Messaging Advice from the 100% Solution Framework

A bit dated already but kept here as a resource for activists

❖    Climate change discourse does not need to be controversial

❖    The U.S. can solve the global problem through domestic action

❖    We require immediate action to drive a 30-year global transition

❖    It’s about changing infrastructure, not making lifestyle sacrifices

❖    Bold action will right injustices

❖    Bold action will make the U.S. a world leader and improve our economy

❖    Climate change discourse does not need to be controversial

        For decades, “climate action” has been wrongly conflated with accepting a “burden” or “sacrifice.” (ex: that people have to drive less or stop flying in order to solve the problem) This has been and still is one of the top roadblocks to action. Framing climate action as a sacrifice polarizes the issue. It alienates voters who latch on to climate denial in the hope of avoiding such a sacrifice. It distracts pro-action advocates by conflating climate action with other economic or lifestyle restructuring that activists may want to achieve anyway. And the sacrifice connotation also sets up a conflict between those who acknowledge the problem but are afraid to promote bold solutions, and those who want bold solutions regardless of the perceived burden. This conflict reinforces the false idea in the public’s mind that both the problem and solutions are unpleasant.

        If activists and political leaders start communicating more specifically to paint a picture of what solving climate change actually looks like – new equipment swapped into global systems, minimal lifestyle changes, cheaper costs in many cases, new industries and better jobs, and improvements in equity locally and globally – we can reassure people that the negative connotations they still feel towards climate action are indeed false. In fact, we can excite people because the world in which we solve climate change is not only better than the alternative, it’s better than today’s world in nearly every way.

        Talking about solutions excites voters and unifies people across ideologies, because the solutions to climate change are good for the economy, health, economic equality, environmental justice, and more. Talking about how U.S. strategies can make the physical transformation add up globally gives people a sense of hope. Painting a specific picture of changing physical systems reassures people that they will not have to make personal sacrifices. The only people whose wealth or convenience will be dramatically reduced are the fossil fuel executives and their close allies who are personally invested in the current power structure. Other than them, voters don’t even have to believe in climate science to be excited for the world that solving climate change will create. Effective, specific communication about climate change solutions can remove controversy from climate change discourse.

❖    The U.S. can solve the global problem through domestic action

        One crucial note is that two thirds of current emissions come from developing countries, where most people have modest lifestyles and need more access to energy in order to live the healthy and long lives that we expect in industrialized countries. So not only is the suggestion of solving climate change through personal sacrifice unpopular, it’s unrealistic. We physically cannot rely on changing U.S. lifestyles since the majority of emissions come from developing countries where lifestyles leave no room for sacrifice.

        Encouraging people to use energy more efficiently will of course reduce costs and decrease the amount of new stuff we have to build, so it’s worth doing – but it can’t be seen as a “solution to climate change.” Asking people everywhere in the world to change their behavior would be far too slow to solve climate change. We need a solution that solves 100% of the problem globally by 2050.

        If we build the political will to act boldly, we can rely on U.S. economic and technological leadership. For clean equipment (ex: electric vehicles, or steelmaking based on hydrogen rather than coal) to roll out fast enough globally, it must rapidly become cheaper than current polluting equipment (ex: gasoline cars, or methane home heating). The project of scaling up all clean industries so their costs come down can only happen through the leadership of industrialized countries. It will also benefit the economies of whatever countries take a lead. This is especially important right now, as the U.S. government needs high-bang-for-its-buck investments to restart the economy following the eventual containment of COVID-19. Jumpstarting clean industries is one of the best ways to create jobs that will be available to those currently out of work – and jobs that will last well into the 21st century.

        By driving down the cost of clean equipment through a range of innovation projects, including a rapid scale-up in manufacturing (and by using trade deals to spur key changes in global agriculture and land use), the U.S. could make clean systems spread throughout the entire world and thereby single-handedly solve most of the global problem. There is no need to wait for other countries to enact their own domestic policies. U.S. domestic policies and initiatives can solve nearly the full problem and put Americans back to work and improve our economy for the long term.

        So “decarbonizing the U.S.” is the wrong goal. We need the U.S. to take action that will enable global decarbonization. Such projects will, of course, also “decarbonize the U.S.” but they must be done in a way that prioritizes rapid cost reduction in all necessary clean industries and drives action at the pace and scale necessary to make clean systems affordable worldwide in time.

❖    We require immediate action to drive a 30-year global transition

        Scientists say that to limit maximum warming impacts to adaptable levels, the entire world must reach net-zero emissions (and cross into net-negative emissions to eventually draw down atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to pre-industrial averages) by around 2050.

        Each year’s climate change impacts are related to cumulative greenhouse gas emissions – that is, levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – not to that year’s emissions. Even reducing emissions 99% would mean continuing to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year, making the problem worse. For impacts to ever start lessening, the entire world must cross the threshold into net-negative emissions – removing more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than are added each year, to eventually return ghg levels to safe ranges. The maximum levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will determine how much irreversible ecosystem and weather pattern change we’ll have to adapt to, and how severe those effects will be. So we can’t slowly reduce emissions to zero over a century – by that time, we would have passed levels of ghgs in the atmosphere that make climate change impacts impossible to adapt to while maintaining a stable global society. We have to reach net-negative emissions before the maximum impacts reach unacceptable levels.

​        Because it takes time to fully roll out new equipment, most clean systems must become cheap enough to start spreading rapidly worldwide 15-25 years before the 2050 deadline if they’re to have a chance of fully displacing polluting equipment by 2050. That means the projects to make clean equipment affordable must start immediately and play out over roughly 5-15 years (varying by the type of equipment).


With the right scale-up focused innovation projects, most clean equipment will become cheap enough to outcompete fossil fuel equipment when someone is building/buying a new piece of equipment. This “natural turnover” takes decades – for example, most cars are used for 15 years or more, most industrial equipment even longer, and so on. Once an electric car becomes definitively cheaper to buy than a new gasoline car, for example, all new cars would start being electric. But people wouldn’t necessarily get rid of their recently-purchased still-functioning gasoline cars, so it might take 15 years before nearly all cars on the road were electric. In some cases clean equipment can become so cheap that it makes sense to retire fossil fuel equipment early and replace it with new clean equipment, but that’s a much harder cost target to reach and we can’t assume most equipment will get there in time, even with effective innovation projects. Government mandates can speed this along, but in developing countries governments are limited by basic economics in terms of what people can afford, so again we can hope but not assume that any such policy would be enacted in any given country.

        We don’t need to transition all polluting infrastructure to clean infrastructure in the next 10 years, but we do have to take steps in the next 5 years or less that put us on a track that leads to a full – global – transition by 2050.


❖    It’s about changing infrastructure, not making lifestyle sacrifices

The 100% Solution lays out what must physically be achieved in order to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2050:

➔    We must replace every process or piece of equipment that currently emits greenhouse gases with a process or piece of equipment that achieves the same function but does not emit greenhouse gases. In most cases, the new systems should function in people’s lives in similar ways to the old systems.

◆    For example:

A campaign to convince people to give up air travel would only eliminate airplane emissions if it could convince everyone to totally commit to no flying – something that’s not a realistic goal, given the many families separated by long distance who want to visit each other, the countries that rely on tourism for their livelihoods, and the amount of freight transported by airplanes. A more practical solution would be to replace all jet fuel with a carbon-neutral alternative (perhaps batteries and electric airplanes for short distances, and synthesized carbon-neutral jet fuel with current airplanes for long distances). Unlike convincing everyone in the world to forgo a valuable transportation option, replacing the equipment involved in serving that demand is a solution that could fully succeed by 2050.

➔    In order to fully roll out all new processes or pieces of equipment, most must become cheaper than current systems. We can achieve this through innovation projects, scaling up clean technologies until every carbon-neutral technology is the cheapest and obvious choice for families and companies across the globe.

◆    For example:

If switching to electric vehicles costs families in India a lot of extra money, it simply won’t happen. Most people in the world don’t have the economic means to make that choice. For electric vehicles to replace fossil fuel vehicles fully around the world, one or more of the following must happen:

○      Basic technology is invented that makes EVs significantly cheaper

○      EV manufacturing is scaled up so that their production costs drop as the industry “matures”

○      One or more wealthy countries subsidizes EV manufacturing so that their costs artificially drop below those of fossil fuel cars

○      One or more wealthy countries provides financing mechanisms (such as low-interest loans or loan guarantees) to developing countries, to make the upfront and lifetime costs of EVs lower than those of fossil fuel cars

Many non-emitting processes or types of equipment will require some combination of these options to become affordable worldwide.

Manufacturing scale-up is the easiest option to carry out and the most likely to produce significant cost reductions for most processes or pieces of equipment we need. Production subsidies and financing will be needed for certain technologies that can’t be made cheap enough outright, but they shouldn’t be relied on for everything, or countries offering those options would stop being able to afford them. Inventing new technologies (including minor changes to individual components/etc that make a product cheaper) can have dramatic benefits, but is the least certain option, so it can’t be the only option considered for any given process or type of equipment we need.


➔    It will take time to deploy all the necessary infrastructure even after it becomes cheaper than fossil fuel systems, so to achieve global net-negative emissions by 2050, industrialized countries must make most clean systems affordable enough in the next 5-15 years. This speaks to the need for an immediate, massive investment to scale up the industries we need and position them to export equipment worldwide.



➔    Five pillars of action are required to achieve a 100% solution globally:

1. Deploy clean electricity generation.

2. Electrify equipment that can be electrified.

3. Create synthesized carbon-neutral fuels for equipment that can’t be electrified or isn’t electrified by 2050.

4. Change various processes to eliminate non-energy emissions (ex: CO2 is currently a byproduct of chemical reactions in cement manufacturing) –   especially in agriculture (ex: using crop rotation, cover crops, and enforcement against deforestation to lower emissions from soil and deforestation).

5. Make up for the remaining emissions and get to negative emissions using sequestration.

These pillars are a framework, criteria with which we can judge whether specific policy proposals (recent examples include the House clean energy bill, the Evergreen Action Plan, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis’ report, the Biden-Sanders unity task force report, and the Biden campaign climate plan) would fully solve the problem, or in what areas they have gaps. The 100% Solution book gets into more specifics of what types of equipment or policy can or can’t contribute to a full solution within each pillar, but the 100% Solution framework does not lay out a proposed package of specific policies.


➔    Changes in agriculture and land use are crucial. Deforestation of tropical rainforests, largely caused by clearing of land to graze livestock or grow soybeans or palm oil trees, is one of the single largest slices of global emissions. Farms also create emissions from fertilizer spread on soil and from methane belched by livestock. More sustainable farming practices need to spread worldwide to reduce all these emissions – practices that reduce deforestation by using land as densely as possible (including cover crops and crop rotation), more precise and efficient use of fertilizer, seaweed or other additives incorporated into livestock feed to reduce methane emissions, and government policies and enforcement against deforestation.

        These changes generally make farms more productive and more resilient to natural disasters, thereby increasing farmers’ profits as well as making food healthier for the world. Efforts to shift diets toward more sustainable food choices can play some role, but like all other personal lifestyle change approaches, shouldn’t be thought of as a solution in itself. Changing physical practices on farms can enable “sacrifice”-free diets with minimal emissions.

        The U.S. can again drive most of this change by funding an outreach effort to engage with farmers, spread awareness, and promote adoption of sustainable practices; by using mandates or product labeling to shift the U.S. food market toward products with a sustainable supply chain; and by using trade agreements and other forms of diplomacy to get key countries to enforce strong anti-deforestation rules.

❖    Bold action will right injustices

        Climate change impacts may constitute the greatest global injustice of the 21st century. People who are least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions (for example, the enormous population living along the coasts of India and Bangladesh) will be hit hardest by climate change impacts (such as sea level rise and the related increase in intensity of storms and floods). The richest people in the world can move to safer areas, reinforce their buildings against heightened storm risks, and hardly be affected at all. The poorest people in the world will either die or be displaced from their homes – into a political situation that is currently not welcoming of migrants within or across countries.

        At the same time, the non-climate impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure (such as acute air pollution from coal power plants) are disproportionately concentrated in communities of color and lower income areas. Replacing current industries with clean industries that provide healthier energy and better jobs is both a moral obligation and an economic opportunity for those communities. Policies involved in climate change solutions can be designed to concentrate even more benefits toward currently under-empowered communities.

        And by making clean energy cheaper than fossil fuel energy (necessary so clean options spread fast enough), energy prices will go down overall. This means lower-income families in industrialized countries save more money, and communities in developing countries will be able to afford new access to reliable energy – an essential component in lifting the world’s poorest communities out of poverty.

❖    Bold action will make the U.S. a world leader and improve our economy

        By driving a massive economic mobilization in the next 5-10 years, the U.S. and other industrialized countries can guarantee that every system we need becomes affordable for the whole world to adopt in time. In fact, leading countries can guarantee a global solution without any international negotiations and without every country needing to make its own proactive choices.

        Alongside the opportunity to be a world leader comes an opportunity to improve our own economy. Most of the action needed for a 100% solution to climate change will drive the growth of new industries and make new equipment cheaper than fossil fuel equipment. This has to be at the top of the federal agenda in 2021, given the need to invest in economic recovery and build our country out of the COVID-19 recession. Jumpstarting clean industries (ex: manufacturing of hydrogen electrolyzers and electric vehicles, construction of clean buildings, innovation for new industrial processes) presents some of the highest-impact opportunities for federal spending.

        Solving climate change will be one of the greatest job programs in history – done ambitiously, solving climate change can drive rapid and long-lasting stimulus of the economy, both in the U.S. and around the world.