- I'm Hank green.
I'm a science communicator and also just a generalist communicator.
So when I was, I don't know, probably high school-aged, I was already pretty fierce lefty.
My dad was super environmentalist, worked for the Nature Conservancy, and my mom was like a community organizer.
We were very liberal household and cared a lot about the environment, thought a lot about the environment.
And I was at my grandparents house on vacation.
I went down in the basement which was like a playroom basically.
There's like a pool table down there and a model train set.
And so this was a place of happiness for me throughout my childhood.
And I go down there, and I see on the wall, and something probably I'd probably seen a dozen times before, but a picture of an oil rig.
Visibly on the side of the oil rig is my grandfather's name.
So I later asked my mom.
I was like why is there a oil rig with Papa's name on it?
It was sort of something I knew.
I knew that my grandad was a businessman.
He, throughout his life, worked for a lot of different companies, but for a while he worked for a small oil company, but not small.
Small enough that they had oil rigs, and he had an oil rig named after him, and that made me feel really weird about my relationship with my grandad a little bit.
- That's Hank Green.
You might know him from the internet.
I recently went to visit him so we could talk about climate change, and I learned that, like many of us, Hank's got some complex feelings about fossil fuels.
(upbeat music) - I saw fossil fuel companies as like the ultimate evil, like they're the people doing the bad thing.
But I love my grandfather and feel weird about the money that I was gonna use to go to college with which came from my grandad, and so how do I reconcile these things.
It's my grandad who ran a fossil fuel company for a little while and also is nice.
(laughs) - I think most of us can relate to Hank's experience.
And I don't mean all of our grandfathers had oil rigs named after them because thankfully there's not that many oil rigs.
What I mean is that those of us who care about climate change and the role that fossil fuels play in that, they're most of it, also live in a world made massively better and more comfortable and more prosperous thanks to fossil fuels.
In other words, hating fossil fuels is easy, but it's not as easy to hate everything they've done for us.
That's a tough thing to reconcile inside your brain, and it can bring up a lot of feelings.
- My first emotion was kind of shame I think, and also a decreasing of who my grandfather was in my estimation.
And that was something that I took out of that experience, and then had to process over the course of years.
For clarity, I'm still worried about how people are gonna view this.
Now I'm much more worried about how people are gonna see me, be like Hank's grandfather was CEO of an oil company.
Now I'm talking about it publicly, and I feel the only reason I am doing that despite the fact that I am a little bit scared of sharing it is that it's important to have complicated views of things, and also it's important to be honest about reality.
- The reality is that many people think fossil fuels have done a lot of good for the world so we should keep using them no matter what, and also many people think we should stop using them immediately, but they don't stop to consider all the awesome things in their lives that they have because of a century and a half of burning coal and oil and gas.
If you're in either group, you just aren't being honest about reality.
But when you do stop and consider how awesome life is because of fossil fuels, and how awful the mountains of science tell us life will become if we continue to use them like we do, the next stop is often guilt or shame, and no one enjoys that.
That feels bad.
- If it's just a source of weight and shame and guilt, and you can't get out from under that blanket, then it's not good, it's not good for the world.
We have to turn it outward.
We have to think of it in terms of both the thing that I feel guilty about and am guilty of and the thing that I'm grateful for, and those are the same thing.
- There's this horrible irony at the heart of solving climate change.
It will require people to make difficult personal choices, but one person's choices have basically no impact on their own.
So we do nothing.
And I think that happens for two reasons.
One, the guilt.
Because we realize that we have contributed to the very problem we're trying to solve.
And two, we feel powerless in the face of the system.
Now it's natural to feel a little uncomfortable or even guilty when you think about your personal contribution to climate change.
I've certainly felt that way.
Because if your values tell you that climate change is bad and it's something that we need to solve, suddenly your behavior conflicts with your values.
And that presents you with a choice.
You either change your behavior to be more in line with your ideals or you tweak your ideals to feel less discomfort.
Guess which one people do more often?
But if you do choose to change your behavior, how do you avoid feeling powerless?
Maybe we stop thinking of our personal choices as only our own.
Psychological and climate science research has shown us that when people view themselves as part of a society, they are more likely to just get climate change, and what it will take to solve it than people who view themselves as super-individualist.
I'm not calling for massive socialism or a one world government or something.
I'm just saying consider that even if you are one person, you live in society.
And what you do and what you choose can improve society as a whole.
- If we were able to think a little bit more like collective society that we are, that would probably give us perspective that would allow us to be more empathetic to people who have a harder time making those changes, whether that's for values reasons or practical reasons.
And I think it would help us realize that we're not going to solve this one person at a time.
We're not going to solve this one person at a time, are we?
- I don't think so.
(laughs) Hank and I talked about how we are very lucky to even have a choice.
One of the benefits of living in such a rich country like we do and like many and probably most of you do is that we have the freedom and the ability to choose.
We can choose to do things that are better for our climate and our environment, but then what often happens is we think because I chose this thing, I am a good person.
And that's something that I don't like because there are many people who can not take that action.
They do not have the excess labor.
They do not have the excess capital.
If you are a better person because you have the time and money to shop at Whole Foods and recycle all of your stuff, then are the people who don't have that capital bad people?
If we spent the amount of money that we spend on upscale goods at luxury food stores, like elitist bread, on lobbying government and trying to subsidize clean energy, I think that the world would be a better place.
But we don't get that feeling of my changed values have made me a superior human, and that is a thing that actually makes me pretty mad.
So a lot of what I came out of eventually years of time after the fact of thinking about this one afternoon and my grandad's basement was that before we started having electricity, we were burning whales for light.
That's not better.
So this is better than burning whales.
And then we had a long period of time where we had great luxuries, air conditioning and hot water and being able to fly home to see our parents.
And all of that was created by fossil fuels.
It was created by this dramatic surplus of digging up captured ancient sunlight.
- Burning ancient sunlight has given us so much, so many luxuries, but it's also put power into the hands of people who don't have the climate's best interests at heart.
- The problem is now if those people use the surplus they have to try and hold on to that power forever and prevent us from making a transition to forms of energy that are much more long-lasting, much more sustainable, much better for individual humans who are alive now and in the future, and that's good.
It's good that we have the surplus because it's allowing us to take better care of ourselves and to experience a higher quality of life, but it's also we have to dedicate a tremendous portion of this surplus to getting out from under that system that we have created that is so massive and that we are so dependent on.
- That system has given us power, literal power, and the power to change how we think about climate change.
- Ultimately, I've realized that it's not about I don't deserve this or what do I deserve.
It's what do you do with the resources you have.
Don't feel shame, feel powerful.