OKAY WAIT, DON’T LEAVE!
I’m sure that you clicked on this article hoping for a strategy that you can use over the Thanksgiving table to help someone in your family or friend circle start to get on board with a problem that you feel is one of the most important things that humans can and should be addressing today.
The problem is the problem itself is huge, difficult to understand, and by the nature of science, you can regularly find legitimate things to question about it. Additionally, and even harder to overcome, the problem is highly politicized, and because of that no matter how great your evidence, bringing up climate change by itself probably won’t work.
So, if you want to bring up climate change at your table, there is a trick that I would suggest using to frame it that has worked really well for me.
Start With Solutions
I was serious when I said don’t talk about climate change. Instead, start with solutions. Allow me to explain:
In the past three years, my family has purchased a Nissan Leaf, put solar panels on our roof, and picked up our Tesla Model 3. I’ve had friends and family that were very curious about this change, and a number of them have said to me that I’m doing it to be green.
The most powerful answer that I have for that is also the truth: That’s not why I did it.
I did it because the products are better.
The fact that they don’t emit carbon is a nice benefit, but realistically I know that my two cars and solar panels are not going to put a dent into worldwide carbon emissions. I also feel confident in saying that if you purchased anything in particular expecting that your singular action would solve the issue, you should have really rethought that purchase.
Instead, explain why the technology is better in simple terms that remove opinions from them. Here are my standard answers for each of them:
- Solar: We decided to put solar panels on our roof after learning that the payoff period for them was about seven years, and they are expected to continue generating electricity for at least another 23. If I generate more than we can use, the electric company purchases the rest. Additionally, the energy monitor that was installed with the solar allowed me to find a ton of inefficient things in my house that I was able to eliminate, without which I don’t know if I would have found. This means my payoff time for the system is about four years.
- Nissan Leaf: Both of our cars were starting to get really rough, and when we were looking I decided to test drive a Leaf to see what it was like. I was amazed by how it drove, and was further surprised to learn that the cost to operate was extremely low. Since we didn’t absolutely need an extra car at the time, we bought a used Leaf for under $8,000 to see what we thought. We both fell in love with it, it’s ease, and how affordable it is to operate. It costs about 3 cents a mile to operate the Leaf compared to about 13 cents a mile for our last car, meaning in the 20,000 miles we’ve now driven it, it’s saved about $2,000 in fuel costs, including electricity. Oh, and that doesn’t include that it has needed no regular maintenance and only been in the shop once for a sensor issue in that time, so it’s even better. And heck, with the solar, I can make my own gas on the roof.
- Tesla Model 3: After the Leaf worked so well for us, we wanted all the benefits of the electric drivetrain, but needed a car that we could take for long distance trips too. While it was very expensive, Tesla’s are the only cars right now that created an infrastructure for long distance travel, so it was the obvious choice and by the time we got it, my car was falling apart. The fact it has incredible speed and is the safest car that is ever made make it even better.
For whatever it is that you want to talk about, even if it is something that you hope to get in the future, talk about all the benefits of it that have nothing to do with climate change.
We’re at the point now that major companies are figuring out that shutting down their coal plants to transition to solar plus storage will be more affordable than running the coal plants. 2018 may become the biggest year for coal plant closures in the United States ever not because of climate change, but because the economics behind those plants are dead. Coal no longer has a boogeyman in Obama to point to and say his climate change policy is at fault, they are closing because we have so many better and cheaper options.
The Tesla Semi, which is expected to start production next year, is significantly cheaper to operate than diesel trucks, and it won’t need to be off the road for regular maintenance. When they release and start working, why would any company keep using diesel trucks? We will have a better, cheaper option.
Battery grid backups respond to outages faster than the traditional grid even operates, smoothing the grid and being nearly instant for keeping it running at peak performance. The few that have been deployed so far have vastly outperformed their expectations already.
With nearly any topic, the “clean” options are starting to be the obvious winners, but not because they are clean, simply because they are better.
At this point, I will usually throw in that the fact that these technologies don’t emit carbon or any pollution is a nice bonus, but it’s not the main reason that I went to them.
And it’s not. If I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t emitting any carbon, I wouldn’t have any cars and would walk everywhere. My lifestyle doesn’t allow for that, or perhaps better said, I don’t want to change my lifestyle to operate like that, so this was my option.
Demonstrate with Data
After I explain that, the next thing to do is to try to demonstrate whatever you’re talking about to whomever is interested. For our solar system, I will show my Sense home monitor and talk about what it allows me to see. For our cars, I offer to show people my tracking of their savings, and then offer to take them for rides.
- Solar: The company that installed my solar included a Sense Home Monitor to monitor energy usage. I can go into the app for it and break down exactly what I have earned by day, week or month, as well as what I’ve spent. The Sense monitor isn’t perfect, and I hope to dive into it a bit in the future, but here’s the punchline since they are 20% off for the next few days – I found significant savings using ours, and if you’re interested in lowering your energy bills, it’s definitely worth a look. Anyway, the point is, I use the data in the app to show my savings and what production I have. It’s hard for anyone to say that it’s a bad deal when you have the data.
- Nissan Leaf: When we bought our Nissan Leaf, I didn’t believe it could save as much money as I had projected it to save in a year. My projection would be that it would save us $1000 in fuel costs over the vehicle it replaced. I tracked it and fuel costs by week on my phone. After a year, I was surprised to have saved slightly more than $1250 in fuel costs alone, not including maintenance savings. If you haven’t been tracking your car like crazy, you can back out the data by looking at your miles per kWh. If you get 4 miles per kWh, and your electricity costs the nationwide average of 13 cents per kWh, it costs you 3.25 cents to go per mile. The car that it takes you can take average mileage and divide by current gas prices near you. After a year, I found out the Leaf saved us almost exactly 10 cents per mile that it went.
- Tesla Model 3: The easiest way to compare this is to look at SuperCharger cost, and stating how much it costs to get a certain amount of miles. With my car, I plugged it in for 10 minutes to see what it was like. In those 10 minutes, I paid Tesla $2.20. I got 80 miles of charge. Even with gas prices historically low right now, no one’s car is getting 80 miles per gallon. I also love bringing up the safety data with the Model 3, as that’s a data point that no other vehicle can touch right now.
If it’s about something you don’t have personal experience with, take a moment to find something to cite about it. Particularly good are when businesses make choices to save consumers money. I believe the most powerful example recently of the changing landscape for clean energy is the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, a major power provider, decided after getting a report to shut down their coal generation faster than originally planned, and replace it with solar to save consumers money. This was announced just two months ago, which means it is being done in the Trump environmental era. Here’s an article about it.
In fact, even with the attempt of the Trump administration to prop up coal, we are on track for the most plan retirements ever in 2018, which you can see in this IEEFA report from last month (pdf).
Admit Change Is Hard
Not just should we admit that change is hard, but we also need to understand that to an outsider, these sorts of changes are very scary. There is a reason that tons of articles about electric cars talk about “range anxiety” being a huge problem, yet rarely have I spoken to anyone who owns an electric car who feels they constantly are concerned about their range. Similarly, there is a huge concern about how long batteries will last in the cars.
When it comes to power, there is a reason that seemingly every mainstream article about solar panels note that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine. Ditto wind power and the statement that the wind doesn’t blow.
To someone who doesn’t understand how all this works, it sounds terrifying. You’ll be forced into an electric car where one day you’ll wake up and the battery will drain three times as fast just like that old cell phone you had, or you’re going to find yourself constantly realizing you don’t have enough range to go to places you want to. Your electricity is going to go on and off at your house randomly at night or when it’s still out because we simply won’t have enough power.
But in reality, we know that this isn’t the case. Start by admitting what you thought wouldn’t work about the topic, and then explaining what happened. Then, also discuss future solutions that you think we’ll develop. My favorite one is telling people with our Leaf that when we bought it, it was still showing full battery capacity, and while it now is missing one bar, or approximately 10%, I have had no problems getting the rated range of 84 miles on it if I’m driving it nicely. And, by the time the battery dies, I expect that they will be cheaper and potentially also a longer range.
When we bought our Leaf two years ago, Nissan would replace the batteries for $5500. This year, they announced a program to get rebuilt electric battery packs for half that cost, and while it is only currently in Japan, I’m sure it will come over here too. I also like to point out that the 2018 Leaf has a “nearly double” sized battery that fits in the same form factor as the battery in our car, and I expect in the future if we need to replace the battery, we’ll end up with a longer range car.
Additionally, if there is a problem, acknowledge that. I fully acknowledge to people that the Leaf really needs to be a second car and not a first. If someone needs a mini-van because they haul the soccer team around town constantly, there isn’t any easy solution for that right now. It’s worth pointing out, however, that those solutions will be coming in the future.
Explaining that you had concerns that were legitimate but misguided, and there isn’t an answer to everything at this moment goes a long way to encouraging people to think about their own fears, and how those fears may logically be overcome.
Since I started this plunge just under two years ago, I have used this strategy when talking with friends and family. I’ve had people tell me they have told their friends about what I told them, and ask if I can explain it to a friend. I’m happy to because I sincerely believe they are better products, and I believe that the more people who transition, the better they’ll be.
I’ve apparently done such a good job of advocating our Leaf that the local Nissan dealership now texts me every time they get a used one in. So far, I have had three friends get one and another two currently in the market. Another friend put a solar array on his house, and three more friends have quotes they are considering. And, while I haven’t sold any Teslas yet, a number are working on financing and plan to make the jump in the next year.
I hope this helps have some interesting conversations today! Good luck!
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