How to Help Climate Change with Henk Rogers
By Yuresh Shayzer
October 10, 2023
In today's episode, our guest is Henk Rogers, and while he's not the creator of Tetris, he has some fascinating stories associated with the game, which you'll discover in this episode. However, we mainly delve into the pressing issue of climate change. Many people aren't fully aware of the situation and its implications, and Hank sheds light on it. We discuss ideas and actions we can take individually to address this challenge, offering insights that can help you stay informed and potentially contribute to positive change. We all want a better world for our children, and Hank's perspective can guide us in that direction. Tune in with an open mind, an open heart, and attentive ears for an insightful episode!
[3:07] Why should I listen to you?
You should listen to me because I'm a key figure in Hawaii's transition to 100% renewable energy. Hawaii is a global leader, and even in the United States, we're at the forefront of achieving 100% renewable energy for electricity. I've played a significant role in making this transformation possible.
[3:43] Why has this become a passion of yours, and why are you devoting your time and life to it?
I had a near-death experience. After selling my company in 2005, just a month later, I found myself in the back of an ambulance due to a heart attack, with 100% blockage of the Widowmaker artery. I looked at the ceiling and thought, "You've got to be kidding me. I haven't even spent any of the money from the sale." But the next thought was, "No, I'm not going. I still have things to do." This experience made me reevaluate my life's purpose. I came across a newspaper article discussing the threat of coral extinction by the end of the century due to ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide emissions. I decided I couldn't stand by and watch this happen. So, my mission became clear: to eliminate the use of carbon-based fuels.
[5:20] Why did you choose this specific cause to devote your time and energy to, and what drives your passion for it?
I have always had a global perspective, having lived in various countries. When I look at the world, I don't see individual places like Hawaii or San Francisco, even though I lived there for seven years. I see the world as a whole. The issue of carbon-based fuels is not something that can be solved by addressing it in just one place; it needs to be tackled worldwide. Unfortunately, not many people think on a global scale. Most individuals want to help specific communities or address localized problems, like saving a coral reef. These local efforts are essential for creating change on a smaller scale. However, someone must consider these issues on a global level. If I can and do think on this global scale, then it becomes my responsibility because not many others are taking on that part of the challenge.
[12:54] What are the major challenges and barriers you've faced while working on a global scale and trying to get buy-in from a large number of people?
The situation in Hawaii was as follows: when we began this journey, Hawaii was importing $6 billion worth of oil, with $5 billion spent on oil used for various purposes and another billion dollars specifically for jet fuel. Among this, 30% was allocated to jet fuel, 30% for ground transportation, and 40% for electricity, totaling $2 billion for electricity and a billion dollars for ground transportation. We aimed to halt this $3 billion expense. Notably, the electric company in Hawaii was the largest corporation, and when we introduced legislation to transition to 100% renewable energy, they were one of the main opponents, arguing that it couldn't be accomplished. I recall being on a panel where I stated our goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2045. A fellow panelist, a university researcher, declared that, based on his studies, it was impossible. I responded by taking the microphone and acknowledging that I might not be as knowledgeable as him, but we were determined to do it regardless. The prevailing attitude often involves experts and industry insiders insisting it can't be done. This perspective stems from a focus on slow, incremental changes. However, we disrupted the utility's business model to make the transition to renewables more profitable for them, and the results speak for themselves. Hawaii's initial target was 40% renewable energy by 2030, and we have already achieved that goal.
[16:00] Are you primarily focused on finding better methods or strategies for implementing renewable solutions, or is your research more oriented toward encouraging people to adopt these approaches?
At present, we're closely monitoring emerging research and the rise of companies that develop the cutting-edge technologies we require. Instead of creating these technologies ourselves, we search for them. For example, let's consider our interest in hydrogen production. To make hydrogen, we need an electrolyzer, a device that utilizes water and electricity to generate hydrogen. Remarkably, a new company in Ohio has developed an advanced electrolyzer. We decided to purchase their first unit, which we now use at the ranch to produce hydrogen. Several other companies are also experiencing significant growth. The key point here is that people can visit our ranch and witness the future unfold. They can learn about living off the grid, given that I exclusively drive electric cars charged solely at the ranch. Consequently, we've achieved complete off-grid living and gathered essential knowledge, even if it means occasionally taking cold showers, which can be an interesting experience.
[18:42] How are shifts to electric vehicles and renewable energy impacting the automotive repair and mechanics industry, given the ongoing global changes?
The world is in a constant state of flux, as it has always been. Imagine humanity as passengers in a lifeboat, where there are holes in the boat and most of us are diligently scooping out water to keep it afloat. Surprisingly, there are individuals assigned the task of drilling more holes in this lifeboat. This is not a job; it's a crime against humanity and nature. Once we collectively understand this, we must cease damaging the world we intend to pass on to future generations. Considering you have three kids and I have four, with eight grandchildren and another on the way, it's vital to recognize that I'm the eldest of 15 siblings, which means I have a multitude of nieces and nephews. This immense family network makes me feel accountable, not just for them but for all the children who will follow. It's our human responsibility to safeguard the well-being of the next generation and the ones that come after. If we neglect our duty and mistreat our planet, we will witness severe consequences, not only in terms of the current wave of migrants fleeing regions where food can no longer be grown but also in the imminent deluge of people facing dire circumstances in the coming two decades.
[25:45] How can we start discussions about climate change and sustainability in suburban areas with limited focus on these topics amid information overload and distractions?
I'm determined to inspire individuals to make responsible choices at a local level. For instance, I've personally embraced a sustainable lifestyle by going off the grid, driving electric vehicles, and choosing alternative means of transportation such as cycling or using public transit. These seemingly small actions accumulate and have a substantial impact. Empowering your community to make conscious decisions is of paramount importance. When your community decides to take a definitive step, the conversation shifts from "Why should we do this?" to "How can we achieve this?" The moment people start contemplating the "how," solutions start emerging. Let's take, for example, the city of New York. We initiated the plan to go 100% renewable energy, and once the commitment was in place, everyone involved began brainstorming how to make it happen. Astonishingly, just six months after passing this mandate, the electric company publicly declared, "We've figured it out, and we can achieve this by 2040." It's perplexing that they hadn't explored this earlier, but the power lies in making people think about it. When a city, like San Francisco, declares its intent to transition to 100% renewable energy, it sparks a chain reaction. All the entities contributing to the city's electricity supply start brainstorming how to align with this goal. That shift in mindset is precisely what we need.
[34:50] What are some practical steps someone like me can take to contribute to sustainability and environmental efforts, even on a local level, such as in their home or community?
An effective approach to raising awareness involved elementary school children, who went door-to-door to replace 300,000 incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient LED alternatives. LED bulbs consume just about 10% of the electricity required by incandescent bulbs. This easy swap significantly reduces household energy consumption—a simple yet impactful change. I've personally made eco-conscious adjustments, like eliminating beef from my diet. While I enjoy a good burger, I've learned about beef's devastating environmental effects. Cattle farming contributes to deforestation, especially in the Amazon, as trees are cleared for grazing. Cattle also emit methane as they digest their food, further exacerbating environmental issues. In contrast, pigs and chickens have much smaller environmental footprints, primarily feeding on waste, making them a more sustainable dietary choice.
[44:33] What promise did God make to the world when he created you?
I'm going to send you somebody who's going to help you fix things
[6:40-6:42] Ignorance is thinking you can't do something.
How to connect with Henk Rogers