Andreas Karelas is the author of Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform the Economy, and Bridge the Political Divide in America (Beacon Press) as well as the founder of RE-volv, a nonprofit organization that helps fellow nonprofits around the country go solar. He’s a leader in the field of climate change, and is brimming with ideas and insights that can launch the nation, and the world, into a brighter future.
We’ve been privileged to work with Karelas in many ways lately and pick his brain through a Facebook Live interview, which you can watch here, and his book, which we reviewed here. Karelas is carefully and tentatively hopeful about the direction the nation is heading, and has faith in the collective voice of the American people. He also has a lot of thoughts about electric cars and solar-powered businesses. We’ll let you read all about it and get to know him better below.
Q: Explain a little bit of your background, how you came to write Climate Courage, and how much research went into it.
A: I’ve been working in the field of clean energy and climate change solutions since 2005. In 2011 I started RE-volv, a nonprofit organization that helps fellow nonprofits around the country go solar. The reason I wrote the book is really the same reason I started RE-volv; I feel that those of us who care about climate change often feel like the problem is too big for us to do anything about. But that disempowered view, a learned helplessness around climate change, holds us back from taking bold action, which is what we need to be doing.
So I wrote Climate Courage to show people that we can act on climate in our communities and have a big impact. And the book details the accounts of numerous examples of people across the political spectrum doing just that. I hope people read it and feel empowered to take action. I had the concept for the book for a few years prior to writing it, but when I decided to make it happen, and got connected with an agent and eventually a publisher, the research, writing and editing took about two years.
Q: How did you come to use the word “courage” in the title? Do you feel most people, or our leaders, are lacking the courage to tackle the climate battle head-on?
A: When the title came to me, I was reading a wonderful book called Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In it, she talks about the importance of vulnerability and the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. That really resonated with me when it comes to climate change. We need the courage to step into the scary and vulnerable place of taking serious climate action, starting with ourselves in our communities, because that’s what the climate crisis calls us to do.
Q: What role are companies playing in the climate fight in the U.S. and internationally? For example, why doesn’t the U.S. have a lot more electric cars on the road already by now? It’s 2021, and maybe it’s time to get away from fossil fuels. Do you think this will change a lot with lower-priced electric cars over time?
A: One of the things I talk about in the book is that industries are changing faster than most of us realize, and it’s because of market forces more than any government regulation. For example, five out of the six most highly valued companies in the world are committed to being 100 percent clean energy powered. Hundreds of other leading companies have done the same. Partly they’re motivated to be the good corporate actors their customers expect them to be, but increasingly it’s because it’s better for the bottom line. Keep in mind that the cost of solar panels has dropped 90 percent in the last ten years, and solar power is now the cheapest form of electricity in history. Companies are building their own solar and wind farms, putting solar panels on their buildings, and also locking in long-term power purchase agreements that will guarantee them low-cost electricity for decades to come.
In terms of electric cars, there was certainly a lot of push-back from the industry for many years, but that’s all changed now. Leading car manufacturers are planning to make all-electric vehicles; GM will do so by 2035. Ford just released an electric F-150 pickup truck marketed to a wide audience. Yes, as the market for electric vehicles grows the costs will come down, and as the range of the batteries increase, and more charging stations are installed, this country will make a rapid transition to electric vehicles, faster than most of us realize.
Q: Given the ongoing partisan divide in Congress, how confident are you that some type of infrastructure bill, with climate measures, will truly pass? And can the U.S. play a leadership role around the world in the clean energy transition?
A: This is the question of the day. The infrastructure bill originally proposed is the most significant climate legislation we’ve ever seen. But of course, we have no guarantees that it will pass or that the climate goals set forth in it will become law. What I am confident in is that President Biden has made investing in climate solutions and clean energy a top priority of his administration as a way of creating jobs, lowering our energy costs, and lifting us out of this recession.
So I do believe that with Democratic control of the government for the next two years, we will see some bold climate action, but also that we’ll have to see what that looks like. If it’s anything like what’s being proposed in the infrastructure bill — calling for 50 percent emissions reductions by 2030, 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, and being net-zero by 2050 — that will be a much-needed win in the climate fight. Even by announcing these goals, he’s indicated to the world that the United States is back in the climate fight and plans to play a leading role in the transition to clean energy, and that’s very good news.
Q: If over two-thirds of Americans see climate change as real and caused by humans, and that according to a Yale study 85 percent of Americans want 100 percent clean energy, does that make you confident that Congress will act in time to save the planet?
A: When I was writing the book, I thought that there was a much larger partisan divide on climate change than there is, because that’s what we often hear in the news. When I learned that the majority of Americans care about the issue, and 85 percent are in favor of 100 percent clean energy, I was really surprised. I think most people would be surprised to read that. So one of the most important things we can do, as Katharine Hayhoe says (one of the world’s top climate scientists who wrote the foreword of Climate Courage) and to which I refer often in the book, is to talk more about climate change. Two-thirds of Americans report that they never talk about climate change; it’s become a sort of taboo subject like money, religion or politics. So we need to start talking about it with each other more often and we need to have people on both sides of the partisan divide speaking out for climate solutions. That’s when it’ll be hard for Congress to ignore the will of the people.
But again, one of the main points of the book is that we don’t have to wait for Congress to act. Almost all of the climate action that’s been happening in this country over the years is coming from citizens in their communities, businesses, and cities, counties and states. We have to keep doing what we can in these arenas because who knows if we can ever count on Washington.
Q: What do you feel are the central learnings from your book?
A: For many years I have felt that climate change books are often preaching to the converted. In order to get more Americans on board with climate solutions, we have to start reaching a broader audience, so a large theme of the book is highlighting the heroes on both sides of the aisle that are working for climate solutions so that we can start to tell a new narrative that will resonate with more Americans. That new narrative has to show that this is not a partisan issue, but in fact, one that Americans are in agreement about. In order to broaden the conversation, people who care about climate change need to learn how to talk about it to people who don’t. I talk a lot in the book about the psychology of climate change, which is important to understand in order to frame the issue in a way that people will listen.
The other big theme is we have to paint a positive vision of the future, and we have to be clear that we can solve the problem. When people talk about the viability of clean energy or the likelihood that we’ll limit climate change in the time we have left, I’ve heard so many people express skepticism that solving it is possible and cynicism that we can get it done. Over the years in the field, however, I’ve heard countless good news stories in the fight against climate change that often go unreported. I wrote Climate Courage to share those stories so that other people can share my optimism that we can solve the climate crisis and we can create a just transition to a clean energy economy based on all the positive momentum we have going for us.
Q: Do you feel you have another book in you to write? What do you plan to focus on next?
A: At the moment, I am continuing to focus on my work at RE-volv, where the team and I are helping to expand solar energy access for deserving nonprofits in communities around the country. We’re actually in the middle of an investment fundraising round, raising $10 million in the form of recoverable grants from foundations and donor-advised funds in order to bring solar to those that typically lack access to solar financing. So that is keeping me busy these days.
Do I have another book in me? Yes, I think so. The next decade will be a very dynamic period in the fight against climate change and if I can continue to weigh in with insights that are helpful to people, I would love to be able to do so.
For more information on Andreas Karelas, see climatecourage.us where you can order a copy of Climate Courage and find out more about how to get involved in the clean energy fight. For more information on his nonprofit, visit RE-volv.org.