State and local policy makers are going to be responsible for 75% of our Paris climate goals, which means that 75% of our climate goals are gonna come from decisions made at state office and in local office. And they're not gonna come from DC. When I think about what it means to succeed, it means we need to take risks. And if you take a risk and you always succeed, then it's not a risk.
Welcome to Cause and Purpose start up edition, the show about the leaders, innovators and change agents, launching new initiatives and working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike spear and today's guest is the founder and executive director of climate cabinet. Caroline Spears, Caroline Hailes from Texas, and discovered at an early age that the authority figures in her life, her teachers, mentors and relatives communicated different and often opposing facts about climate change. The idea that these trusted experts could believe in and convey conflicting information, as fact inspired her to do her own learning on the subject along the way she discovered just how complex solving climate change really is and how much climate policy here in America is actually determined and enforced, not at the national level, but locally in cities, towns, and counties across the country. And often by people who most of us will never meet or hear about in the news. That's where climate cabinet comes in. This innovative organization, identifies leaders working in pretty much exclusively local politics. They arm them with resources, funding up to date research and talking points that empower them to combat climate change effectively in their communities. I hope we find our conversation and the important work climate cabinet is doing is fascinating as I did
Caroline. So great to connect. Thanks so much for joining us on cause and purpose. Really excited to chat with you and get to know more about your story.
Thanks for having, I'm excited to be
Here. Talk to you about, you know, what it was like growing up, you know, life at home and how you sort of became interested in climate.
I grew up in Houston, Texas. It's a beautiful city. And as anyone from Houston will tell you, it has the best food in the United States. And I will go to bat for that. I completely agree. And so come at me, New York city,
I was gonna come at you with New York city. Yeah.
Houston is one of the most diversities in America. Um, it has always had a policy as being welcoming and opening to folks from, from around the globe. And that is reflected in the food scene and the food culture. I think also folks in Houston are excited about it, which, which helps. There's just a lot of different variety. It's a great city, a lot of people. Yeah. That's where I grew up. You know, I have, I have some family members in the island gas industry. And so, and also a lot of family who's really interested in, in conservation and protecting the environment and making sure that our air is clean and that our water is healthy. And so I was just very interested in that from a young age and, you know, growing up in the debates around climate change and, and Houston being the energy capital of today.
And will it be the energy capital of the future definitely showed up over and over again. So in, in high school I won the, um, shell oil, Houston city of the future competition, which was a competition to design, um, a future, a future Houston. Um, and so I think that encapsulates a lot of the different tensions. Um, yeah. I have a, I have a photo somewhere of holding a giant check from shell oil for my city of Houston redesign, which in incorporated like a lot of public transit. And at the time electric cars weren't as much of a thing, but it was like a lot of walkable community, public transit, green roofs, I think, uh, threw some green roofs in there. Yeah. Yeah, totally.
How'd you get interested in urban planning and design through
And interest in like sustainability, I think growing up and like growing up, like we evacuated from hurricane Rita growing up. I remember topical storm Allison, like the effects of climate change were very, very present from an early age. And I think there was a growing awareness as a city, like before hurricanes, obviously hurricane Sandy, a lot of people started thinking about climate change a lot more, but on the scene in Houston, it was already happening with flooding and with, um, yeah, tropical storm Allison. And I remember the water like coming up almost to the front door during tropical storm Allison, we evacuated during hurricane Rita because it was three months after Katrina, three weeks after Katrina and everyone was panicked. I mean, you had people driving 32 hours to get to Austin, which is normally a three hour, two and a half hour drive. I think it, climate change is always a factor and there always, always gonna be tension with climate change and with the energy industry.
Tell me a bit about your parents there, there aren't that many of us that end up being entrepreneurial, there aren't that many of us that like see something they're not happy with and create a new organization. And I feel like usually that comes from family somehow.
Yeah, definitely. I would say they always encourage me to start different projects, started an environmental club in middle school. Think my mom took me to a, my first political rally was a clean air rally in Austin. It's like, one of my earliest memories is going with her and with signs on the steps of the Texas capital. Um, yeah. So yeah, they were great. I was truly brought along to this and then both of my parents started their own businesses. So my mom runs from in preschool and my dad power company building like natural gas, power plants,
Entrepreneurial family, I guess. Yeah. You know, one of the things that led you down this path and wanted and inspired you to sort of dig deeper and, and, and find out what's really going on in the climate space is receiving different information from teachers, from authority figures that were in some ways conflicting. Can you talk about, you know, that experience and, and how it, uh, impacted the direction you ended up taking?
I remember being in ninth grade biology class and my teacher was fantastic. She taught biology very well. I remember her also saying, you know, this climate change thing is overblown. You know, people are blaming cows for all this methane, but like that's natural. And, and talking to us about, about climate change. And then I remember literally the next year in science class, our physics teacher saying climate change is real. It's this existential threat. We watched inconvenient truth in some class. I don't remember which one, literally walking us through climate models that, and, and doing like a, a quick overview of, of climate modeling and how we knew climate change was happening. And that was always really fascinating. Like how are two people, especially as a, as a growing up, you know, like these people are paid to teach me science, how is it possible that they have not just opinions about this, that, that contradict with each other they're mutually exclusive.
Only one of them can be right. I thought that disagreement was so fascinating. Um, and that's what got me really interested in climate change specifically. I always knew I liked environmental stuff broadly, but I was climate change was clearly something that always inspired a lot of debate. The debate was really rooted in a lot of unscientific beliefs. It was a lot of tribalism. It's a lot of things that are rooted more in how people think like people don't think mm-hmm, <affirmative> in, in statistics and numbers and, oh, I read 16 scientific papers and I've done, I've averaged all the results and done a peer review. And I't cherry picked anything. People think in stories and a narrative and in, in groups. And, um, I was, it started combining science with a lot of social science. And I thought that was really fascinating. There are definitely other teachers who were incredibly encouraging as I kind of went down the rabbit hole of climate. Very encouraging also sometimes both encouraging and no, Caroline, you can't write another paper on climate change. You have to pick a different topic. Um, yeah. Yeah. Focus are like, alright,
Pretty focused early on. It sounds like,
Like research something else and come back to this
Later. Why specifically climate science engineering, given that you sort of had this early instinct, that there was more human component to
It. I wanted a major that would let me just study climate change. Um, after I finished the general ed requirements. So it was like, all right, this is what I'm here for. I literally picked the major that let me do the most climate classes. And I argued a lot of social science classes into that curriculum that in retrospect, had they seen my transcript at the end of college, they wouldn't have let, maybe let me graduate. <laugh> I almost didn't graduate because they looked at my transcript and they were like, do we count all of these in the engineering degree? And I was like, you counted them all individually. <laugh> like, you have to count them as a, but I kind of frog and boiling water, but I think you should always incorporate more social science into an engineering degree. And so I would say that it was actually the most beneficial thing I did was to incorporate a lot of classes that may be on their face, was like, why are you the history of science? You wanna take a class in history department on the history of science? And I was like, actually, yeah, I think studying 10 weeks studying, um, tobacco companies, misinformation would actually be really relevant to my climate engineering degree. And this is why you should let me take it. But, um, it did raise some questions at the registrar's office two days before graduation delay my graduation by two years. So pros and cons,
Oh, being able to communicate and have a broad understanding of what you're doing would seem to be important.
Yeah. And I think what sometimes engineering divorces itself from history and a lot of what I love about climate is it deals with physical, tangible things. Like we are building solar panels and we are building winter mines. There are things that we can see and we can experience and like people can have those jobs. Um, and the tangibility of it is so nice. And the other thing about tangibility is donors just happen. A lot of the ways we teach engineering is like, here's this status of the world today and here, where will it go in the future? And there's no conception of like, why did we end up here? Should we change some of the rules that meant that we ended up here in the first place? And it divorces itself from the history a little bit. When in fact that's really important, like understanding the history of utilities regulation.
I took a class, like I took environmental law, we talked a lot about utilities regulation, and that wasn't included in my major, but I'm like, wow. Understanding the history of why utilities are the way they are probably pretty, probably pretty relevant. So, you know, I had to really fight to get those in included. I think that's one of my favorite things that I did with my college education was I was like, I, when I answered these questions and I will change my major <laugh>, um, I will choose my major and argue for exceptions to the majors, such that I can answer all of these. I took like every, I took every climate class offered with the school. Sometimes they'd be in the law school and sometimes they'd be in my actual program. And I was like, I wanna take every climate class. And so I did, it was great. Yeah. But it was a lot of like showing up to a class and then they realized you're kind of not supposed to be there week for, but you've already enrolled and you filled out the paperwork and they can't kick you out now. Totally.
Your first job outta college was what in finance, in renewables, in clean energy. Tell, tell me about that, that journey.
I didn't have a internship four weeks before summer, and I was talking to my TA one of my classes. And he was like in front of mine, works at a, a solar company. And I had done a bunch of nonprofit internships and thought that solar company would be great. And then I ended up really laughing it. So I worked in solar finance for a couple years doing pipeline valuation. So I basically looked at, it was the largest solar developer in the country at the time. Now it's like top five. We wanted to build five gigawatts over the next five years. So which markets do we build them in and why? And within each market, like what makes a market attractive for solar development and what doesn't and within each market, the same question and really interesting things happen when you take that view. And I always was interested in policy. So what became immediately clear is that we were building a ton of projects in Massachusetts and not in Arizona. I'm like, listen, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to guess, which of those states is probably better for solar energy. It's not Massachusetts,
But this it's not Massachusetts.
Massachusetts has twice the number of clean energy jobs that Arizona does. And it happens all the time. Why are we building more projects in New York than Texas? And now Texas is kind of exploding and for solar, which is great. Why are we building no projects in Florida? The sunshine state, Florida, mm-hmm, <affirmative> literally the sunshine state. We were not developing a single project and we were the largest solar developer in the country. So what does that tell us about the clean energy economy? It's not driven by where the sun is. It's driven by where the policy is. Um, it's driven by where the policy is favorable for, for clean energy development. So that's when I first started thinking about, I was always gonna be like a policy person, I think at least just in intellectually, but that it was that job where I started being, seeing the ground game of where we were actually breaking ground on building solar and saying, wait, this isn't where it's supposed to be.
How did you start to make that transition? Was it like a, a hobby, some volunteering work on a campaign? Like how do you go from, you know, being an analyst or, or working in industry to, you know, being focused on the policy side,
I started volunteering for political campaigns. Um, I started, you know, in my job, I was running AEs on the Texas state legislature, the Texas state legislature, every session for the past couple of sessions has really tried its hardest to stop the wind and solar industry from growing anymore in the state of Texas, clean energy already employs a quarter million people in this state. And yet every legislative session folks introduce legislation to try to stop the, the progress of winning solar in its tracks. So, um, I started running sensitivity lyses and I was like, wow, Texas state legislature has a lot of power. You know, I'm not saying, you know, when Massachusetts is, has more solar, uh, when we were developing more solar projects, cause in Massachusetts, in Arizona, it's not because of anything happening at the federal government. Clearly it's what's happening in the state government and the governor's office and the state legislatures and the public utilities commissions of Arizona versus Massachusetts versus Texas.
So I started running these sensitivity AEs as part of my job. And I was like, wait, state legislatures, no one ever talks about them, but turns out the bills that I'm considering are critically important. Someone would say run the sensitivity analysis on a new state ledge, a bill going through the Texas state legislature. And my result would be if this bill passes, we kill every single project that we're trying to develop in the state of Texas. And I was seeing it from the ground game of an actual solar company, building actual projects, creating actual clean energy jobs, all of those clean energy, energy, energy jobs go away. If this bill passes and simultaneously sort of volunteering for candidates who were running and kind of wanted to, they were like, what should my climate plan be? I don't really know how to talk about it. And I kind of thought when you ran for office, like people would come out of the woodwork and like help you make a policy platform. I was like, if you're running for state legislature, I'm sure someone does that. And turns out that was a gap in the space. People wanted to be good on climate, on the campaign run. They didn't know how. And I started volunteering for a campaign after campaign, after campaign for two years.
And eventually that turned into consulting basically. Right? Yeah.
Then I put my job and started doing it full time. I started, yeah. I started volunteering for some presidential campaigns and that was, that was deeply concerning <laugh> because they were, you know, these are the most resourced campaigns, every cycle and yeah, you know, it's not like these, it's not like candidates are dumb. These are really smart people running for office. Um, but we expect them to be experts on a bunch of different issues. And sometimes, you know, when you check in on the equal rights amendment in 2008, you don't really have to update your opinion every three years, you're either for their equal rights amendment or you're against it. And that position does not change with climate. If you read up on this issue and became an expert in 2008, you were really no longer an expert. You better go check the numbers because the numbers are completely different. The price of solar is like 10% of what it was in 2008. Um, and we were seeing a lot of candidates who very clearly read up on this issue 10, 14 years ago. And, and, uh, we're therefore kind of not where we needed them to be on clean energy today
Has how's the reception to that? Are they, are they open to being updated on their sort of knowledge base and talking points or, you know, do you, do you encounter, uh, some friction there with some of the candidates? Well,
That was the surprising thing about doing this as a volunteer. And like, I honestly, when this started, had no expectation of doing this full time, um, I didn't think you really could, or I didn't. I was like, you hear about people starting stuff, but it's always like Instagram or a software company. I mean, I started working with candidates because this is a question that they had. This is like hurricane Harvey had just hit Houston. People were starting to talk about climate change. A lot more things were really different than when I was in ninth grade biology class. And my science teacher told me that climate change wasn't real. Honestly, the conversation had dramatically changed across the country, as people were seeing more effects of climate change. And also as people were seeing the clean energy economy, I think that's really exciting for people. So I was talking with candidates who were like, I'd love to have a climate platform, but I don't know what I should say. And like what polls? Well, it wasn't just me. It was a group of folks that we started coordinating and we just started answering questions that people had for us. Um, so it was, I mean, positive, but only because people are opting in essentially. Yeah. And that's usually the only way you do it. So
Right. It's, it's much easier to convince someone to do something they know that they need, rather than the fact they need something they don't believe they need <laugh>.
Yeah. And it's interesting, right? Because you'll talk to one candidate who's like, I want to get great on this issue. And then maybe they convince their friend who's also running for office in the race next door. Who's like, oh, climate. I can't talk about that. They're like, actually, no, you can. And like I just talked to this person and they're helping me come up with how to talk about climate in a purple district. And the way that helps me win my election. And that can be really powerful. Sometimes we'll talk to folks who are kind of on the fence, helping figure it out.
Imagine it is a lot easier when somebody believes it's politically expedient to engage in this debate in this, in this dialogue and, and be pro climate. But I know you mentioned last time we spoke the difference between what somebody's position might be and what they're getting elected on versus the actual needs of their district. For example, you mentioned like promoting policy that would kill climate jobs, even though their base is filled with people that need those jobs. Can you talk about that? Can we unpack this at all? Like, why does this happen? <laugh> what are the root causes? How do we fix it?
Yeah, I think fundamentally one thing is true, which is a, a climate message can help you win in any district in America. And when I say that, what I mean specifically is there are pieces of being a strong climate candidate, a strong climate policy maker that pull well in every single district. Show me a district in America where solar energy is underwater. You can't find one, no county in America, dislikes solar energy. It is incredibly incredibly popular. Um, so when we're talking about what messages will help you win we'll will help candidates kind of tailor it to their district. Um, but also there are some fundamental truths of things that the American public is overwhelmingly in favor of. Yeah. They're in favor of solar energy. They're in favor of solving climate change. These things are not politically controversial. And yet we have thousands of elected policy makers who have 0% climate scores. Every single time a climate bill comes up to a vote. They vote against, they vote anti climate and they're not representing the opinions of their constituents.
Why is that? Is it just an identity play or, you know, is there a real calculation there?
I think people get elected on a lot of different platforms and, um, they are not always, uh, elected policy makers are not the perfect polling representation of all of their constituents. Um, and, and it's really hard as a citizen in America, you know, America elects 500,000 people to elected office 500,000 people. It's very challenging to even understand not just what your candidate says, but how they vote on all of these key issues that come up that are kind of political, uh, flash points that are politically contentious. Um, and so folks can essentially run on a platform that's a little vague and get into office and vote to kill off the Texas solar industry. And that in the fact that they voted for that never makes it to their constituents or when it does it's distort. It's not actually what happened. Maybe they can retell it in a way that's a little bit more favorable to them.
Yeah. Talk about that distortion a little bit. You know, people hear one thing, somebody says something, there's, there's a gap there.
Yeah. There's first mile media and there's last mile media. And a lot of times in politics, especially we conflate the two. So first mile media is what a candidate says or what their press release said. And last mile media is what the voters at the door is here. And those are very different things. Usually a, a fast take you'll hear after every single election is, oh, well, you know, Terry MCAL ran on this. And that was a politically unpopular message. And, and that's an easy conclusion to draw. And sometimes it's true, but just because Terry McCall have said it doesn't mean that that's what voters heard. The top 10 shared articles on Facebook every single week. It's bright Bart, bright Barre, Bart, Joe Rogan, Bre Bart, Bre, Bart. Oh wow. That's what people are hearing. When you look at what's getting shared organically on social and, and I'm not talking about TikTok because people on TikTok don't vote.
Voter turnout is really low. Look at the social media and the media that people who vote consume media and age of a voter in America's 55 years old, look at what media is being consumed by that demographic. And then ask yourself what voters are hearing. You listen to any rural radio station. You listen to any kind of shared article on Facebook and that's what voters are hearing. And so what happens to me when we work with a candidate, sometimes I'll go knock doors for that candidate. And I hear stuff on the doors, oh, this candidate wants to defund the police. The candidate usually has never made a comment on defund the police. But when I'm at the doors, the voter thinks that they're in favor of, of defund. And that just shows there's a gap, regardless of how you feel about defund. There's a, there's a massive gap between what the candidates saying, the voters hearing something completely different. And there's a lot of intentional misinformation. It's not like, oops, misinformation ended up on all the voters' houses that, that misinformation is intentional. It's intentional as a political purpose. And the political purpose is obviously to not elect this person who's, who's running for office.
So yeah, sometimes it's outright fabrication and, but more often than not, I think it's just cherry picking the points. You wanna hear taking stuff outta context and just ignoring the broader reality of what's being said in favor of what seems to be in a soundbite.
Yeah. And also like, is the voter even cherry picking or is that the only thing they're seeing on Facebook
Sometimes? Oh, it's yeah.
Platform's cherry picking for you when you watch Fox news, they're cherry picking for you. Like you don't have to do any work to figure out what you believe or what you don't believe that message is already sent down. And that happens on a lot of
Says. So you're at this energy company, uh, you've started consulting with, uh, candidates on the side and you decide, Hey, there's something here. Let me create an organization. How did that come about? What did you create and give us the story behind, uh, climate cabinet.
Yeah. So I'd been working with Canada after candidate, helping them develop a climate platform that worked for their community. And I got to the point where I talked with around a hundred campaigns and got to the point where I started volunteering for presidential campaigns. At that point, presidential campaign would ask me questions about different climate policy topics. And I wasn't paid consultant with them. I was some person they had met and who had offered to volunteer. And that's when I realized this is a larger problem, which is that we need folks to be, uh, running, winning, and legislating on the climate crisis. And we need to build a political mandate to be strong on climate. And we are trying, uh, and many organizations are trying on different pieces of that. And one of the, the gaps that I had stumbled into was we have a lot of folks running for these incredibly important offices who, because they're down ballot because they're not running for us Senate and they're not running for us house.
And those races are big. And those races are sexy because they're running for these offices that are critically important, but very under resourced. We're not investing in these candidates and we're not investing in building political power in these, in these other areas. So I had this moment where I started volunteering for residential candidates. And then I, I panicked because it was like, why are they calling me to ask me all these climate policy questions? It seems like they should call someone else like anyone else, to be honest, who works in this space? So I panicked, uh, said, this is a gap in the landscape. I quit my job. And then started climate cabinet. Climate cabinet helps candidates run, win, and legislate on the climate crisis. We do this with the largest database in the country of local climate action and political opportunity and use that to find high leverage under resourced campaigns that have very big climate impact.
So we'll discover campaigns on using a combination of data science and local expertise. We'll support them with everything they need to win. You can think of us like a climate staffer at scale, and then we'll drive dollars to their campaign because we know that early dollars have incredible impact. So usually make up 10 to 30% of all early dollars for our candidates. So you can think of us like Emily's list for climate. If folks are in the political space and they know what Emily's list is, but it's a, it's an organization that literally stands for early money is like yeast. And <laugh>,
I didn't know what
That was. There you go. That's amazing. And Emily's list helps elect women to public office. So
Got it. And when you say 10 to 30%, that's not necessarily a ton of money, right? You talk about the 500,000 elected policy makers in the country. A lot of those folks are starting with near zero budgets.
We're talking budgets that are 1% of a congressional campaign. Um, so this in terms of ROI, like what, what I care about and what, what we care about it at climate cabinet is the ROI of every dollar that is spent on a political race. So we're looking at two things. We look at the climate opportunity and we look at the cost of the race and we say, where can we achieve the greatest climate opportunity for the least dollars spent? So you will never hear us talk about a us congressional race. We're not talking about, um, uh, a us Senate race. Those races are can range, but they can get up to, you know, 200 million, 240 million. If you wanna donate to a presidential campaign, you're welcome to, that'll be a 10 billion race. Uh, a city council race, or a state legislature race is, is gonna be a small, small fraction of those. So some of our races are even $30,000 races, but they have really big climate impact. That's where we get involved.
Yeah. And when you talk about the ability to have impact, I mean, you know, hopefully the presidential climate bills start to pass and we see some good top down stuff, but you know, outside of that, you know, to hear you talk about it, the, the greatest impact that we can have is, is in some cases like local utility boards and very, very sort of small scale, local impact,
According to research by Bloomberg philanthropies state and local policy makers are going to be responsible for 75% of our para goals, which means that wow, 75% of our climate goals are gonna come from decisions made at state office and in local office. And they're not gonna come from DC. So when we think about impact, it's not just that these are, are less expensive opportunities. It's also that these opportunities have a lot of impact. Like I said, America elects 500,000 people to public office every six years. And the point of those public offices isn't oh, they just sit there and they hang out. Maybe one day they'll run for Senate. I don't care if any of our candidates ever run for Senate. All I care about is that they run for a city council race, and maybe that city council race owns a ton of coal or a ton of gas.
And it's produced out of state and it's not generating local jobs. And they say, Hey, I actually wanna create local clean energy jobs in my community and stop buying coal from two states away. That's a priority. That's a type of candidate and the type of race that we support and is folks who are local. And we care about the power that they have in their position to solve climate change. And these can be a municipal utility cities that literally own their own power, own their own electricity generation. It can be a state legislature, race, and a really critical chamber. It can be a county commission county commissions often give the up down, yes, no vote for construct a new solar plant or a new wind farm. So all of these are, are what we think about. And our goal is we need pro climate majorities in these local elections, pro climate majorities and state legislatures, and on city councils on county councils and on, on utility wars across the country,
Things that we're doing at a local level can actually reach many, many other regions. Is this, is this something that you're able to, to focus on it all like, do, do the local folks appreciate this? And how does that relate to the influence that sometimes what seems like a hyper-local decision has on external stakeholders?
Well, local issues can have a massive impact on the local community, but also on our broader attempts to self climate change. One piece that comes up, I think is, and one specific piece that's, that's really important is we've put polluting facilities right next to low income communities and communities of color. You might look at that and say, wow, sounds like a problem for that community. That's not the way we want our to structure our society, but that's something that as a society we've been doing for decades, port of Houston, a lot of polluting facilities, again, located next to low income communities and communities of color benzene, which is not a, a chemical that anyone should ever experience in high concentrations. It's actually chemical. That is very unusual to experience in high concentrations, but in areas in, in Houston and Harris county, there are schools and homes literally located across the street from a refinery.
And whenever there's a benzene spill, those homes get coded in it. So there are communities across the country facing similar issues, and yes, that's a local issue, but the Texas state legislature is the governing body that determines chemical safety and determines setback limits. There's the EPA has a little bit of say in, in setback limits, there's a multi government approach to solving these issues. And it's a local issue. It's a focus on who wins city council, but it's also a state legislature issue. And you really have to be focusing on the full government by the full government. I don't mean all of the government in DC. I mean, all of those 500,000 people who run for office, we need coordination across multiple types of government, multiple levels of government in order to solve these issues. So it's not enough to just get a city council.
You also have to get state legislature and you have to get the county council on board and you have to get the EPA on board. And it's a, multi-level issued actually solving some of these issues. It's a multi-level solution is really what this doesn't sound easy. And yeah, solving climate change is not easy. Unfortunately, this is a very complex issue and solving decades of systemic neglect of low income communities and communities of color is intentional. And that that neglect has been intentional. Neglect is not gonna be solved easily, and it's not gonna be solved overnight. And it's not gonna be this quick fix, and we're just gonna pass one thing in Congress. And then we'll be done. It's gonna take decades of sustained action to actually do this and actually fix the harms that including facilities have had on frontline communities.
What you're talking about also relates to voter access and voter rights. Benzene spill is not just an environmental problem. It's directly impacting the lives and the health and the wellbeing of the folks that are in the infected areas.
Yep. And that's why in terms of climate cabinet, we're looking at candidates who are great on climate. And the way we think about climate is it's about the climate plan. It's about creating good clean energy jobs. Um, and it's, it's also about, um, are you continuing to cite polluting facilities in the same types of communities that we've been citing them for when a climate disaster hits and you allocate money, who are you allocating money to? Are you just allocate? What we actually have seen is that wealthier communities get multiples more disaster relief, money than low income communities do at the very least we should be doing equal. But also if you're thinking about an equity perspective, maybe we should be supporting, um, struggling communities more. So, uh, there are so many different issues that we face that can be solved by thinking about San local government.
One of, one of the things that really amazes me is where we've seen policies that are enacted that require us to do more information gathering and get data around pollution and climate. But then those policies are somehow like canceled. You should err, on the side of like getting more information, if you do nothing else. But then there's also proactive campaigns to mislead people.
The Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill two sessions ago to remove ozone monitoring stations. Ozone is hazardous to human health. It contributes to childhood asthma, which is the leading cause of school absenteeism. If you're talking about educational outcomes, you need kids to be healthy in order for them to achieve educational outcomes. And you're gonna remove ozone monitoring so that we can't track how kids are doing. And we can't understand the causes of kids having asthma. I mean, what are we doing this for? But it's, it's a larger, and again, this didn't just start with fentanyl. Trump. This has been a few decades of intentional misinformation that keeps people in the dark and doesn't let people take action over their health and their kids' health, which should be fundamental. Like you should have the tools and the information necessary to protect yourself and your family and how healthy you are.
And we have legislation that rolls those powers back. Let's take out there's legislation to take out ozone monitoring. What we've seen in a few states, Florida being one event is when individual communities say a school district says we're going a hundred percent renewable. The Florida state legislature will then pass a bill that says school districts are not allowed to go a hundred percent renewable. I mean, even when communities make these self-determining step to clean up the air, clean up the water, invest in their kids' future. The state legislature will come in again, another level of government coming in. No, no, no. You're not allowed to do that. So it's really, when I talk about, we need pro climate majorities among 500,000 elected policymakers, we really do cuz they start messing with each other. If you don't have proli majorities across a few layers of government,
Conservatives tend to favor local control over, you know, regional or national control. But you also mentioned that it used to be that the Republicans were more environmentally minded. The Democrats were, but there's been a shift there. Can you talk about kind of what brought that on and, and what you're seeing from the work that you're doing
At climate cabinet? What we track is voting record. People can talk a big game and then completely underperform. When it comes to solving climate change, solving environmental racism, solving a lot of these issues that we're facing. We look at their voting record. We are actively tracking 5,000 politicians voting record. Every single time they take a vote on climate. Are they voting pro climate? Are they voting? Anti-climate we track that irrespective of party. We know how people are voting. And what we're seeing is when we look at candidates who have an a plus on the climate cabinet score, so they literally get a 90% or above, uh, they vote pro climate. 90% of the time, um, in our state legislator tracker, we have a thousand democratic politicians who get an a, there are 7,000 state legislators. We still have our work cut out for us, but a thousand democratic legislators get an a, you know, how many Republicans, legislators get an a nine.
Wow. Yeah. So unfortunately we're in a spot where if we care about climate progress, we're just not seeing it from Republican lawmakers. Some of those nine are climate deniers. They don't say that they believe in climate science, but they vote for pro climate bills. You know? So again, we're not caring about what they're saying. We don't care about the party. We, we analyze things. This is what we see. And one potential answer that comes from the data is more recently elected Republican lawmakers have lower climate scores. So we're seeing continuation of climate extremism in the G O P. And that's not just like saying climate. That's literally voting for clean energy jobs or not voting for climate energy jobs. It's continuing to kind of go downhill. That's what we're seeing with, with climate scores. Now folks, first elected in 2005 are doing a little better folks. First elected in, in 2018 or 2020 are, are doing worse on, on climate. And that's just in the Republican party. The opposite is true for Democrats. So unfortunately everything's very hyperpartisan right now. I wish that as a society, that, that wasn't true. And I wish that a bunch of state lawmakers had not stormed the us capital on January 6th, but we had people who were elected to office in America who stormed the capital on January 6th. So I wish a lot of things were different. Um, climate is just one of them,
The trend towards newly elected officials, maybe being worse on climate than their predecessors. That's in opposition with how their constituencies have moved. Yeah.
Right. The American public has moved more and more towards pro clean energy pro renewable energy pro climate solutions. Understanding that climate change is a problem wanting their public officials to solve it. But again, we can say all these things, but like, do you know how your, you know, state legislator voted on climate? There's a big gap between how policy makers vote and how much of those votes, uh, reach their constituents.
Are there Republicans in the mix that you're supporting too? Or kind of, how do you view yourselves on, on a partisan scale?
Yeah. I mean, we take, we look at two things. We look at climate voting record and we look at political vulnerability and who weren't supporting in any campaign in any year is the combination of those two things. Are they, we look at statistical outliers on those two axes. So where the statistical outliers and climate score, who's doing incredibly well on climate. And who's doing incredibly terribly, who's getting a hundred percent climate scores and who's getting 0% climate scores. And then we look at within those two buckets of people who is politically vulnerable, cause what do we have to do? We have to keep our climate champions in office. Uh, they have to stay there and they have to keep pushing the ball forward. And then people who have 0% climate scores and are politically vulnerable, we know aren't representing the needs of their constituents. And we're gonna look at if they're politically vulnerable, do they have a challenger? Those are the only two things we look at,
You know, at climate cabinet, it seems like you started out really focusing on advising folks on their talking points, making sure that, uh, policy makers, when they get an office they're educated, they've got a plan from day one. And then at some point you realized that it was gonna be valuable to switch and add direct campaign support. Can you elaborate a bit on how you became more aware of that opportunity and why you decided as an organization to make the pivot or the, the adjustment in what you were doing?
Our goal at climate cabinet is to help candidates run, win, and legislate on the climate crisis. So this started with direct climate campaign, staffer scale, you know, we're help folks with their climate platforms. I think the constant evolution of climate cabinet has been continuing to dive into what does it take to help candidates run, win, and legislate on the climate crisis? And we will keep, as we grow as an organization, we will keep adding tactics to achieve that strategy. So with them at, for us is in 2020, we got, you know, once it hits July, you're not really helping folks with platform development anymore. Every candidate should be out in the field knocking doors. Once you hit, like mid-summer for a November election. And so it hit mid-summer of 2020. And we were like, all right, like, you know, candidates are shifting into this other phase.
What do they need now? They need resources. So we had already built this database, tracking all these politicians and we were using it just to help folks understand, okay, who I'm running against this person. Here's maybe how they voted. And we said, wait, I had always thought that our most extreme policy makers were representing districts that were the most extreme. And I started looking through it and I was like, Tony tender hole. Isn't he vulnerable this year? Why does he have a zero on our climate score? That's weird how someone votes on climate does not at correlate with how flippable their district is moderate districts. People are still pretty extreme on climate. We see moderate districts where people are getting really, really low climate scores. And that's what started. We put that together. We put a slate out of 40 candidates in 2020. People just found us on the internet and started donating. And that's when we realized that, you know, this was a gap in this space, um, that we could
Fill. Tell me about some of the can or climate slate, right. Is, is the other website that you have associated with climate cabinet?
Yeah. If you go to www.climateslate.com <laugh>, you can check out all our candidates for the year and it's constantly updated. So we're constantly checking who just finished the primary. And that is always the go-to list of the top candidates who need support right now. So on the climate slate website, you can see some of the candidates that we're supporting throughout the year. A lot of states are suing each other over what their election districts are still. So we don't have all the states yet, but check back throughout the year, we're waiting for states to finish suing each other is the unfortunate answer, um, for some stuff, but you'll see a lot of, uh, great candidates on there that are running for a variety of different districts that like maybe you've never heard of. So for example, in Arizona, uh, we have two folks in Arizona running for the Arizona corporation.
Commission is an elected body that controls the electricity system in Arizona. Uh, the Arizona corporation commission two weeks ago, voted down an 800 megawatt gas plant. So they have a lot of power. They also set Brun board energy goals for the state. They literally control when I said that Arizona isn't doing that much on climate Arizona corporation commission. And they're also in a fight with the state legislature. Every time the Arizona corporation commission tries to be more pro renewable, the state legislature tries to take some of its powers away. So what you'll notice on the website is the Arizona corporation commission and a bunch of Arizona statewide candidates, cuz of that dynamic commissioner, Sandra Kennedy is running for the Arizona corporation commission right now she's incredibly experienced and really loves the wonky details of energy reform and solar policy. And if you want anyone running the entire electricity system of the state of Arizona, it's someone like commissioner Kennedy. Um, she's running for reelection, she's an incumbent and she's been a consistent pro solar and pro-consumer void on the commission. So we're really excited to support her. She's the first and only black woman to ever been elected statewide in Arizona. She knows her stuff on energy policy. <laugh>, you know, that's like the perfect candidate you want. First one of these positions is somebody who's really an expert on this topic.
Yeah. Well, and we talked too about the accessibility of some of these candidates and like the folks you work with are not necessarily ever gonna seek higher office, but they're subject matter experts, which is what you need in these sort of grassroots commissions.
Totally. And you know, what if commissioner Kennedy ever wants to run for higher office? That's fantastic personally, I would love it if she just stayed on the air Arizona corporation commission, like we should stop viewing some of these state and local offices as launch pads. They have a lot of authority in and of themselves. That's very exciting. So Arizona corporation commission is one another recent one that this election was actually in April. This is why we always keep the website updated is there's elections happening all the time. So early April Columbia and Missouri elected a new mayor and a new city council. And they have a pro climate majority on Columbia city council. And that's really important because Columbia owns its own utility and owns steaks in some of the largest coal plants in the, in the Midwest specifically, they own steaks in some coal plants that aren't even in Missouri. So, um, what I'm really excited about for these candidates is to be able to create local jobs for people in Columbia, in renewable energy, instead of sending a bunch of money to Illinois for a coal plant, that's expensive, dirty, and isn't creating jobs in the state of Missouri
Climate cabinet is like an organization. How long have you been around and how did you get that first sort of the funding and support to, to get things going.
I went to every climate event in the greater bay area for about 18 months and talked with people and networked with people and collected the first checks. And I knew I had a, a certain number of months before the bank account required that I get another job. So I ran out the clock on that and it kind of the 11th hour finally got funding, but it really was because I went to every climate event in the greater barrier and met a lot of people. And I'd already been doing it as a volunteer, started saying, this is what I'm doing. Like who do you know, could help basically had a lot of great volunteers and a lot of great interns. And that's really how we got all of our first products out. The door was volunteers and interns. For example, our first database was built by a friend of mine.
Who's a senior software engineer at Google and wanted to do something in his free time to help climate change. And this is a great opportunity. So that's how a lot of our first products got built. And we originally just went in the data direction because as a volunteer organization or organization with kind of resources, I was just like, we have to be the most efficient, like anything we do, we should automate so that I don't have to ever do it again. So we just automated a bunch of stuff to begin with. And that really built our database to start out if you're gonna talk to 50 candidates at once and they ask you the same four questions every time and start writing a script and start,
How do we do this efficiently? Right. Yeah, totally. Well, first of all, what, what year was that? That you actually like incorporated and got started
Incorporated in 2019.
Okay. So pretty brand new. Yeah. Over the past two to three years, like what's really surprised you, what have been some big epiphanies or lessons learned as you've grown the organization?
I mean, lessons learned are enumerable. I feel like I get this question a lot in funder comp, like what's one thing you've learned or one thing that you've struggled with or one thing that you'd wish you'd done better. And I'm just like everything <laugh> like when you're doing anything for the first time, you kind of wanna redo everything that you did the first time and make it better. One of the things that I've learned, the political landscape around climate keeps shifting dramatically every year and it's shifted dramatically just in this very short time window, we have more and more candidates who are excited to take a pro climate stance on the campaign trail. I think that's fantastic. Um, another thing that I've learned is a lot of times, the question is what do you need most? And the answer nonprofits always give is funding, but what you don't really need is funding.
You need capacity and a strategic plan that matches your capacity. So for me, it's sometimes we need a new software product built and we could pay a lot of money for it. Or I could head up with my friends who do something in this space and say, what specifically do I need? Do you have a friend who could volunteer that piece of it, trying to be not funder oriented in any organization for credit? Nonprofit is almost you're swimming upstream, but trying to continue that mindset I think has been really important and something that I'm trying to improve.
Yeah. How, how do you think about being oriented around funders or not with your organization and how it's growing?
I can answer this in the reverse, which is that I think that organizations who are funded by like one individual only can have a very myopic mindset and you're funded by a single person. Who's like can write all the checks. Sometimes those organizations don't have to make hard decisions or don't have to really make good partnerships with others. And then it hurts them strategically. It's like self-funded campaigns, people who self-fund their own political campaigns are less likely to win on average. I think it's a similar dynamic. Yeah.
The diversity of a donor base really is beneficial in this case.
Yeah. And it makes you ask really hard questions and I think that's good. This is my like, I wish sure. Like sometimes I wish that someone had just dropped from the sky and been like, here's all of your funding for the whole year. That's never what's happened. And I'd like to think that's made us a more thoughtful organization. Also that's confirmation bias, but I'd like to think so
There's a lot of ideas in, in what you're saying that are sort of related to Moneyball and, and making smart bets, uh, high leverage sort of investments. You also talk about success and failure rates. If we had 90% success, like we're just not trying hard enough. Can you elaborate a, a bit on that ethos and, and kind of how it impacts how you run the organization?
Our goal as an organization is to solve climate change. Our strategy in solving climate change is building pro climate majorities in 30 state legislatures at 300 counties and 200 cities. Those are the specific goals that we're trying to achieve right now. We have pro climate majorities in about 18 state legislatures and, and a similarly caught number in, in counties and in, in cities as well. So when I think about what it means to succeed, it means we need to take risks. And if you take a risk and you always succeed, then it's not a risk. So, um, and, and you see this a lot. Let's take the example of like fundraising for a slate of candidates. Cause you see a lot of political organizations do this and they say, we have a 90% win rate with our candidates. If you have a 90% win rate with our candidates, what you've done is you've taken a bunch of people who were probably gonna win their election.
Anyway, you added them to your slate and you're just to have a great win rate. The goal isn't just to protect the pro climate majorities we have today it's to expand them. And the tough thing about expanding them is you start taking on entrenched political dynamics. I always look if folks have like a 70% or higher win rate, it sounds great until you actually think about what that means. I would encourage anyone to like investigate how did they get to that win rate? Cause they're probably not taking high enough risks. And I think that's true for the slate of political candidates. I think it's also true for policy. Um, there's a really great paper by founder's pledge that says evaluating policy organizations. And I think investing in policy from a funder and a foundation mindset is very different from traditional philanthropy, there's unit economics, philanthropy, and there's systems change philanthropy.
And you cannot take the perspective of unit economics, philanthropy and apply it to systems change philanthropy. It doesn't mean that you're not monitoring or verifying or, you know, it means that you have the same quality. But one issue we run into with, with foundations or philanthropists that are really used to, I built 500,000 cook stoves with X dollars and they have a dollars per cook stove metric, or with my donation to the food bank, I gave, you know, a million people, food. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, those types of philanthropy are really important, but if you wanna move into policy, you can't take the same type of mindset and apply it to policy. You have to start being comfortable with taking risks. And if you fund a policy organization that gets every single one of its policy priorities passed, it's not pushing the needle. I think it's very uncomfortable for philanthropy to get comfort, to, to be okay with risk and be okay with failure.
But it's intelligent failure and failing forward is a really important piece of systems change and of policy change. And if folks are like, yes, you're saying all this, but it sounds meaningless. And how do you measure anything? There's a great paper by founders, blood called evaluating policy organizations. It still means you're rigorous and it still means you actually measure success and you're measuring things. It's just not gonna be as easy as we've reduced six giga, tons of CO2 because we existed this year. It's just not gonna be that easy to measure. And I think that makes people
Uncomfortable. What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
If you can volunteer doing it a lot first, especially if you have a long track record and everybody in the space already knows you, you won't have to, but if you are not incredibly connected to the foundation space to begin with people are gonna witness you a track record and that's gonna feel really unfair because you're like, well, you haven't funded me. So how on earth am I gonna have a track record? Remember, a lot of my initial funding conversations were under totally understandable, but also incredibly Fu frustrating because people would ask for like polling or all of these studies. And I was like, no, one's funded us. Like, how are we supposed to get you polling? How are we supposed to get you like this intensive test? You know, this intensive set of impact report. You want me to write an impact report for you?
I'm like, okay, I'll go write an impact report. Like, and it, and it feels really frustrating. And I think when people ask the question, like why don't we have a more diverse set of founders? It's because we expect too much of people starting nonprofit organizations. What I would say is volunteer for a long time, doing what you wanna do before you actually decide to do your program full time. Because the first thing a bunch of funders gonna ask is tell me about all of your successes and why this would even work. And you have to really prove that out to them. And it is totally a chicken and egg problem. So if you can get a job that where you work a number of hours, that can let you volunteer on this side, that's definitely the way to do it.
Well, I, I think the point you make is a good one in terms of reputation and track record, but it, it also helps you learn hands on. What's really going on versus just observation, right. Or education.
So this is very confirmation bias, but there's kind of two ways new organizations get started. And I think this is true again in for-profit and nonprofit. One is the gap analysis where people kind of sit from a very high level and say, there's a gap here, and we're gonna fund an organization and we're gonna head hunt a CEO to start it. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And then there's the like ground up rep you do like 150 reps and you're like, I think there's a problem here. And then you keep going. And then you're like, there definitely is. I'm not crazy. And those are kind of the two ways that folks start organizations. And I think I like the second way. It's also what I did. But I think also I have very, sometimes my opinions on what it takes politically or are different than funders I talk to because I'm like, well, I actually went and go talked. This candidate that you're worried is too far. I don't know too far left. Sometimes they're worried that they're too moderate. I'm like, well, I knock 200 doors in their district and they're probably great for their district. I'm like, you know, when you actually show up and talk to a lot of people, you learn a lot more
What's next for climate cabinet action. And how can people get involved?
Climate cabinet action this year is going to be supporting about 40 incredible candidates that you've never heard of, but have a massive climate impact. These are candidates, there are small budget races. They're gonna be 1% of your typical congressional race budget, where they're gonna have the opportunity to create massive climate wins. You can find them firstname.lastname@example.org. If we wanna go very early two thousands infomercial, we'll say www.climateslate.com. And there you can find a set of incredible inspirational candidates who are fighting for, for change in their communities and are gonna be great on climate on day one.
Awesome Caroline, wonderful to connect and catch up. Always great to hear your stories and, and, and chat. Thanks so much for spending the time with us.
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.
That's our show for this week, as always, there's more information in the show notes, please check them ou at causeandpurpose.org. For our next episode, we're sticking with the startup theme and speaking with the founder and CEO of Black Sisters in STEM, Diana Wilson, as a second generation Ghanaian American woman, Diana saw firsthand the challenges of being a minority within a minority pursuing technical and computer science based careers inspired by her own family history. Diana set out to create a one of a kind platform to build community and empower women just like her to get the education and support they needed to become the next great startup founders and pursue thriving careers in tech. She's a fascinating founder with tons of great stories and perspectives on social impact. Hope you can join us until then cause and purposes of production of moonshot.co on behalf of myself, Caroline and our entire team. Thank you so much for listening and we look forward to speaking again soon.