Bret Kugelmass [00:00:00] So we're here today with Steven Lacey, who's the co-founder and executive editor of Postscript Media, and also just one of the preeminent energy journalists out there. So Stephen, thank you for joining us on the Energy Impact Podcast.
Stephen Lacey [00:00:11] Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Bret Kugelmass [00:00:14] It's super exciting. Oh man, there are so many things we could talk about and just have interesting conversations about what energy means for the world, but let's first get started with you as a person. Tell us, where did you grow up?
Stephen Lacey [00:00:25] I grew up in southern New Hampshire. So, being out in the woods was a big part of my upbringing, which brought me to environmentalism and sustainability and eventually to the business of renewable energy. There was a clear line of sight between my upbringing and eventually what I got into in my career.
Bret Kugelmass [00:00:44] Yeah, yeah. Let me ask a question I don't think I've asked before. Can you just maybe talk about your feelings about energy at various points in your life? Are you able to think back to maybe an emotional response of when you learned about energy and its impact and what that made you feel on the inside?
Stephen Lacey [00:01:15] Yeah, actually, that's a really good question, and I've never really talked about this before. There was a moment when I was maybe a senior in high school that I think is representative of how I think about all sorts of different technologies. I had an environmental science teacher, I was really into environmental science and my friend group tended to be a lot of the more activist types of people. So, they tended to be more of the hardcore environmentalists.
Stephen Lacey [00:01:46] And Vermont Yankee is a famous nuclear power plant in New England, in Vermont, just across the river from where I grew up. There were some big questions about whether they should close the plant that were emerging when I was in high school. And so, our environmental science teacher brought us to these hearings and basically told us that we should be against this nuclear power plant. And I was like, "Why?" I showed up, but I just didn't know why, right? I was trying to figure this all out myself. I didn't have any strong opinions either way. And there was a lot of sort of fear mongering around nuclear and I just didn't get it.
Stephen Lacey [00:02:22] And so I went and I showed up and I remember a lot of people just were reflexively saying, "No, this nuclear power plant should be shut down. This shouldn't belong in our community." And my reaction was like, "Why? I don't really understand it." I went to the hearings to try to figure it out and try to form an opinion. And I think that is the way I have viewed the tradeoffs over energy throughout my career. I'm a big proponent that we need to transition the energy system as fast as possible. But as we evaluate those technologies, I tend to be fairly neutral and understanding of their benefits and their drawbacks. So, that was a really important formative experience for me that I think says a lot about how I evaluate different solutions.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:04] Oh, okay. Now you've just opened up a whole new can of worms. So, I can tell you're a curious person. I mean, obviously you're a journalist too, but I guess not all are. But you are particularly a curious person, is that right?
Stephen Lacey [00:03:17] Yeah, definitely.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:19] Okay, can you trace where that curiosity came from? Did you have an influential figure in your life that helped you get inspired by the wonder of the world?
Stephen Lacey [00:03:32] I just grew up watching a lot of documentaries and really got really interested in filmmaking at an early age. And so, the craft of storytelling was interesting to me, and documentary storytelling in particular. And so, when you inevitably get into that, you're asking a lot of questions and trying to get people to open up. And in high school and college I did some experimental documentary work where I was just forced to ask people questions and sometimes they were uncomfortable for me to ask. And so, once I got into that rhythm and realized that I was pretty good at it and I liked to talk to people, that opened up this deeper exploration into what made people tick, how things worked, et cetera.
Bret Kugelmass [00:04:15] Oh, that's so cool. Was there a moment that you got over the nervousness of asking strangers questions? Do you still feel a little bit inside you or are you a natural?
Stephen Lacey [00:04:28] No, I manage the nervousness. I always get nervous still. Whenever I go on stage or I go to an interview, there's always some kind of jitters. I've actually just learned to manage the physical nervousness. You know, your breathiness changes a little bit when you're recording in front of a lot of people. It all still comes up. I think I just figured out how do I manage it? Once I get in the groove, I'm really comfortable. So, it's really about the first maybe few minutes of a conversation or approaching someone or having a game plan for how you want to talk to someone if it's a sensitive subject or you know that you're going to ask a probing question. So yeah, it's more about managing it. I don't think I'll ever really get rid of the nerves fully.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:08] I'm the same. Now, you talked about the psychological ways that you manage it. Do you have any physical ways? Do you take deep breaths or go for a walk right before or anything like that?
Stephen Lacey [00:05:17] Yeah, one of my former co-hosts, Catherine Hamilton, in a show that I previously produced got me into the power pose. So, when we would go on stage, there were three of us in this podcast and we would do a lot of live shows at big conferences. And so, we would all stand backstage and do our power poses together and then walk off with confidence.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:35] Wait, what's a power pose?
Stephen Lacey [00:05:37] Just like, with your arms out, your legs and your knees... It's almost like an athletic pose. And it makes you feel bigger, almost as if like a bear is attacking you or something. You sort of like feel really strong and ready to go and then you walk on the stage with confidence.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:51] Okay, that's cool. I didn't know about the power pose. I'm going to try a couple. I mean, I get nervous too. I mean, I've given a lot of talks now and I still get... Like, my heart just goes crazy, like 30 seconds before.
Stephen Lacey [00:06:01] Definitely, yeah. And I actually feel really relaxed right before, and then as soon as they call your name or it's a couple of minutes before, all of a sudden the heart rate accelerates, the breathiness starts to happen. So I just work on breathwork, work on the power pose if I'm backstage, and then that tends to help a lot.
Bret Kugelmass [00:06:18] Cool, cool. Okay. Oh, man. I've been dying to ask more true professionals about how they do it, so those are some good tips. All right, sorry we got distracted. Let's just go back to your story a little bit. Your entry into a career as a journalist. Tell me about that.
Stephen Lacey [00:06:34] So, I studied environmental science and media production in school. And when I got out of school, I hooked up with a fast growing publication that focused on the business of renewable energy. It was a a publication called Renewable Energy World. They had started as this website called Solar Access in the mid-'90s covering the solar industry when no one was covering it. So they were at the forefront of this new and emerging renewable space.
Stephen Lacey [00:07:01] And it was about that time in the early to mid-2000's when the corporate players were really starting to get into renewables. So, we'd had a couple of decades of investment and experimentation and policy support, but the big banks really hadn't felt like the industry had been de-risked enough. And all of a sudden in the 2004, 2005 timeframe, that's when you saw this surge of investment, the technologies matured and the policies really accelerated. And a combination of those three things created this new era for renewables deployment. And I was lucky enough to be involved in the reporting at that time when that inflection point occurred. So, I was an editor over there. I launched a podcast in 2006 on the business of renewables, and that was an early time for podcasting when there were not a lot of shows.
Bret Kugelmass [00:07:51] You launched a podcast in 2006?
Stephen Lacey [00:07:53] Yeah, yeah. And it got a lot of attention because it was like the only show on that subject.
Bret Kugelmass [00:07:59] Are you kidding me? What even were podcasts back then? What was the technology? What was the platform?
Stephen Lacey [00:08:04] Well, most of it was web listening. So now, 98% of listening is happening on a phone. It was primarily web listening or it was through an iPod. And there were probably... I don't know how many shows, but maybe like in the thousands or tens of thousands of shows out there.
Bret Kugelmass [00:08:25] Was it all on the Apple platform? Is that the tie? Podcast, iPod, all that stuff?
Stephen Lacey [00:08:33] Yeah. I mean, most of the listening, at least for audio shows, is still happening on Apple, increasingly Spotify and Google, and we're seeing a lot on YouTube, you know, you're seeing a lot on YouTube as well. But yeah, it was mostly Apple. And then there were some other emerging podcast apps that were bit players. But what we found was it was really easy to find an audience too, because there were all these people seeking this information and there were no podcasts out there like it. So, I was able to acquire an audience pretty quickly, and then that audience has stayed with me and grown over the years as I've launched other shows and moved to other publications and been an editor. So, audio has always been a really important piece of what I've been doing and covering.
Bret Kugelmass [00:09:16] And how much do you think your voice, like your literal vocal chords voice matters in terms of developing an audience. Like, I'll just say, I think you've got a pleasant voice to listen to. Does that matter, or do people just kind of get used to it if they like the content?
Stephen Lacey [00:09:33] Yeah, I think it matters. My voice on audio is different from my normal cadence in regular conversation. So when people meet me, they often say like, "Oh, you're a little bit different than I thought you were." Because my voice when I'm scripting or doing an interview is a little bit slower and more calculated. I pay attention to inflection more, and then when I'm in normal conversation, my voice tends to be a little bit higher and faster. And so, there's definitely a difference. And it took me a long time to develop that radio voice. And I still think it's evolving to some degree.
Stephen Lacey [00:10:07] I've had different types of shows on clean energy and climate that I've launched, and each of those shows is a little bit different. And so, I have to develop the character for that show. That comes from a lot of the years of work of just experimenting. And if I go back and listen to some of the early stuff that I was doing in like 2006, 2007, I hadn't really figured it out. That stuff's really not out there on the Internet anymore. I have a whole hard drive full of it and maybe I'll release it someday. The feed actually got discontinued, the earlier feed, so it's not out there. I wish it was out there, but my voice is so different.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:43] Yeah, reload it. Reload it on a channel. Just call it "Stephen Lacey Archives" and then just upload them all and put them on an RSS feed or something.
Stephen Lacey [00:10:50] Yeah, for sure. But the short answer to your question is yes. It is very important and I don't think there's any particular winning strategy. Everybody's voice is different and you've got to lean into what makes your voice special and what makes it unique. But there are definitely some things that you can do to enhance the drama, slow yourself down, emphasize things. And that all that took me years of practice.
Bret Kugelmass [00:11:17] Oh my God. Are there other podcast hosts that you've been tracking for just as long as you've been doing it with whom you feel a certain camaraderie or friendship or something like that just because you guys have all been around so long? Do you have a club?
Stephen Lacey [00:11:34] Like a climate podcast club?
Bret Kugelmass [00:11:36] No, not climate, just like the O.G. Podcast Club. Like, I've been doing this longer than anyone podcast club.
Stephen Lacey [00:11:42] Not really. It's a more disparate industry. So, there are definitely people who I've connected with, but no special club that makes us unique from anybody else.
Bret Kugelmass [00:11:54] I think it is pretty special. The only other person I've heard that's been doing it that long is Russ Roberts, who does EconTalk. He's like one of the eminent economists. I know he is also one of the O.G.'s. It'd be cool for you guys to chat and trade war stories.
Stephen Lacey [00:12:08] Yeah, there's a show that's really famous, This Week in Tech. There's sort of "This Week" in series and that's been ongoing for a long time. Interestingly, I actually haven't connected with this gentleman in a long time so I forgot his name, but back in like 2007, there was a big focus on new media and I went to this new media conference a couple of times. And this guy was doing some amazing climate and clean energy storytelling and it was before YouTube had taken off. And he was doing these really high budget explanatory videos that look a lot like what you see on YouTube today. And he just couldn't make it work because the audience wasn't there. And I'm like, "Man, if that was launched today, it would be huge." So, there was a lot of interesting stuff happening. Some of it is really reminiscent of what's happening today, and some of it was just like off the wall. It was a fascinating time to be in clean energy, climate storytelling.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:06] Yeah. Oh, cool. Okay, so let's keep marching through your journey. And maybe tell me about just when you noticed certain inflection points just in terms of public sentiment around clean energy.
Stephen Lacey [00:13:19] Well, the 2008 timeframe was a huge period because we had the stimulus package after the financial crisis and you had this extreme disruption in energy demand. Preceding that, you had massively high oil prices that were getting people into the idea of clean energy. And then all of a sudden, you had this Obama-era stimulus package as a response to the financial crisis. And I think that really put clean energy into the mainstream and got people talking in a different way. The George W. Bush administration had put a lot of attention into the loan guarantee program and had implemented some solar incentive programs that didn't get a lot of attention but were really important and that the Obama-era stimulus package borrowed from. And so, there was this transition point around that crisis that felt like everybody was talking about these solutions in a different way. And then simultaneously, I think you still had the aftermath of Al Gore's documentary, and "An Inconvenient Truth" really played, I think, a multiyear role in waking people up to the threat of climate change. So, that was a really pivotal period.
Stephen Lacey [00:14:35] And then we got into the 2011, 2012 timeframe. There was this surge of venture capital investment in clean tech. Everyone calls it climate tech at this point, but at that stage it was called clean tech. And then you had the collapse of Solyndra that got the loan guarantee and some other solar companies. Those of us who had been watching the space kind of knew that Solyndra was a house of cards. We didn't know that it would fail, necessarily. But there were a lot of problems with the company. There were a lot of problems with other solar companies that were taking on massive amounts of venture capital. And so, some of those collapses weren't a surprise to us in the same way that they were surprises to people in politics and in culture.
Stephen Lacey [00:15:17] And so, that became this big explosion, and everyone said like, "Oh, clean tech is a big failure." And because of these losses, venture capitalists pulled out and there was this political blowback. There was this kind of winter period from the 2012 timeframe until like 2015 or so where the space was growing, but the money wasn't there. And then all of a sudden, you saw the money come back in like the 2015, 2016 timeframe. So that was a really interesting period. There have been a ton of inflection points.
Bret Kugelmass [00:15:49] Yeah. And what about in your career? Did any of them correlate or do you kind of overlap and ride the waves?
Stephen Lacey [00:15:59] I decided in the 2011 timeframe that I was going to go into climate science and climate politics reporting. The business piece was really interesting to me, but I wanted to focus more on climate change, specifically, not just energy technologies. And when I started focusing, a lot of what I was doing was writing about climate politics. And that was such a burnout job, right? I mean, there's only so much you can write about the political divide around how to talk about climate change. And so, I did do some solutions reporting and I did some science reporting, and that was fun. But for the most part, I was like looking at trying to push back on the divisions around climate change and that just wasn't interesting to me.
Stephen Lacey [00:16:47] So, I decided ultimately that I wanted to go back into the business of solutions. And I think that's a guiding force. Of all the media products that I've created and that I've had a hand in, the stuff that I'm most proud of is really solutions-oriented because there's so much cool stuff happening in the business community and out in the market that people are not necessarily aware of. And we're talking about multitrillion dollar shifts in investment that are happening right now that will have huge historic changes over the course of the next couple of decades. And I wanted to understand those more deeply.
Bret Kugelmass [00:17:22] Let's dive into that solutions point, because I've been struggling philosophically myself with how to represent myself as a thought leader in the energy space. I used to be more on the catastrophic side. And then, the more I listen to people like Bjorn Lomborg or something, and even Michael Shellenberger, I've kind of realized maybe I shouldn't be so like catastrophic. Like, maybe I should put a more positive spin. And so I think, obviously from your perspective, highlighting specific solutions accomplishes that. It gets people, I think, in like a better spirit about what we can do versus how much the world sucks. Are there any people who you've come across that are thought leaders on the philosophy of a solutions mindset, holistically, as opposed to specific solutions?
Stephen Lacey [00:18:15] Oh, that's a good question. Let me see if I can throw out some names of people who've been influential to me. I mean, I think there's a wide spectrum of people who have been really influential in the way that I view the evolution of technologies. Someone like Vaclav Smil, who has written dozens and dozens of...
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:35] Hard to get through those books. And I love the subject, but boy are they dry.
Stephen Lacey [00:18:39] They're very dry, but he's an interesting guy to listen to. And some people don't really like him in the clean energy community because basically his take is this takes a long time.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:49] He's a bit Malthusian, isn't he?
Stephen Lacey [00:18:50] Yeah, definitely.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:51] Yeah, I don't like that.
Stephen Lacey [00:18:51] He's just like, "This is going to take a long time," right? "Here's how energy transitions have played out." But I think he offers a really important historical perspective and hopefully we can make this current transition much, much faster than other major energy epochal shifts. But he's been really interesting to me.
Stephen Lacey [00:19:16] I find people like Bill McKibben to be quite interesting because whether or not you agree or disagree with his approach, I think he has done a really good job of framing things in a very clear, moral way. And he was, of course, really instrumental in framing the divestment movement. I think he has been doing some great writing on what a wartime footing for clean energy deployment looks like. He very sharply describes how the climate crisis is playing out. And much of the stuff that he wrote from the '90s through the mid-2000s has actually played out. I think if you're not in the environmental movement or if you don't like align with how he's framing things... I mean, I'm a big fan of his, but I think it's still worth reading what he's putting out there because he's just a really sharp, sharp writer and can very clearly distill the moral terms of the conversation. Those are two writers on very different ends of the spectrum that I find super helpful in framing things.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:23] Interesting, interesting. How much are you surprised by things at this point? So you get to talk to tons of people in the clean energy space... Or do you call it climate tech space now?
Stephen Lacey [00:20:38] I call it anything. I say clean energy, clean tech, climate tech.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:44] You get to talk to tons of people. How often are you surprised versus you're interested and you uncover new things, of course, with any individual, but you've kind of surrounded yourself with knowledge of their space before you even talk to them?
Stephen Lacey [00:21:01] How often am I surprised? I think that I'm surprised by how sectors pop sometimes. Like right now, we're at the beginning of this boom in carbon removal. And in the last year or two years, we've actually seen some interesting pilot projects and early commercial stage projects being developed and there's a ton of investment going into the space. I didn't really see the carbon... Like a few years ago, I just wouldn't have seen or wouldn't have pegged the carbon removal space as this really big potential place. And now it's like there's a ton of activity and government investment happening. I think the previous attention on carbon removal was around point source carbon capture and most people pushing the energy transition just saw it as a way to lock in more thermal coal generation.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:02] Which I thought was unfair, that criticism. I mean, it might have been true in business practice, but I didn't like that criticism of it because I think of how necessary I think it is. You know what I'm saying?
Stephen Lacey [00:22:16] Oh, yeah, I think everything is necessary. Like, there's literally almost no technology that I would take off the table. But the criticism was out there, right? And I think that the lack of workable projects really hindered the space. It was more about the economics of projects than about the actual pushback on the space that hindered it. I just didn't see the massive wave of interest in carbon removal coming. And the reason why I think it's a massive wave is because many of the environmentalists who were critical of the first generation of CCS, are now like, "Yes, we need carbon removal, as much of it as possible."
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:56] Carbon capture and storage. That's what CCS is, right?
Stephen Lacey [00:22:58] Yeah, yeah, carbon capture and storage, exactly. And now the direct air capture technology is getting a lot better. And there are a lot of advancements in how you can turn that carbon into usable building products because of course, carbon is in everything around us. And so you can turn it into a lot of uses.
Bret Kugelmass [00:23:15] I think it's genius. I think this whole carbon economy thing is genius.
Stephen Lacey [00:23:18] Absolutely, absolutely. I really do.
Bret Kugelmass [00:23:21] And what do you think about hydrogen? Because I am conflicted. I talk to one person, I feel one way. I talk to a different person, I feel another way. I'm a mess. I'm a mess. What do you think about hydrogen?
Stephen Lacey [00:23:30] I mean, hydrogen is like really fundamental to chemicals processing and other industrial processes. And like, we have to decarbonize hydrogen. So at the very least, I think the focus on high-value green hydrogen in industrial processes is a no-brainer.
Bret Kugelmass [00:23:52] Does that translate to power production?
Stephen Lacey [00:23:56] I think the big question is getting downstream in power production. I don't think it works in mobility, really. I think in limited use cases. Like, if you're thinking about forklifts or in warehouses, hydrogen could potentially work.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:11] Like where they've got those little propane tanks anyway on the back or something.
Stephen Lacey [00:24:15] Exactly, yeah. I think there's a big question about downstream use of hydrogen and whether you want to focus on molecules or electrons. And I do think that it's just more efficient to focus on electrons rather than turning electrons into molecules and then back into electrons. Again, I don't really take any technologies off the table, and sometimes the best use case can trump economics. I think a lot of the oil and gas majors are really invested heavily in hydrogen. And the question is, are they going to use gas to create the hydrogen or are they going to use renewables? And that's a big question about how clean the actual hydrogen is. So, there are a lot of unanswered questions for me on hydrogen. I think very clearly we need to decarbonize hydrogen because at the very least it's important in industry.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:13] So we touched upon a couple of very interesting areas. What are we leaving out just in terms of interesting areas?
Stephen Lacey [00:25:23] I think like the AI space and the digital climate space is really fascinating.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:29] What can that do? I've actually never thought about that.
Stephen Lacey [00:25:32] Well, artificial intelligence is being put into practice in a variety of ways already in the energy space and the sustainability space. Everything from logistics management to fleet management.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:47] Oh, okay, I see. So software, digital as it applies to efficiency, essentially.
Stephen Lacey [00:25:52] Yeah, yeah. And there's a lot of wildfire prediction happening in the utility space, vegetation management. The digital twinning of utility assets or buildings and then being able to very quickly model out how you would make a system upgrade or integrate a ton of distributed energy just like really fast and cheaply. People are using artificial intelligence to site renewable energy projects that would previously take maybe weeks or hours to map out, and now they can do it in seconds. The possibility of managing and acting on and anticipating reams of data is fascinating to me. And so, I think that the broader digital climate space, and more specifically the use of artificial intelligence for a variety of applications is super interesting and actually in practice today, not just like a thing far off. It's like, companies are deploying it today and utilities that are dealing with a ton of new risks really want it. So, definitely more focused on that.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:01] Do you cover anything in geoengineering? That's been another interest area of mine.
Stephen Lacey [00:27:06] Yeah, I don't cover it very closely. It's sort of a subject that is out there that I will occasionally pay attention to. I mean, I'm really fascinated by it. I'm a little nervous about it and not really sure what to make of it. Very clearly, we need to be considering all long-term options. So, the fact that there are some important researchers focused on it is important. And I think that we need to grapple with the moral consequences, with the technological possibilities, and whether we think that we need geoengineering or not, we need to grapple with all elements of it. But I'm not like an expert in what's happening in the geoengineering space.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:53] And then another area that I'm always fascinated by is biology. And when you said AI, that's what I was kind of thinking initially. Because I know there's AI to like simulate protein folds and everything. Could we genetically engineer our way out of this by supercharging plants? Is that on the horizon or no?
Stephen Lacey [00:28:12] Yes, I mean, there's definitely a lot of activity there. And that's another area that I'm not as much of an expert in. But absolutely, I think the biotech space for clean energy, engineering plants for biofuels or using biotech processes to create drop-in fuels for aviation...
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:39] Yeah, that's another one.
Stephen Lacey [00:28:40] Maybe lab grown meat. I think there's this whole big question about food production and what it can do to assist with food production. Maybe potentially create a whole category of lab grown meat alternatives. So again, not an expert there, but really fascinated by it. And absolutely, that space is really important to clean energy, generally.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:04] So tell me about your current efforts. What is Post Script Media?
Stephen Lacey [00:29:09] We're a podcast company, an audio forward company that makes shows at the intersection of climate change, sustainability and the energy transition with other areas of interest. So, food, fashion, supply chains, travel, business, finance, technology. We're thinking about all the ways that we can tell this story implicitly or explicitly to people who are focused on those areas. We're primarily focused on practitioners, people who are moving money, building companies, starting careers, advancing their careers, people who are generally in those industries. And we're telling really good stories about what is happening in those areas. So, we have a bunch of different podcasts. I host one called The Carbon Copy.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:56] Rattle off some of the names.
Stephen Lacey [00:29:57] I have one car podcast called The Carbon Copy, which is like a business and current events show that focuses on the nuts and bolts of the energy transition. Like a lot of the stuff that we've been talking about now from a topical, like newsy perspective. So something happens in the world, it tells us something about how the energy transition is unfolding. A company implodes, a sector is hot, a person says something interesting and then that tells us a bigger story about how a sector is evolving and how clean energy solutions are advancing. So, that's a show that I do. There's scoring to it. It's more of a narrative interview shoe.
Bret Kugelmass [00:30:40] You're getting to my next question. What are the stylistic differences of these?
Stephen Lacey [00:30:45] Yeah, that is the show that if you're interested in more current events in a tight format, 15 to 20 minutes, a really tight story with music and media clips and stuff tied into it, that's that kind of show. Our other show on actual climate tech is called Catalyst with Shayle Kann and that's like a long-form deep dive interview show that can go well over an hour on subjects like again what we're talking about but with a very technical focus.
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:17] Yeah, I was just interviewed on it. It was awesome.
Stephen Lacey [00:31:19] Yeah, amazing. Yeah, exactly. And like, how deep do you go? Like, you can go super deep in these long-term formats.
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:29] I love it. I loved it.
Stephen Lacey [00:31:32] And then we have Hot Buttons, which is our fashion and supply chain show. That is like a roundtable style show that is focused on the culture of fashion but also the business of fashion. I think similar to what's happening in the energy space and the broader corporate sustainability space, you have all these fashion companies that are creating a massive landfill problem, they use massive amounts of energy to run their operations. They have this big Scope 3 emissions problem that they can't control because most of their factories are outsourced. And so, they are trying to control their own emissions, but most of the emissions that are actually coming from clothing and textile production are from a variety of disparate producers that are really hard to control. So there's just like this massive problem out in the clothing industry that we're grappling with.
Bret Kugelmass [00:32:23] When you say Scope 3, what you mean is everything from the raw elements, like the chemicals that then get sent to the dye company that then get sent to the factory that then get sent to...
Stephen Lacey [00:32:34] Exactly. That are not under direct control of the company in question. And the vast majority of emissions from a company like H&M, for example, are Scope 3 emissions. And then we have a show called Climavores, which is our food show. A lot about the food industry, but also about food choices. Food is a place where people feel judged, for example. We're very non-judgmental. It's all about like... There are tradeoffs in everything. There are tradeoffs in what you eat and nobody is perfect. And it's all about grappling with the math of agriculture and food choices and our cultural reactions to food. And so, we take a step outside of the typical debates around food and the tribalism around food and just really take a deep look at what are the best choices and how do you make those choices. Nobody's perfect and you're not a bad person if you don't make those choices, but we're going to give you the story behind why those choices are the better choices.
Stephen Lacey [00:33:38] And that's really the philosophy of what we're trying to do. There's a lot of climate urgency, but we're non-judgmental, we're exploratory. We are trying to give people the tools to make better decisions so we can actually move the needle in different business sectors or make people feel empowered to make choices. And it's not about telling someone that there is a right or wrong way to do things. It's about giving people the tools to understand maybe their role in this bigger system and hopefully get people to build companies and build careers and do some interesting stuff from the shows that we're developing.
Bret Kugelmass [00:34:18] That's so cool that you have a variety out there. Let me ask about the the stylistic differences between them and how that... Let me ask, do different audiences find their way to shows based on the production level of it? Or is it like, the same person might in the morning listen to one that's highly-produced and in the afternoon listen to... You know what I'm saying?
Stephen Lacey [00:34:42] Yeah, we don't find that... It's an interesting time in podcasting because when it comes to quality... Our attention is that we want the highest quality production possible. We've hired a team of producers, we have a really tight production process. And so, we want to tell really good stories and make sure that everything's buttoned up. That said, there are a lot of shows out there that aren't as buttoned up and we are still competing with those shows. And I think that in this market where there are a lot of different podcasts, quality isn't the only thing. As much as we would like it to be, people have all sorts of different niche interest and they want to go in different directions. And there's a podcast for almost everything now. And so, I think as long as you're giving something to someone that's really helpful, the quality is almost secondary. And again, I hate to say that because our whole thing is like we want the tightest quality possible and we'll never step away from that. But it's not the only thing.
Bret Kugelmass [00:35:42] It's just so funny you say that because I have told my team to do the opposite. Because we're not a podcast company, right? We have other interests. The podcasts are just a way essentially to meet people, learn things. And so many times they've pushed internally, "Hey, let's get higher quality. Let's invest more in this." It's not a money thing for me. Like, I don't care if we spend more money on it. It's that I want to be able to do a show when I want to be able to do it. I don't want there being any friction between me and the guest. Just getting them on, I want to press the record button and go.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:16] When I did in-person, I used to carry around a professional mic setup. Inevitably, one out of every ten shows, I'd forget to press the record button or have a wrong setting or not have batteries and it would just screw it up. And then from that point forward, I said, "Forget about it. I'm doing front-facing camera on my iPhone." And I carried around like a little GorillaPod. And the audio was terrible, by the way. But the content was so good that people dealt with it.
Stephen Lacey [00:36:44] Yeah, definitely. And I mean, I'm that way as a listener. I listen to so many shows. Many of my favorite shows are higher-quality narrative shows, but I listen to so many great shows that are helpful to me that are just in that mid-tier, people aren't paying as much attention. Like they're experts in what they're talking about and the quality of the information is good enough to trump the quality of the audio production. So yeah, I think it's important. Obviously, I think it's important, but there's so much else that speaks to listeners and viewers.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:20] Yeah. And I do have to say, it does feel good when you hear like a good mic quality. It's in your ear and it's loud and it's like perfect mic quality. That does feel damn good.
Stephen Lacey [00:37:29] It's like scratching an itch, you know? And when you really execute a really good story and you've spent a lot of time on it, it's so fulfilling.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:37] Yeah, yeah. That's so funny. Okay, great. Other thoughts? It's just so great to have you here since you're just such a wealth of experience. Obviously, we talked a little bit about podcasts, which are a huge interest of mine, but clean energy also, of course. Give us just your broader world perspective. Tell me, how does all of this intersect with where you think the direction of humanity is going?
Stephen Lacey [00:38:04] Wow, big. I mean, each day I wake up and I feel differently about where humanity's going. I'll bring it back to energy first. I'm really trying to grapple with what the Russian invasion of Ukraine related energy crisis is going to do long-term. I mean, obviously in the 1970s, the oil shocks had a huge role to play in foundational energy efficiency policy and early promotion of renewable energy, which many decades of policy support built on. And I think that the modern efficiency and renewables industry was born out of that era, both in Europe and in the United States. And I feel like we're at that moment now and it's not clear exactly how it's going to play out. Because obviously in the short-term, we're seeing more investments in fossil fuels to make up for the supply shock. Countries in Europe are trying to find new places to invest in oil and gas production in Norway and import lots more LNG. So I think in the short term, obviously it's a boon for oil and gas, but there are so many new policies going into place to try to, A, cut off Russian supply, and B, drastically slash oil and gas consumption.
Stephen Lacey [00:39:32] I do think that while this short-term crisis proves how dependent we are on fossil energies, of course, there will be some pretty substantial long-term impacts related to policy acceleration. So, I don't know what the answer is and how it will play out, but certainly we're at a moment that was similar to the mid to late-1970s when we saw these early policies for modern renewables developed. That's what I'm thinking a lot about and just asking experts about and trying to figure out. I don't have a strong opinion on how exactly it will play out, but I'm really fascinated by this moment in a historical perspective. What will it mean looking back a decade or two from now?
Bret Kugelmass [00:40:15] Yeah, that is... I think I agree with you. I think this is like a big moment. I probably also feel that, yeah, even if the war ended tomorrow, the energy policy discussion and shifts will last decades just because people were caught on their back heels on this one.
Stephen Lacey [00:40:34] Absolutely.
Bret Kugelmass [00:40:36] And then since we are talking about looking forward a couple of decades, I'm going to revisit an earlier point that we spoke about, the Vaclav Smil, like how long energy transitions take. I'm going to put you on the spot. I'm not going to allow a copped out answer, by the way. I'm going to make you decide right here now. Do you think 20 years from now, if we were to look back, was there a slow and steady march towards an energy transition, or was there a step function change where something happened, a new technology came, a new policy or whatever it was, and it was like a lurch all at once?
Stephen Lacey [00:41:11] Slow and steady. I mean, I think that there's going to be a inflection point for electric vehicle adoption, but I don't necessarily think that we're going to see this drastic cut in emissions in the transportation sector. I think it's just going to be a slow and steady change. I mean, we're consuming more oil and gas than ever this year and into the coming years. It's going to be so hard to reverse this trend even with exponential increases in many of these clean energy technologies. So I think that we might see changes in step function of adoption of certain technologies, but when it comes to actual emissions decreases, it's going to be slow and steady. Unfortunately, I just don't see... Nothing tells me that we're going to see some drastic reductions. We need to see COVID-level reductions in emissions for like the next 20 years if we want to...
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:17] Year over year we need to see that.
Stephen Lacey [00:42:20] Yeah over year. And so, that's obviously like impossible. When you ask me how do I feel about humanity and about where things are headed, some days I get tied up by those numbers or that scope and I get a little bit down. But that's why I'm focused on the solutions because I don't know what else to do, right? I just need to focus on the human level and business level changes that we see happening and try to understand them, help other people understand them, because that's all I can do and it gives me a lot of joy. So that's where I find happiness amidst the chaos.
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:57] Well, that's a great note to end on. Stephen Lacey, everybody. Tell them where they can find you. You went through your podcast. Any other handles you want them to look at?
Stephen Lacey [00:43:06] Yeah, I'm on Twitter a lot. So Stephen Lacey at Twitter, and then the podcast is The Carbon Copy. That's where I'm doing a lot of my personal reporting work.
Bret Kugelmass [00:43:18] Awesome. Well yeah, it was a real pleasure talking to one of the O.G.'s in the sector. So, thank you.
Stephen Lacey [00:43:23] I really appreciate you having me. Thanks a lot.