Climate scientist and activist Peter Kalmus returns to Crazy Town, but this time with a green badge of courage. Earlier this year, he locked himself to the entrance of the JP Morgan Chase building in downtown Los Angeles to protest their ongoing investment in the fossil fuel industry. As you would expect, he was arrested for his troubles. It was an experience he describes (paradoxically) as “scary as f**k,” but also opening and wonderful. In this wide-ranging interview, Rob and Peter cover civil disobedience, climate denial, activism, ego management, and coping strategies for anxiety about climate disaster and collapse. It makes you wonder why we can’t arrest the executives at JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil, and all the other truly radical corporations that appear to be on an ecocidal mission from hell! For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Melody Travers

Hi, this is Melody. Welcome to Crazy Town. In this bonus episode, Rob interviews Peter Kalmus, a close friend of Post Carbon Institute and a leading climate scientists and activist. This is Peter’s second visit to Crazy Town, and the focus this time is on civil disobedience and the ups and downs of getting arrested. I hope you’re enjoying our bonus episodes. If you are, please let your friends and family know about Crazy Town by giving us a five-star rating and hitting that share button on your app. Now for the conversation between Rob and Peter.

Rob Dietz

Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He has a PhD in physics from Columbia University and a BA in physics from Harvard. At work, he studies biodiversity and ecosystem projection using models and satellite data. At home, he explores how reducing carbon emissions can lead to a happier, more connected life. Peter is the author of the book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution. And Peter has been a guest here in Crazy Town. So Peter, it’s great to have you. Welcome back to Crazy Town.

Peter Kalmus

Yeah, thanks for having me back again. I definitely feel like I’ve never left Crazy Town.

Rob Dietz

I also gotta give the quick disclaimer that you are speaking on your behalf, not on NASA’s behalf, which is good because you have lots of interesting perspectives to share.

Peter Kalmus

Yeah, and I love NASA so much. And I love working for NASA. So I do try to abide by their guidelines and stuff like that.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, okay, so the last time that you were here on the podcast, Peter, we talked about some unbelievable weather anomalies. We talked about your book, Being the Change, and I wanted to have you back to talk about civil disobedience. And let me give our listeners the basics of what transpired, and then we’ll get some details from you. In April of this year, 2022, you and some colleagues locked yourselves to the entrance of the JP Morgan Chase building in Los Angeles, California. And the point was to protest JP Morgan Chase, because it funds more new fossil fuel projects than any other investment bank.

Peter Kalmus

It funds more new fossil fuel infrastructure than any other entity on the planet.

Rob Dietz

Okay, so we can vilify them even more!

Peter Kalmus

It’s just fact.

Rob Dietz

And of course, this is your huge concern — is climate. And, of course, the result is that you were arrested. So I’m wondering if you can describe what pushed you into that corner? Why did you decide to take that action of civil disobedience?

Peter Kalmus

Yeah, Rob, I’ve been a climate activist for 16 years. I’ve been a climate scientist for 13 years now. It’s amazing how quickly the time flies. But I’ve tried so many different things over the course of those many years, to get society to move on climate and the inaction of society, the way societies ignored climate for such a long time. And now it’s starting to talk about climate stuff, but it hasn’t really made any, in my opinion, any real motions towards addressing the problems. And its world leaders are still kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry and the financial sector, and building new fossil fuel projects, even though we now have cheaper alternatives. I mean, it’s just madness. And as a climate scientist who realizes that this is not by any means the new normal, that we are on, basically, an escalator to hell and hotter temperatures, to continue seeing this in action, and to be the father of two sons just absolutely kills me. And every year as these climate disasters get worse, and become more frequent, I become more desperate and more aghast at the inaction from world leaders and corporate leaders and society at large. And I feel like, you know, writing books is great. And writing my book really helped me just kind of figure out how to frame things and what I wanted to say, and even brought me further into the ways of thinking about this stuff, right? For me, writing the book was kind of a way to think. But it’s not enough. It’s not creating enough change. It’s not having enough social impact. Writing articles hasn’t had enough social impact. Founding phone apps and even ad agencies for the Earth — nonprofit ad agencies — it hasn’t had nearly enough impact on moving society into what I call emergency mode. So I felt like it was way past time to try civil disobedience. It was a kind of experiment, and it worked great. I think what it did was it cut through this collective bystander effect that we have, this sort of collective denial. All this noise, all this doubt, all of this distraction, I’ve managed to cut right through that for people and go straight into their brain and sort of say like, “Hey, this really is an emergency.” And that was exactly what I hoped would happen.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I, I’m wondering if you could describe how it felt to you taking the risk, you know, putting your body on the line, getting chained up, and then getting arrested, especially if any of our listeners are interested in their own acts of civil disobedience? What’s that process like? And how does it feel?

Peter Kalmus

It was simultaneously scary as fuck, and also just, like, completely opening and wonderful. So I felt just clearly being on the right side of history, finally joining all of the brothers and sisters around the world who have been, for a long time, engaging in these sorts of actions, and whereas I’d been on the sidelines, respecting them and wondering when the hell I would do something like that. It was a full body, full mind, full spirit experience. And I still think it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

Rob Dietz

Wow. Yeah, I have not participated in an act like that myself. I’ve had a little training. And I recently interviewed Taylor Brorby, who was arrested for protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. And we’ve had Tim DeChristopher on, who had a famous civil disobedience act for disrupting an auction to sell off oil rights on federal lands. And I just have huge, huge respect for you and the people that are willing to do that. I think it’s an act of courage. But it’s also good to hear you say that… it almost sounds like it was a relief to join in and sort of become, I guess, more congruent with your values.

Peter Kalmus

Exactly. So I just thought of a way of describing it. So you know, I shackled myself to this door. And then the police came and they shackled my hands behind my back. And then I was shackled to various hard surfaces in the police station, you know, they have this metal bench. And they have ways of moving your handcuffs from behind your back to various other places. So I was shackled for a while. But I’ve kind of thrown off much more important shackles, which were my own, my own sense of limitation of like holding back. And like you said, not being completely congruent with my values. But that fear and going against those social norms, it’s a very hard thing to do. And if anything, I just had even greater respect, which is hard, because it was already basically infinite for these activists who are doing this kind of thing. But you know, you see them on the news or whatever. And it might look sort of easy, or you might — people might feel like even — it sort of looks kind of silly in some ways, but just know that to do that kind of work, you have to draw on a tremendous reserve of courage and spirituality. And I also want to just point out that a lot of activists, especially in other countries, outside of the US and Indigenous activists — they have paid extremely high prices for this kind of civil disobedience. Many of them have even been murdered. And our action in LA — and the scientists around the world who were doing actions on that same day… And my action, certainly was quite a bit… it was extremely low risk, relative to what a lot of other people are doing on the frontlines. Indigenous activists, people of color, who, because of their socioeconomic status, the color of their skin, where they’re located, and the sorts of risks that they’re taking, again, have gone just so much further into civil disobedience. It’s a deep, deep thing, but it’s, at the same time, just… I think it’s a beautiful practice. And it’s just so weird that it’s both of those things at the same time, you know, that some of these humans are paying the ultimate price. But that it’s still — I don’t know, just such a — I guess you could say it’s such a righteous pathway, in some sense.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. I appreciate you bringing up the discrepancy between, say, what a white scientist would have for consequences versus an Indigenous person fighting a huge corporate- and military-backed entity elsewhere in the world. That’s an important thing.

Peter Kalmus

I just want to add a little bit to that, which is that even in the day after that action, like on April 7, I received quite a significant amount of pushback just because of the fact that I was a white male. But I don’t think that’s a reason that anyone should take for not doing these kinds of actions. I think that would just be an excuse. Before an action like that, the brain is looking for any excuse, essentially, not to do it.

Rob Dietz

Right.

Peter Kalmus

And I think if you do have the privilege, I think it’s, if anything, more important to be willing to take these kinds of risks, if nothing else, just in solidarity with all the other people around the world that are starting to do it.

Rob Dietz

Right. Well, it’s not like climate is going to be selective in who it affects as it becomes, as you said, more and more hellish. I also, though, don’t want to diminish that it is risky for you to have taken that action. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the aftermath of your arrest. Were there consequences, either positive or negative, that you’ve had to deal with since then?

Peter Kalmus

So being a white, man, I wasn’t really afraid of the police and being, for example, brutalized by them. So that’s privilege. What I was worried about was potentially losing my job. And I thought that that was a very real possibility. HR at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory really couldn’t give me any guidance, because no one had ever done anything like that before. So it’s kind of taking a leap into the unknown. But I tried to, again, like I said at the beginning of this interview, follow NASA’s rules and guidelines over such actions. And it turned out okay. In the end, a lot of people within NASA have come up to me privately or reached out to me privately to thank me for doing that. One person in human resources… Actually, I was walking to lunch at JPL, and she stopped me she was like, “Weren’t you that scientist who got arrested?” And then she thanked me profusely and said that they’ve been talking about the action within HR. And they all agree that it was just a model of how to do that kind of thing correctly, and that they were glad they didn’t have to take any actions. And that made their life so much easier. So I was really glad she came up to me and told me that, because it just made me feel… For many, many years, I’ve had this weird sort of split between my work life and my activist life. And that’s always really bugged me that I felt like I’ve been walking on this tightrope. And every time I write an article, I’m taking some big risk. And I could get reprimanded. It’s been this tension, which I found really kind of holding me back and sort of unpleasant. And so for her to just take that simple action of coming up and telling me what she thought, and what they’ve been discussing, really helped me kind of bring those two really important parts of my life, my scientific life and my activist life, more into congruency.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I really appreciate that story. And it’s a good reminder, I think, to all of us to do what your colleague in HR did, which is to spread the appreciation. And you know, you never know when something you say is going to affect someone in a really positive way. Like she didn’t, maybe didn’t even think much of it, but look at how that’s affected you. It’s just really impressive, the kind of ripple effects that we can have by offering the right encouragement at the right time. I want to go back to… you kind of touched on this a little when you were speaking earlier, but I know you feel the climate crisis as that: as a crisis, as an emergency, and are hoping that others get to that point. We’ve got to change our behavior, our policy, our business, our governance, our infrastructure. And in trying to get people on board with that sort of idea, you’ve you’ve done the scientific route, changing from being an astrophysicist to being a climate scientist, you’ve done plenty of peer-reviewed journal articles, plenty of more popular press articles. You tried this more personal route with your book, Being the Change. You’ve tried social media. As you said, you’ve tried a nonprofit ad company, you’ve tried a phone app. Now you’ve tried civil disobedience. What’s your view on on how these efforts are building on one another? And what’s your thinking on what’s next?

Peter Kalmus

That’s a great question. Well, I think I’ve discovered something really deep that — probably for most people, and maybe most extroverts is like really quite obvious — but for me, it’s kind of profound, which is that it’s all about people. And it’s all about relationships. And in the beginning of my journey, as an activist, I think I felt, kind of remembering everyone’s names and getting to know them, and just sort of the messiness of activism, was just kind of a price that you had to pay to try to make change. And I think now I’ve kind of come to a very different way of thinking that it’s like: these are the people that are my brothers and sisters in arms, and I have this deep appreciation for them and their friendship and their wisdom and their companionship. It feels like now that’s one of the main things that keeps me going in my activism and one of the principal joys in my life, really. And I feel like I have just such a… it’s such an honor to have these people now as friends, and they’re people around the world. And so I think that’s kind of where I’ve come to as an activist. That’s the thing that weaves together all of these different efforts at this point. And now I think, finally, some of the key building blocks that I’ve been helping to put in place over the last several years, are going to start paying dividends. Maybe to use a really bad capitalist analogy: I feel like sort of the hotels on a Boardwalk and Park Place now or something. But I think that… I’m hoping that the Climate Ad Project, which is this kind of nonprofit that Harold Moss and I started a couple of years ago, like the first ad agency for the Earth, it has really started to become a bedrock part of the civil disobedience movement for things like Extinction Rebellion and Scientists Rebellion. So on April 6, for example, one of the things that we didn’t optimize, and that we want to try to do better going forward, is the media aspect. You need to have the cameras in the right places, capturing the footage. That has to go to someplace centralized, where other people have set aside time to edit them, and then push them out to journalists, and push them onto social media as quickly as possible, and as professionally as possible with a good video quality, good sound quality, good editing, etc. And we didn’t have that. It was very fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants on April 6. And so Climate Ad Project started out as this thing for making funny or heartrending or clever or informative short videos that we were hoping would go viral on social media. And that eventually, we could get some funding and pivot to putting them on television, etc. And now we see it as a much more holistic media enterprise supporting the movement. So that’s super cool. And then the app, which is called Earth Hero, which we founded, I don’t know, about three years ago — that started out from the part of my book that was looking at personal carbon emissions and what one person could do to get involved in the movement, and to learn more about these systems, for example, that forced us to burn fossil fuels. It’s very hard to, I would say, impossible to completely disentangle yourself, if you’re living, for example, in the United States or pretty much any country of the world, whether it’s in the global south or global north, it’s very, very hard to fully disentangle yourself from fossil fuel systems. But at least it’s very interesting to to understand those systems. And I think there’s some good that comes from starting to ramp them down, so long as you don’t get caught in this obsessive thing where that’s your primary way of responding to Earth breakdown and climate change, right? You also need to, I think, get involved and speak out and push for systems change and hold politicians and journalists to account, et cetera. And so now, finally, the Earth Hero app is transitioning. I’ve been pushing it hard for years to start doing what we call community features and, for example, helping new climate activists get in touch with existing organizations so that they can talk to a person in a local, for example, Extinction Rebellion group or Scientists Rebellion group and start getting… So again, to go back to what I said earlier, I think the way to become a climate activist is to start to become friends, literally, with other climate activists in your area. That’s what it’s all about. And then that sort of is the beginning of your journey, and you can start to figure out how your particular skills and resources and interests can help the best and the movement, right? But it’s all about those person-to-person connections, and so hopefully these sorts of tools are going to increasingly start to help the movement go faster.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, I think it’s really inspiring. And obviously, you have put in an unbelievable amount of effort in your activist journey. And it’s a good kind of model for people to look at. I look at it as sort of deeper and deeper layers of engagement that you’ve demonstrated. And you know, each time you push it a little further and, hopefully, open some more eyes. One of the sets of eyes, I guess, that really needs more opening is the eyes that are possessed by our political leaders. We’ve often joked here in Crazy Town that, at least in the United States, our two main political parties have… they act out of one of two perspectives, denial and delusion. So obviously, the Republican Party tends to champion denial, that there’s even a problem with climate or biodiversity or overshoot or anything. And the Democrats are just under the delusion that, “Oh, we’ll just replace fossil fuels with some solar panels and wind turbines, and then it’s back to businesses as usual and continuous growth, infinite economic growth on a finite planet.”

Peter Kalmus

One of the ones that gets me the most is California’s goal of not selling new gas cars by 2035, right? It’s just so… it’s such a great example of too little too late.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no kidding. Well, I’m wondering if you see hope that the movements and protests and activism can wake up our politicians and our broader society from being locked into those two, obviously, insane perspectives.

Peter Kalmus

I think it’s already happening. You know, I think when Jim Hansen got arrested in 2013, it was part of what ended up ending the XL pipeline. And I think, you know, a lot of the activism much more recently, in recent weeks and months, was instrumental in blocking the dirty deal that Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin wanted to push through Congress to basically not only greenlight the Mountain Valley Pipeline, but also to make other new fossil fuel projects even easier to permit. I think it’s already having an effect. I have long thought that politicians ignore the climate movement at their peril, because it has no choice, but to get stronger. Really, it’s being held back right now by the media, basically being milquetoast, and you know, not telling the truth in terms of what an emergency this really is, and what a dystopian, just hot, crazy, broken down planet we’re careening quickly towards, right? And how the fossil fuel industry is literally the cause of that and how they’ve been lying. Like I see those dots not being connected. They’re hardly ever being connected in mainstream outlets, and that’s hugely holding back the climate movement. But on the other hand, because the basic physics means that every ounce of fossil fuels that’s burned and converted into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes the planet get a little hotter, which makes all of these climate disasters get a little worse, every single day, on average. So you have a social movement that is being literally driven by physics. And you look at those trends of near surface temperature or ocean heat content, or like how spring is coming earlier and earlier, or how precipitation events are getting worse — whatever part of the Earth system — you look at sea level rising, ice sheets melting away, glaciers melting away, species going extinct: it’s all a trend, right? It’s all going… it’s a tilted plot where it should be flat. If we lived on a healthy Earth system, it should be flat. But every single one of these things is a trend. And from an Earth history or geological perspective, these trends are essentially straight lines, straight up into a broken planet. They don’t seem fast relative to human lifetime, but relative to ecosystems and Earth history, they are extraordinarily fast trends. So because of these trends, more and more people are simply going to start waking up, because things are getting so broken down on this planet. And the movement can only be held back by media silence and climate change denial, and both sides-ism and corruption, fossil fuel money corrupting politicians for so long. And eventually it’s bound to break through. It’s just, the sooner that can happen, the more we save of planet Earth and of our collective future, because of the damage, most of the damage that’s being done by global heating is effectively irreversible. So that’s the way I see it. I think the movements gotta get stronger than the fossil fuel industry. Once that happens, we will see real meaningful rapid climate action, which means a plan for rapidly ramping down the fossil fuel industry on a global basis. And probably if that happens, it’s going to mean that will necessarily come with protections for poor people, both within the United States and around the world.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. You mentioned the the California car regulation, and I want to turn to that, because I think it’s entirely relevant to this idea of movement building. I mean, on the one hand, I agree with you, of course, switching out internal combustion engine cars for electric cars in 2035: it’s like, let’s not use plastic straws, or you know, it’s a very small thing. But at the same time, I think most people looked at that as like some draconian and huge giant regulation — big government overstepping and, “Oh my gosh, this is this is California acting crazy!” And I think a lot of people (a) are kind of blind to our energy predicament and they don’t really understand the the way society works and how based in fossil fuels it is, and how addicted we are to it. And then (b) change is hard for a lot of people. And they’re… like you said, these climate changes are happening on an unprecedented scale and rate, but we still have trouble tracking it, you know, with the speed at which we think. So I think there’s also a societal problem here. And maybe the movements can help there too. It’s not just waking up politicians. It’s waking up one another to this notion that, “Hey, we need to make a change together.” And yes, there may be some sacrifice involved in that change. But there’s also a chance for a future and maybe some more thoughtful and meaningful pathways of of living life than just consumerism and watching YouTube videos all day.

Peter Kalmus

Well, let me be really clear about a couple of things. So one is that, if you think that just ending the sale of new gas cars in California by 2035 is draconian and is too fast, that’s climate denial, plain and simple. It’s like if your house is burning down — if for some reason, your eyes were not able to see the flames, and you weren’t able to accept the fact that your house was burning down, or maybe your neighbor’s house is burning down, you would think it was crazy and a waste for the fire trucks to come and start spraying water, because you don’t even see the fire. But when you can see the fire, you realize that you’re in an emergency. And that’s… we’re in this weird cultural moment, which has been sort of the whole time I’ve been a climate activist that hasn’t really gone away. But now it feels, maybe in some ways weirder, because the climate disasters are so much more clear and present and dangerous than they ever have been. So to still have people not recognizing that this is an emergency, and even a small fraction of those people not even accepting that there’s any global heating at all, is just tremendously weird to me. But yeah, any policy, any activist action is going to be seen very differently by someone who recognizes the emergency for what it is, and someone who is still in denial about how quickly and how seriously things are changing.

And then the second thing I want to make really clear is that in my theory of change, you don’t get change starting from the politicians, because to just be very plain speaking about it, they’re corrupted. They’re corrupted by money in politics, they’re corrupted by the need to kowtow to the donor class, so that they can win their next election. A lot of them come from the ultra rich class themselves, right? And so they, not only do they fail to see the perspective of the poor class, they’re actually very much aligned with the needs and the values and the desires of the rich class, right? So we’re still in this kind of state of having politicians who, for the most part, are more interested in preserving a fossil fuel industry than they are in preserving a livable planet. So in my opinion, the only way to come out of that: it’s all about power. And we need grassroots people power. We literally need a climate movement that’s at least as strong as the fossil fuel movement so that politicians are basically more afraid, or maybe you could say, more respectful or more cognizant of the climate-concerned electorate than they are of the fossil fuel industry donors. Because again, another thing that’s completely crazy town is that, by far, the biggest cause of global heating, and all of the climate chaos that increasing global heat is causing, is the fossil fuel industry. And yet, there’s all of these kind of policy ideas and acts and ideas coming out of COP 26 that basically dance around the huge elephant in the room, which is the need to rapidly ramp down the fossil fuel industry. They talk about things like methane leaks, because you could fix those without ending the fossil fuel industry. They talk about clean coal, they talk about carbon capture, they’re going to start talking about geoengineering more and more. And these are all things that sound meaty to the uninformed person, like a climate, quote/unquote, solution, but they’re really just ways to distract and delay the real solution of ending the fossil fuel industry.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I just thought of a metaphor. It’s like, you’ve got a bathtub and the water is turned on, and it’s filled up, and the water starting to overflow onto your bathroom floor. And all the policies to fix it are about, “Oh, well, let’s get a mop. Oh, let’s put a bucket on the floor of the bathroom.”

Peter Kalmus

Why don’t we take a teaspoon and start taking some of the water out of the bathroom?

Rob Dietz

Right! Or let’s make an incentive whereby people don’t feel water on their feet when they walk in the bathroom or… But it’s not turning off the water, right? That’s the first and best policy option.

Peter Kalmus

That’s why I think the civil disobedience is a really good place for the movement to go deeper and deeper into right now, because I think one of the main things that it’s able to do is to break through this collective denial that we’re all in. And I really don’t think writing books has really anything close to what… I think maybe writing books about the climate emergency, in some ways, might reinforce that bystander effect, because it’s the kind of thing that people do when there’s kind of a quote/unquote “normal issue” or when the whole planet isn’t about to start burning up, right? You write books about things, but that’s kind of an old school… Not that writing books about it is bad. It does help us, like I said. Even for myself, personally, writing my book helped my thinking deepen on this topic. But it just doesn’t really wake people up the same way. Because it’s quote/unquote “normal” or “non-emergency” response to what is from, I think, a neuroscientist perspective, very much an emergency.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I want to stick on that, and maybe even conclude with thinking about how activists go about dealing with the weight of the emergency with the crises. I mean, you and I have both been engaged in some degree or another through career, through activism, in trying to deal with climate, trying to deal with biodiversity loss. You’ve got people out there dealing with colonization and social injustice, and everybody goes about it differently. But in observing you, and in some of our private conversations, I feel like you’re going about it from the perspective of protecting your sons’ lives, like you’re feeling this emergency in your bones. I feel like I’m able to deny or compartmentalize maybe a little more than you’re able to. I don’t know that that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s certainly different. I guess I’m wondering, how are you managing that, just, feeling of dread? Are you are you constantly charged up with cortisol and adrenaline and raring to go? How are you dealing with the emotional weight of this?

Peter Kalmus

Yeah, thank you for that question. It’s a really deep question. So how do I start answering that. So on a day-to-day basis, I do things that I think are good for my brain, and also that give me joy. So that helps a lot. These are things like meditating or going for a run. Actually, it’s weird, when I was younger, I hated running and did everything I could to avoid it. And now actually, it feels really good while I’m doing it, and I feel really good afterwards. What else? Playing music at some something like… that’s a real balm for my brain. And it’s a really just a great way to be with people. Both of my sons are very musical, and so is my wife. And so it’s just… We’ve got to get the family band going. I’ve been working on that for a while, but it’s harder than it sounds. And then also, you know, doing that activism — I think it’s very meaningful. I feel called to do it. So it’s a dangerous thing if the activism and the attention and talking to journalists and all that stuff makes your ego bigger. I think that’s a path to more suffering in the long term. So really, the closer you can come to the ideal of genuinely being just a mouthpiece for the Earth and feeling really like a deep sense of gratitude and humility. And then the meditation practice really helps with that, because it’s about dissolving the ego. But you know, sometimes my meditation practice is really strong. And then other times, there’s kind of this monthly cycle, you know. Other times, it’s much weaker than I would like it to be. That’s very helpful, though. And in the long term, I’m very committed to going deeper and deeper into my meditation practice, which is something I’ve been working with since 2003. I recently moved from California to North Carolina, because my partner got a job at Duke University. And I’ve been just really enjoying this southeastern forest with all the bugs, and it actually rains here and the trees are still green. There’s lots of oak trees and pines around. Hearing those insects and birds and being out there and maybe running along a creek is so nice, compared to being in the smoke cloud and the heat waves in California. But at the same time, I feel such a deep sense of grief about the High Sierra. You mentioned my sons. I also, when I was basically in high school, sort of fell in love with the planet, I think in a real way, when I was building trails in the mountains of New Mexico up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, actually, as part of the Boy Scouts. There’s a ranch there called Philmont, and I worked there for several summers, doing what they call conservation work, which involves building trails with rustic tools, teaching Boy Scouts how to do that, and I just really fell in love with those mountains. It was just… they’re so beautiful, and when they burn, and when the High Sierra burn, it just kills me. When I walk through the High Sierra on the John Muir Trail there and I see all the dead trees, which really the mortality just took off in a crazy way over the last couple of years, it just kills me. And I can’t go into those natural places anymore, with just a pure sense of childlike wonder and joy, which to me is such a huge loss. Now I’m walking through these beautiful places, and seeing mortality and seeing change and seeing biodiversity loss and wondering how bad it’s going to get in the future. So it’s this complex sense of enjoyment and wonderment, but also grief, as I walk through these beautiful places. So it’s an evolving thing. I think, like I said earlier, the friendship of the climate activists that I talk to every day and that I work with and that I risk alongside — that is a very significant part of what allows me to keep going, I would say. So it’s all of that stuff together. And I don’t think I’m done understanding that dynamic, within my own psyche of how I relate to this rapidly changing planet and with the trolls, who find evermore creative ways of calling me an idiot on Twitter, and the people that write me emails about how much my book has helped them, or how they started doing some of the stuff I’ve been doing in terms of civil disobedience. So it’s very complicated, I would say.

Rob Dietz

Well, it’s interesting. I’m sitting here nodding along and smiling to myself and thinking of all these other things I’ve seen and stories that I have that go stride for stride with what you’re experiencing, and feel kind of the same way. One of the insights for me is… Look, you can look at Crazy Town with Asher, Jason, and me, or me and you in an interview like this, and we can throw around a lot of sarcasm and sort of poke fun. And there’s a lot of humor, maybe even gallows humor in a community of people that are thinking about these really heavy issues and the fate of humanity and the fate of the planet. But at its core, I think it comes from a place of supreme care and love. Like you said, falling in love with the planet, like going out into a place outside, and it doesn’t have to even be… you know, I tromp around on Mount Hood and in the Columbia River Gorge and you know, places in the Pacific Northwest. You talked about the High Sierra. It doesn’t have to be places like that. It can even just be a little creek in the backyard. I talked with Taylor Brorby. He was talking about the immensity of the prairie and how it’s the width of that grassland that’s intimidating. And that really struck me. I mean, so it doesn’t have to be some majestic… you know, Yellowstone, Grand Teton mountainscape.

Peter Kalmus

Great point.

Rob Dietz

It can be anywhere. And it’s that love and that connectedness that… it’s almost hard to describe in words. When you’re there and you feel it, you are part of something that you’ve always been part of. And I think it’s that feeling that pushes us to do this, and that maybe it’s the key to dealing with the grief and the emotional weight of it all. What’s your thinking on that? That level of connectivity?

Peter Kalmus

That’s exactly what I was gonna say is: it’s a feeling of profound connection. I think that it’s another way to get to that feeling of ego dissolution. I think all of our suffering is basically caused by our ego. Even when we’re feeling painful physical sensations. It’s a sense of attachment to this corporeal body, which is always changing and vibrating. And we’re just here for a few decades in a universe that’s existed for billions of years and that will exist for billions of years after us, right, this strange collection of atoms and subatomic particles that we call Rob or we call Peter. And it’s really just… we’re all just so much more connected than we are aware of — like, there’s this illusion of separation. And to me, being in places of nature, whether it’s the little creek or a hill overlooking the town dump, or it’s these grander places, or whether it’s just feeling like you’re part of this grand movement of nature defending itself, which we call right now — we call it the climate movement, the key thing there, the thing that makes it all work, and the thing that makes this sustainable, is not to try to get more and more for yourself, but to instead, just try to give as much of it away as you can, and to break down that barrier between you and “not you,” which is where gratitude and love reside, basically. And I know that sounds kind of corny, but I mean, even if you have a fight with your partner, it’s exactly the same thing, right? The fight comes with suffering. And it comes because you’re holding onto something egoicly. And if you or your partner can kind of put that fig leaf of a genuine apology, or a genuine connection, or just reaching out and touching the other person in a genuine way, the fight — I don’t know if you felt this but it doesn’t even have to be with your partner — but the fight just kind of dissolves. And you feel wonderful, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I think when we feel validation, coming from others in our community, when we feel that connectedness to nature, yeah, that’s when we’re in our best state of mind to do the work that’s in front of us.

Peter Kalmus

There’s something really deep there. I think the rest of the natural world sort of gets that in some, you know, unconscious or subconscious way. And I think the human quest to kind of separate from nature and to get as physically comfortable as possible, which has led to some really wonderful things that I don’t want to go back away from… But it’s also led to having billionaires and having way more than we need. And even just things like eating too much, right, which is a form of suffering. But I suspect that billionaires are probably actually far more miserable than normal people, and they don’t even realize it, because they have all of, like, the physical comforts they could ever want. But yeah, they’re kind of further away from being connected to all that is, like, not them, essentially.

Rob Dietz

Right.

Peter Kalmus

And I think that’s a kind of suffering, but it’s not always legible to people. It’s easy to not understand that as suffering, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, and I’ve often talked about the tyranny of comfort and how you can get tied into just seeking comfort, and it’s really discomfort that pushes us, allows us to explore. You know, there’s nothing really comfortable about walking over a mountain into the next valley. But if you’re not willing to go through that, then you’re never going to know what’s in that next valley. So yeah, I agree. I think if if you’re focused entirely on just material pursuits and trying not to be uncomfortable, you’re missing out. Well, look, I really appreciate what you’re doing. Peter, I feel really connected with you and enjoy following you’re pursuits, and I just feel like a kindred spirit. I don’t know what your plans are on the rest of the day. I know I’m going to do some of what we’ve talked about. I’m going out in the woods and do some contemplation and maybe some running around and thinking about next steps and where I can be useful, and I’m really gonna be thinking about this conversation. I think it’s going to help me think about how to ground myself better.

Peter Kalmus

Yeah, that’s wonderful. I always enjoy talking to you, too. I think I’m gonna be… I’m on this what they call a 980 system at JPL. So this is my every other Friday that I get off. And so I think I’m gonna go for a run and then do some action planning with some of my activist friends and see what kind of good trouble we can get into later this fall.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I like that. Let’s all get out there and see what kind of good trouble we can we can get into. Well, hey, thanks so much for coming on Crazy Town again, Peter. And I’m sure we’ll be in touch more soon. So best of luck in all the work you’re doing.

Peter Kalmus

Thank you, Rob. Yeah, it’s still my favorite podcast, so keep them coming up.

Rob Dietz

All right, thanks, Peter.

Melody Travers

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