Do you have faith in renewable energy powering our future? I am definitely an advocate for clean energy and a fossil-fuel-free future (pardon the excessive alliteration), but I do still have my doubts, especially concerning an equitable transformation and distribution of renewable energy. This podcast episode titled “Faith, Hope, and Electricity”, the third episode in Cate Blanchett and Danny Kennedy’s “Climate of Change” series, is all about energy, particularly solar energy, and the importance of our connection to the sun.
The podcast begins with Cate and Danny reminiscing on when they both first experienced electricity in a meaningful way. As kids, they each had realizations of the true power of electricity, which made me think back to my own experiences. I remember getting in bed on a cold winter night when I was a kid and my flannel sheets had built up so much static that they would produce little sparks under the covers. I was terrified at first until I realized the static sparks were virtually harmless and then I thought it was pretty cool. I enjoy how from the very beginning of the podcast, I was able to connect to the message as it made me start thinking about my own memories. As a listener, this intro definitely got me engaged from the start.
One major theme in this episode was that the sun is our main source of power and we take it for granted. Humans use the sun to power everything – directly and indirectly. It is and has been a resource, a tool, and a vastly powerful entity. I mean, it’s literally at the center of our solar system. So, Cate and Danny explain the relationship between humans and the sun throughout history.
Cate and Danny describe how different societies learned how to harness the sun’s power to develop new technologies and progress. They also spend time talking about our current society and where we’re at with solar energy. Danny explains that solar power currently makes up 3% of global energy use, but he says that even though it sounds small, that number is growing at a rapid rate, doubling every two years. This means we could be close to 100% solar energy in 10 years’ time. This statistic shocked me because I tend to imagine a dominant renewable energy future to exist in the far, far future, in a dream-like, sustainable utopia, in at least 50 to 100 years. But in just 10 years, I’ll only be in my early thirties. Is it possible that we could make so much progress in solar energy in just 10 years? I feel a bit skeptical of this fact, but I think that’s the point of this podcast – to make listeners think more about renewable energy possibilities and open up big questions for discussion.
Another topic that Cate and Danny made me think about was our human connection to the sun and to the natural world. Danny suggests that the sun is essential to everything we do and, therefore, we are connected to it, but Cate counters that by asking whether we are genuinely connected to it. I mean, it is a fact that we are connected to the sun in many ways, but the question is whether we feel and know that connection. Cate questions whether humans have separated ourselves from the sun in the same way many of us have disconnected from the natural world despite our reliance on it. One of my favourite parts of this podcast followed this discussion when Cate poetically shares her first memory of feeling connected to the natural world. She describes laying on the back of her dad’s car at night when she was a kid, looking up at the vast night sky. She describes it as the following, “Rather than looking at the stars, I kind of looked through them and it was the first time I sensed something absolutely massive, unknowable, and unknown to me. And I felt incredibly tiny.”
Cate goes on to explain the surreal feeling of realizing that your own existence is so small and sometimes seemingly meaningless compared to the vastness of the universe. Kind of existential, right? It seems depressing in a way, but it’s an important realization that we are a small part of a greater system. As 8-year-old Cate was staring at the night sky, she had a sense of awe and connection to the natural world, and they state that this is the sense we need to revitalize and feel again in the present day, in everything we do.
In my environmental studies undergraduate program, the idea of being connected to nature was ingrained in me. We learn that humans are not separate from nature but we are a part of it just as much as the other mammals, the birds, the trees, the lichens, and the microorganisms. We’re not the center of the universe and connecting with nature is how we will be properly able to coexist with it and allow it to thrive. Danny describes this exact idea by explaining the need for nature-based solutions in our technology and engineering, which he calls “biomimicry” – the approach of mimicking ways nature succeeds in human designs. He says this is the best way that humans can fit back into nature rather than work against it or separate from it. Solar energy is one of these ways.
The podcast also features a few interesting, sustainable-minded individuals, including Andrew Birch, the co-founder of the business, Open Solar. He describes the work Open Solar does, putting an emphasis on the beauty and simplicity of solar energy using the word “magical” to describe it. He discusses the economic benefits of solar energy, like the huge capacity to create jobs. One thing Andrew claimed that I was not convinced about was that developing countries will be able to jump straight to solar energy in the future and skip major fossil fuel development phases. I have a hard time believing that this is possible given the level of greed and wealth that exists in the world, but maybe that is just my skepticism shining through again. I am definitely interested in learning more about Open Solar after listening to Andrew speak so enthusiastically about solar energy and the future.
Moving on, Cate and Danny also address some of the common concerns people have with solar energy, landing on a “no one size fits all” solution. A mix of energy supplies will be needed in the future. This was a refreshing take on renewable energy for me because the downfalls of specific types of renewables are addressed and acknowledged, but there is still possibility.
About halfway through the podcast, Cate expressed that she was concerned about equitable distribution of renewable energy – exactly my own concern while listening. The two of them thoroughly address concerns of equity and environmental justice by explaining that clean energy initiatives need to be carefully thought through in order to guarantee that they are not displacing anyone and are benefiting everyone involved. Danny explains how his company ensures diverse entrepreneurs get training and funding to succeed in clean energy projects. The most important thing here is that communities have ownership and autonomy when it comes to the energy systems and the associated benefits. They also talk about the necessity of racial and gender equity in addressing the climate crisis, which is absolutely essential in my opinion. This discussion of the episode was so important to me and I think they did really well at addressing issues of inclusivity and justice in the sustainable development space.
Following the topic of equity, they introduce their next guests, Brett Isaac and Clara Pratte of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation is an Indigenous territory in the States, covering land in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Brett and Clara saw a need for a clean energy future in their nation, so they decided to lead the nation out of a coal-dependent past into solar energy and possibility. They are the founders and co-CEOs of Navajo Power, which builds clean energy projects on Indigenous lands.
Brett describes solar energy in a humble way as the Navajo people have a strong relationship with the sun. The Navajo have traditional stories about the sun. They pray to the sun, believe in the sun, and it is clear that they have gratitude for the sun as they use it as a resource. The podcast dives deeper into the struggles of historical environmental injustice that the Navajo people have experienced, including legacy impacts from uranium mines and the exacerbated effects from COVID-19.
The most encouraging part of this podcast episode was the hope embedded within it. When focusing on the Navajo nation, the exploitation and struggles are outlined, but the main focus is on the reclamation of energy, taking back power for themselves. The land and ecosystems are described beautifully along with the commitment of Navajo Power to conserving and restoring the landscape. Not only is the environment benefitting, but local communities are gaining electricity and running water on their own homelands, jobs are being created bringing in local income, and community empowerment is growing. I love that the podcast gave such a voice to Brett and Clara. The podcast probably spent about half of the time on Cate and Danny’s thoughts and half on the diverse voices of their guests who were able to speak on their own work.
At the end of the podcast, Cate and Danny bring in Katie Milkman, professor and researcher of psychology and economics and author of How to Change, to address the human default to resist change. Katie explains the common barriers to change that humans have embedded in us as well as the best solutions to embrace change and begin with small individual actions. I enjoyed this part of the podcast, but I did feel like some things were missing. Individual actions are said to lead to bigger social change in the podcast, which I agree with, but I also think systemic issues go beyond the individual. I would have liked to hear more about ways to hold people in power accountable for creating and embracing systemic change as a way to overcome barriers to change. The closing of this podcast was a great starter, though.
Overall, I learned a lot about the feasibility of solar energy in the future. I also gained a lot of hope from listening to all the stances on the social and environmental benefits of solar energy. If you are like me and the ideas of renewable energy bounce around back and forth in your head, I recommend giving this episode a listen. At the very least, you will think deeply about some of the questions Cate and Danny bring up and learn about some cool solar energy projects.
You can give this episode a listen, as well as the other episodes of “Climate of Change”, exclusively at Audible.ca