Will Hackman | The Climate Explainer

Will Hackman is a conservation and climate policy expert with more than a decade of experience in campaigns and global environmental issue advocacy. Will served as a political fundraiser and campaign manager on four federal races for the U.S. House and Senate as well as a gubernatorial campaign. He then joined the public sector conservation community as a marine fisheries conservation advocate. Will developed a love for the ocean over years working as a commercial Alaskan fisherman. Will has dedicated his career to advancing public policies related to ocean and land conservation as well as energy and the environment. He has attended four United Nations climate conferences and is a frequent policy expert voice on podcast interviews and articles. Will recently filmed a TEDx talk on stage in Washington, DC discussing ways we need to reframe our climate conversations. You can find him on Twitter @ClimateExplainr
Topics discussed in this episode:
1. Main causes of Climate Change and the associated impacts
2. Ted Talk: "The Earth Doesn't Care About Us: Reframing Our Climate Conversations"
3. PEW Study on American Sentiments towards Climate Change
4. Strategies and Tactics to help make Climate Change a more inclusive issue
5. Prioritizing Action at the Local and State Levels


00:02 Introduction: 
Are you looking to become a leader in clean energy and an expert in cleantech? Do you hope to get noticed in the crowd as you pursue a career in this fastly growing industry? You are in the right place. Join Karan Takhar as he invites clean energy leaders to share industry developments, highlight cleantech investment opportunities and shed light on how you can increase their chances of employment in this high-growth sector. We will also discuss the energy transition across key emerging markets like India and explore partnership opportunities for the US private and public sector. After all, this is the Zenergy podcast.

00:51 Karan Takhar: 
In this episode, we will be speaking with Will Hackman, who is a conservation in climate policy expert with more than a decade of professional experience in US political campaigning, the public policy process, land and marine conservation in global environmental issue advocacy. We discuss his recent Ted talk on “re-framing climate conversations” and dive into some other missteps we are seeing when people talk about the importance of climate change today.

01:23 Karan Takhar: 
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Mr. Will Hackman. Thank you, Will, so much for taking the time. It's great to have you on the show. I think a good place to start would be to try and demystify the concept of climate change, which you do a great job of under your alias of the climate explainer. For listeners who may not be completely familiar, can you talk about some of the main causes of climate change and the associated impacts?

02:01 Will Hackman: 
Yeah, and thank you so much for having me on; I really appreciate it and looking forward to this conversation. So you mentioned my climate explainer Twitter account, which is sort of the alias and some things that I'm looking to make sense of when it comes to climate change and environmental news, policy, and business action. I've learned quite a bit about climate change policy, both from the international and domestic level, as well as US domestic and international conservation advocacy, which is what I do in my day job, 9:00 to 5:00 every day and working in political campaigns before that.

02:36 Will Hackman: 
So I really bring this political public policy lens to climate change now, and I'm trying to make sense of this world, but it is still so hard for many people across the country and world really digest. So thinking about what climate change looks like the biggest causes and sources of climate change, both in the United States and across the world. And I really focus on the United States primarily because that's my area of expertise. You know, I know a lot more about US domestic policy than I do about any other Country. So in the United States, greenhouse gas emissions, you know, the climate change, warming greenhouse gas emissions, in the US, the number one source of those emissions is the transportation sector at 27%.

03:39 Will Hackman: 
It was power generated electricity for most of the last 150 years or so since the industrial revolution. But in 2017, I believe just a few years ago, that changed, and now transportation is number 1, electricity is number  2, the heavy, industry is number 3, and then Commercial and residential and agriculture or behind. So that's how climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions break down in the United States, and it's fairly similar if you look at the international breakdown as well and if you think about the highest sources of greenhouse gases that include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Another carbon dioxide is the greatest source by far, at around 80% in the United States, and these are all EPA numbers from 2020.

04:36 Karan Takhar: 
Very interesting. Let's get into your Ted talk, which very exciting to listen to when it comes out in the next few weeks, is titled “The Earth doesn't care about us, re-framing our climate conversations.” Well, could you please tell us about some of your observations have been on how climate conversations are framed today?

05:05 Will Hackman: 
Yes, absolutely, and that was such a great experience being on stage here in DC in front of a couple of 100 people doing its Tedx. A life-changing experience for so many people, and it was for me. It was such an incredibly positive experience as well and a lot of hard work. But the title of my talk, as you mentioned, is the Earth doesn't care about us, and I really like that framing it immediately invokes a reaction from people and some good, some bad. But the whole point of that framing, and really what I get into within the talk, is that yes, we are in a climate crisis, scientifically speaking, ecosystems are in trouble, biodiversity is in decline, oceans are in trouble, land-based terrestrial systems are in trouble, a million species are going extinct.

06:04 Will Hackman: 
These are all the things we care about all the time; new UN reports are coming out every year that further show us the science behind how much we are in a climate crisis. But what is more important to us, I believe, again, putting on my political hat here, putting on my advocacy hat, how you build campaigns, how you talk to people and create those stories, the thing that people really care about is that we are truly in humanitarian crisis over the climate crisis in many ways. We want to solve climate change primarily so that we are here in the future.

06:45 Will Hackman: 
This is about the future sustainability of human civilization now. The world is going to be just fine a million years from now, but if we don't take the steps that the Paris Agreement outlines, you know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that we need to do within the next eight years before 2030, rapid decarbonization over the next 20 to 30 years then the systems that we rely on won't be there any longer if we are placed humanities placed within the natural world will be called into question over the next few decades if we don't wrap up carbonize. So this is about us and our survival as much as it is about the survival of nature.

07:31 Will Hackman: 
And I draw a couple of comparisons between what I see, as sort of the reality of the Paris Agreement negotiations and what we're working towards, you know, clean energy future, clean air, clean water or clean energy revolution that provides millions of jobs, you know, around the United States and around the world in sort of the traditional environmental activism that I see a lot as well. And that activism just seems so focused on a couple of different things. You know, it seems focused on a world is burning narrative, and advocacy 101 tells you that you have to provide an optimistic vision for people, you have to write a hopeful future, you have to give them a sense of what they're advocating for. If we solve climate change, what does that look like?

08:27 Will Hackman: 
But the vast majority of the images that I see in the climate activist space, our world on fire images, there's a literal image of a world burning. I get that; I get that. And that is a powerful image that really does capture in more than 1000 words everything that's happening to natural systems. So when I talk about the Earth doesn't care about us, I'm talking about this savior complex that I think we have sort of moved into and climate activism. And I don't think that's helpful because if we view everything we're doing as humanity, as destroying nature, then we create a false separation between humanity and nature. In nature, on one side, something we need to protect humanity on the other side, you know, doing terrible things to nature. It's a 0 sum game, and we're creating this idea that we can save the world again.

09:29 Will Hackman: 
How many times have you heard somebody say that we need to save the world? Well, who are we saving the world from ourselves? You know, who will be saved in the World for, are we actually more concerned with saving natural systems than we are with saving society and saving cities and you know where people live in future generations? And so I really think that we need a reframing in our climate conversations, and that's what the text is about and where we're moving away from these savior messages, moving away from this world is burning narratives.

10:10 Will Hackman: 
Giving people a more positive vision of the future that we can build, reminding them of what the Paris Agreement is all about. You know, a basic understanding of the Paris Agreement will show you what we can do if we succeed, and everyone I know who is working at the United Nations level and, you know, at higher levels and climate policy within the United States government and NGOs and other places. They're all hopeful, the time hasn't yet run out on creating that future that we can create together, but I just worry that so many people are convinced that we have already failed, we're already doomed, and, you know, let's just throw up our hands, there's nothing we can do.

10:59 Karan Takhar: 
So I'm wondering about very specific examples of how we can reframe our climate conversations. For example, there's an Obama quote that I recently saw which said we are the first generation to experience climate change, but the last generation he can do something about it, and as a young person, because I have so much time left, knock on wood and ability to focus my work on this issue and engage with a lot of people who similarly are focusing their work on this issue. I'm just curious about approaches or methods, that people like us can employ in terms of helping to reframe this conversation.

11:55 Will Hackman: 
Yeah, absolutely. Well, so a couple of things, I think we have to remind ourselves what we are working towards, and it is the Paris Agreement, as you mentioned, and the goal of the Paris Agreement is no more than a two degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century by 2100, and currently, we're at 1.1 degrees Celsius increase from the Industrial Revolution, so we're already halfway to two degrees Celsius. But we're not yet at 2 degrees Celsius, and there are still many things that we can do to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

12:34 Will Hackman: 
So this is what all of our climate policies and all of the climate policies for every country around the world are, fitting into this overarching structure of the United Nations Climate conferences, the Paris Agreement, and other agreements that were passed that update the science on a constant basis show us how close we're getting to hitting that goal, but we're not yet there. And in the US, there are a couple of things that we can feel very positive about and so it's your question, how can we reframe our climate conversations? 

13:12 Will Hackman: 
There are many things that we can and should feel optimistic about even with the changes that have already occurred; there are many things that we need to continue to do over 10 years, five years, or three years. But you know, in the United States, we peaked carbon emissions a few years back, and we have declined by 17%. By 2020, we reduced US domestic total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States 17% below our 2005 baseline levels.

13:44 Will Hackman: 
You know, our goal under the Paris Agreement is a 50 to 52% reduction by the end of this decade by 2030. So again, over our baseline year 2005, we have a long way to go over the next eight years to hit that goal, seven years really, and they're, you know, we could talk about this and the policies and regulations that will get us towards that goal, but we have declined carbon emissions in the United States, and there are positive other signs.

14:17 Will Hackman: 
You know, with Europe and other places, I mean, the United States was the number one emitter of global greenhouse gas emissions for 150 years. We still number 2, you know, Europe is acute, Europe collectively huge carbon emitter for almost all of industrial history and many countries across Europe, or declining their emissions as well. You know the Clean Air Act the United States passed is the most important, ineffective environmental policy that any country in the world has ever passed.

14:49 Will Hackman: 
And we are still doing so many things under the legislative authority of the Clean Air Act. It is clearing and cleaning our skies that is saved us hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars that it saves hundreds of thousands of lives. The CAFE standards for cars and trucks, which I talked about a moment ago, which helped improve our fuel efficiency, have made all of the cars and trucks that we see on the roads today much more fuel efficient and produce less air pollution than all of us breathe in on a day-to-day basis. 

15:25 Will Hackman: 
But getting back to the Ted talk, I am primarily not looking to create a message with the Earth doesn't care about you and and the core components in my Ted talk to people who are already true believers, yeah, I think there are enough people out there who are rallying the climate access to already care about climate change and everything that I just went over, I think can help restore optimism to climate advocates who may be feeling that echo grief and climate anxiety and apathy, and apathy is not good.

16:02 Will Hackman: 
You know, apathy leads to disengagement; it leads to throwing up your hands and saying there's nothing we can do. We have an election coming up this fall; we cannot afford to be apathetic hat people who are out there wanting us to do something about climate change; we cannot afford to let our guard down or be apathetic. We have to remain engaged, and in order to remain engaged, we have to remain optimistic and be able to see those changes that we've already made.

16:33 Will Hackman: 
But the more concerning group of people for me are the people who don't already care about climate change, who don't see it in their daily lives. And so I talked about this poll by the Pew Research Center in my Ted talk. And last year, the pew Research Center conducted a poll that showed that only 57% of American adults believed that climate change was affecting their local community. So that is technically a majority, 57%, but it's a very slim majority, and if you break that down by political party, it's only 32% of Republicans and, you know, 78% of Democrats.

17:18 Will Hackman: 
But to me, that paints a very clear picture that basically half the country does not think that climate change is affecting their local community. And this poll was done last year, where we have all seen the wildfires and the floods and hurricanes and everything else happening, but there are a lot of Americans who still don't rank climate change very high. I don't see it in their lives, in their communities, and passed the country can't see what climate change means to them personally, then the policies that all of us need will never follow. So that's my focus we have to build more political support, we have to bring more people into this conversation, and show them the direct connections to climate change in their lives and in their communities.

18:09 Will Hackman: 
And I have a number of different ways that I think we can do that, but we are not there yet on the political support for national climate policies in this country, were there in a few states. We've been able to pass some state policies in California and other places. But we're not yet there, and so I think a lot of people are wondering why we haven't been able to pass some of these federal climate policies that we've been talking about for such a long time. If you look at the polling, it paints a pretty clear picture. We have not yet done enough to build that political support outside of our own base group, already cares about climate change.

18:55 Karan Takhar: 
100%, I think that is the challenge and where the energy needs to be focused moving forward is making this a more inclusive and encompassing issue as opposed to one that stratifies large portions of society. You mentioned that you do have strategies on how to bring in these people who don't necessarily feel that climate change is impacting their local community. Before we dive into those strategies, I just want to quickly reference your recent article in The Hill, which was titled “Look Local for Climate Solutions”.

19:41 Karan Takhar: 
Where you write that cities account for more than 70% of global carbon pollution in consume most of the world's energy supply, but less than half of all U.S. cities have greenhouse gas targets, and again, I feel like this ties into the localized approach because right now a lot of the conversation is centered on what actions are occurring at the federal level and I don't hear much about what actions are being implemented at the local, state, and city level?

20:23 Karan Takhar: 
If you could run, provide insight into a few strategies that you feel could bring in people regardless of their party affiliation and talk a bit about how we can galvanize local support.

20:40 Will Hackman: 
Absolutely, So when something like the recent Supreme Court decision happens where a major environmental initiative that a democratic president trying to move forward get struck down for whatever reason, there are a series of articles at, you know, many different articles that pop up all over the country about how the climate agenda has been throttled, you know, it's been chilled, it's been dealt a serious blow. I saw this constantly under the Obama administration; we're seeing it now under the Biden administration, where this one decision is the death blow to the US climate agenda. We're never gonna achieve our goals because of this one decision. 

21:29 Will Hackman: 
And that is partly why I created my climate. Explainer accounts and I'm trying so hard to bring a different take on this story 'cause it's just flatly not true. And there are many reasons why, you know, any one thing is never gonna be this final nail on the coffin to our ability to fight climate change, that is just not an accurate portrayal of how public policy works across the board on so many different levels, but it's also, I think, an overemphasis on Congress.

22:02 Will Hackman: 
And we need Congress to do something; we need them to do their job, and we need them to pass more federal climate policies. But in the vacuum of Congress not doing that, things have really shifted to the state. And like you said, you know, the majority of people live in urban areas, you know, 83% I believe in in the United States now lives in urban areas, more people are moving to urban areas across the world as well. Which cities in states are where people live, and so even if we can't pass federal climate policy, we can pass state and local policies where people actually live, where they're feeling the impacts of climate change, and not just talking about it at this tip of the spear in Washington DC, they're seeing it in their communities.

22:54 Will Hackman: 
I just got back from three weeks on a western road trip where I was in southern Utah and Northern Arizona, and we drove across from the Hobby Desert to Southern California and spent some time in Nevada. And I saw three separate forest fires during that trip. I saw incredible, you know, historic droughts, there I believe we're in a drought now since it's gone 20 years in the western United States. It's the biggest drought that we've had in over 1000 years. I was at Lake Powell and Arizona, seeing the water levels that have been dropping rapidly, 50 feet in the last year, 140 feet since 2000, and you see it when you go out to the West; you see climate change, you see fire, you see drought conditions everywhere you go.

23:45 Will Hackman: 
But it's not just the West; I'm from the Midwest. I grew up in Indiana and Illinois. Historic flooding, some years with droughts and other years have wreaked havoc on farmers and their ability to yield the same amount from their crops, you know, in Mid-Atlantic, so getting to the to my op-ed in the hill that you mentioned, DC is incredibly vulnerable to climate change, to flooding and rising sea levels. A lot of people who live in DC, I don't think they know that.

24:17 Will Hackman: 
The city of mostly Democrats, which has very good climate policies for 2030 and decarbonizing by 2050, I mean DC has passed more climate policies, arguably, than many other cities in the United States, but it still hasn't done enough. There is a huge disconnect between where people live in DC. There is a heat island effect in many areas and neighborhoods in DC, where people are threatened by deadly heat waves now, every summer, and depending on your socioeconomic status or your race, you could die at a much greater percentage living just in a different neighborhood in DC than another neighborhood.

25:02 Will Hackman: 
That's awful, and this isn't a situation that's unique to DC. And so there is a still IPCC report that came out that really spurred me to write this piece that talked about human vulnerability to climate change, everything that we've just been talking about, and this new IPCC report found that while many cities have developed these adaptation plans, very few have been implemented to the extent that they need to be to really create a climate-resilient place to live in the world.

25:37 Will Hackman: 
This is across the entire world; we really don't have any examples across the entire world at this point of a 100% climate-resilient place to live, and we need to solve that; we need to make sure 100% of where people live are 100% climate resilient. But these adaptation gaps exist in every city in the United States and every city across the world. And so I was really showing that disconnect in Washington DC itself.

26:12 Karan Takhar: 
Very interest. Do you have any closing thoughts that you would like to share?

26:17 Will Hackman: 
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, getting back to your question about what else we can do to reframe our climate conversation. So I talked a lot about rejecting the world is burning narratives and providing a hopeful vision for the future to counteract the apathy. Apathy is the worst expression of political engagement in this country, and the more apathetic you get, the less engaged you are, and that hurts our politics, that hurts our elections, that hurts our ability to create the policies that all of us need, to create the negative ecosystem that makes everybody believes that there is nothing we can do.

26:58 Will Hackman: 
And there is really no good outcome for so many people believing so strongly that the world is on fire and there's nothing we can do. But I also really believe we have to reach out, that's half of the country that can't see climate change in their lives and communities and figure out a way to connect with them more directly.

27:20 Will Hackman: 
And again, if you think about the images and climate activism that it's dominated over the last couple of decades, the image of the polar bear, the image of melting glaciers thousands of miles away that most people will never see in our lifetimes. What does the Midwestern farmer care about Polar bears in melting glaciers? I care about those things; I work in conservation, and I deeply care about the plight of natural ecosystems applied, biodiversity, and individual species.

27:53 Will Hackman: 
But nature-based messages don't work with everyone, and we have to understand that, and we have to create different messages. There are more human-centric; it really shows people that we are truly in a humanitarian crisis and not just a climate crisis. And so the number one thing that I think people can do to really connect with that is to ask themselves and ask those around them what does climate change personally mean to them?

28:23 Will Hackman: 
Yeah, this is all issue advocacy 101. It's connecting yourself, connecting your community, connecting the people you know to the story of your own life into, you know, showing that connection to the issue itself. What are the story that you can tell about your connection to the warming world around you and I can tell that story, you know, I, I went down Waveland, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina and saw the destruction of a major hurricane, one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes and U.S. history.

29:01 Will Hackman: 
I saw that for myself first hand when I was 21 years old, and that changed the trajectory of my life, I have been melting glaciers and many other things since then, but everybody has a story that they can tell about their personal connection to the warming world around them at this point, it's a different story for everyone. Everybody cares about different things in their lives, but everybody has that story.

29:28 Will Hackman: 
And building those human connections, those personal connections to this issue, I think will make all the difference in improving the political support for this issue, more people will see it in their own self-interest to get involved, and we'll really be able to to move the needle on this, and I have, I have a lot more suggestions that I make in my talks as well.

29:52 Karan Takhar: 
Which will be Linked in the show notes when it comes out; we link the article, the Ted talk, the few study and all the other great resources that you alluded to in this conversation. Thank you so much, Will.

30:09 Will Hackman: 
You're very welcome. Thanks so much for having me on.

30:15 Conclusion: 
Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the episode. Check out the episode description or show notes for more information on our guests. See you next time.

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