It may not be easy being green, but it sure is worthwhile.
Soon after graduating in May, Matt Lichtash ’13 and Evan Weber ’13
took a sweet roadtrip got to work on solving one of our age’s great crises: climate change. The dynamic duo recently released The Plan, a comprehensive energy plan (and a critique of President Obama’s own inadequate version) that would bring the United States to effective carbon neutrality by 2050. They have now entered “Phase 2,” and it involves an Indiegogo campaign somehow. I sat down with Matt and Evan (literally) to probe the mysterious/complex/profound details of their work, and also to talk about being alums and advice for Wesleyan and whatnot. The following is our G-Chat interview, replete with spelling errors and all (though not as bad as our last G-Chat interview). Without further ado:
Q: So, tell me about The Plan. What is it?
Evan: Getting right into it.
Evan: So basically, our nation has no long term energy strategy.
Evan: And given things like environmental degradation, dependence on potentially unstable regions for the backbone of our economy, and (what we think is the whopper) the threat of already occurring climate change which will—if unchecked—completely change the world as we know it, we found that lack of planning to be problematic
Matt: So, we set out to find the best policies that could really get us out of this mess and fix several problems at once.
Evan: The U.S. likes to position itself as a global superpower, and in a lot of ways it is.
Evan: But climate change is one of the biggest challenges the world has faced, and for us not to have a plan with how to really lead the way to deal with it is irresponsible
Evan: And immoral really
Q: Okay, that’s a lot of ‘why,’ but can you tell me a little more about ‘what?’ What’s in The Plan?
Matt: So the plan is broken down into 6 key areas
Matt: Firstly, we recognized that President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he unfolded in June, doesn’t go far enough in preventing the worst impacts of climate change. So we critiqued it, saying where it went wrong, but more importantly highlighting ways to make it better.
Evan: The second thing: A fee on emissions of greenhouse gases from all energy sources. This is the single most effective and economically efficient policy tool available to rapidly reduce the emissions that our altering our climate.
Evan: By making polluters pay for their damages, you incentivize them to find the best way to reduce emissions. Because the fee is visible, it allows both producers and consumers to identify the reasons for price increases and make the necessary changes at the lowest cost.
Matt: Thirdly, we should restructure our energy incentives to promote fairness in energy markets and encourage the development of climate solutions we know will work. A few examples: encouraging better land use practices to remove carbon from the atmosphere, eliminating the corn ethanol standard, which props up a technology that may actually be worse for the climate than conventional gasoline, and allowing free competition for government loan guarantees, so that any innovative projects can receive backing, not just fossil fuel companies.
Evan: 4. A National Green Bank: Essentially lowers the cost of renewable energy and other emissions reducing technologies by lowering interest rates. This will help us transition to clean energy systems faster and with a lower price tag.
Matt: 5. Supply side fossil fuel regulations will allow us to control the amount of fossil fuels we extract out of the ground, because like it or not, science tells us some of our coal, oil, and gas will have to remain buried.
Matt: President Obama can reject major projects that will negatively impact global climate under authority granted to him by Congress under the National Environmental Protection Act. And should we not implement a Greenhouse Gas Fee, we can adjust the “Fair Market Value” of coal taken from Public Lands, which are owned by you and me, to account for environmental impacts such as climate change.
Evan: Lastly, we call for a Presidential Commission on Climate Solutions & Our Energy Future. We don’t believe that President Obama has done enough to engage the American public and Congress on this issue, and we think that he can use the bully pulpit effectively here to bring the best thinkers from all sides around the table to move us forward.
Q: Cool stuff. And you think it would work?
Evan: For the things we could estimate, these policies combined would reduce emissions 30-54% from 2005 levels by 2020 and essentially lead us to carbon neutrality by 2050.
Evan: And we’re talking close to full renewable energy systems here.
Matt: Now, we know that the U.S. can’t do this alone. But if we were to put forth these policies, it would show the rest of the world that we mean business, and it would encourage them to follow our lead.
Evan: In terms of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change
Evan: The U.S. really needs to get it’s house in order and act boldly if we’re to have any hope of keeping the world from heating up more than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels (which is the level the world’s governments have agreed we shouldn’t surpass based on the science and estimations of the impacts).
Q: So you have The Plan. What’s next?
Matt: We’re now in Phase 2. We’ve written the document, and now we have to share it. We’ve been engaging with the media in order to promote these ideas. So far, we’ve done some radio shows, been on news websites, and are going to keep plugging away. The goal is to be heard.
Evan: After we get some media buzz, we’re trying to get a congressional briefing going for the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coaltion on the things that Congress can act on, and build a coalition of groups & individuals that want to take these things to the President.
Evan: We’re also fundraising on Indiegogo, so that we can keep devoting ourselves to this.
Q: Okay. What exactly would the Indiegogo campaign allow you to do? Just keep badgering news people and Hill staffers?
Evan: That’s part of it, it’s also reaching out to other groups, getting more people on board, etc.
Matt: Right. Putting pressure on the media and elected officials is kind of one side of the coin, while engaging with the American people is the other. We want to spur action using both of those angles.
Matt: We want everyone to be badgering the media and elected officials!
Evan: The idea is to try to elevate the dialogue around the kinds of solutions we need. Where there are solutions being put forward right now, they are simply inadequate given the scope of our energy crises.
Q: And the campaign is a way of keeping the two of you alive while you pursue this?
Evan: I wouldn’t put it quite that way.
Evan: We’re not in jeopardy of death any time soon. We’re two able-bodied privileged individuals with a college degree under out belts and perfectly capable of staying alive by other means.
Evan: But we really want to dedicate ourselves to this because we believe in it and we think it’s important.
Evan: The campaign allows us to fully devote ourselves us to it, as well as pay for some of the costs of running our operation.
Matt: We also have plans beyond the second phase of The Plan. Phases 3 and 4 involve: planning and organizing a conference back at Wesleyan to build support and discuss strategies on climate action, and going into more detail about the ins and outs of The Plan, and creating a much longer book-version
Evan: Plans for The Plan!
Q: That feeds perfectly into my next question: what can Wesleyan do to help?
Evan: Great question!
Evan: First off, this project wouldn’t be possible without Wesleyan in the first place.
Evan: So mad love.
Evan: We got funding for the initial research phase from the Wesleyan Green Fund, and the idea that sparked this was born in the College of the Environment’s Think Tank last year.
Evan: We should mention we’re also working with last year’s CoE visiting prof. Michael Dorsey.
Matt: Wesleyan students can speak out, and put pressure on their elected officials. We can never have an effective climate movement without people getting loud, so that’s really important. Secondly, Wesleyan students can contribute to our campaign. Yes, I am talking monetarily, but also equally important is spreading the word about our campaign through social media and talking with friends and family.
Evan: And getting their friends and family to donate to!
Evan: The thing about the Indiegogo campaign is that, yes it’s about fundraising, but it also helps us to spread the word and build a base of support for the work we’re doing.
Q: Sounds good. What about divestment from fossil fuel extraction companies, or other green campaigns on campus? Would that help?
Evan: So the divestment movement has been really effective at getting people involved and focused on something tangible and achievable. It has a few big wins under it’s belt, and a new study just came out from Oxford that shows how it’s one of the fastest growing campaigns ever.
Evan: People working on divestment should keep at it. The study also said how threatening it was to the fossil fuel industry.
Evan: But the reason it is threatening is because of it’s symbolism. With the movement building that it’s achieved, we are going to need policy solutions to latch on to to move forward.
Evan: That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess.
Q: Changing gears a bit. How is post-grad life?
Matt: Post-grad life has been really amazing for me. After going on a road trip after graduation, I jumped right into things in DC, a city I’ve never even been to before! It’s really a great city, with so many activities to do. It’s still weird not having essays and tests to study for, though.
Evan: We’ve hit roadblocks along the way for sure though.
Evan: With what we’re trying to do and the uncertainty in it, successes and moments to celebrate come in waves.
Evan: But I think we’re in a pretty good place now. We just moved into a new apartment we signed a lease for in a great place. We’re pretty happy about that.
Matt: Very happy about that!
Evan: Miss Wes for sure though.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge?
Matt: Probably just living a way more independent life in general. Wes wasn’t real life, that’s for sure. So it was an adjustment.
Matt: In the real world, we also have a piece of plastic that allows us to get food. Except there’s a fat bill at the end of the month. I miss points and meals.
Evan: I would say also the uncertainty with what we’re doing, and going back and forth on whether we wanted to pursue it or look for other opportunities.
Q: Any advice for seniors like me, or current students in general?
Matt: Follow your heart, take a risk. Now’s the time if ever. Just put yourself out there, and do something that you love.
Evan: Be creative. If the world doesn’t throw you the opportunity to work on what you want to be working on, find a way.
Evan: Capitalize on your resources available to you while at Wesleyan. Cherish the experience and nurture your friendships. You’ll need those in the real world, no matter where you go or what you’re doing.
Evan: Last piece of advice, don’t take advice from two kids who are still trying to figure it all out.
Q: Ha, fair enough. Any last comments/thoughts/advice/shout-outs?
Matt: Shout out to my mom
Matt: Hi mom
Evan: Please get in touch with us if you wanna learn more about what we’re doing, wanna get more involved, or if you have any ways you could help us out other than by donating (connections, press contacts, etc.).
Evan: Also, for WesKids devoting their fall breaks to kickass youth climate organizing at Powershift in Pittsburgh next week, come find us! We’ll be there and we’ll be promoting The Plan.
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