We're going to get this lady here. She's got so much to do.

Brian: Its been so long. We know you're busy. Thank you so much for being here today.

Quinn: She's four more podcast today.

Brian: We have a little lightning around list of final questions for you, if you have time.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Of course.

Brian: It'll be really fast. Right, Quinn?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, real fast.

Quinn: All right, Dr. Stokes, Leah, as you prefer to be called. When was the first time in your life, when you realized you had the power of change, or the power to do something meaningful?

Dr. Leah Stokes: When I was in fifth grade, and I spent my lunch hours cutting up small milk cartons so that we could make them flat and recycle them.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Awesome.

Brian: That is the best.

Quinn: I love it. That's so specific. That's so red. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Elizabeth Warren. I don't know, she's in my life, she's in my heart.

Quinn: She might not know she's in your life.

Dr. Leah Stokes: She has been out there fighting for brilliant ideas, fighting for everyday people, fighting for climate action. And I wouldn't want to be running for president, it seems exhausting, are you kidding me? And she's just been shaking hands, giving speeches, doing selfies, and doing it all with a smile and amazing energy. And I think as a woman who cares a lot about policy in details and making a positive change in the world, seeing Elizabeth out there doing pinky promises with young girls everywhere, it's made me so hopeful. And so, she's been great. And I'll just say also Jay Inslee. Jay Inslee has been amazing, love him, brilliant guy.

Quinn: In a world where it was still okay to prefer a white dude, and to be clear, Warren was my choice from way back. But if you look at not just environmental like, if you look at Jay Inslee's track record as governor, it is insane that he's not president. I mean, he has been so productive on every front, it is crazy. But it's like we just say, "He's from the Northwest." So, we ignored him.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, and now he's going to take on coronavirus much better than Pence or Trump. What a guy.

Quinn: Oh, yeah, that's amazing.

Brian: What a guy.

Quinn: We're almost done. I want to leave, I'm not sure if you got to read Senator Warren's sort of exit letter, phone call that she tape on today.

Dr. Leah Stokes: I didn't read it yet, I will.

Quinn: It's amazing, but there's one quote in it, which I was like, "Did you just come up with this on the phone? That's crazy." And I'll read it to you here. "Choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough, and they will, you will know that there is only one option ahead of you. Nevertheless, you must persist."

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yep, that's right. I mean, here's the thing, I've given money to a lot of candidates in this race, I've talked to anybody who will talk to me, and I'll tell you, my number one candidate for president is climate action. And doesn't matter who's on the ballot in November, they're, A, better than Trump, definitely. And B, we have to make them into the climate champion we need, because there's no choice. There's no more time. We've procrastinated for decades. And so, persistence, positivity, can-do attitude, that's what we all need right now. And so, Elizabeth Warren is a real inspiration on all those fronts.

Quinn: Well, it's a dangerous word to use right now. But your positivity is infectious, not in the other infectious thing that's going to kill everybody, but in a great way.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yes, I'm not spreading viruses, I'm spreading ideas.

Quinn: It's a good virus.

Brian: That's right.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, I know.

Brian: Leah, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed? What is your self-care?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Okay.

Quinn: Punching holes in walls?

Dr. Leah Stokes: I love a person named Monty Don, who is a British gardener, who has a show called Gardeners' World.

Quinn: Oh, my God.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And it's just him in his garden, looking at plants, talking about how to plant stuff. So, I watch Gardeners' World, and then, I garden. In fact, during Super Tuesday, rather than watching the TV non-stop, I planted a bunch of dahlias in my garden, which I'm very excited about. So, gardening and Gardeners World with Monty Don are my stress relievers.

Quinn: Please tell me this is like The Great British Bake Off of gardening. I mean, is this my new thing? I'm so excited.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah, except without any competition. It's what you might call slow TV. Nothing really happens, except plants grow-

Quinn: I don't care.

Dr. Leah Stokes: You learn about different flowers you could put places, you learn how to grow vegetables.

Quinn: It's so great.

Dr. Leah Stokes: There's no competition.

Quinn: I'm so going to do it. Have you heard of the iNaturalist apps?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yes, I have it on my phone, I'm pretty sure. It helps you identify plants, right?

Quinn: It's so cool. It's like the nerdiest community. And then they have a second one called Seek, which doesn't save your location, so, you don't get that whole issue. But they both do the same thing. They're so fantastic.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yes, very cool.

Brian: Gardeners' World.

Quinn: It's the only good reason to wander around with your phone.

Brian: Dr. Stokes, if you could send a book, one book to Donald Trump, what book would you choose? It's okay if it's yours.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Only problem is Donald Trump doesn't read, guys.

Quinn: I know but you have an audio version coming out.

Brian: We know, he can listen, or somebody can read it to him.

Quinn: And also, someone could read it to him or picture books. We've gotten the whole spectrum. We have a whole list of these things.

Dr. Leah Stokes: The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power. Samantha Power worked in the Obama administration, and she wrote a brilliant book about, it's a memoir of how to actually be an effective person in government. And so, I feel like Donald Trump could learn a lot from her, about how to care about other human beings, how to do your best in trying situations. And guess what, it even has a whole section on how to deal with the Ebola crisis. So, Trump could temporary learn about how to do coronavirus better from Samantha Power's book. It's an awesome book.

Quinn: Amazing. She's amazing.

Dr. Leah Stokes: It's like 600 pages and it goes by in approximately a minute. It's fantastic.

Quinn: She is amazing. That's another one that I can't wait to see what she does over the next 10 years or so. Dr. Stokes, this has been fantastic. Where can our listeners follow you online?

Dr. Leah Stokes: Well, unfortunately, they can find me on Twitter. I'm on there far too much. So, it's Leah Stokes on Twitter. I have a website, And, yeah, my book is coming out. It's going to be an ebook, an audio book, a paperback, a hardback.

Brian: Wow.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Yeah. Theoretically, I'm going on a book tour, but, I don't know, that may not happen because of the coronavirus.

Brian: Everything's canceled.

Quinn: When does the book come out?

Dr. Leah Stokes: The book comes out on March 18th, which is like a minute from now.

Brian: Nice.

Dr. Leah Stokes: But that's only the shipping date. So, all these, the audio book probably won't be available for a little longer.

Quinn: Sure, sure.

Dr. Leah Stokes: And, anyway, everything takes time in this world, as you know, including decarbonization. But, yeah, it's coming out really soon, and I'm really excited. Yeah, very cool.

Quinn: Well, I think this is probably going to come out March 16th.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Oh, wow.

Quinn: Book's out in a couple days, folks. Get your orders in.

Brian: That's so great.

Dr. Leah Stokes: That's crazy.

Quinn: Can't wait, very excited. Leah, thank you so much.

Brian: Thank you so much.

Quinn: For all of your time today, and taking you away from your garden show. We really appreciate the sacrifice you've made.

Dr. Leah Stokes: It was no sacrifice at all. I really appreciate how focused on action you guys are. I think that that is where we all need to be heading. And with Friday's for Future, with the Fire Drill Fridays, there's lots of ways that people can get involved. And I hope that people will think about April 23rd. That's a day that they want to get involved too.

Quinn: I love it. I love it. You just got to take that first step, go to your first thing, break the seal, and it just gets addicting from there. Leah, thank you so much. It has truly been a pleasure and an inspiration, and we will talk to you really soon.

Brian: Thank you for coming to America.

Quinn: Thank you. We needed you.

Dr. Leah Stokes: Thank you for having me. I have a green card. So, I'm grateful for this country.

Quinn: Yeah. All right, bring your friends. Okay, we'll talk to you soon. Thank you so much, Leah.

Brian: Thank you.

Dr. Leah Stokes: All right, bye.

Quinn: Take care, bye-bye.

Brian: Have a great one.

Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has major commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet, you can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp. That's just so weird. Also, on Facebook and Instagram at Important, Not important. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So, check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcasts. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn: Please.

Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website,

Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our gym and music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian: Thanks, guys.