What Could Possibly Go Right?: Episode 102 Alisa Gravitz

May 23, 2023

Show Notes

For over 35 years, Alisa Gravitz has led Green America, the national green economy organization that develops marketplace solutions to social and environmental problems with a key focus on climate, regenerative agriculture, labor justice and responsible finance.  As part of Green America’s Center for Sustainability Solutions, which focuses on transforming supply chains, Alisa Gravitz co-chairs innovation networks on carbon farming, regenerative agriculture, climate safe lending, solar and clean electronics. Ms. Gravitz’s board service includes Ceres, Yes! Media, Network for Good, the Non-GMO Project and Underdog Foundation, along with Green America.

She answers the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • The progress in the renewable energy field around the world
  • The importance of our own individual steps towards climate action, both in impacting the issue and influencing society’s leaders
  • The significance of regenerative agriculture for environmental and social benefits
  • The role of pathfinders, early adopters, and fast followers in driving positive change


Alisa Gravitz: All of the things that people have done over the years really matter, whether you’re talking about government or companies, when they see people taking those steps, when they see the citizen leaders taking the steps, they follow.

Vicki Robin: Hello, Vicki Robin here, host of what Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, and social artists, people who feel deeply and inspire. We ask each our one question: in the midst of all that seems to be going awry, what could possibly go right?

Today’s guest is Alisa Gravitz, President and CEO of Green America. Green America develops marketplace solutions to social and environmental problems with a key focus on tackling climate change, building fair trading systems, stopping corporate abuse, and growing the green economy.

Alisa is a nationally recognized leader in the social investment and solar industries. She authored Green America’s Acclaimed Guide to Social Investing and the Popular Guide to Community Investing. She co-convened the Solar Circle and co-authored several solar thought leader papers.

What I’ve always loved about Alisa, and I did in this interview as well, is that while she works on policy and investing, she is eternally enthusiastic about what individuals, households, small business owners, and communities of place can do to make bottom-up change, which she points out, trickles up. So here’s my conversation with Alisa.

Vicki Robin: Welcome, Alisa Gravitz, to What Could Possibly Go Right? You know, we interview cultural scouts like you to help us see what you see emerging. Our focus isn’t on what should go right, but what our guests see coming down the pike, that lights a path in these times. So how perfect that we’re speaking on Earth Day 2023.

We’ve known one another for nearly 30 years, and you’ve always been a “what could possibly go right” person; green economy, renewable energy transition, conscious consumerism. For decades, you’ve held the values that are so necessary now as we go through the consequences of not acting soon enough, while steering away from the worst outcomes.

In particular, since you’ve been involved for decades in developing solar energy capacity, I’m curious how you see the burst of energy transition activity coming out of the Inflation Reduction Act. You know, it’s like suddenly everything speeded up. So what developments do you celebrate? What could we do better? Like much better?

What approaches miss the mark and possibly set us back? What’s missing? What’s on track? So what do you see emerging in that area that our listeners can take heart from and cooperate with? And in addition, Alisa, since you are such a caring person and have worked on changing individuals and household behaviors, where in the social sphere do you see change for the better?

So having seeded the ground, Alisa, please walk us through your perspectives now in 2023 and I’m gonna ask you our regular question: what could possibly go right?

Alisa Gravitz: Oh, thank you Vicki. It’s so good to be with you here today and on Earth Day and with all these people that you reach and you touch and you inspire.

Thank you so much for the honor. And I have to say, I just love your question. I just love the name of this podcast because there is a lot that can go right and actually, if you look at the heart of things, is going right. We have a long way to go. There’s a lot of serious problems right now. I don’t wanna sugarcoat anything and at the same time, there’s so much to be taking inspiration and encouragement from, and I love that that’s where you focus.

So when it comes to renewable energy that is 100% the case. I want to thank everyone who’s listening here because I know that a lot of people who listen to you, Vicki, are people who, for decades, have been doing things like reducing their energy use, thinking about how they could walk and bike instead of taking a car, thinking about how they could take mass transit instead of a car. All of the things that people have done over the years really matter.

When you take those individual steps, two really important things happen. The steps in and of themselves are important because they make a difference and when they add up and other kinds of leadership, whether you’re talking about government or companies or religious; when they see people taking those steps, when they see the leaders, the citizen leaders taking the steps, they follow.

I’m going to tell you a lot of really great news about what’s happening in the renewable energy world, and none of this would be the case. I wouldn’t be able to make this report to you if it wasn’t for each and every person taking those steps.

So if you ever wonder in your own personal life, if you take these steps, does it matter? Absolutely. It matters at those both levels. The thing is important in and of itself, and it gets others to take action. So thank you.

So on renewable energy, there is just amazingly good news. Right now around the world between 80 and 90% of the new energy that’s being put into place for, you know, a growing population and growing needs is renewable energy.

Wind and solar are the least expensive energy sources in the world right now, and their prices continue to go down. So even people who are not saying, oh, we must do this for the climate, for the environment, for social equity, for people’s health, because obviously renewable energy like wind and solar isn’t putting pollutants into the air; even if you don’t have all those perspectives, the fact that all of us have insisted on this all these years because the economics are so good, it’s moving forward.

Let me give you an example of how powerful it is. The International Energy Agency, which is a big policy organization associated with United Nations, that gives countries advice on what to do about their energy policy. For years and years and years, they’ve been a thorn in our side because they’ve been saying, Oh no, you must do all of the above. You must expand your coal and your oil and your gas because you’ll need it. A year ago, July, they did a complete 180 and they said, because the prices of renewable energies have come down, we are now recommending that every country stop creating new fossil fuel facilities and they go renewable. I mean, this is global. This is huge.

Countries all over the world are – not only here, but all over the world – have really accelerated their renewable energy production. You know, that’s important In industrial countries. It’s equally important in emerging economies because renewable energy means you have to walk less far to get your water. It means you can have a small refrigerator for your medicines. It means that you don’t have to burn kerosene in your lanterns to have light at night so kids can do their schoolwork. Again, that’s a health measure because breathing in kerosene fuels is not good for you either. It’s just phenomenal what this does, and it’s really exciting.

There’s even good news for a bad reason or sad reason, is that some energy experts have said that the war in Ukraine has accelerated by probably 10 years, the implementation of renewable energy around the world.

Even without that, we were on track. I mean, not only the climate team at my organization here at Green America, we have an amazing climate team. You know, our goal 20, 30 years ago was by 2050, we would have a fossil free energy economy with half of that coming from renewables. So we think we’re now at 2040, and this was before the disruptions from the Ukrainian war.

And it wasn’t just us. I mean, you could say, well, these advocates, well, that’s what they would think, but it wasn’t just us. The elite technology forecasting team at Google says the same thing, that maybe by 2042 we could be there. There’s a energy forecasting group at MIT who says the same thing. So I know there’s a lot of climate despair out there, but when it comes to renewable energy, things are looking really exciting.

Then of course, the thing that’s right next to that is the electric vehicles. Almost every major country around the world has pretty ambitious electric vehicle targets including our country. For example, places like in Scandinavia, they’re headed to 30 or 40% electric vehicles. They’re closing down gas stations. I mean, even places like China and India, Also very, very similar. It’s really, really exciting. I know a number of us are worried about things like lithium and batteries and so on and so forth, but there’s some really great new technological developments.

I think we’re at that early stage, so there’s a transition in materials, but I think within five to ten years, we’re gonna have much better materials that we’re gonna be able to use. We’re gonna be able to recycle all of that. So again, it’s gonna take a lot of people doing a lot of hard work. Everything from saying, if I’m gonna buy a vehicle, it’s gonna be electric, all the way up to including all the engineers working on the new kinds of batteries and then on the recycling. Lots of work to do, don’t get me wrong, but it’s looking really good.

And the electric vehicles are really great for the grid because they help balance the grid so we can put more and more renewable energy on the grid. You know, if you charge up in the middle of night we can literally roll the electricity that’s generated at night, maybe by wind energy, and we don’t need so much of it. We can capture it in our electric vehicles and we can use it during the day. So there’s just really great things that are happening there. Again, it’s because of all the steps that everyone here in this audience has taken, and we have a lot more steps, but it’s looking really promising.

Another area that my organization I think the folks here at Green America are so excited about is the other side of the equation, the agriculture side. That’s something in terms of what’s going right I am so excited about the possibilities for. Some people call it regenerative agriculture. Some people call it farming with mother nature. Some people call it carbon farming. Some people call it focusing on soil health, but whatever you call it, it is so exciting and so great because it’s a climate solution that addresses what I call all four parts of the climate requirements.

Number one, agriculture uses a lot of energy and if you take a more regenerative approach, you’re greatly reducing the energy use in agriculture, so you’re greatly reducing your emissions. You’re reducing your emissions of some of the worst things like nitrous oxides, that when you make fertilizers, you get these nitrous oxide gases that are worse than carbon dioxide by many factors.

When you take all those inputs out of the supply chain, you get all kinds of benefits, one of them being reduction in emissions. And of course you get health benefits for farmers and people who eat, who I guess are mostly all of us, you know? So it’s amazing.

So you get the first strategy of climate, which is emissions reductions, you get by moving this direction. The second thing you get is what draw down, right? So even if tomorrow afternoon we had a fossil free world there’s already a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that’s gonna cause havoc if we don’t bring it back down. Well, if you bring it back down through agriculture you can do it globally while you’re doing something that we all need, producing food, and you get extraordinary benefits by using soil health regenerative soil health practices. You draw down that carbon.

I mean, I remember I was so excited when I got involved in this, like. Oh, seventh grade science, right? Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Yay. That’s great. So they’re breeding in that carbon dioxide. Well, what are they doing with it? They’re making sugars and carbohydrates that not only feed us well, when we eat our veggies, that’s where that came from.

Those plants got the carbon dioxide, the carbon to make that food for us out of the atmosphere, but they also use it in the soil, and that’s what draws it down. They provide the sugars to the microorganisms in the soil that then their little carbon beings, they take it deep, deep, deep into the soil. And they’re short-lived carbon beings. So they bring it down and then they cycle life and all they pass on and the next generation of little microorganisms brings that soil down, that carbon down. So we’re getting a lot of carbon draw down.

Dr. Raton Law, who is a very famous soil scientist, he says that with just a 1% increase in carbon in the soil from around the world, we could bring all of the carbon dioxide that’s in the atmosphere, back down to the ground, and back down to before industrial level of carbon in the atmosphere. I mean, it’s so exciting because we would be doing it in a way that’s environmentally and socially beneficial in every way. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

So we’ve got the fossil fuel fuel emissions that comes from regenerative agriculture. We’ve got the carbon drawdown. If we only pay attention, we get food access, food security. So from a social justice perspective, this is really important. There’s a lot of people who both are working on the regenerative agriculture and also the land back work, which returns the land to indigenous peoples.

For example, in our country agriculture has been a very racist world, the policies. But this is a really great way to do land back and reparations. So there’s an extraordinary social justice component for it, and there’s also a social justice component in it from the very fact that it improves food access and food accessibility, so that’s really important. So you have this really important equity perspective, a part of regenerative agriculture.

Then the last thing is, the last part of climate that’s so important is the climate resiliency. Making the soil healthier makes the impacts that we all already know we’re gonna have unfortunately – more flooding in agricultural areas, more drought in agricultural areas – it’s going to make our agriculture more resilient so that if we want to eat in 20 years, we’ll be able to. It’s so inspiring.

I like to spend August at Green America. We have a big program called the Soil Carbon Initiative, and we work with farmers all over the world. In August, I get to go and visit farms. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do. This August I focused on the high plains in our country, so the Dakotas and Montana, Wyoming, and then down into Nebraska. And as one of the farmers said to me, they said, Alisa, you know what’s going on out there? We have a category four drought, you may have heard. In North Dakota, they got maybe six inches of moisture last year. I live in the Washington DC area. We get 50 or 60 inches. Montana got four inches. I mean, can you imagine?

But the farmers that have been taking care of their soil and the regenerative farmers, I visited one of the farmers in, in North Dakota. His fields were so beautiful. I was there, it was a cool day in August in North Dakota. It was only 88 degrees, so we were lucky, but it was still hot. We’re walking through the fields and there’s so much moisture held by the soil and held by these healthy plants that when I got to the other side of the field, from my knees down, my jeans and my boots were damp. Across the little dirt road on the neighbor’s field…

I mean, these are lush fields, by the way, I should just try to paint the picture. These fields are lush. They’re beautiful. He’s got 19 different species growing, plant species growing on that land. You’ve got the bees, you’ve got the butterflies. I mean, it’s beautiful. The soil is springing.

…You walk across that little dirt road to the neighbor that’s not yet doing this, that neighbor didn’t have crops that year. The drought was so bad, but the soil temperature was 122 degrees. And it looked parched. You see that parched soil, you’ve seen photos of that. And this is just across a dirt road at 120 degrees soil temperature. Nothing grows. The little soil microorganisms die out. The little soil microorganisms is what kind of provides all of life for the soil and the plants and everything we eat across the road.

Back at my farmer friend soil temperature was 77. That’s a nice temperature. So it’s just like that resiliency. This is what we need. It’s resiliency and equity and global food security and food access. So one of the great things that’s going right out there is we have the regenerative agriculture solution that reduces emissions. Drawdowns carbon provides equity and provides resiliency. And it is moving really fast. The word is out in farm country. Oh, you look across the dirt road at your neighbors who have crops and you don’t, and you say, Yeah, what am I gonna learn here?

There’s so much great news there, and like Dr. Law says, just all we have to do is increase the carbon in the soil by 1%. That’s easy to do, being thoughtful and intentional. You don’t have to go to the ultra-marathon graduate school level to be able to do that. You can take those steps. If you have land, you can take those steps, right?

Those are some of the things that just that show to me that there’s a lot that’s going right. That there’s a side of humans where they can work together, they can get together and they can create amazing things.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. So I’m curious about the incentives. 10 years ago people weren’t necessarily doing this. What do you think are the incentives that are getting people to participate, whether it’s farmers or whether it’s consumers or companies forming, that innovate in some field that is regenerative or renewable?

Is it the financial incentives? Is it the inflation reduction act? Is there money? Where’s money coming into this? How is self-interest? Because we know the self-interest, it really drives things. How is self-interest coming in and accelerating this transformation?

Alisa Gravitz: So much of in the world that you walk, Vicki and the great people that you talk with on this podcast so much of it is about the pathfinders. Like you, Vicki; your many decades work on helping people understand the choices they make every day. So it starts with the pathfinders. That usually has nothing to do with economics; that has to do with people really tuning into, oh, things can’t keep going this way. We need to tune into what could go right.

They’re often the ones that are the innovators. And then you need those, early adopters or those fast followers who look over those fences and say, Huh, something very interesting going on here. Oh, we need more of this. And so there’s many pathways to get to where things take off, but I think you have to start with those pathfinders and those innovators and those early adopters, like so many people listening today, because we can have this conversation and I can tell you all these exciting things that’s happening in my world of renewable and regeneration it’s because people took all these steps.

So part of it is that leadership that comes and sometimes takes decades. But as we all get together and innovate, as we all get together and find the ways of doing things, as we do all of those things and the costs come down, then more and more and more people join in for sure. And there’s all of those additional benefits that come.

So, staying with the regenerative agriculture story, some of the farmers that we’ve had the joy of working with for over a decade, many of them actually did get started for exactly the reason you are talking about. They saw that they couldn’t keep doing the things that they were doing, that even though with conventional farming, even though their yields were going up, like maybe if they had doubled over 20 years, their costs had quadrupled or quintupled. And they went, wait a second. There’s gonna come a point in time when even though my yields let up, it’s the costs are gonna be more.

It’s already hard enough to be a farmer. And the margins are already often not there. If we have to much rain or too little rain. Oh my gosh. So a lot of them that could kind of see into that three to five years started to say, what do I need to do? What do I need to do?

And then they discovered the, they would literally go online and they would say, oh, look even though I’m in Georgia and even though I grow corn and rice and cotton, This guy over there in Ohio is growing pumpkins. And look at that. Oh my gosh. I could do those things for my soil. And then you get all those benefits, right?

Like again, in the regenerative agriculture, I mean, you save money on average, our farmers that we work with within three years, so this is without any additional external incentives, right? Within three to five years, they’re saving half their farm budget. So if you have a 10,000 acre farm and your farm budget is $4 million a year, rough averages, that means you’re saving $2 million a year by really focusing on soil health.

Reducing your emissions, reducing all the fertilizers you’re buying. You spend less time on the tractors. You’re doing things like you’re not tilling and stuff like that. So you’re saving time on the tractor. All kind of great things that are happening. And then you really get into it, right? You see your soil responding. You see the birds and the butterflies and the bees coming back. You see your land can absorb more water so that in the spring, if you get too much rain, you don’t get flooded. But then when it comes to August and you have too little rain, all that water that’s held in your soil, your crops are still taking advantage of it.

You get all those benefits and you find out that, oh, your food is more nutritious. So the people who buy your food are healthier. So you get these virtuous cycles and there’s not just one, but it’s many that come together when you finally get a lot of folks saying this, is something that’s happening, right? We need to do more of it.

Then you get things like The Inflation Reduction Act, that for example, on the renewable energy side, they’re gonna provide the ability for more people to be able to put in geothermal systems or heat pumps. It’s gonna be able to provide for more people who wanna get electric vehicles, they’ll get a discount. It’s gonna provide cities and towns to be able to put in charging stations. This now takes us to the next level from all that tapestry that had gotten woven together. Okay, how can we do more right?

And it’s the same on the agriculture side. he Inflation Reduction Act actually provides a lot of funding for some of these things, some of these transition in farm country. It provides cities and towns ways to help their farmers. It provides ways for example, to be more local. One of the things that we’ve lost in our agriculture system is that everything has gotten very concentrated. So we no longer have local facilities that you maybe process some food or if for folks who might be able to get you know a locally produced chicken; a lot of that’s gone away.

So some of the funding provides the restoration of this more local based economy, which of course creates more jobs, creates more community strength. So it’s just really exciting. And so it’s really great news that all the things that had been done, all the things that people have done, all the innovations that people have created are now at the level, at the scale where we are now leveling up again.

I don’t wanna sugarcoat anything because we got tough times ahead and we have some folks in Congress that would like to draw back those funds and undo some of that. We do want if you get called to action, if you’re part of a group that says, Hey, let’s protect this, jump right in and tell your representatives that, Nope, the health and wellbeing and the economic viability of our communities depend on this. Don’t you touch that money!

So those are some of the things. But everything that each one of us does… I mean, we’ve covered a lot of it. On the energy side, I think everybody here probably knows, the energy efficiency, the electric vehicles on the agriculture side. I mean, you can literally change the world with your fork by looking for the food that’s been grown regeneratively by asking for it, by supporting your farmer’s markets. These things really add up to what’s going right and what we want more of and what will make a huge difference for the future.

Vicki Robin: I see that where I am. Another fascination of mine was local food, just basically increasing food resiliency, because I live on an island, and the pandemic showed us about supply chains, that they can be fragile. And It’s not through my efforts at all, but I just recently reviewed what was going on in our food system and the number of farms and the number of CSAs and the number of farm stands. You can shop every day for local food just by having this little farm stand map.

And so it’s happening. It’s increasing over time and I hear your message being that individual choices matter, even though it’s very compelling to look at where the technology is going right or wrong, where the funding is going, right or wrong. It’s very compelling to put yourself in the backseat of the car, maybe in the trunk of the electric car, and just say that somebody else is driving this thing. Just to reinforce that. I’m curious.

One other thing that I’m curious that you said is, how in the heck is the war in Ukraine going to be a positive for the energy transition?

Alisa Gravitz: So there’s nothing positive about the war in Ukraine. Full stop. The world will be much better without it full stop. However, because of the disruption of the oil and gas from both Ukraine and Russia, it’s been a wake up call for many countries to put their renewable energy policies onto supercharge.

So a lot of the things that were plans are now going into action much, much, much more quickly; here too even. So of a horrible tragedy that we all wish never happened, it is a little tiny bit of a silver lining of people are speeding up the plans that were already in place.

But when it comes to climate and climate health and equity to not having to live next to a polluting plant or facility, when it comes to all of those things, the sooner, the better.

Vicki Robin: Right. And so that’s a forcing element, just to force people to take the steps.

Alisa Gravitz: Exactly, and like you were just saying about the food, the number of people that have – whether it’s planting their own garden, which by the way is fabulous; the community gardens and the CSAs – have all been on a big uptick which is just tremendous.

My organization has a Climate Victory Garden program, so if you have a garden and you wanna look at how you can maximize your garden for taking care of the climate, you can come learn and then you can register your garden. So you can literally see on the map how all over the country, these gardens are springing up everywhere.

It’s just climate victory gardens. People can find them. Just Google climate victory gardens, and they’ll pop up and iit’s just so exciting and a good thing, because if we get any kind of supply disruption, whether it’s from humans, whether it’s from a pandemic or from a war, or from even some of the climate disruptions that may happen in the future, growing some of your own food is a good thing. Encouraging your neighbors to grow some of your own thing. Food is a good thing.

We work with some African American communities and farmers in the Southeast who are working in their communities to get everybody to do gardens in their front yards. It’s kinda like a whole community effort, and people can help each other grow the food. From there they’re actually starting to do some light processing. So there’s more jobs coming in. There’s just so many ways that this creates community resiliency that is really, really important. And it’s joyful. So many people love gardening. So many people love being outside. It’s a great way to have everything about it be joyful, right? Yeah.

Vicki Robin: That’s now the territory of what I called in my book, Relational Eating; that it basically, by growing a garden for eating from your food shed, you basically come into relationship with the plants and animals that are experiencing the same sun, the same grass. They’re experiencing the same environment. You become part of love. So it also feeds that sense of belonging.

We have a farm school here, an organic farm school, and they started Friday night potlucks and you bring food and they make little pizzas. And so it’s just the community comes together with the toddlers and stuff like that. It’s community building as well.

I have a huge garden and I wanna be a climate victory garden person.

Alisa Gravitz: Yeah. So many people are doing it, so many cool seeds and so many cool things. Just like you said, this building of relation and community. Some of our climate victory gardeners have told us that they’ve started to do local, what they’re calling, crop swaps. Crop swaps, wwhen you have abundant gardens, It’s kind of like a small farmer’s market where people come and they bring their abundance and anyone can come and, and help themselves for free.

They swap seeds and seedlings and all kind of things that again, support the community, help people learn how to do things. You know, people say, wow, I never knew that you could grow, maybe they’re seeing something that they didn’t know could grow in the local area. This is how I grow it. And they said, wait a second. You know, I was at your house five or six years ago. You have a hill. How are you growing all this? Oh, I learned how to put in terraces. And then they can help.

So, there’s all kinds of things that these gatherings around food and gardening just enhance our communities.

Vicki Robin: There’s something about food too, that it’s not political per se. Local food is like everybody gardens. Everybody who gardens, we have an online community of backyard farmers, and we’re swapping with each other and we’re swapping information and there’s no political valence on that. I find that the domain of food is very empowering. So what I’m hearing you say, Alisa…

Alisa Gravitz: Yeah, and it’s happening in the farm communities as well. One of my favorite stories, and this is from a while back ago, but we were working with the farming communities; it’s kind of like you’re saying, farming and soil health and making lives better is something where we can put aside the politics, but when you make the relationships, it also repairs and re-knits the ability to repair some of the relationships. In one of my favorite stories – it’s happened many times, but this is the first time it happened, and so I remember it in great detail – I’d get a call, like at six in the morning from a farmer, cuz that’s when they call. He says, Alisa, I have something to tell you.

Usually when somebody says that, you think you’re about to get some bad news, right? And I said, well, yeah. He says, yeah. I said, I thought, well, you called me. I bet you do have something to tell me. He says, yeah. He says, I wanna let you know we all got together last night and he means the farmers. And he said, we took a vote. I thought, oh no, I hope they didn’t decide they don’t wanna work with us or something.

He says, now I don’t want you to get me wrong because we really like working with you. And I thought, uh-oh, he’s really preparing me for bad news here. He says, we really like working with your team, and you know, your team is really knowledgeable and they’re respectful of farmers and we’ve learned a lot from you and we really like it.

And then together we had helped them put together a small processing facility. It was actually a.soybean roasting so they didn’t have to send their soybeans away, so that they could have them. The way soybeans work is you send them, you can’t eat soybeans. Even the animals can’t, unless they’re processed and they send ’em away and you’ll get back the equal amount, but it won’t necessarily be your soybeans.

Here they were growing all of these healthy soybeans. They wanted their own so, we helped them think about how to get local soybean processing. He says, we really like that because now we have a couple extra jobs in our community. It’s great. I’m like, okay, all this sounds good. So what’s the bad news? I’m waiting for the bad news. He says, but we were talking about you last night and we took a vote. Okay. Probably this was just after the 2016 elections and he says, you know, we realized we probably didn’t vote for the same people. And I said, yeah, that’s right.

We probably didn’t, but you know, we have more important things to work on. He says, yeah, yeah, we know. That’s why we like working with you. It’s not about the politics, it’s about the people and the soil. Okay? Okay. And this was when Trump was just coming in, but he says we’re very upset about the president-elect. We don’t like any of his candidates for Agriculture Secretary.

I’m like, this is interesting news. He says, so we took a vote and we said we’re gonna call Alisa and if they’re gonna protest the agriculture secretary list, we wanted to know that we’re there with you 100%. We’ll protest with you. I mean, so here we’re right, very conservative farmers, who voted the other way that we did, got the election they wanted, but didn’t like the secretary, so they’re gonna protest with us.

I could tell you so many stories like that because when you work together on things that matter, and food is a big one whether you’re talking about your community or the farming community, people come together.

One of the things, when I think about things like climate, the word I like to think about is repair. How do we repair? And we need to repair at every level. So who owns the land? Who gets exposed to the emissions? How do we repair the climate itself? But that’s the power of these amazing solutions that we can each be part of is we can be part of the repair.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. As I listen to you, I think about, this podcast is a project of Post Carbon Institute and we have this online magazine Resilience that publishes new articles and that’s very uplifting. I’m not doing a plug for Green America, but people can. I sort of think, as I listen to you that one thing people can do that encourages the direction of rightness, the direction of repair is to consume the news that comes out of organizations that are really working on the leading edge of the intersection of social, environmental, and political change, so that you actually, on a daily basis can start to get ideas of what’s happening.

I know it’s very common now to rag on social media, but I just can see that getting 10 newsletters, just pick the 10 you like that provides stories like you’re telling of people making changes locally in their community, personally in their household. Maybe, like in my town, we had a group of people, young people really; United Student leaders that insisted our town have a climate crisis action committee. So, the more you read and consume, the more you consume the stories like you’re telling, the more your imagination is lit up about what you can do.

I think there is a passivity, the normity of the problems that we’re facing and how out of control it seems can lead to a passivity. In a way, it’s not like buying an electric car. It’s like just read about people who are buying electric cars or read about the people making the energy transition that can give you the courage to break out of the trance of impossibility and passivity. It’s not even victimhood. It’s just like, what can I do?

I’m excited about the role of your organization as a storyteller. My organization is a storyteller and consuming that grounded news of what’s going on in the world, where people are coming together, they’re working hard, they get an idea, they implement. So I appreciate that there you do have a newsletter, right? I’m not asking you to pitch…

Alisa Gravitz: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And you know, we like everybody else, our job is to tell these stories and to encourage people to take action. So, on our website, greenamerica.org, you can come and you can see all this for free. You might be interested in, for example, one person might be interested in the food part. Another person might be in the interested in the renewable energy part. Somebody else might be wondering where can I what can I do with my finances.

I just want everyone who’s listening to know I learned at Vicki’s feet about how to take those, how to really talk about what’s going right, how to manage your own personal finances in a way that’s supporting your own life and your own joy, and is also reducing the impact on the whole world, because if we’re consuming less, we’re making a huge difference.

What you’re saying is so true. I know you’ve all heard this quote a million times, but it’s so true. Margaret Mead said, it’s a small group of people that takes these first steps and it’s what changes the world and it’s what always has.

I’m remembering as you were talking, Vicki, I was remembering something that we did in I think probably sixth or seventh grade science. Maybe,you’ve done this where you make the crystals, the salt crystals. I had this really amazing science teacher and you know, she always was trying to make it fun and to connect.

So one day she shows up and she’s got this big beaker of water in front of the class, and she’s got this string in the beaker and she says, right, well, today ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna make salt crystals and we’re all going, what? How are you gonna do that?

Anyway, she had us all line up and we all kind of put pinches of salt and she said, now I want you to pay close attention. So we would file by and we’d each put a little pinch, and we did. We went around the room and came back around and she said, I want you to pay attention to that string because at some point you’re gonna see salt crystals. And really sure enough, of course it did happen, we started to see.

There was a little boy and he was the first one to notice. His name was Emilio, and he said, Oh, the salt crystals! We broke out of line. We all rushed over there to look to salt crystals and sure enough, and we were all jumping up and down and we thought, Oh Emilio, you did it. Look, you got the salt crystals going. So she got us all back to putting a little more salt in and the crystals got bigger. Then she had us all sit down, and one of the things she said was, you know you know, you all jumped up and down and you pounded Emilio’s back and said, congratulations.

She said, but you know what? He put the last drop of salt until we got those crystals. Every single, every one of you? If you hadn’t put the salt, if you hadn’t put your little drop of salt in, Emilio’s drop of salt wouldn’t have made those crystals. And she said, it’s so funny because today, class, our lesson is about solutions. You know, salt solutions. But it’s really about all solutions. It takes somebody getting started, it takes somebody contributing and, get started. Look, if we put salt in the water, we could get salt crystals.

It takes everybody. It takes more and more people joining in. And as you get the early results, then people get more excited for more results, because the minute we got the little crystals, we wanted big ones since we put more salt in. And no one of us can do it alone. It takes all of us. It’s a story of solutions.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. Thank you. That’s a great up story for this conversation. Yeah, it’s very inspiring, because I think that I myself have gotten a little overwhelmed by: Do my small actions in my household, in my community, do they make a difference? Are they equal to the magnitude of what we’re facing?

If only, Alisa, that people embody the spirit that you have; like, I’m doing something. I don’t know if it’s gonna work, but I’m engaged. That helps because there’s an anxiety and a sadness and a confusion and a disorientation in our times too, so those sorts of things.

We have a class that kids go in, they raise little salmon fry and they put them in the stream. We have a lot of that stuff happening here where children are being encouraged to participate.

Is there anything final you wanna add to the pot?

Alisa Gravitz: Well, what you just said is so important. So we’ve been in some ways talking about the innovation side, the community side, if you will, the inspiration and if you even wanna say so much to say the spiritual side of creating the change in the system. I could also put on my business blazer, and talk about it from there, but if you still aren’t, if you still wonder, Oh, but I’m only one person…

Look, our economy, 70% of our GDP is because of consumer choices. So right there, that tells you that what you do matters, right? You know, companies spend so much time on quote unquote consumer insights to figure out what people want, right? And you express it by what you purchase and what you choose not to purchase. That does in fact have a huge impact on the system. They’re very concerned about their reputation. So when organizations like ours go after a company to demand change, they realize that with social media, everybody in the country could be talking about it pretty soon.

So if you ever wonder, does individual matter actions matter? I mean, for all the reasons we’ve been talking about in this conversation about the social and relational and inspirational side. Yes. But it has real pragmatic side, so whether you’re talking about companies or voting, all of those things corporate leaders, government leaders, they pay attention to us and they lead after the leadership has been established by us.

I think that’s the story of the history of humanity, right? And so it really does matter. And sometimes people also worry to your point also about they’re anxious about, well, what matters, what should I do? What you said was so important. I always say, Don’t get analysis paralysis. Just get started. Right?

You know what you learned from getting started. You can change the course of action. I mean, right now out in farm country for example, there’s a number of people that have different approaches to how to make your soil healthy and it’s like they’re all good, right? It’s the one that makes the most sense for you. Give it a try and if you wanna switch gears, not a problem.

Don’t worry about, don’t try to an analyze it to the nth degree, which program to start with. You know, choose a program and get started and if you see another program later that you like, better switch. The important thing is to get started. Get started.

Vicki Robin: Yeah. Thank you so much, Alisa. I love listening to you. I’ve loved listening to you for 30 years and I think the word indefatigable was invented for you.

Alisa Gravitz: Thank you, Vicki, and saying right back to you. I think everyone who listens to this podcast knows that, and that’s why they tune in to hear you.

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin is a prolific social innovator, writer, speaker, and host of the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast. She is coauthor with Joe Dominguez of the international best-seller, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin, 1992, 1998, 2008, 2018). And author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking Penguin, 2013), which recounts her adventures in hyper-local eating and what she learned about food, farming, belonging, and hope. Vicki has lectured widely and appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” and “Morning Edition.” She has also been featured in hundreds of magazines including People Magazine, AARP, The Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Utne Magazine, and the New York Times. She currently lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and is active in her community on a range of social and environmental issues including affordable housing, local food, and community investing. For fun, she is a comedy improv actress, sings in a choir, gardens, and nurtures a diverse circle of friends.

Tags: building resilient communities