No pressure Hollywood, but you’re going to need to step up and save us from ourselves

No pressure Hollywood, but you’re going to need to step up and save us from ourselves

Keith laughing at others

Kudos for Don’t Look Up! But please don’t stop with that movie, Adam McKay and the rest of the entertainment industry. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, the majority (72%) of U.S. adults recognize climate change is happening— i.e. recognize that the proverbial comet is speeding toward Earth—but only 39% talk about it. With our country’s deep political divisions, 72% is practically unanimous. So, I think people are hungry to learn about solutions—especially if delivered in an entertaining way that is light on the facts and fear. Facts can be disputed and fear pushes people toward depression, denial, distancing, and distraction.

No pressure, but I think it’s up to you (and your colleagues) to save humanity from ourselves by taking the climate narrative a step further. 😉 It’s time to explore SOLUTIONS with a binge-worthy series bursting with colorful characters with diverse backgrounds that everyone can relate to in some way. Overwhelmed people will tune in for the story and learn about the climate solutions by accident. While these are definitely challenging times, this is also an extraordinary time to be on the planet and influence the direction of civilization by tapping into our creativity, solidarity, and innovation.

I know this is a longshot, but I’m a mother of two who will stop at nothing to protect my children’s (ages 10 and 12) futures. So here’s my bold ask. Would you help paint the picture of what a fossil fuel-free society could look like? I’m not famous. I don’t have any connections. But you do.

The story could be anything and you’re the clearly expert here. But in case you’re looking for an idea, one idea could be a story loosely based on “EJECTED—The Story that Solves the Climate Crisis.“* The premise of this book is that people responsible for excessive greenhouse gas emissions are ejected from the planet. In order to return to Earth, the “Ejected” need to decrease emission levels so the world can support them once again. It’s basically a twist on Lost and Gilligan’s Island but instead of people trying to get off an island they are trying to return to Earth.

The beauty of this premise is that it is quite silly, so there’s lots of room for humor, a wide range of characters, creativity, and joyfulness. Another positive aspect is that the solutions presented in the book are based on solid science. If the solutions discussed in the book were actually implemented in the world we live in, we would change the trajectory of the climate crisis and give our kids the world we want them to have. I think the key is creating something that a diverse audience (not just liberals, like me) would binge on.

*Full disclosure: EJECTED is my book but this is NOT a pitch for me to make money or for book promotion. I seriously don’t care about sales. In fact, it’s a free download on this website. Was it a bestseller? Nope. However, it did get reviewed by notable Bill McKibben! I honestly only care about every child’s future and want to help shift the current narrative away from doom and helplessness to clarity, unity, and optimism. I want climate discussion to be in daily conversations.

What I think is unique about this book is that it:

  1. is optimistic 
  2. is [hopefully] a fun and engaging story that weaves complex social and political aspects of climate change together to attract a larger audience. All throughout history, stories—not statistics—have united cultures. People remember and connect with stories because they build familiarity and allow the reader to enter the story wherever they are in their own lives. Stories make people more open to learning and, perhaps more importantly, more open to feeling. Stories also offer multiple ways for people to connect with information.
  3. is a story that doubles as a guidebook and lays out a plan to solve the climate crisis based on science and research (largely Climate Interactive and Project Drawdown)

I would love to hear what you think of my idea and hear if you’re up for the challenge.

Dawn Pape

Mother, Advocate, Fellow Human Being concerned about things beyond my own life

dawn (at) we all need food and water (dot) org

 

8 Stop the Bleeding

8 Stop the Bleeding

Keith laughing at others

Keith learned on his tour that being one of the Ejected gave him the ability to travel anywhere, but he was still figuring out the details of how to be visible or invisible and heard or muted. Keith decided he should practice since he clearly didn’t have the settings optimized when he visited Ivy. 

Keith reviewed his plan. The National Green Energy Policy bill had gone through the House and the Senate and was waiting to be signed into law by the president. He was going to sneak into the Government Printing Office that night and revise this energy policy to include a carbon tax. He needed to make sure he had the settings correct before then.

He looked around for Salomon or one of the other Ejected to help him figure out the settings in the realm, but he didn’t see anyone, so he decided he’d try to figure it out himself. He cautiously entered the control panel room and read the settings aloud to himself, “Location. Hmm. I’ve always wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower.” So, he typed in Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

“Auto-think location,” read Keith next. “That sounds handy. Let’s go with that,” and he turned that setting on. The next setting was “Visible.” Under this setting, there were scores of other settings. Since he wasn’t quite sure what they did, he decided to just switch them all on. Then he closed his eyes and envisioned standing beneath the Eiffel Tower.

When he opened his eyes, he was thrilled to see the Eiffel Tower in front of him. He started to turn in a circle so he could take it all in. As he made a quarter turn, he realized that he must be visible because people were watching him, and they looked as excited as he was. He beamed at the crowd who couldn’t seem to take their eyes off him and proudly used his limited French to cheerfully say, “Bonjour!” to the people who were within earshot. As he gazed at the Eiffel Tower, he felt so alive that his skin tingled. 

Suddenly, his elation turned to horror as he realized why his skin felt so tingly and why he was Mr. Popular. Somehow, Keith had transported himself sans clothing. Naked as a newborn, he stood beneath the most romantic icon in the world like some creepy exhibitionist. 

He searched for a place to hide, but there were people in every direction. Throughout his life, he’d had a recurring nightmare that he would show up on the first day of school without clothes on. Only this time he wasn’t dreaming. He was actually naked in France! 

He knew all he had to do was think of another location to get out of there since he had the “Auto-Think Location” setting turned on, so he closed his eyes and wished to be anywhere else. Apparently “anywhere” wasn’t specific enough because he remained beneath the symbol of love, drawing a growing, curious crowd that opted to stay a safe distance away. 

All his panicked brain could think was, Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God! School nightmare, school nightmare, school nightmare! Apparently, that was enough to transport him to Roosevelt Senior High. Fortunately, it was evening, so there weren’t people around to see his naked self. His mind was a little clearer now, and he realized that where he needed to go was back to the control room to figure out the sub-settings under appearance. 

As Keith paced around the realm trying to calm himself, he recognized that he knew all of the arguments about why a carbon tax supposedly wasn’t good for the world, but he also knew that all of those arguments were deliberate deceptions motivated by greed. Since over eighty percent of U.S. energy consumption comes from natural gas, oil, and coal,27 the fossil fuels industry has it in their best interest to keep the country hooked, thought Keith. 

Keith figured out using the model on his tour that a well-designed carbon tax could capture about ninety percent of U.S. emissions by taxing only several thousand taxpayers who could easily afford it.28 It’s beautiful. This way, the carbon tax doesn’t increase the cost of goods and services because the higher energy prices wouldn’t need to be passed on to consumers. But, even if prices increased, he didn’t see it as a negative outcome anymore. The increase would push markets and consumers to reduce their consumption, find alternatives and support renewables very quickly.

Keith reflected on how he used to argue that carbon taxes weren’t a “market-driven solution,” but he’d known all along that the true cost to the planet of extracting resources from the Earth, as well as the cost of shipping, processing, and the burning of fossil fuels, wasn’t being accounted for. Adding a carbon tax to reflect how much of an impact fossil fuels have on the world would be justice finally being served. It’s true that a few of his friends would lose a bit of money, but the smart ones would see the truth and invest in renewables. The fossil fuel industry is most definitely a huge problem, but it could also be the solution if they were to use their power for good. He had always thought that.

An argument that Keith knew was full of holes was that a carbon tax would damage American economic competitiveness by making it too expensive for companies to produce in this country. But, in reality, thought Keith, if we ruin our natural resources—upon which our personal health and economy are completely dependent—and live the nightmare I just experienced on the tour, that will be much worse for business.

 Even if it did take the rest of the world a while to transition to a renewable economy, everyone would be forced to do so. Plus, if we propose border taxes for imports from countries without a carbon tax, Keith thought, that should take care of the economic competitiveness problem.

 He decided that he wanted to be invisible and have his voice turned off so he didn’t  accidentally cough or anything. After playing cupid in France without even the dignity of a diaper, Keith sought out Salomon to help him with his settings. Salomon also helped him figure out the building access logistics and accompanied him on the journey. They waited for nightfall so the Government Printing Office would be empty. 

They successfully revised the energy bill to include an enormous carbon tax and also composed job transition plans so workers employed in fossil fuel industries could be retrained into clean energy jobs. He made the language clear that the revenue from the carbon taxes would be used for reducing greenhouse gases through energy conservation and creating clean energy infrastructure that included solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources, as well as car-charging stations spread across the country. Finally, the climate crisis was declared a national emergency which required nationwide mobilization to fight—similar to the WWII war effort.

Luckily, this president isn’t big on reading, thought Keith. He knew this president would just rely on an aide to tell him whether he should sign it. The aide will think she knows what’s in the bill, so she will advise him to move forward with it.

 And so, it came to pass. A carbon tax was quietly slipped into law. No lawmakers complained because they didn’t want to admit that they hadn’t read the bill and didn’t know the carbon tax was in it. The carbon tax law took effect the next day. To the legislators’ surprise, the voters were in favor of the carbon tax. There was a refreshing feeling of solidarity to get the Ejected back home and most people realized that a carbon tax would help achieve this goal. So, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle claimed victory. It was beautiful.

7 The Blueprint

7 The Blueprint

Keith laughing at others

Ivy already knew quite a bit about environmental issues. Since her mom worked in the renewable energy industry, Ivy had grown up discussing carbon dioxide equivalents, alternating current, and gigawatts at the dinner table. She went to work researching sustainable lifestyles in her mom’s sunny and spacious office. It was a wonderful space to spend time, with large windows on three sides and French doors that connected to the kitchen on the fourth side. Best of all, the windows looked out onto native gardens that hummed with pollinator activity. Ivy’s mom always said she never had to work a day in her life because she was passionate about her job. And it never really felt like work—especially when she got to spend her days in such a lovely environment. 

First, Ivy needed to figure out what the end goal was and what “sustainable” meant. She had an inkling already that the U.S. and China were the largest greenhouse gas emitters. She searched several reputable websites that had similar information, but the graph on the Union of Concerned Scientists website made it crystal clear that the weight was definitely on the shoulders of China and the U.S. to reduce emissions. China was responsible for about twenty-eight percent of the world’s emissions, and the U.S., for fourteen percent. Just two countries are responsible for nearly half of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions.20 That’s disgusting, she thought.

 She dug deeper and found out that the U.S. had contributed the most global CO2   emissions overall—about 25 percent of the world’s total emissions to date.21 Great, thought Ivy, the U.S. is the biggest carbon dioxide polluter in history, and we are home to only 4.25 percent of the world’s population.22 That’s not just disgusting, that’s immoral. 

She was hoping that this information was wrong, so she kept searching. Unfortunately, she kept finding similar numbers. She also found that the average Chinese person contributes a relatively modest 7.5 metric tons of CO2e per year, whereas the average person in the U.S. contributes a sickening 16.5 metric tons.23 She saw other figures that estimated Americans contribute as high as 28 metric tons per person. She hoped that was wrong. From what she could find, the global average seemed to be about 4.5 metric tons of CO2 per person each year.24

 Her dad said that “we” needed to cut emissions in half. But how does that work? Should everyone on Earth reduce their footprints by half? She wished she would’ve asked her dad that question. Some countries barely contribute any greenhouse gas emissions to start with. Or maybe the biggest polluters should reduce their footprints by more than half so everyone is on a more level playing field? After some thought, she decided that the second option would be the right thing to do. Americans should feel duty bound to cut their egregious levels by more than half, since they are so much higher already. 

Next, Ivy looked into where the emissions were coming from. She looked by economic sectors first, but didn’t know how that translated to individuals, so she found information about where the average American’s carbon emissions were coming from. She found that:

1. Home energy use was 32%, with over half (17%) for heating and cooling

2. Transportation, with gas-powered vehicles accounts for about 28%

3. Stuff we buy is 26%

4. Food is 14%25

This list seemed pretty straightforward, so she started a new Google doc and brainstormed a list of ways to bring down the consumption in each area.

Zeroing Out Home Energy Use

-17% Heating and Cooling

“To eliminate the need for heating and cooling systems, we need more  passive buildings,” muttered Ivy to herself. Ivy knew a little about hyper-insulated “passive” houses, because she lived in one with her mom. Visitors were typically shocked to find out they didn’t have—or even need—a furnace or an air conditioner despite living in their extreme Midwest climate where annual temperature differences can span a hundred degrees. She and her mom also had rooftop solar, so they consumed no energy from the grid and actually sold their excess energy back to the local energy company. She knew that building passive houses costs more upfront because they have thicker walls and way better windows, but they paid  for themselves in energy savings. Now let’s look at the remaining fifteen percent of the energy used in homes.

-15 % Misc. 

The biggest home energy uses are water heaters, lighting, and inefficient appliances. Reducing energy consumption wherever possible would be the first thing to do by installing LED lighting and more efficient appliances, thought Ivy. Then the rest of the energy use could be supplied by renewables. 

Implementing passive building design, energy efficiency, and renewable energy could essentially zero out the home energy use sector. Of course, renewable energy sources have a footprint to build and install, but in the long term, and certainly in comparison with coal, the impact is minimal.

OK, Ivy thought, this isn’t so hard. Why don’t adults sit down and solve the climate crisis? It’s obvious that the solutions exist. So, adults just don’t think the future is worth protecting? Or all they care about is making money at the future’s expense? Or they can’t stop arguing about inconsequential details and get over their egos to do something for the common good? Ivy didn’t understand adults and how illogical they are. She felt the climate crisis was like everyone’s house was on fire, and all of the adults were still sitting on the couch eating potato chips watching their favorite show, not bothering to evacuate or call 911. 

Tackling the 28% from Transportation

Ivy was a born list maker, so she started with what came naturally to her by making another one.

– Reduce need for transportation by slowing down the pace of life, using video conferencing, working from home.

Switch to electric vehicles, add a lot of charging stations to make it convenient for people.

– Make communities more walkable and bike-able.

– Promote carpools and hourly electric car rental systems.

– Build mass transit

– Eat food that is locally grown.

Ivy wondered if this last item should be in this transportation category or in the food category. She figured she might as well put it in both since it fits in both. 

Well, look at this, Ivy thought as a tiny smile appeared for an instant, this area could also practically be zeroed out, too.

To use stuff and eat food is essential for survival, so we are clearly not getting this forty percent of the carbon footprint to zero. But, we can do a lot better than we are. She couldn’t find exact numbers for these items, and it would never be the same for each individual, but she found various online carbon footprint calculators and found out that most people could probably cut their footprints in half without compromising their comfortable lifestyle and modern conveniences. 

Ivy recognized that this area was going to look different for everyone. The main thing is, since we cannot tackle such massive problems alone, everyone needs to do what they can in whatever way they can. She knew there needed to be tolerance of different ways of going about things. Different people have different needs and skills, after all. For example, a person who needs to be gluten and dairy-free might need to eat quite a bit of meat, which generally has a larger carbon footprint. That’s fine. A person with a special medical need might use a whole lot of plastic medical supplies to aid with his or her condition. Of course, plastics in life-saving medical supplies and devices had to be seen as a free pass. No one was going to fault a person for needing to use inhalers, sterile tubing, or a pacemaker with plastic components. Again, all totally necessary. It would have to be up to people to do their very best and for other people not to pass judgment on others. That was the tricky part. It’s so easy to pass judgment.

Ivy recognized that many people around the world don’t have their basic needs met and could never make the decisions to live a more environmentally conscious life without support, because they are just trying to survive however they can. She thought about a Mexican village she and her extended family had visited while on vacation. After visiting some local 4,000-year-old petroglyphs, her family had eaten lunch in a tiny village about an hour outside of Mazatlán, where they got to know a few of the villagers. Ana was the village teacher and had helped prepare their meal over a wood-fire stove. Whereas the tortillas tasted amazing cooked that way, Ivy recognized it wasn’t the healthiest for the air and for Ana and the other women cooking on the stove breathing in all that soot. There also weren’t many trees around, so it didn’t seem like it would be very easy to find sustainably-sourced wood for the stove. But what other stove choice did they have?

 Ivy’s youngest cousin, Sam, befriended Ana’s son Santiago. They were both seven years old, and it didn’t take long for the two seven-year-old boys to go off and play together. When Ivy found them playing at Santiago’s house, she noted that the family owned about as much stuff as her family traveled with. She was ashamed that just her mom’s house alone had more in storage than this family had in their entire house. Then there was her dad’s house, which was full of stuff, too.

Ivy quickly decided that her lifestyle influencing wasn’t going to be directed to people who weren’t in the economic position to make long-term decisions that were best for sustainability. Her aim was to reach the people who had the ability to make those decisions—and knew it was the right thing to do—but chose not to live more simply because they just didn’t want to be inconvenienced.

Cutting Stuff in Half

The goal would be to reduce consumption by half, bringing the CO2e footprint to around thirteen percent. Of course, this would be accomplished by reducing consumption first, reusing next, and recycling if nothing else can be done with an item. Voluntary simplicity—or living a simpler life not centered on possessions—would be key to move the needle on reducing the stuff in people’s lives.

Ivy reflected on the steps her grandma always walked her through before Ivy made a purchase with the birthday money she would get from her grandma. “Do you really need it?” Grandma Ethel would ask, “Could it be borrowed, rented, or purchased secondhand instead?” Then Grandma would also ask probing questions like where it was made and how far was it shipped to get to her. Were the materials used sustainable? Was the product or toy durable? How long would she use it? Could it be recycled?

This line of questioning talked Ivy out of buying many fad toys. Her grandma never actually told Ivy what to do; she would just ask Ivy these questions before they got to the check-out register. It seemed that nine times out of ten, Ivy would decide that she either didn’t need the cheaply made toy or that she could get it used. 

Food Footprints

As with the “stuff” category, Ivy’s goal was also to cut this in half—not by eating half of the calories, but by reducing packaging and “food miles.”

Cook your own meals based on locally-grown, seasonal food to minimize “food miles”

Eat less processed or packaged food

Eat a more plant-based diet whenever possible. Just changing from a meat-lover diet to a no-beef diet nearly cuts greenhouse gas emissions in half.

Avoid ruminant animals, like sheep and cows, because their multiple stomachs and the way they process their food makes their methane contribution crazy high. 

Ivy thought this fact was a little funny. Cow and sheep farts are actually a serious planetary problem! Sustainably raised fish, poultry, and even pork have much lower footprints.

Something Ivy found super interesting is that local pork had a lower footprint than an American vegan’s jackfruit shipped from Asia. She determined that it was less about what a person ate (you don’t need to be a vegan) and more about where their food comes from.

Whoa, she thought. She re-added the totals and realized this scenario would reduce CO2e footprints by eighty percent and bring footprints to nearer to a 3.3-ton lifestyle, instead of a 16.5-ton lifestyle. Making a short list for each of the four items made solving the climate crisis seem manageable. It’s not rocket science. Why are people acting like this is such a mysterious problem to solve? She had a plan, but how was she going to get people to go along with the it?

Ivy looked at the clock in the corner of her computer screen and realized that it was 5:00 p.m. No wonder she was starving. She’d never even eaten the toast she’d put in the toaster that morning, and she was still in her pajamas. Light-headed from hunger, Ivy went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and searched for food that didn’t require preparation. Quick was pretty much her only criteria. She gobbled down cold leftover vegetarian lasagna, followed by grapes, a hard-boiled egg, and crackers by the handful from the pantry closet. Crumbs flew everywhere as she shoved them into her mouth.

Ivy contemplated her plan of action as her blood sugar stabilized. She decided that instead of tackling individual behaviors and a giant list of “101 things you can do to reduce your footprint,” it was time to bring about a cultural and moral revolution where people bonded and acknowledged the peril they were in together instead of just ignoring it. In order to get people to work together, she thought, we need to heal the division in our country. People need to feel accepted by the other side. And we all need to stop taking sides. We are one humanity that needs to unite against a common threat. That’s a pretty tall order for a 14-year old, she thought, I need Jayla.

She texted her best friend, Jayla, who lived three doors down, and asked her to come over ASAP. Jayla and Ivy had met in pre-school, when they traded pastel-colored marshmallows for pastel-colored dinner mints at snack time. They both vividly remembered this calculated trade that sealed their friendship and they’d been inseparable ever since. 

Ivy barely put her phone down before Jayla knocked and then let herself in, like she always did. Even though Jayla knew everything about her, Ivy was a little nervous that Jayla wouldn’t believe that her father had appeared to her as a pebble-throwing ghost, then communicated with her through Morse code to tell her she needed to help save humanity by changing consumptive culture. It was more than a little out there! Ivy recognized that she’d have a hard time believing the story if she heard it from someone else, but if there was anyone in the world that might believe her, it was Jayla. 

Jayla was super smart, not just book smart—although she was that too—but also intuitive and wise. Ivy called her an old soul because she always seemed to know what to do in any situation and seemed wise beyond her fourteen years of age. One time when they were swimming at a crowded beach, and the lifeguard hadn’t noticed their friend Kris flailing because the area around the bulkhead was so crowded, Jayla jumped in, brought Kris to shore, and calmly cleared her airways. It was as if saving drowning victims’ lives was something she did every week. Ivy remembered that she’d just stood on the bulkhead, frozen in terror. Yes, there was certainly much more to Jayla than met the eye. She wasn’t just a skinny kid. She was a brilliant hero. She always felt a little awe-struck by her and felt blessed to be able to call her not only a friend, but her best friend. 

“Hey, Jay,” said Ivy as she greeted Jayla at the top of the stairs. They gave each other a quick hug and Jayla perched herself on the edge of the kitchen stool and asked, “What’s up? I thought you were with your dad this weekend.”  

Ivy nodded and dove right in, explaining everything so fast that only a best friend like Jayla could keep up. She started with the fact that her dad had never showed up to pick her up. Shocked at this news, Jayla’s already enormous brown eyes widened. Jayla knew Keith was never late, and that this was super worrisome. She didn’t blink and hung on every word. Ivy asked if Jayla had heard the news that people around the world had disappeared. Jayla nodded, with an expression that said, “duh” and replied that it’s all over the news and social media right now. Ivy then explained the whole encounter with her dad, that he was one of the missing people, and what he’d told her to do. Jayla didn’t question whether Ivy was telling the truth, but just asked Ivy what her plan was to get him back. 

Ivy walked Jayla through her research and explained that her goal was to make a 3.3-ton CO2e lifestyle the norm. Jayla suggested that Ivy should keep it simple and stick with 3 rather than 3.3, because 3.3 didn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely. S-he added that three was a great number to use because it was kind of a magical number representing the past, present, and future; faith, hope, and charity; mind, body, and soul; the holy trinity; birth, life, and death; the beginning, middle, and end, and so on. Ivy was baffled by how Jayla could just rattle that knowledge off without hesitation.

 Jayla pointed out that bringing the number down to three was reducing the American carbon footprint by a little over eighty percent, but she agreed with Ivy that Americans should finally set a good example of what was possible—especially since Americans were, per person, the Earth’s biggest culprits for environmental destruction. She also pointed out that many environmentally-friendly lifestyle choices were expensive and that not everyone could afford to switch—at least not without some help. 

Then Jayla proceeded to school Ivy about environmental justice. Now it was Ivy’s turn to listen intently. Jayla explained, “Environmental justice is about treating all people fairly and involving all people in developing, implementing, and enforcing environmental laws. Currently black and brown-skinned people are much more likely to live in polluted neighborhoods and their rates of asthma and a bunch of cancers are much higher because of this pollution.”

Stunned, Ivy asked, “Why?”

And Jayla responded in typical Jayla fashion with facts and references, “The EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment released a study showing that people of color were much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. Specifically, people in poverty were exposed to more fine particulate matter than people living above poverty—and this is at national, state, and county levels.26 

“Where is all that fine particulate matter coming from, Jay?” asked Ivy.

“Like car fumes, smog, soot, oil smoke, ash, and construction dust,” Jayla explained, “and polluters and pollution are disproportionately located in communities of color. It’s kind of hard to prove, but it seems pretty intentional that so many hazardous waste landfills, coal-burning power plants and hydraulic-fracturing oil wells end up in black and poor neighborhoods.”

Ivy was utterly horrified to learn this appalling information. This calculated racism made her feel despondent, and, once again, ashamed to be white. Yet another example of white people acting like black lives don’t matter. It was incomprehensible to Ivy. Jayla was Black and she meant the world to Ivy. How could anyone ever say people with a certain attribute deserve to be ill-treated? It’s revolting. It’s sinful. It’s inexcusable. It needs to change. Now. She wondered how this behavior could continue and how the people in power who were responsible could live with themselves.

Ivy recognized that even though Jayla was like a sister to her, and she felt like they were practically one, they lived in separate worlds. Never once was Ivy followed around a store with a watchful eye that assumed she might steal something, but Jayla was. Ivy had witnessed it at the drug-store on the corner. That owner had followed Jayla around like an eagle after a mouse as if Jayla would surely steal if she weren’t watched. Seeing the whole charade made Ivy want to pop some stuff into her pocket just so the shopkeeper would rethink her stereotypes. But she didn’t have the nerve to steal anything. When Ivy joined Jayla in the makeup aisle, the worker magically drifted away. Ivy told Jayla she noticed that lady was watching her. Jayla said, “Yeah, I knew it too. Did you see how I was making that dumb lady run all through the store? That’s more exercise than that lady has gotten all week!”

Jayla also told Ivy that her dad had been pulled over multiple times and questioned whether the car he was driving belonged to him. 

Ivy asked naively, “Why would the cop wonder that?” 

Jayla replied, “Because the officer didn’t expect to see a Black man in an Audi.”

Dumb-founded, Ivy shouted, “WHAAAAAT? Your dad is an engineer! Why wouldn’t he be driving a nice car?”

“Right?” Jayla asked rhetorically.

The kicker was that Jayla told Ivy that once a cop questioned her whether she was riding with “this man” voluntarily. At first, Jayla didn’t even realize what the cop was getting at. But she soon realized that the cop thought “this man” might be kidnapping her or something. In response to this insane racial profiling, Jayla had lost it and started screaming at the officer that this was her dad and they were going to a swim meet. Thanks to him, they were going to be late and she’d miss her spot in the starting lineup. 

Ivy agreed with Jayla that they absolutely needed to make environmental justice the basis of their sustainability plan.

6 Surprise Visit

6 Surprise Visit

Keith laughing at others

Chapter 6

Surprise Visit

It had been a few hours now, and her dad still hadn’t picked her up from her mom’s house. Her mom had left for the weekend for a yoga retreat because it was Ivy’s weekend to be with her dad. Ivy stomped around the house because nothing was going her way. She thought it would be awesome to be by herself and have unlimited screen time, but technology seemed to have gone on strike. Her fingerprint I.D. wouldn’t work and her password didn’t work either. She tried the password again: DaddysG1rl!. She had to laugh. Her dad had created the password, and she secretly liked it, although she’d never admit that to him. Then she noticed that the Wi-Fi network didn’t show up. Next, her computer said it was out of hard drive space, and she couldn’t get a signal on her cell phone. 

She looked out the window and let the setting sun shine on her face. She loved that days were so long in the northern hemisphere at the end of May. It was almost 9:00 p.m., and it was still light! It was a nice evening, and it would’ve been nice to walk around Grand Avenue and get pizza and ice cream like they were supposed to tonight. Or go for a motorcycle ride. Now she was feeling bad about thinking she didn’t want to see her dad. She really did. She knew she was Daddy’s girl. She always would be. She and her dad had the same sense of humor and the same drive and determination. Although she shared many things with her mom, their relationship was just… different. Her mom was content and calm. Ivy made things happen, just like her dad. She had an adventurous spirit and wasn’t afraid to take risks.

She looked around the house at the battlefield of uncooperative electronic devices and decided that it seemed like the universe was giving her some sort of signal to use less energy or something. She made herself a sandwich and followed it with an indulgent pint of ice cream. Then she read a paperback book and went to bed.  

***

In the morning, Ivy woke up to a quiet house, so she flipped on the TV for some company. At least that still works, she thought.

A special report interrupted her program to announce that police stations were being flooded with missing persons reports. As she processed the information, her eyes widened and her jaw dropped involuntarily. Could it be that her dad was one of these people who had mysteriously disappeared? Her gut told her yes, because her dad was never late. Plus, her dad would never not call to tell her what was keeping him if he was late. He was Mr. Dependable.

Ivy called her dad’s phone for the millionth time. He still didn’t pick up, just got his stupid voicemail. Her thoughts were interrupted by a tapping sound on her window that sounded like hail hitting it. It was a beautiful morning, so it couldn’t be hail. As she went over to the second story window to examine, she witnessed pebbles hitting the window, over and over. Where were they coming from? Ivy looked around to see if it was windy, but the tree branches weren’t swaying. “Why are these rocks hitting my window?” she asked herself aloud.

 Over and over, the same rhythm. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Slight pause. Tap, tap. Again. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Pause. Tap, tap. A third time. Ivy walked away and popped some bread in the toaster. The rhythm echoed in her head. Why did that pattern seem so familiar?

 And then she recognized it. That’s how her dad knocked on her bedroom door every morning to wake her up. He said it was Morse code. He had learned Morse code as a kid and thought she should, too. Could it be that Dad is trying to communicate with me? She searched ‘Morse code’ online. Yay! The internet is working! She found a YouTube video titled “How to Learn Morse Code Alphabet in 3 Steps.”

She played the video and stopped it at the display of a Morse code chart. She learned four taps was “H.” Pauses were between letters, and the second “tap, tap” was “I.” H-I. She knocked “Hi” back on the window. Then she knocked long, short, short. Pause. Short, long. Pause. Long, short, short, spelling “dad,” and raised her shoulders as though she were asking a question. He tapped “yes” back.

“Where are you?” tapped Ivy.

No reply. Keith was at a loss to explain where he was with a few taps.

“Are you OK?” she tapped.

“Yes,” he answered.

Still in her pajamas, Ivy ran outside to find her dad. She called for him frantically, but there was no answer. She began to cry. This was really freaking her out and she wondered if she was imagining the whole thing. 

Suddenly knocking came from the picnic table. She searched for him but saw nothing. She ran over to the table and started grasping at the air to see if she could touch him. But she couldn’t. She jumped up onto the table and occupied as much space as she could to see if she could find him, crying all the while. She heard more tapping but then realized she didn’t have her Morse code cheat sheet with her, so she announced that she was grabbing it as she ran in. She returned with paper and a pen and her tablet. She said, “I’m ready, Dad.” She hoped that he hadn’t disappeared—again. 

“Can you hear me?” she called out. She was relieved to hear a series of knocks that spelled yes. Then she then started firing off questions, like Why can’t I hear or see you? His response was an unsatisfying ‘I don’t know.’ She listened to the taps and transcribed his messages for the rest of the morning, until the sun came around the house and made it too hot to be outside at the table. 

Ivy learned that people have about ten years to cut carbon emissions in half and that he couldn’t return to Earth until greenhouse gas levels were brought down to 2010 levels. Ivy wanted to ask him what he thought she and her mom—and Greta Thunberg—had been saying for the last several years, but she decided that wouldn’t be helpful, and it wouldn’t bring him back any sooner. She mostly just wanted to know how she could help secure his return. 

Ivy’s dad explained that he wanted her to use her social media influence to make adopting a sustainable lifestyle mainstream. She never dreamed her fourteen-year-old voice could influence anything, but now that she thought about it, thanks to a silly but socially relevant video of hers going viral, she now had a wildly popular YouTube channel with millions of subscribers. She’d made most of the videos rather spontaneously without a script or a lot of editing. Somehow her quirky style and messages resonated with a broad base of people. Ivy agreed to help do this, but she argued that her efforts would never be enough. 

Her dad recognized this fact and communicated that he had other plans too, and that there were thousands of what he called ‘Ejected’ people working to meet this goal as well. He assured her that the weight of the world and his return did not rest solely on her shoulders. He just wanted her to do her best. She again agreed to do whatever she could. 

Tears stinging her eyes, Ivy said, “I want to hug you, but there’s nothing to hug.” 

She felt a warmth on her cheek that she knew must have been his kiss. 

Keith tapped, ‘Bye 4 now I luv u.’ 

Ivy sat at the picnic table, stunned for a couple of minutes as she tried to process what was happening. But she quickly decided that time was of the essence, so she ran inside to get to work.

5 Camaraderie

5 Camaraderie

Keith laughing at others

After their tours, the Ejected were all dropped—like bombs—in the same realm where they first met. They were haggard, hungry, and horrified. No one talked or could look each other in the eye. They all knew they were responsible for so many ills on Earth. Even if they weren’t directly responsible for certain actions or problems, they knew that they hadn’t done everything in their power to do the right thing for the planet or for the good of humanity.

Seth brought the Ejected together and summarized what everyone had learned on their various tours. “Human activities have already warmed the planet about 1.8 °F since the pre-industrial era, around 1850,”18 he announced. “At the current rate of warming, the Earth’s average temperature will rise another 0.9 °F and reach the maximum livable temperature increase between 2030 and 2052. Limiting the total warming requires drastic changes.” 

He looked at each of the Ejected as he explained, “You all have learned different ways to reduce our carbon dioxide equivalents—often called CO2e for short—and we need every strategy implemented in order to have a chance of survival and for you to have a chance of returning to your families. No one will be able to return to Earth until enough emissions are reduced to support you all. Also, because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries, temperatures will continue to rise,” he continued. “As a result, even with drastic emission cuts, meeting this 2.7 °F goal likely means that the Earth will go over the 2.7 °F threshold for a time before returning to a more livable level for the longer term.19 We need to follow the Paris Climate Change Agreement’s guidelines to the full extent. That’s why we also need some removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, or other technological advancements. In short, net carbon dioxide equivalent emissions need to drop forty-five percent from their 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. To keep the math simple, and to err on the side of caution, let’s say we need to cut global emissions in half.”

“What does ‘net zero’ mean?” asked the lady with the pearls. 

Keith smirked as he recalled how this lady had bragged about her brainy Ph.D. How’s that fancy Ph.D. working for you now? wondered Keith. He couldn’t help it. He loved silently picking on people he found annoying.

 “‘Net zero’ means offsetting any remaining CO2e emissions by removing CO2e from the atmosphere,” explained Aziza.

 The lady stared blankly as if no explanation had been given. Keith watched this self-proclaimed genius with amusement.

 Recognizing that this lady wasn’t tracking, Aziza continued, “Imagine a bathtub with the faucet running. To keep the tub from overflowing, you can either turn off the running water or unplug the drain, right?”

 Lady Einstein nodded.

 “Turning off the water faucet is like reducing emissions because it’s stopping the emissions at their sources. Opening the drain is like finding carbon sinks—like trees, soil, or oceans—that store the carbon and sort of “drain” them out of the atmosphere.”

The lady nodded at Aziza very slowly, which convinced Keith that she still didn’t get it.

One of the Ejected stood up and began to speak, “The world will go on, but the question is, will people? We are destroying the resources that give us life—the air, water, and land.” This man was thin, but not frail. His voice was quiet, calm, and even and his eyes were warm and wise. Just being in his presence felt like an honor. Everyone waited for him to continue, “I learned on my tour that the fossil fuels that are currently powering most aspects of the world are killing millions of people every year. And they have been for decades. Our collective lack of a reaction doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t mirror the problem that is at hand. I’ve always thought God will take care of us. But it is clear to me that we need to do our part and not stand by idly. We have a crisis on our hands, and we all need to solve this so we can go back to our families.”

 A sense of unity swept across the Ejected, and this man’s speech was met with applause.

 Another Ejected stood up and declared, “We need to turn the page on greed and apathy and look toward love and light to find generosity and concern, compassion, and commitment to all do our part.”

 A loud voice from the back chimed in with, “Community and health!”

 “We need to hold hands with our neighbors and find a way to connect with and help each other. We need to put away the blame and judgment because we all use our planet’s resources, and no one is guilt free. We just don’t know everyone’s story, so we must practice restraint in judging others.”

 Yet another of the Ejected, who was caught up in the emotion, yelled, “Because we won’t do better until we all do better!”

 One by one, the Ejected stepped up and announced how many gigatons of emissions they thought they could reduce and what percentage that would be of the total. It was clear to everyone, without even exchanging words, that there would be winners and losers in people’s jobs for the short term, but that collectively, humans would be the biggest losers if drastic changes weren’t made immediately. The path forward was clear: reduce energy needs and overall consumption of all resources and quickly transition away from fossil fuels to renewables. The big picture wasn’t complicated.

 It was a race against time to save humanity. Could these historically selfish, sorry souls actually save their species?

4 The Reckoning

4 The Reckoning

Keith laughing at others

Although Keith was floating above the Earth, his soul was painfully heavy. His head throbbed, and his stomach churned. He was hopeless and miserable. Guilty. Lost. Banished.

He longed to be with his daughter, Ivy, who was, without question, the best part of his life. Ivy was smart, kind, honest, and hilarious. She’d told him that he was a good guy, but was working for the bad guys. How was she so insightful? 

Until Ivy had started school, Keith was her primary caregiver while his wife, Viola, continued her career in renewable energy policy. Those days with Ivy were the happiest days of my life, remembered Keith. Ivy was always raring to go around 6:30 a.m. with a full agenda of things to do that day. She pretty much called the shots, but Keith was generally OK with her plans because she had such interesting ideas. 

Together they’d collected fall leaves and learned the tree names, splashed in puddles, had picnics, gone on bike rides and hikes, and planted gardens. Every day was filled with joy, giggles, snuggles, and adventure. Being with Ivy made everything more fun. Perhaps it was how enthusiastic she was about everything and how she had entertaining commentary about everything. Keith’s sister once joked that he could rent her out since she was so much fun. Keith and Ivy shared a solid bond.

Keith thought wistfully about how he had fallen in love with his ex-wife because she was so full of love, passion, and life—like Ivy. Viola was the ultimate do-gooder, who sought out problems to fix in her community and chipped in to help solve them, often anonymously. She was selfless, mindful, present, and put the common good before her own needs.

Keith and Viola met at a rally against fossil fuels in 1988—the year the world declared that climate change was caused by humans. He thought of the days they’d spent picnicking by prairies and watching the butterflies flutter by. They’d had a quiet life filled with farmers’ markets, small gatherings with friends, home-brewed beer, and social and environmental causes that often involved music.

But when Ivy started school, Keith knew that they needed to make more money. Viola’s altruistic career in renewable energy policy at a small non-profit was low paying. He took a job working for a top oil company. Keith convinced Viola that working for “the enemy” was a good decision because, in order to change the energy industry, reform needed to start from within. Keith assured Viola that his dreams hadn’t changed. He still dreamed of a carbon-neutral, healthy world for their daughter. But he truly believed that he could have a bigger impact working from the inside. After all, he reasoned, if this big oil company, and dozens of others, are the cause of so much pollution, they could also be the solution. These companies have the power and means to change things. He imagined that he could help steer the company’s business model away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources—like wind, solar, and geothermal—because renewables are much more profitable in the long term. Mostly because with renewables, a person can think long term.

Soon after Keith started that job, he realized his ideas of getting the company to pursue renewable energy sources would need to be put on hold, because he didn’t have enough experience to be listened to yet. He decided to play the “long game,” so he could earn his co-workers’ respect to get their support. But after working with the same people for years, these oil guys and gals became his friends. His moral compass, which had previously been black and white, became completely gray. He knew these people’s spouses and kids. They had wonderful senses of humor, and they were overall nice people with good hearts. The longer he stayed in the business, the more loyal he became to his colleagues. He shied away from making the sweeping changes he’d dreamed of because he knew how unpopular both he and the changes would be.

And, he wasn’t going to lie. Keith loved the luxury. After he transitioned to being a lobbyist, he made a fine living. He grew up in apartments and mobile homes, eating cheap, highly processed food. Now he had become accustomed to having whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted it, wherever he wanted it. 

Although he always admired Viola, who consistently took the high road and saw the best in others, their lives had drifted apart. He didn’t always see the good in people like she did. In fact, Keith reveled in laughing at people’s stupidity, and he understood the thrill of living a little outside the law. Besides their daughter, he and Viola had little in common. That’s when Viola and Keith filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences as the cause. 

But when he and his wife divorced, Ivy only got to visit him on weekends. On top of that, too many of those weekends were shortened since he often needed to fly out on Sundays in order to be in D.C. early on Monday mornings. 

Keith and his daughter grew apart. His life in the city was entirely different than her life in the suburbs, and when Ivy would come to the city to stay with him, he could tell that she didn’t feel at home there. She was more comfortable in her routine with her mom. He also knew that Ivy didn’t like his girlfriends because she never bothered learning their names. 

Salomon interrupted Keith’s thoughts and escorted him to a series of massive control panels with hundreds of labeled sliders. 

“Now, Keith,” he said, “it is your job to use these controls to figure out how to move forward. What is done is done. There is no going back. But, there is a future. That is, there is a future if you make the right choices for the planet and humanity. The sliders you see in front of you control a detailed, simulated world. The sliders aren’t actually controlling the world, so move them around as much as you’d like.”

Salomon’s slow and steady voice narrated, “Global temperatures will continue to rise for decades because of the pollution that has already been created. The question is, how much will the temperatures continue to rise—by two degrees or ten degrees? Society and environmental systems will likely adapt to a couple of degrees—but remember, the planet was only five to nine degrees Fahrenhieit colder during the last ice age. There is just no way humans and animals can evolve quickly enough to handle this radical change. We need to hold the overall temperature change within 2.7 °F. Right now, we are on course for a 7.3 °F increase within eighty years.” 16

Only eighty years? If things don’t change, Ivy won’t even have a chance to live a full life and die of old age, realized Keith. He got right to work adjusting the levers trying every alternative. He found that in a future where heat-trapping gas emissions continued to grow, frost-free growing seasons increased in the U.S. by about a month. At first, he thought this could be advantageous, but he quickly saw the drought, wildfires, and everything else he had just witnessed on his tour followed soon after. He ran different scenarios using the climate change simulator to adjust hundreds of factors—energy supplies, transportation systems, land uses, population growth, industry emissions, carbon taxes, carbon removal tactics, and more. He worked for hours without looking up or taking a break. He’d always had the ability to over-focus on projects and lose track of time, but this project was unlike anything he’d ever done. 

A clear path to “stop the bleeding”—as his Defender had said—became obvious. Implementing a large carbon tax and reinvesting that money in energy efficiency and electrification supplied by renewables would limit the global temperature to 3.2 °F.17 That’s 84% of our planetary goal of holding the temperature at 2.7 °F. It’s a no-brainer. He told Salomon, “I’m ready.”