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10 ways to save the planet

Nine million new planet-saving jobs will be created over the next decade. This season, we’re talking all about the jobs of the future.

Yesh goes deep into the opportunities to come with Ryan Panchadsaram, co-author of the book Speed & Scale, an action plan to get global emissions to zero by 2050.

Ryan breaks this monumental task down into the ten most important actions we need to take to save the planet—and what those actions will mean for your career.

Transcript

Original release date: Sept 7, 2022

This transcript was auto-generated from an audio recording. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.  

Yesh Pavlik Slenk  0:00  

Yesh here. Welcome back to Degrees. It's been a while since you've heard from me and that's because I added a new human to my family.

While I was out on leave, the 2021 IPCC report came out. To be honest, I couldn't bring myself to read it. So when I jumped back into work this spring, I caught up with the report and friends. I have to be honest, it left me feeling a little doomed. Pandemic racism, SCOTUS rulings, mass shootings, climate change… what did I bring my precious humans into? In fact, after I read the report, I ended up doom-scrolling in bed until I went to bed quote, unquote, and then stayed up much of the night thinking about it. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Music

Yesh Pavlik Slenk  01:01  

So how am I dealing? Well like you by doing everything I can to fight climate change. And the biggest part of that is supporting people like you. This is Degrees: Real talk about Planet saving careers from Environmental Defense Fund, and I'm your host, Yesh Pavlik Slenk. For the better part of the last decade, it has been my job and my honor to help students use their talent and their passion to get experience and get jobs that serve the planet. And this season, we're covering jobs of the future. Jobs you can get in six months, jobs that will exist in six years, careers that will make an actual difference. And getting us closer to net zero. You'll learn how everyone, from concrete makers to transportation directors to fire scientists are doing their part to fight climate change. And in each episode, I'll give you hands on career advice.

Music 01:56

Change is coming, oh yeah

Ain’t no holding it back

Ain't no running 

Change is coming, oh yeah!

Yesh Pavlik Slenk  02:12  

One thing that has eased my climate anxiety recently is a new book called Speed and Scale. It's an action plan to get global emissions to zero by 2050. It's written by John Doerr and Ryan Panchadsram and they work for a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that is famous for investing in companies like Google and Amazon. And I talked to Ryan about this book, because I loved it. It outlines the 10 most impactful actions we need to take to get to net zero emissions and save the planet and what it means for jobs. Yeah, I know, there are a lot of plans out there. I've read a lot of books on this. They all want to tackle climate change. But I could really get my arms around this one. And Ryan laid it all out for me. 

Ryan Panchadsaram  2:57  

We know where the sources of emissions are. So how do we start to turn those knobs? And I think that's like the empowering thing, I think for all of us just to take away to also then make the problem simpler, it isn't about finding a way to get to zero tomorrow, it's what can you do to get to halfway in the next seven years, right? But really, what can you do even this year to try to get to halfway and I think you're gonna find those solutions actually a lot closer and reach those solutions that get us the rest of the way, Yesh, that needs some innovation and investment.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 3:27  

Before we jump into my conversation with Ryan, let me tell you a little bit about him. Ryan is an engineer and an investor. But his first job was actually stocking shoes at the mall. And in his late 20s, his career elevated fast. Ryan worked for President Obama as Deputy Chief Technology Officer in the White House, and he was even called on to serve on the tech team that saved healthcare.gov. That's the website of the Affordable Care Act. And if you remember, it almost imploded. Ryan's obsession is totally different these days, he's now focused on saving the planet. 

So, venture capitalists are hardly your typical climate change fighters. And you may be wondering, what did these guys know about saving the planet? Well, 15 years ago, John Doerr made a huge pivot. He began investing in environmental startups, and that change was inspired by an emotional conversation with his teenage daughter, Mary. One night in 2006, John and Mary watched Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Mary's response shook him up. She told him, Dad, I'm scared and angry. Your generation created this problem. You'd better fix it. So John changed his tune. He started learning about climate change and investing in solar panels, meatless meat and electric vehicle batteries. Ryan saw the film too, but it didn't have the same effect.

Ryan Panchadsaram  5:00  

I saw the inconvenient truth. You know, it made me scared about the issue. But I still didn't roll up my sleeves.

Read more

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 5:05  

A few years later, when Ryan was at the White House, his desk was actually down the hall from the Center for Environmental Quality. They were talking about climate change all the time. But Ryan admits that he still wasn't in the fight.

Ryan Panchadsaram  5:18  

You know, it took me to these past three years to say, Oh, those things I learned from the tech industry, the things that I'm learning as an investor, I can apply them. Joining this fight just three years ago, I feel bad that I didn't do it earlier. But I feel so empowered that I'm doing it now because I can see how the skills I have can lead to possible solutions.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 5:40  

For the last three years, Ryan's been working with John in Silicon Valley. So John Doerr got him interested in saving the planet. I had to know more. But I want to stay in this sort of early Genesis moment and it was so interesting that John Doerr, who's one of the most famous venture capitalists in the entire world, woke you up to the climate crisis. And I know, some of our audiences might feel skeptical about big institutions. What would you say to our listeners who are in the next wave of the green job workforce, but who are feeling skeptical about trusting a bunch of venture capitalists to lead solutions to climate change?

Ryan Panchadsaram  6:26  

Yeah, I think we should always be skeptical. I mean, we are emitting 59 billion tons of emissions, because we've relied on institutions to this point, right. And so I think the first question is, you have to ask, you know, deep down, is the institution actually doing the right thing? Right? Is it or is it just marketing? Or is it just them trying to jump on the latest fad? Are the things they're saying actually match the actions they're taking, and not in 2030. But actually, today, you know, the one I like to pick on there is like, you have a lot of fossil fuel companies that are like we are green…

Audio clip 6:59

we believe the future of energy is lower carbon. And to get there, the world needs to reduce global emissions. At Chevron, we're taking action, tying our executives' pay to lowering the carbon emissions intensity of our operations.

Ryan Panchadsaram  7:16  

And then you find out, they actually spend more money on the budget for marketing that they're green than the actual things. And it's kind of like me, I'm a relatively new dad, and my son is three and a half. And I'm like, I'll be a good dad in 2030. Like, that's my commitment. And he's kind of like, Yeah, Dad, no, you need to be a good dad today. And so I think when we look at institutions and organizations, and even people, you have to see, are they putting their time, effort and money today, where it matters? Not five years now? Not 10 years, not 20? Or 30? Right? Making the commitments, okay, but these leaders aren't going to be there in 2050 in those roles, right, or even in 2030, for most of them. So what are you doing today in 2022? And how does that matter? You asked, you know, how can we trust venture capitalists, let's just pick apart the last word, the capitalist trying to tackle this problem. I deeply believe the only way to beat the fossil fuel industry is to truly beat them in the markets, right to actually have alternatives that people can pick that are cheaper, to have alternatives that people can pick that perform better. Because that's the only way this transition happens, right? But when the right thing becomes the profitable thing, it'll become the probable thing, right? It's the thing. The right thing is truly cheaper. The right thing actually performs better than the fossil fuel alternative. Everyone will pick it. And so that's kind of the Northstar that I think we're really pulling for.

Music 8:42

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 8:48  

So what do we need? Well, globally, we need to eliminate 59 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere, 59 Giga tons. And obviously, that's a lot, which is why being able to scale climate solutions to have huge impacts is so critical. It goes without saying that we need to do it fast. Like by 2050, Brian and John outlined 10 solutions in their book, six areas to decarbonize and four ways to do it as rapidly as possible. I asked Ryan to take us through the six areas where we can make the biggest impact the fastest. Number one, decarbonizing our power grid

Ryan Panchadsaram  9:31  

It is getting a lot more solar and wind and storage, but also safer nuclear and getting geothermal scaled up.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 9:37  

It's a complicated challenge, but it's easy to see why this is number one, our fossil fuel dependent grid is the worst. It emits 21 Giga tons of carbon every year. Second, electrifying transportation, talk about carbon emissions - vehicles create six Giga tons a year. And it's not just our cars But it's school buses, public transit, air travel,

Ryan Panchadsaram  10:03  

That's really how we move the vehicles, the buses and figuring out ways to get decarbonize shipping to happen.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 10:10  

Third, on speed and scales list, fixed food,

Ryan Panchadsaram  10:13  

Which is this incredibly hard problem of investing in our soils, eating less beef and lamb and cheese, and then wasting a lot less as well. You do those things, Giga tons come come through

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 10:25  

As a native Wisconsinite, cutting down on cheese is going to be a tough one for me. But we're going to do our partner household and shop local.

Ryan Panchadsaram  10:34  

The fourth is to protect nature, that's simply just end deforestation.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 10:40  

And that would save six Giga tons a year. But that's hard. In some places, people burn forests, because they need to. Logging or growing food on that land is how they make a living. Fifth, to eliminate eight gigatons, we need to clean up industry.

Ryan Panchadsaram  10:59  

Concrete and steel are the biggest troublemakers. And so we have to find ways to create alternatives. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 11:04  

And of course, we need alternatives for other materials like plastics. But even if we pulled all of this off…

Ryan Panchadsaram  11:12  

And I think what we've seen is no matter how aggressive our model shows, or even the IPCC, we're still left with five to 10 Giga tons a year. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 11:22  

So that's the sixth category, Ryan and John say we need to invent and use technology that actually takes carbon out of the atmosphere.

Ryan Panchadsaram  11:31  

So removing carbon using nature and engineered is up to the task. And so those are the six solutions, we do that you go from 59 to zero.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 11:40  

Let me pause here to say that all those gigatons I mentioned, Ryan and John and their team at Speed and Scale, calculated those numbers, the second half of the book lays out how to remove all that carbon faster. They call these accelerants. And we’ll come back in just a minute after a short break.

Music 12:02

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 12:18  

We're back with Ryan Panchadsaram, and more of the 10 step Climate Change plan outlined in the book Speed and Scale. As we all know, the fixes can't happen fast enough.

Ryan Panchadsaram  12:30  

So how do we get there by 2050. And halfway there by 2030. You got to win the policy and politics. You got to turn movements into action, everything from voters to the boardroom. You got to innovate, driving down the cost of green technologies. And then you've got to invest because to make this transition happen, we need more r&d, venture and project finance and philanthropic dollars. So that's the plan. In a nutshell, these 10 objectives, six solutions for accelerants with a handful of key results that show you if we're on track or off track or building the momentum we need.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 13:04  

We'll be exploring careers in those areas, those accelerants in the rest of our season. So if you're interested in policy, effective activism, innovation, or investing in renewable technologies, make sure you tune in for some fantastic conversations with role models. And speaking of which, this plan to go from 59 gigatons of carbon to net zero by 2050 is how Ryan and John would tackle the crisis and a whole crew of business and climate leaders cosign like Bill Gates and Al Gore, who also appear in the book. But how does this help you get a job? Well, with all the work that needs to be done, Planet-saving jobs are growing and will continue to. And I know it doesn't always feel true when you're updating your resume for the fourth time. But really, the numbers talk. Three out of every four large companies have added sustainability jobs since 2019. That stat comes from my friends at GreenBiz who track climate change careers. In fact, their latest report says, “hiring of green jobs in the workforce in the United States is rising faster than any other category.” We have a link to this report in the show notes. Speed and Scale gives you one framework through which to make career choices. So where exactly is that job growth today? So those jobs, where are they? Let's start with that big whopper: decarbonizing the power grid at 21 Giga tons. Power creates a third of global emissions, a third of global emissions, we have to clean up the way that we use electricity to make a difference. That means, as Ryan said, scaling up alternatives like solar, wind, geothermal, and maybe even nuclear fusion. Let's talk about solar for a sec. The price of solar has dropped about 80% in 10 years, that's according to Fast Company. So demand is only going to increase with demand so go jobs from technicians to manufacturers, we're going to need more investors, policymakers, and even nonprofits making solar available to renters.

Ryan Panchadsaram  15:21  

And it's like creating more reliability. The example I love there is the amount of people that are installing solar and storage across the country, not just in California, but in Texas and other places. You know, when your grid becomes unreliable, you're starting to see people install these things in their homes. And so this clean green future is actually the exciting one.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 15:40  

Next, Ryan really sees this clean, green future coming to life in electric transportation. He's pretty excited about the trend and the fact that investors are sinking billions and that's billion with a capital B into EVs.

Ryan Panchadsaram  15:55  

You've got this world of excitement that's happening around mobility electrification, right? You've got Ford that's got a Ford F 150 out there.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 16:04  

Yeah, the electric pickup truck. After Biden took one for a test drive. He said, “This sucker is quick, the future of the auto industry is electric, there's no turning back.”

Ryan Panchadsaram  16:14  

You've got Tesla beating their million vehicle mark, you've got GM committing to all, you have the entire automotive industry making that shift. And so I think the alternatives are appearing, people are running towards them, not always because it's the clean green thing to do. They're running towards them because they're performing better.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 16:34  

I mean, I can feel Ryan's excitement, but I'm with you. Electric cars are still expensive. The cheapest Tesla is $47,000. Clearly, we need more people working on electric transport of all kinds, including finding ways to bring prices down. And there's the charger problem. We have an exciting episode coming up with one of the two women who founded ChargerHelp!. It's a startup to make more charging stations available. And what's even cooler, they're actively building a new workforce to serve the charger industry. Now let's take on one of the newest sectors - carbon removal, literally taking carbon out of our atmosphere. These technologies will capture the remaining 10 gigatons of carbon leftover after we've electrified transportation. After we've decarbonized the power grid, fixed food protected nature and cleaned up industry. 

Ryan Panchadsaram  17:28  

This whole carbon removal category is so brand new. And it is so exciting because you have the momentum of companies in Silicon Valley as well as around the world tackling it right from the you know the Climeworks…

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 17:42  

Which make giant fans to capture carbon from the air.

Ryan Panchadsaram  17:46  

To the charm industrials…

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 17:47 

Injecting carbon rich oil deep underground 

Ryan Panchadsaram  17:51  

You know, running tides… 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 17:52  

Planting kelp forests that absorb carbon from the ocean!

Ryan Panchadsaram 

Heirloom…

Yesh Pavlik Slenk

Cooking minerals to absorb carbon

Ryan Panchadsaram  17:58  

Like my brain is just getting like it's just like fireworks that are flying.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 18:01  

And I just bought biochar for my garden! It looks like charcoal, but it's not. It's leftovers like grass clippings and residue from food processing, heated at a super high temperature and it stores carbon. There are also some claims that it improves soil quality and I don't know, my plants are thriving! I bought a bag in my local gardening store for $20. And it is super cool.

Ryan Panchadsaram  18:25  

And you know the thing we remind though, in the plan in the book, we say, you first gotta cut, conserve, and then you can lean on removal. So you know that's meant for us in the future for the things we can't replace.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 18:43  

Now, let's focus on the second half of the book. Four ways to make these solutions go faster and bigger. That's when politics and policy, innovate, invest and turn movements into action. For Ryan, some of the most impactful jobs lie in city government, where you can take a climate solution like electrifying public transit, and make it a reality.

Ryan Panchadsaram  19:06  

The whole world of policy and politics. You know, it is a full time job to be running the cities and ensuring that the energy that's flowing into them is working well. And the transportation policies are right. Yes, get clean energy, yes, get gas out of buildings, but also build protected bike lanes. You know, a person who is in the transportation department in any city across the country, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful people on the planet to help the United States or anywhere in the world to decarbonize your city. You know, think about the job you have is not only laying the tracks for how people move around your city more efficiently, but think about how they do it in a way that's less carbon intensive or zero emissions.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 19:48  

Take Chris Castro, a guest on our show from season one. He became head of sustainability for the city of Orlando before he turned 30. He is such a badass, his goal was to make Orlando the greenest city in America and he did all kinds of innovative projects. One of my favorites, he helped change the laws so people could plant farms in their front yards, that reduced emissions and food insecurity at the same time. He made such a splash that the White House recruited him to work at the Department of Energy, helping cities across the country become more sustainable. That just goes to show you that climate saving careers and city government are both exciting on their own, and one heck of a career path. I'll put a link to that episode in the show notes. Ryan is also excited about all of the new green careers, careers we haven't seen yet coming down the pike. 

Ryan Panchadsaram  20:42  

But then you actually can see these career paths that come from it right, I am going to be an engineer that's looking at storage, mobility, moving things around, new kinds of planes and engines. And you're like, wow, that's, that's a lot, right. And then you will look at the, you know, the policy opportunities, the data science opportunities, like you've just you just start to see that, you know, this transition is going to touch every part of the way we live, move, eat. And it's going to need a new kind of employee.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 21:10  

A new kind of employee. I love that. 

So now that Ryan set the stage for our future of jobs theme this season. I hope it inspired you as well. We'll put a link to the book, Speed and Scale, in the show notes.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 21:35  

And now, I'm thrilled to introduce a new segment. We're calling it Ask Yesh. I'm answering your questions about how to get the planet-saving job you want. We want to hear from you. What's your dilemma? Write to me on Twitter, my handle is @yeshsays and use #AskYesh. And if you forget this, it's all in our show notes. 

Today I'm tackling a question I hear all the time from students. I work with a climate corps and other job seekers I talked to. You know you want to fight climate change, but you don't know what kind of job to look for. Where do you begin? When I talked to Ryan, he said, “Go where you are rare.” It's advice he got from his boss at the White House. You don't have to find a company that's already sustainable or a job that has the word sustainability in that title. You can go anywhere and bring your passion to it. But even so, where to bring that passion can be hard to find. 

The way to turn that buzz in your heart that says “I want to work on climate but I don’t know what to do” into a career plan is to answer the following four questions. They come from my friend Trish Kenlon. She’s the founder of Sustainable Career Pathways, a sustainability careers coaching practice. 

  • One: What sector do I want to work in? Public? Private?
  • Two: Which industry do I want to have an impact on? Maybe it’s transportation? Or retail?
  • Three: What role do I want to play? Do I want to be an analyst? Maybe work in policy?
  •  And fourth, which issues matter the most to me? 

Answering these questions with a friend, networking group, or an accountability partner, is a huge help. Don’t know where to find someone? We’ll put a link to our Green Jobs Hub in the show notes. You’ll find job boards there AND links to sustainability networking groups. 

Need a real life example of how to do this? Go back and listen to the first episode in our green jobs boot camp Season Two of degrees. Trish Kenlon led job hunter Maya Johnson through these same questions. Maya was stuck. She knew she wanted a green job, but she couldn't figure out what kind or even where she wanted to live. Trish broke down Maya’s process with her in real time and it worked. A few months later, Maya landed a good job as a staff assistant to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, nutrition and forestry. We'll put a link to that episode in the show notes too. Once you narrow down the infinite possibilities with these four questions, it'll be much easier to spot the job that feels right. And work on the skills and then network you'll need to land it. 

And that's all for this first episode of Season 4. 

Make sure to listen to and follow Degrees on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you're listening now and share this podcast with a friend so you can both tune in each week and hear how you and your communities can collectively help fight climate change. And learn where the jobs are and how you can make a difference. 

Next on Degrees we hear from a man on the cutting edge of transforming the nation's diesel-powered school buses into electric ones, and turning for help and inspiration to the very people most hurt by all those diesel emissions, the kids,

Clip from Gilbert Blue Feather Rosas  25:14  

I said all these different people, they're role models. So you tell me what is your green job gonna be? You pick a career and if you're gonna pick any job, I'd rather you pick one in green career path. So what do you want? And the one guy looks at the other guy and says, what's his title? And I laugh because I want him to have my title. It's the only way we have to hand off the baton to our students.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 25:35  

Until then, check out our Green Jobs Hub to find all the resources to jumpstart your green job career search. 

Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Tressa Versteeg, Elaine Grant and Rye Taylor worked on this episode. Our music is Shame Shame, Shame from my favorite band, Lake Street Dive. And I'm your host, Yesh Pavlik Slenk. But the foundation of the show, dear listener, is you. Stay fired up y'all.

Music 26:09

Change is coming, oh yeah

Ain’t no holding it back

Ain't no running 

Change is coming, oh yeah!

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 26:26  

In our extensive research to prepare for this interview, I saw your 2005 performance in the Stanford film Lore. And I am dying to know, Ryan, if they found the treasure or not. I can't end this session without knowing

Ryan Panchadsaram  26:45  

You know, did they? Do I remember? Oh my god, you know, did they find the treasure? It was at Berkeley, Go Bears. That's where… I think we did.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 26:53  

I think your acting career. You know, you could go back to it at any point but you're doing amazing things in what you're doing. So thank you for doing what you're doing. We really appreciate this.

View credits

Degrees is produced with Podcast Allies. The artwork is by illustrator Bee Johnson. Degrees theme music is by the amazing band Lake Street Dive. We love their powerful video and song Making Do, all about climate change.

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