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.”