ON THIS WEEK’S episode of Have a Nice Future, Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode talk to Jamie Beard, founder of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization, about why geothermal energy could help solve the climate crisis—but only if environmentalists and the oil and gas industry cooperate.
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Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.
Gideon Lichfield: I’m going to the barbecue in Berkeley this Saturday—Saturday.
Lauren Good: [Laughs] That was good.[Music]
Lauren Goode: Hi, I’m Lauren Goode.
Gideon Lichfield: And I’m Gideon Lichfield. And this is Have a Nice Future, a show about how terrifyingly fast everything is changing.
Lauren Goode: Each week we talk to someone with big, audacious, often unnerving ideas about the future and how we can all prepare to live in it.
Gideon Lichfield: Our guest this week is Jamie Beard, founder of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization. And she argues that in the rush to renewable energy, we’ve completely overlooked the biggest and possibly the greenest energy source on—or rather in—the planet.
Jamie Beard (audio clip) : It’s not sexy at all, right? But it just so happens that it would be really freaking impactful. [Laughs] So, I think this is a marketing problem.
Gideon Lichfield: Lauren, have you ever met someone with an idea that seems completely out there, and then when you talk to them they convince you it’s actually totally reasonable, and then a little while later you find yourself thinking it’s still outlandish, but you actually can’t explain why.
Lauren Goode: Yes. I work in media.[Laughter]
Lauren Goode: So we encounter people like this.
Gideon Lichfield: Happens every day.
Lauren Goode: All the time. Yeah. But are you telling me that’s what happened to you and Jamie Beard?
Gideon Lichfield: That’s right. I’m finding myself in this weird head space where I simultaneously think her ideas about geothermal energy are absolutely wild and obviously absolutely right at the same time.
Lauren Goode: But how does it actually work? So, you take that heat from the core of the Earth, you somehow tap it to power electricity plants instead of using fossil fuels or wind or solar.
Gideon Lichfield: Yeah. You’ve got it. Exactly.
Lauren Goode: OK.
Gideon Lichfield: And it’s an inexhaustible resource. It would take 17 billion years for the heat at the Earth’s core to run out, which is way longer than the sun will last. And geothermal is already widely used in places like Iceland. They power two-thirds of their homes with it. Almost 100 percent of their heat comes from geothermal.
Lauren Goode: Interesting. So Iceland has figured out not only fermented food but also geothermal energy.
Gideon Lichfield: And yogurt and sweaters.
Lauren Goode: And hot springs, which I’m guessing are related to the geothermal energy.
Gideon Lichfield: To the geothermal energy. Indeed.
Lauren Goode: If Iceland’s figured it out, why hasn’t everyone else?
Gideon Lichfield: Well, Iceland just happens to have very unusual geology with a lots of active volcanoes. So the geothermal heat comes up very close to the surface there. In other places, you would have to drill quite deep to get it.
Lauren Goode: And let me guess, the moment you bring up drilling quite deep to people, they just have a visceral reaction. They’re thinking they don’t want people drilling in their neighborhoods, or there’s a lack of funding. That means we haven’t figured out how to do that very efficiently.
Gideon Lichfield: Exactly that. So geothermal is used in a few places in the US on a small scale, and it had a bit of a moment in the 1970s when oil prices were very high. So there was interest in funding geothermal research, but then that fizzled. And since then we’ve gone all in on renewables, which just means that there is not a lot of data on how feasible geothermal would be at a large scale.
Lauren Goode: So what is Jamie Beard’s big idea around this?
Gideon Lichfield: Well, she said why start from scratch and try to find funding for this expensive kind of drilling when we already have an entire industry devoted to digging deep in the ground, which is of course the oil and gas industry.
Lauren Goode: Aah, the oil and gas industry. I wonder what Jamie’s environmentalist friends say when she’s out to dinner with them and she says, “I’m working with the oil and gas industry folks.”
Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, they love that.[Laughter]
Gideon Lichfield: It’s one of the things that makes her so fascinating. She’s a staunch environmentalist, and yet she thinks that if we’re going to solve the climate crisis, allies have to come from everywhere. So she founded the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization to recruit talent from the oil and gas industry to set up geothermal startups.
Lauren Goode: The world has turned toward renewables like wind and solar for years now. So is geothermal any better? And why would we make the switch?
Gideon Lichfield: Well, listen to my conversation with Jamie and you’ll find out.
Lauren Goode: I can’t wait.
Gideon Lichfield: I know. And that’s coming up right after the break.[Music]
Gideon Lichfield: Jamie Beard, thank you for joining me on Have a Nice Future.
Jamie Beard: Awesome. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Gideon.
Gideon Lichfield: Let’s start with the really basic question. What is geothermal energy and how widely is it being used right now?
Jamie Beard: Right. So the fact that you have to ask the questionj “What is geothermal energy?” is kind of a summary of the problem here. The core of the Earth is essentially a nuclear reactor that is constantly churning and producing massive amounts of heat and such massive amounts of heat that just the amount that radiates to the surface could serve all of humankind’s energy needs for the entire arc of our civilization many 1000s of times over. And how widely is it used, in my view? Not widely enough. But it’s not really on the radar of the world. So less than 1 percent of energy produced is geothermal. It doesn’t even show up on the radar of the current energy mix or future energy mixes. But effectively nothing, right now. We’re starting from scratch with geothermal.
Gideon Lichfield: The basics of getting geothermal energy out of the ground, as I understand it, is that you wanna sink a really deep hole, and you wanna pour liquid of some kind down that hole, have it be heated up by the Earth and then have it come up again. And that’s how you get the heat, right? Is that like my—
Jamie Beard: Yeah.[Laughter]
Gideon Lichfield: Is that a good, simple description?[Laughter]
Jamie Beard: Pretty much. That’s right. You’re just using the Earth to boil, but to boil your liquid. That’s right.
Gideon Lichfield: When you describe it like that, it makes it sound so simple. This untapped inexhaustible reservoir of energy at the center of the Earth. All we have to do is figure out a way to get it. And the US government actually researched geothermal in the ’70s and ’80s, right?
Jamie Beard: Yep.
Gideon Lichfield: And then it went nowhere. So where did things go wrong? Why did things get stuck?
Jamie Beard: Well, geothermal has been overlooked for a lot of reasons historically. And it’s been underfunded and it’s been under-resourced. It’s also subject to the boom and bust of energy markets, right? And so. In the ’70s and ’80s, when oil prices were really high—and this is before the shale boom and before natural gas—geothermal had a little mini renaissance where there was a lot of interest and a lot of research that went into it. As the world turns and as energy markets change and as the shale boom happened, geothermal fell out of favor again because geothermal is complicated and there are challenges that have to be solved to get it to work.
Gideon Lichfield: OK. So let’s talk about those challenges, because it sounds like this is the core of the issue here. Why is it so difficult to get it off the ground?
Jamie Beard: We’re talking about building a system where we would be able to drill for and produce geothermal energy anywhere in the world, wherever demand exists, serving population centers. For instance, in places where it’s not obvious that geothermal is there, but it is indeed there, it’s just deeper and a little more complicated to get to. If you look at that new paradigm of how do we get to this resource and start producing terawatts of it globally as quickly as possible. There are some very broad challenges associated with that. The first one is, where’s the low hanging fruit, right? So, the really low hanging fruit are the places like Iceland where you’ve got everything you need just lying at the surface.
Gideon Lichfield: So if you’re gonna get geothermal energy out of a place that is not Iceland, where it’s not really near the surface, what does it take to get down that deep? What kind of engineering challenges are we talking about?
Jamie Beard: A variety. Any type of drilling in the subsurface requires an understanding of the geological characteristics of that subsurface, which requires—
Gideon Lichfield: I mean, how deep are we talking?
Jamie Beard: Well, it depends on where you are in the world, right? So in some places, like for instance, in Texas, geothermal pilots are being drilled at approximately the same depth as oil and gas wells.
Gideon Lichfield: That’s pretty deep still.
Jamie Beard: It is not so deep that it is a moonshot deep. But there are places in the world that are more moonshoty, when you look at being able to drill for and produce geothermal energy. And these are the places that are geologically cooler and that … and where it would require going to great depths—depths that oil and gas people listen to and say, “Oh boy, that’s quite difficult.”
Gideon Lichfield: But there are two basic ways of doing it, right? So talk about those two ways.
Jamie Beard : You know, historically there was one type of engineering called EGS. It stands for engineered or enhanced geothermal systems. And this is a concept where, in, in very simplified form, you drill a well. You go down to the bottom of the well and you fracture the rock at the bottom of the well. So using hydraulic fracturing techniques and you circulate a fluid through those fractures. You send a fluid down one, well, you circulate that fluid through the fractures and it comes up that second well, and you use that heated fluid to either, you know, heat or cool buildings, use it for an industrial process, or you can use it to produce electricity. More recently, we’ve added another closed loop systems are, are a little different in that they leverage really heavily, uh, directional drilling techniques that have been developed in the oil and gas industry through the shale boom. And what that means, essentially, is that you can, instead of just drilling straight down vertically, you can now turn and steer your drill bit. To aim for a very specific place that may require you to drill horizontally, for instance, for long distances, and in the closed loop geothermal scenario, you’re using those techniques to actually drill a radiator style formation in the rock. So instead of using fractures and circulating fluid through fractures, you’re actually circulating fluid through essentially a pipe that you’ve drilled in the subsurface, and it will pick up the heat the same as EGSs and produce it to the surface as well.
Gideon Lichfield: So one of these methods, EGS, involves hydraulic fracturing—fracking—which is really controversial. Um, is associated with the risk of, uh, seismic activity. Environmentalists hate it.
Jamie Beard: Understatement, yep.[Overlapping conversation]
Gideon Lichfield: You come from an environmentalist background yourself.
Jamie Beard: Yep.
Gideon Lichfield: So how, how essential is it to frack? Can we get away without fracking and how worried are you about fracking?
Jamie Beard: So can we get away with doing geothermal globally at scale everywhere we need it, in a race essentially with the clock on climate change without fracking? My personal opinion about that is no. I think that it would be irresponsible to claim that we could build an industry from essentially zero to supplying a substantial part of the world’s heat demand, but also electricity demand by 2050 without using a technique that essentially makes the process of heat mining more efficient and more cost effective. And I think you’ve hit it with the question, “Well, what about fracking?” I’m a lifelong environmentalist and a climate activist and that was an entry point for me early on, where I thought, well this could derail the whole thing. And the more I learned about hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas context, but also techniques that are applied in the geothermal context, how those are different, how they are similar and how we could utilize the technological advances of hydraulic fracturing without trading safety and preservation of the environment. And this is a needle that we’re going to have to thread not only as the industry grows, but also as polarized stakeholders, right? [Chuckle] So everybody that likes geothermal but for different reasons and are trying to figure out what they can get behind here. I think this is gonna be a really important part of the conversation there. Which is what are we doing exactly? What is gonna be acceptable for folks? And I mean, also communities that have these projects. And what are the trade offs and are we being honest about all of those trade offs? And I think that applies also to any energy project we’re planning on doing, including traditional renewables.
Gideon Lichfield: So it’s the oil and gas industry that has the expertise and the tools to do this kind of drilling, whether it’s fracking or whether it’s closed loop systems or whatever it is. They’re the ones who know how to drill holes really, really deep in the ground and pump things down them and back up again.
Jamie Beard: Yeah.
Gideon Lichfield: Does it feel to you like that industry is bought in on geothermal? Why are we not hearing them shouting about it from the rooftops and saying, we’re gonna convert all our facilities to geothermal?
Jamie Beard: I think they’re by and large being quite cautious about what to promise with geothermal because there’s a lot of questions about how big, how fast, how scalable, how efficient, and we are right now, vastly lacking in data, right? That would allow them to get comfortable making projections and decisions about geothermal in a big way. But there are sectors of the oil and gas industry that are moving much quicker on geothermal because they see the business model. And so they’re moving and they’re being more public and a little louder about their plans. The bigger entities though, are taking their time and workshopping it and running the numbers and trying to understand how they can engage in a way that is going to make them money because they are profit driven businesses.
Gideon Lichfield: What would have to happen for that to be attractive to them?
Jamie Beard: So I think what excites oil and gas is scale. You have to be able to do something at massive scale in a lot of places to get oil and gas engaged. And that is why geothermal has never been interesting to oil and gas. Because when you look at geothermal as it exists today, you just don’t have the geographic scale to engage the industry in a real way. But as soon as you start saying about geothermal, we can do this anywhere, we could do a lot of it, we could do millions of wells globally, and they could serve all kinds of purposes from heating and cooling, industrial decarbonization, and also electricity production—that piques the interest of oil and gas.
Gideon Lichfield: I’m curious about how you talk to your friends in the climate activist community about this, because you’re working with big oil, you’re supporting fracking. How do you convince them that this is worth going in on?
Jamie Beard: It’s really hard. And in fact, I can’t even claim to have convinced many of them yet. [Laughs] I’m still trying. I think—
Gideon Lichfield: What’s your best argument?
Jamie Beard: Well, honestly, what choice do we have? Because I think when it comes down to it, we have a situation where as a species we are not being honest with ourselves about the urgency of the task at hand and how little time we have to very quickly do something. And when it comes down to it, there are very few concepts out there that could have such an immediate, massive impact on global scale in a renewable energy sense as geothermal.
Gideon Lichfield: Why do you wanna put so much emphasis on geothermal when the big growth in the last few years has been wind and solar energy?
Jamie Beard: Yeah. So wind and solar should keep growing. No problem with that. What I question, and I would urge everyone to think about is how we’re possibly going to meet 2050 global energy demand with wind and solar. I think we’re not being honest with one another and we’re not really talking about the problem that we have to solve. A lot of my environmentalist friends really believe that if we just keep going and go faster and mine more and do more, and we can do it with wind and solar, I don’t agree and I don’t see it. And I think when you compare geothermal, which is a base load 24/7 energy source with a capacity factor, meaning it’s on 90 percent of the time, with a renewable like solar and wind that is intermittent and that for grid stability requires massive amounts of energy storage. Where that argument breaks down in my mind that we should just keep doing that and just solve the energy storage problem is when you look at the size and scale of the mining problem that we have ahead of us, right? If—
Jamie Beard: Lithium.
Gideon Lichfield: Lithium, for example—[Overlapping conversation]
Jamie Beard: Lithium and other rare earths. And the ecological damage that those very incredibly industrial scale projects have, I think we’re really stuck in us and them and they’re villains. But solar and wind isn’t a villain. They’re good. And I think we need to try to break some of those barriers. Because in being polarized and thinking solar and wind is always perfect and we can’t say anything bad about it, but oil and gas is bad. What we’re doing is, maybe not appreciating the fact that the future of mining is going to be just as big if not bigger than the entire global oil and gas industry. And so, pause, is that what we want? And for me? No, I think that we need to go back to the drawing board and take a look. And geothermal works out pretty, pretty damn well.
Gideon Lichfield: So I mean, in other words, you were saying if we’re going to stop climate change, we’re gonna have to do some things that are gonna have environmental impacts.
Jamie Beard: Right.
Gideon Lichfield: Regardless, either we drill geothermal wells and then we run the risks of fracking, or we build massive batteries to store energy from solar and wind, and then we have to mine a whole load of lithium and other elements. There’s no clean way to do this.
Jamie Beard: Exactly.
Gideon Lichfield: Do you think it’s gonna be easier to convince the oil and gas industry or easier to convince the climate community?
Lauren Goode: Oh my gosh. So I entered into this space—[Laughter]
Gideon Lichfield: You kinda set up against them both.
Jamie Beard: That’s a funny one because I entered into this space thinking that it was going to be oil and gas that was going to be impossible, right? That that was going to be the hard part. And that is not the case. The oil and gas industry has been excited, friendly, quick to engage, quick to offer solutions and technologies. I mean, it’s just really exciting and the engagement and traction has been really quite fast. On the other side, I can answer this question with a small story and it was essentially a conversation that I had off the record with an environmental group after I had had an official discussion with them and one of them pulled me aside after the meeting and said, I mean, let me just be straight with you. This sounds great and everything, but the instant you use the word fracking, we can’t support it. It doesn’t matter how good it will be, we will lose our entire constituency. And we exist because of our donors. And we’ve spent decades opposed. So if you wanna do this and you want our support, you’re gonna have to rename that. And I mean, I was just—
Gideon Lichfield: Rename fracking?
Jamie Beard: Yes.
Gideon Lichfield: Wow.
Jamie Beard: Yes. And I was just … I mean, I was speechless ’cause it’s like, are we not better than this? Where we can do the intellectual work and say, yes, we did take this position in the oil and gas context, however, this is how this technology can be used in a clean energy context. This is the impact that would have. These are the risks and benefits, right? I mean, rationality. But instead it came down to, look, this is really about donors and constituencies and people don’t really care about the details. We just can’t use that word. You know, technological problems with geothermal. They are super easy compared to this.
Gideon Lichfield: It sounds like if you were really gonna get people onside, you wouldn’t need to convince the climate scientists. And I remember noticing how the intergovernmental panel on climate change in its report started saying that carbon capture was actually going to be necessary alongside emissions reductions because we were just never gonna get CO2 levels down far enough. But I don’t remember them talking a lot about geothermal.
Jamie Beard: Yeah.
Gideon Lichfield: So how do you think you get the climate scientists onside?
Jamie Beard: Yeah. This is one of those things that, that geothermal doesn’t poke its head up in any of these, you know, important forums in the world. It doesn’t show up in the reports, it doesn’t show up in models, it doesn’t show up at the World Economic Forum. It doesn’t show up at COP yet. Right? [Laughter] So why is that?
Gideon Lichfield: And why do you think that is?
Jamie Beard: Well, look, I mean, the geothermal industry as it exists today, is a very small regional cottage industry. And it doesn’t have a global voice and it doesn’t have anybody that’s out there cheerleading, you know, that that has a voice and that’s organized in a way that can get the attention of these big influential groups. And so it’s a problem that hopefully within the next year or two, we’ll be able to elevate geothermal onto the radar into some of these conversations through partnerships and collaborations and also just showing up to these places, with a voice and a collaboration to show off. Like, hey here, we’re here as the oil and gas industry and environmental groups and we both like this. And I think the work, to be done for geothermal is to build those alliances and show up in these fora.
Gideon Lichfield: It feels almost strange that it is so far behind that so much has been invested in some of these other things because, you know, at least hearing you talk, it seems to make at least as much sense to try to invest in geothermal as it does to invest in fusion induction.
Jamie Beard: For sure.
Gideon Lichfield: Or any of these other big moonshot—I’m bumbling.
Jamie Beard: Agree.
Gideon Lichfield: Why has it not had that attention until now?
Jamie Beard: It’s not sexy. I mean, I think when you look at geothermal, you’re drilling holes that sounds like oil and gas, that’s not sexy. You’re learning from incremental technology transfer and adaptation. Well, that’s not sexy. I mean, you’re not speaking venture capital language there, right? Venture capital wants big and moonshotty and 30, 50 years from now and blah, blah, blah. Well, we just wanna go build a power plant right now with incremental technology and we’re just gonna do it with the oil. And it’s not sexy. It’s not sexy at all. Right? But it just so happens that would be really freaking impactful. [Laughter] So, I mean, I think this is a marketing problem.
Gideon Lichfield: What keeps you up at night?
Jamie Beard: You know, I think it goes back to our ability as humans to break through our current us and them and very polarized mentality that we’re seeing everywhere in the world and in our politics and really in all parts of life to see each other as humans. Right? And I think if we are not able to do that and relate to one another better than we are now, we are not going to solve the ultra complex and very urgent challenges that face us as a species. And, you know, frankly, in that case, if we can’t do that, then maybe we just, maybe our time’s up. Right? I mean, maybe it, you know, wipe the slate and start over.
Gideon Lichfield: Jamie Beard, thank you so much for joining me on Have a Nice Future.
Jamie Beard: Awesome, Gideon. Thanks.
Lauren Goode: Gideon. I still feel like I don’t fully understand why geothermal energy is not used more widely than it is. I hear the word fracking and I, too, have some kind of reaction to it, so I sort of understand that part of it. But it seems like if she has oil and gas companies on board, and they stand to make money from this, then why isn’t there more funding or interest?
Gideon Lichfield: I mean, it sounded like she was saying a few things here—that there was interest in geothermal in the 1970s when oil prices were really high, but that interest died out because the prices went down and geothermal was complicated, expensive, and risky. Then when the interest in renewable energy began to rise, the oil and gas industry was seen as the enemy. And so again, it made no sense to invest in drilling deep wells in the ground when you could make solar panels and wind turbines. She also said that the technology of geothermal just isn’t sexy. It’s not the kind of thing venture capitalists get excited about. And then finally, I think the oil and gas industry, even if it is the best equipped to do geothermal energy now, it has lots of assets and sunk costs in all these oil wells and gas wells. And it wants to exploit those resources. So for it to pivot to geothermal, it’s gonna need some incentives.
Lauren Goode: What did you make of her approach to working with those oil and gas companies instead of protesting some of their practices?
Gideon Lichfield: I mean, I thought she was being very pragmatic. She’s absolutely convinced that geothermal is by far the best way to go. And if you are convinced of that, I totally see how it makes sense that you need the people on board who know how to drill deep wells. I also like the way that she talked about how this has become so politicized, because what she’s saying is that even the people who agree that climate change is a big threat are really politically divided around the right ways to tackle it. And that anything that involves the oil and gas industry is just seen as politically impossible. And she’s saying we need to let go of all of those preconceptions and political associations and just figure out what works.
Lauren Goode: It seems like Jamie’s mindset is that if you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.
Gideon Lichfield: A lot of eggs. Yes.
Lauren Goode: [Chuckle] A lot of eggs.
Gideon Lichfield: But she’s also making the point, which I think is reasonable, that wind and solar is not a completely clean industry either, because for us to make renewable energy work, we need massive amounts of grid storage. And at the moment, the best options for grid storage are batteries, and those require a lot of lithium and other elements, and that means a lot of mining. And so we’re gonna be digging big holes in the Earth regardless and having environmental impacts regardless.
Lauren Goode: I found interesting what she said about wind and solar providing intermittent energy versus the potential for geothermal to be more constant. As someone who does not know much about variable renewable energy, this seems like one of the big upsides of geothermal, but it also made me wonder, considering what we cover, if it’s only a matter of time before AI, artificial intelligence, which is gonna fix everything, is going to help predict wind and solar patterns in such a way that the gaps are filled in there and that becomes a more consistent form of energy.
Gideon Lichfield: So you can predict wind and solar patterns out a certain number of days. The longer out you go, it gets exponentially harder. And so computing power and AI techniques, and people have even talked about quantum computing as a way to create more accurate climate models, but their accuracy falls off at some point. And it may be days or it may be weeks, but let’s say that you could predict where the wind and the sun are gonna be a month from now. What are you gonna do? Shunt windmills and solar panels all over the country to catch them? It’s not gonna—that’s not what you’re gonna do.
Lauren Goode: I feel like there’s a still Silicon Valley startup in that, like an Uber for windmills.
Gideon Lichfield: Great idea. Let’s start it.[Laughter]
Lauren Goode: What would we call it?
Gideon Lichfield: Wuber.
Lauren Goode: Wuber.[Laughter]
Lauren Goode: And you’re funded, the sharks are in.
Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, so I don’t think AI is gonna save us. I mean, it may help us predict electricity supply, but it won’t let us create more reliable supply. And that is the great advantage of geothermal is that it is base load. It’s basically always on.
Lauren Goode: What kind of sense did you get from Jamie in terms of how she’s measuring her success?
Gideon Lichfield: You make it sound like I was giving her an interview question for a job.
Lauren Goode: [Laughter] Right. Like you were giving her her quarterly performance review. But truly, what is success in geothermal? Is it that we start utilizing more of these installations here in the United States? Is it a certain percentage of the population is getting their energy this way?
Gideon Lichfield: If you are producing enough geothermal energy that it starts to displace fossil fuels, I think that would be a measure of success. If you look at the energy mix today, it’s some part fossil fuels, some part nuclear, some part wind, some part solar. And so if you could see geothermal growing as a part of that and reducing the amounts of fossil fuel, and that would be a bonus.
Lauren Goode: I wanna go back to what you said at the very start of this conversation, which is that winding road you took from feeling like these ideas were outlandish to being convinced during your conversation with Jamie to chewing on a little bit more, and then still not being totally convinced about geothermal.
Gideon Lichfield: It’s just that there are a lot of people out there proposing grand schemes to save the climate. And here at WIRED we have covered the people who think that building thousands, if not millions, of carbon-capture plants around the world that will suck CO2 from the air—that that is gonna save us. And I have met people who believe that genetically engineering trees and plants to suck in more CO2 and photosynthesize it faster is going to save us. And so when someone comes along and says all we need to do is drill a ton of holes in the ground and that will save us, there’s a little part of me that reacts and says, no, it’s too good to be true. I think that’s what it is. It’s the too-good-to-be-true feeling. But she is very convincing, because here is this heat source that is always on, that will basically not run out, that doesn’t produce emissions, and that carries risks, which is the risks of drilling and fracking and all of the environmental consequences of those. But all the other things carry risks too. So that’s why I’m holding these two ideas in my head. At the same time.
Lauren Goode: It seems like the entirety of your conversation with Jamie was about pulling the wool from our eyes about climate change solutions—that there is no perfectly green or super pleasant way out of this mess—that we’re going to have to make compromises and that there are trade-offs for … In all of the ways that we reduce our carbon emissions.
Gideon Lichfield: Yeah. She seems to be very much saying that, that we have to wake up and realize that there is no such thing as clean and green, really. There’s things that reduce the amount of CO2 and things that don’t. But the things that reduce the amount of CO2 also have other impacts. And we have to be realistic about that. But we also have to embrace those solutions because CO2 is the thing that is actually going to cause the biggest catastrophe to the planet and to us as a species.
Lauren Goode: I mean, the way I think about it is there was a great story on WIRED.com recently about how podcasts are changing our culture and the way we communicate.
Gideon Lichfield: Right. They’re teaching people around the world to speak and think in different ways.
Lauren Goode: And this podcast interview that you just did with Jamie Beard didn’t necessarily push me hard in one direction or another in terms of climate change solutions, but it opened this window for me where now I want to talk to more experts. I want to go out and get more opinions. It’s just opened a little door for me. And maybe that in some ways is one measurement of Jamie’s success as an advocate for this.
Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, I think it made me think harder about the downsides of every single solution that’s being proposed to climate change and how the way that we tell stories about climate change solutions often focus on the upsides and not on the fact that there are always gonna be trade-offs. And that’s something that we need to be more honest with people about in general.[Music]
Gideon Lichfield: That’s our show for today. If you want to learn more about Jamie Beard’s work, you can read the story about her by Maria Streshinsky in WIRED. A link to that piece will be in the episode description.
Lauren Goode: Thank you for listening. Have a Nice Future is hosted by me, Lauren Goode.
Gideon Lichfield: And me, Gideon Lichfield. If you like the show, you should tell us, leave us a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts.
Lauren Goode: Yes, we would love to hear from you, and don’t forget to subscribe so you can get new episodes each week. And you can also email us at email@example.com. Tell us what you’re worried about, what excites you, any questions you have about the future, and we’ll try to get answers from our guests.
Gideon Lichfield: Have a Nice Future is a production of Condé Nast Entertainment. Danielle Hewitt from Prologue Projects produces the show. Our assistant producer is Arlene Arevalo. Our engineer is Benjamin Frisch.
Lauren Goode: See you back here next Wednesday. And until then, have a nice future.