#112 Adam Zurofsky, Founding Executive Director of Rewiring America

Adam Zurofsky currently serves as Founding Executive Director of Rewiring America, a non-profit dedicated to combatting climate change and spurring economic growth through the rapid and widespread electrification of the U.S. economy. As Executive Director, Adam sets RA’s strategic priorities, manages its policy development, partnership, and communications activities, and manages all day-to-day operations.

Until mid-2019, Adam served as Director of State Policy and Agency Management for the State of New York where he led the development and implementation of all major policy initiatives for Governor Cuomo and was responsible for strategic management of the State’s executive agencies and authorities and their more than 150,000 employees.

Prior to that, Adam served as Deputy Secretary for Energy and Finance for the State of New York where he directly oversaw all policy and regulatory aspects of New York State’s energy, climate, and finance portfolios as well as the following State agencies and authorities: the Department of Public Service (DPS), the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), including its New York Green Bank, the Department of Financial Services (DFS), including its Banking, Insurance and Consumer Protection divisions, and the Department of Taxation and Finance, among others. Adam was responsible for leading implementation of Governor Cuomo’s climate agenda, including establishing the U.S. Climate Alliance of 25 states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Accords and the decarbonization of the over $200 billion New York Common Retirement Fund.

Before joining the Cuomo administration, Adam was a partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon and Reindel, LLP, where he advised leading companies, financial institutions and their boards in a wide variety of regulatory, litigation and corporate governance matters. During his almost 18 years with Cahill, Adam also chaired the Firm’s associate development program and was recognized as one of the Top 10 Securities Lawyers under 40 in the nation.

Adam currently teaches climate policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He previously co-founded Fordham Law School’s Corporate Sustainability Initiative and has served as a member of Fordham’s Adjunct Faculty, teaching on issues such as corporate social responsibility and impact/ESG investing. He is a published author and a regular speaker at conferences on topics ranging from climate policy to clean energy finance to corporate social responsibility.

Adam holds an A.B. with honors in Political Science from Stanford University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and a J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School. Adam was previously a member of The Brookings Institution’s Leadership Council for Governance Studies as well as the Board of Directors of the Roundabout Theatre Company. He was also a founding Board member of Civics Unplugged.  Adam lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Bigger Than Us Episode 112

This transcription has been lightly edited for readability.

Host Raj Daniels

If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Adam Zurofsky  02:37

I appreciate the question. I think one of the things that I you know, I always like to think of and then there’s always a question, of course of how much this plays out in reality is, is a willingness to try new things. I think that’s sort of both can be a scary thing, but also an invigorating thing. And I just to, you know, kind of lay out a few examples. When I went to college I grew up in New York, and I went to California with Stanford for college. And I remember sort of first thinking that was exciting and interesting, and then being scared that I didn’t know anybody and know anything about the West Coast. And then sort of the same thing, when I switched careers from being a lawyer, to working in this space, the energy, climate space, it was, again, a bit of a challenge. But to me, that’s always been the most rewarding part. So I try to keep it interesting. I tried to keep it on my toes, much to the chagrin of some people who always try to pigeonhole you into some specialty, but I very much value those kind of opportunities. And I would say my wife recently challenged me to take a tap dancing class to put myself on a limb. And I did so you could pick between the two of them.

Host Raj Daniels  03:39

So that was going to be my next question is that, you know, staying on the theme of new things. What was the latest newest thing you tried?

Adam Zurofsky  03:46

So that was it, my wife dared me to take a class. Before COVID at this local area, and she said, you know, name through force dared me, she said, you know, name three things you like, and I said, you know, I’ve always liked, that I’ve been involved in, I was on the board of a theatre company for a number of years. And she said, well, I dare you to do it. There’s about me and about 10, I’ll call them older ladies, in our class, and I think it’s, you know, I’m certainly not going to become a professional tap dancer by any means. But like other things in life you open yourself up to what’s possible, and to what you can do if you pressure stretch yourself a little bit. So it was good.

Host Raj Daniels  04:32

So before we get to the climate space, I want to double down on this piece for a second. Regarding the courage to try new things. You mentioned switching careers. You mentioned trying tap. Where does the courage come from?

Adam Zurofsky  04:47

Courage is a very kind word. I don’t think of it that way. I actually think of it a little bit the other way and this may not be I don’t know if this rings true for other folks. But to me, I remember when I left my law firm I was at I was a partner from here in New York, and I was there for about 18 years. And I remember people asking me when I was thinking about moving on to try other, you know, the things I thought might be were rewarding. People said, well, aren’t you scared? Isn’t it risky? And I remember thinking to myself, yeah, absolutely. But I actually thought it was riskier to stay.

And so I think that’s how it comes up, which is to say, if you are in a situation, and there’s no knock on some of my former partners, who are terrific people doing terrific work. But for me, that was not something I found entirely satisfactory and entirely fulfilling. And it’s always easy to kind of stay where you are, it’s always easy to do what you know. But I think if you the way I like to think of that is that itself, there’s risk includes risk. And the risk is that you know, you never get to experience anything else. And so I think you can call that courage, you can call that fear of inertia. But, but either way, that’s sort of how I’ve always looked at it.

Host Raj Daniels  05:56

Thank you for sharing that. And coming back to the climate space, can you give the audience an overview of Rewiring America and your role at the organization?

Adam Zurofsky  06:03

Sure, I’m our founding executive director. That means I run the organization’s day to day activities in close partnership with its two co-founders, Saul Griffith, who’s an engineer, a data scientist, out of MIT, and MacArthur Genius, as they say, who really did a lot of groundbreaking analytical work that has led to the formation of the organization and the traction we’ve been able to have so far. And our other co-founder, who’s Alex Lasky, who was the founder and ran a company called Opower, for many years, which was really a pioneering company around thinking about energy efficiency, and data and data around utility work. And so the three of us in conjunction kind of lead the organization. What Rewiring America is, it’s a nonprofit organization. And the way I like to think of it is, is that we are a coalition of engineers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, volunteers, who are all committed to one basic mission. And that mission is to demonstrate through data and analysis and in sort of practical pathways, that we can both solve climate change that we can solve climate change, but also do so in a way that spurs our economy, and makes for a brighter future. It is possible, it is possible with technology. Now, it is inspiring, and it’s something we should want to do. And I think our, our mission at Rewiring America is to try to carry that message and to really show people how, at least as much as we can partner with others, how that’s possible. And so we can move the needle. I mean, I’m reminded, and maybe we’ll get into this a little bit further on.

You know, I was a policymaker, until recently, I ran our climate and energy and finance portfolios, among other things for New York State. And I always thought that one of the big challenges in moving, you know, making change making progress. Sure, you have to have policies, sure, you have to have resources. Sure, you have to have buy-in, constituencies, but you also need buyers. And that means psychological buying, people are always leery about change. And I think part of the work we can do in this organization and committed to doing is to try to get hold of people’s hands a little bit and give them comfort that it’s going to be okay. And it’s going to be better. And that’s really where we focus.

Host Raj Daniels  08:19

So you mentioned it’s possible. Can you give examples of some of the possibilities?

Adam Zurofsky  08:23

Sure. That’s a great question. Are the basic thesis of possibility is electrification. So for those out there, and no, you have a fairly sophisticated audience, but maybe it’s worth just a minute on what that means. When we say electrify everything, and that’s our sort of our one of our mottos, we mean, take every machine that currently in our economy runs on fossil fuel. So cars that were in gasoline, you know, boilers that run what we call natural gas. Jet power plants that generate using whether it’s coal or natural gas, or even oil and replace them with electric versions electric, you know, electricity. And in the case of your house, for example, or your household, that means replacing your internal combustion engine vehicle with an EV. It means replacing your hot water heater or furnace with a heat pump. It means replacing your gas stove with an induction range. And more broadly, in the economy, it means doing the same, you know, as we move out, out of your house, across the board, and it also means very importantly, generating all the electricity that we’re using in a clean way.

So the reason that matters and again, I’m sure this is familiar to some listeners, but probably worth just establishing is we can generate electricity in a way that does not at the same time, produce greenhouse gas emissions, right solar and wind being the most obvious hydro, even nuclear and that’s subject of some controversy but nuclear does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. These are all ways we can generate electricity. So if you electrify all the end uses of energy, cars, furnaces, whatnot. And you, therefore, generate and you generate that electricity through methods that themselves don’t generate carbon or greenhouse gas emissions. You can decarbonize an economy. And that’s possible today. All those technologies exist, there’s no miracles needed no breakthrough science experiments, where some mad scientist in a lab kind of comes up with the next great technological innovations. All the capacity to do what I just described, exists today, there are up their heat pumps, there’s clean electricity generation, it’s a question of scale, it’s a question of political will. It’s a question of deployment, an organization as of today.

Host Raj Daniels  10:47

Well, let me add one more question there. And let’s stay with the home for a moment or perhaps with the individual, the cost associated with converting to a heat pump to purchase an electric car. You know, there’s a lot going on right now, when I don’t if we’re in COVID. Good point. But you know, individuals bearing the cost of this conversion, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there even you know, people that are listening that would love to perhaps buy an electric car or exchange their current, you know, HVAC for a heat pump. But how does rewiring America propose or perhaps suggest that individuals can learn to or perhaps bear the cost of doing this transition?

Adam Zurofsky  11:31

Sure. So that’s, that’s obviously the key question. Once you get past the sort of premise that I articulated about the technological possibilities. And the good news, and I’ll unpack this here in a minute. The good news is not only can we afford to do it, but it’s actually economically beneficial. And I’ll explain what I mean. Obviously, the better for households and better for the economy. Here’s why.

I mentioned earlier Saul and his analytical work that led to the formation of rewiring America. And so maybe it’s worth spending a minute on what that is because it really sets up the answer to your question. What Saul and his team did is funded by the Department of Energy and in consult consultation with some other folks did a study of all the energy flows in the economy and the US economy where energy comes from what it’s used on. And where it ends up. And, and what we found. And this is something that’s on our website, rewiringamerica.org, is we call our Sankey diagram and you know, Sankey diagram for those of you who haven’t seen it before it kind of maps flows of things. And the Sankey diagram that’s all in his team put together led to a pretty remarkable conclusion. And that is this, if you electrified everything, you know, they asked the question, so what if we electrify everything? Everything, the whole economy would need about half as much total energy as it currently consumes. Okay, so just, you know, take that for a minute as a given. And then, yes, well, why why is that? So? Right. So so how can that be?

Well, the main answer is that our current economy is pretty wasteful. Our current economy runs on fossil fuels. I mean, this is something I did not know until I sort of got involved in this work. 10% of the energy in our current economy is actually sponsored fuel spent finding, refining and, and transporting other fossil fuels, right. So they get exploring, digging it up, refining it, getting the gas to your car, all the rest of it. 10% of our energy is on that. So if you are electrifying, none of that is necessary, you don’t need to dig oil out of the ground, you don’t need to refine it, you don’t need to transport it, you don’t need to sell it. So that’s right off the top, you have savings there.

But the other big chunk, and there’s more in our analysis obviously goes through some granular detail. But the other big chunk, in fact, the even bigger chunk is the heat loss. When you burn gas in your car, I forget the exact percentage, but it’s the vast majority of the energy created by the burning fuel actually goes out into the atmosphere as heat as opposed to for propulsion in your car. And so if you electrify and this is again, the work that Saul and his team did, the whole economy as a whole would only require half as much energy.

Okay, so how does that relate to the question, the important question you asked about households being able to afford this? Ultimately, and we published an analysis last week, showing that with supportive policies and sufficient financing, and I’m going to come back to that in a minute. The average household in America, if they fully electrified could save anywhere between $1000 to $2,500 a year on their energy bills. Households currently spend up to $4,500 or so a year. So we’re talking significant household savings is available, if we electrified everything. The challenge, which is the challenge that you identified in your question, is the upfront costs to get us to that, let’s call it a better state. So that’s where things like policy are going to be important. And in Rewiring America’s where we are really are focusing now is moving away from sort of establishing the premise that I just the exciting premise that I just mentioned to you into how do we how to have policymakers get involved and help out? And also building a market?

This is not a problem that hasn’t been solved before. I don’t know about you. When my wife and I bought our current house, we weren’t able to come in and just say, Oh, sure how much that has great. Here’s, you know, let me reach into my pocket. Here’s the money. Right? What do we do? We said, Well, we know we can afford that house over time. Right? We know, it’s cheaper than our rental that we were living in. So there’s this magic technology called a mortgage. Right? And what does a mortgage do it mortgage lets you take advantage of the benefits of the future today, and the resources of the future today?

Well, that’s a key pillar, if you think about it, of how we’re going to do this, too. So one of the things we’re working on now is designing policies and working with policymakers. And certainly where I’m focused, personally, of course, on how do we make it cheaper for the average household to do. And that includes not just financing, where you could get mortgage type rates, and either through a utility on-bill financing or some other kind of lending, but also includes, frankly, helping manufacturers scale up so that costs come down.

I don’t know how familiar you are. But I certainly have always been stunned every time I look at the charts around PV solar prices, and battery storage prices, over time, they keep falling and keep falling and keep falling and keep falling. And that’s partly because of adoption and scale. And so we’ll see the same thing, I think on some of the things we’re talking about here. And so all those things together are really where policy and can help shape market drive markets get down prices, the other side of the equation. And I don’t want to, you know, happy to talk about any of this in more detail.

But just to finish out, the answer to your question is going to be making sure that the market is ready for this because one of the challenges. I put solar on my roof. This is at a time when I was overseeing our state’s energy portfolio, and I still had a hard time. And I like to think, you know, without being too tough, important that they were probably putting me as a priority customer, given that I was in charge of the energy, you know, the energy portfolio for the governor and the state they’re operating. And it was still difficult because there’s permitting, there are regulations, there’s inspections, there’s lag time, so we need to clean that stuff up, too.

We need to get to a point where it’s easy if you’re a homeowner for you to say, I want to do this, here’s cheap financing. And here’s a guided streamline process to make this happen. So that’s where we’re working now on identifying and providing roadmaps and assistance as to how we get from here to there because there is, but the key takeaway is there in the future that is better economically for you at the household level, better for us at the economy level, and obviously better and environmental-climate level. And that doesn’t even account and I’m sure we’ll come on to this, all the benefits economically of that work that’s going to be required to get us from here to there.

You can decarbonize an economy. And that’s possible today. All those technologies exist, there’s no miracles needed no breakthrough science experiments, where some mad scientist in a lab kind of comes up with the next great technological innovations.

Host Raj Daniels  18:05

So I understand the financing model familiar with solar financing and other financing. You mentioned mortgages, etc. Where are we, from a policy standpoint?

Adam Zurofsky  18:15

So there are models, right? And if you’re asking about in terms of policy support for that kind of financing. There is work happening. When you think about it, and I should say we are, I think recording this seven days before the 2020 election. So whatever I’m saying now will clearly be relatively moot one way or the other in a couple of weeks. Right, either is Biden wins, I think, you know, it’s fair to say there’s that opens up, based on what he’s proposed as plans, a significant number of opportunities at the federal level. If Trump should get reelected, obviously, then it’s then that changes that dynamic based upon the positions that they have taken on this issue.

But at the state level, and I think it’s important to plug the state level here a little bit, just not only because it’s where I’ve worked in the past, but also because of its importance to these issues that are when we’re talking about homeowners, we’re talking about folks on the ground, obviously, they are much more in touch regularly with their state and local governments. There are there is work going on. And so I’ll give you an example. Here in New York State, NYSERDA, which is the Energy Research and Development Authority here has a pilot program out now, just on the topic I was talking about before where you as lenders can sign up for credit enhancement, that is to say, guarantees against losses, if they making loans for qualified projects along the electrification, energy efficiency lines to homeowners, and they can get backstopped by a state entity up to certain percentages. If they make those loans then that encourages lending, right because I’m a lender. If I know that I’m going to be covered for losses up to X percent on the first dollar, by a creditworthy counterparty, like NYSERDA, or New York state that encourages me to lend and encourages me to lend and compete at lower interest rates than others.

So I think those are kind of models that we’re seeing. I mean, obviously, there’ll be a role at the federal government, if it comes to it for expanding, and turbocharging that we certainly are working on proposals along that line here at Rewiring America. But I think there are models for that there’s I mean, there are other things going on, too. You mentioned solar financing, right. And so there’s been a tremendous market, in the solar tax credits and tax equity and all of that. So I mean, there’s definitely the models that we can use here to help on the financing side. But we could use but the bottom line is, we could use a whole heck a lot more. I mean, I think we envision a very robust growth to that market over the coming years.

Host Raj Daniels  20:57

I do too. Boing back to the Sankey diagram for a moment, not only is it a beautiful, beautiful piece of work, and I’m actually thinking about how I can get a print of that for my wall, it’s just gorgeous to look at.

Adam Zurofsky  21:06

Well hold because we are actually talking about I mean, it’s it’s an eye chart thing, but we are actually talking about how we can produce, you know, using that as a way to produce some stuff to put some branding stuff. So swag is coming, I think what we recently had a proposal from someone to take that and put it on all sorts of items.

Host Raj Daniels  21:24

Looking for about a four foot by three foot four right behind me when I sit here. I’m looking for something at scale. So when my kids walked by, they can take a look at it too. Because the point I want to get to here is, I watched a video with Saul. And something he said during that video really stuck out to me. He pointed to a section in the Sankey chart, it was a very quick video, and I’m happy to put a link to it in the show notes. But he said every one of these, one of us would industries that have a point one next to it is a $25 billion opportunity. Can you expand on that a little bit? 

Adam Zurofsky  21:58

Sure. So point one, the reference on point one is that’s the level of granularity that our Sankey chart. And again, I I think I would encourage you to link to it. Because obviously, we’re talking here in the abstract. And you and I both know it, but I think, you know, listeners obviously will want to take a look here. But that’s the level of granularity, 0.1% of the energy flows in the economy that were are mapped in the Sankey diagram. So that’s what that means.

But what I think so I was talking about there, and I, you know, go back and look at the video, but based upon our conversations is that the transition to the transformation of these industries, from a fossil fuel from their fossil fuel history, and our economy as a whole from its fossil fuel history, to our electric future is an enormous economic opportunity. And so I’ll give you a couple of examples.

We just finished talking about financing. Right? I anticipate and you said you agree, I mean, hundreds of billions of dollars in lending over the coming years to homeowners looking to upgrade and put solar panels on their roof, put electric cars in their garages, upgrade their hot water heaters, right? So we’ve done an analysis that says that, think for a minute about who’s going to do all that work? Folks doing the work on the ground in terms of folks at your home, but then who’s going to help underwrite those loans, manage that financing, and deal with it? Those are jobs here in the United States, right, you can’t really outsource a retrofit.

And along with it in each of those industries, and touchpoints over on the way so that the banker in the financing, who provides the capital, who then works at the contract, who brings people along, who then buys the stuff from the manufacturing entity, who then, of course, has to have the installation, and then the service and then the people who are obviously providing ancillary services to those industries as they grew up. All of that together, we estimated an estimate is going to create 25 million jobs over the next 15 years, we published this on our website. And those jobs are good-paying jobs. And if you think about the math for a second 25 million jobs, you know, that $175,000 a job doing quick math in my head is what? I can’t do math in my head right now. But a sign that’s sort of that’s the economic the gross economic opportunity at the economy right now, which is, you know, we’re looking at 25 million jobs over the next 15 years. Good paying jobs. We have a paper as I say that that I would certainly refer people maybe you could link to it’s called our jobs report.

But what you’re talking about is what does that transition look like? And it looks like, to me, it looks like unbelievable economic opportunity up and down industries, whether it’s in manufacturing cars, whether it’s in installing solar in your roof, whether it’s financing those things, whether it’s financing, the manufacturing of cars, whether it’s the ancillary services around servicing those things, any of those things and the Sankey diagram you’re referring to obviously breaks it down by industry. But that’s what we’re talking about.

Host Raj Daniels  24:57

You know, it’s interesting, you say that because just yesterday I had a conversation with a young man who is doing, essentially lead generation for contractors and construction here in Dallas. And one of the things I recommended to him was regarding energy efficiency and retrofitting buildings and how perhaps, you know, contractors can start differentiating yourself from the current market by offering the services which are going to become more important over time. So if I’m hearing you correctly, you know, that will come under, let’s say, HVAC, for example, you know, in that, in that diagram, that in itself, that industry that one niche itself could be, you know, that $25 billion opportunity.

Adam Zurofsky  25:33

Yeah, and I think that like, again, I have to go back and look at the method that you’re talking about almost $2 trillion in activity, if you just sort of think of the 25 million jobs at 75,000 on average, some of them higher, some of them lower. But you’re talking about a tremendous amount of economic activity to make this transition happen. And when you think about that, and you think about that, in the various industries, to your point, the opportunity, you know, it’s not exactly spread out linearly, but the opportunity in each of these industries is tremendous. Because if you think about the total amount of this transition, yeah, so it, there’s going to be significant opportunities and age backward, there’s gonna be significant opportunities in electrical work, to install load center upgrades at homes, there’s gonna be tremendous opportunity in finance, for folks who are going to be making the lend and processing the loans. There’s tremendous opportunities in ancillary businesses that support those activities. And each of those things is an area where, you know, I think people are going to see that these are the jobs of the future.

I’ll just tell you one story that I don’t know if it, you know, sort of rings true here. But it strikes me as when I really remember from my time in government. The governor used to ask me how many people are in clean energy and work in clean energy in New York State? The number we had was about 150,000 at the time. And I would ask him, I said, you know, but governor, how many of those people you think know, they’re working in green and clean? And I said, probably 10,000 to 15,000. Right? Most of those people just think they’re going to work, they think they’re going to help fix a house, they think they’re going to install solar panels, I think they’re going to put in insulation, they think they’re going to put a solar farm, they think they’re doing a connection over, you know, a wiring connection, interconnection to the grid. They think they’re financing these things. They think they’re working on tax equity deals. And that’s all true. But all that rolled up is the clean economy. And I think that’s what we’re gonna see on a large scale. And that’s, I think what you’re talking about in terms of the opportunities are all those things that flow through all those different categories?

Host Raj Daniels  27:30

That’s a great point. So, Adam, I’m gonna make a hard right, turn here and get to the crux of our conversation. Okay, you know, it’s the why behind what you do. 18 years in law practice teaching law. Now, you’re here at Rewiring America. Why and what keeps you motivated?

Adam Zurofsky  27:48

Well, I think I think there’s a stage in between that we talked about a little earlier, which is, you know, I have three young children. And I had a career where things were going very well, and you do work, and you kind of just pick your head up and put your head down and go today. But at some point, I think in particular climate is, to me is one of these examples. I think, I think it certainly came to me, and I hope it comes to others, you say, Well, you know, what, what do I want to be doing with my life? What is the way I could be of the greatest use and most contribution? Whatever that is, and it could be, you know, it doesn’t have to be the single-handedly doing X, Y, or Z. It’s just where’s your best contribution?

And that question to me has always been, you know, sometimes it’s an annoying question. I sometimes envy folks who kind of just have either by choice or, you know, at some level, I don’t envy the folks who have it by no choice but don’t have to sort of think about that or don’t think about that. But for me, I was in a fortunate position where I could have some reflection, and, and decided that I really wanted to make sure that I spent my time on something I thought what really mattered and can help other folks. And this just sort of came to it. I would add, also, I don’t know if others have had this experience. I came to energy and the ins and outs of climate policy relatively late in my career. And so it had, for me, the install has made the excitement of the new, you know, this is just an unbelievably fascinating field where things are transforming in real-time. I like to say that, I think sort of like the life before the internet, my kids always ask me, how is it possible to live without iPads and Wi-Fi, and all the things they do? And I think in 20 or 30 years, we’re gonna get similar questions about how is it possible to live with all those fossil fuels in your house and in your atmosphere, I think we’re gonna see an unbelievable transition. So to me, it’s exciting to be part of that and just do what you can to help out and to grow and learn, and all those things. I think those are all great. 

Host Raj Daniels  30:01

How old are you children?

Adam Zurofsky  30:02

So I have eleven, eight, and six. Those are their actual biological ages. If you want their psychological and emotional development, you know, they vary but two boys, and then my youngest is a girl.

Host Raj Daniels  30:16

Well, we’re in the same boat. I have three daughters. They’re eight, ten and twelve.

Adam Zurofsky  30:21

My daughter is the youngest, but she definitely brings the most energy and sort of complexity sometimes to our, our lives. I love her dearly, but I don’t you know, some level I think you’re good, man. If because you must be you must be you’re about to enter those teenage years that everybody warns you about.

Host Raj Daniels  30:44

One day at a time. Yeah, there you go one day at a time. And when your kids go back to listening to this in the future, they’ll be proud of what you said.

Adam Zurofsky  30:53

Well, for now, for now, we’re just trying to get through I mean, this is obviously as I’m sure you’ve experienced, and anyone with kids is experienced quite an interesting time to be a parent of kids in that age group that we’re talking about, not just because of the Zoom school and all of that, but also to having to have the conversations with them about, you know, life is not a certainty. And being resilient resilience around that and empathy around some of these people going through harder times. And all that is something my wife and I very much try to use this opportunity to impart to them in their lives.

Host Raj Daniels  31:27

Absolutely. So, you know, you said 18 years with a law firm than working in government. And now with Rewiring America, what are some of the most valuable lessons that you would say you’ve learned about yourself?

Adam Zurofsky  31:39

I think one of the lessons is, it’s sort of almost paradoxical, the answer is that never think you know what the answer is. The answer to your question is sort of is almost a processed answer, which is to say that, that one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s always a process of evolving and learning and tried to learn more. And reflecting developing this amount, you know, it’s not without a top right in the sense of as one thinks about your own learning about yourself. And so that’s the closest thing I’ve had to a fundamental lesson.

But in terms of more day to day stuff, I think I’ve always done well responding to challenges. There are folks out there, and Saul is a terrific example of it, who are just throwing off sparks, always throwing up new ideas and new things and new directions. And it’s, it’s exciting and exhilarating. To work with someone like that, For me, whether it was at my law firm, or in government, it’s, I’ve always been, I think, more effective when I sort of react to that and think about how to make those things operational, how to think about presenting them how to think about them in a strategic, tactical way, and work towards making things happen in a practical expression. And so I think, you know, one of the things we all try to do in life is, is realized, you know, what you can bring to the table, but also realize how important is to have other people, they’re bringing other things as well. So, I’ve always tried to take that lesson to heart when I can.

Host Raj Daniels  33:09

So speaking of strategic, it’s 2025, ideal scenario, what does Rewiring America look like?

Adam Zurofsky  33:23

You almost can look through my computer, I imagine, at this moment, see the projected steady-state budget projections that my team has been sending to me about what it looks like over the next three to five years. What we have in mind for a vision, and there is, I would say a couple of things. One is, is that the narrative that we’ve been talking about during this session is become the narrative. Just to say it out loud. We, you know, we’re a week out from what was the final debate between President Trump and Vice President Biden, and the question came up, as it always seems to come up these days around, you know, clean energy jobs, and Vice President Biden was obviously very committed to it. And he’s made that point. But even the way it was framed by the moderator was, how can you say they’re consistent with the economy? It’s a sort of very defensive, and it feels almost as if the conversation for too long around this topic has been in an eat your vegetables kind of way, right? Like, oh, man, I know long term, it’s going to be good. But boy, I just can’t don’t want any more broccoli. And I think our mission at Rewiring America and if you ask me about 2025, what I’d like to see first and foremost, is that we’ve played a part in changing that narrative.

So now people are not asking why. Why are you tackling climate change? Or how can you do so? But why aren’t you oh, my goodness, what an opportunity missed. This is an opportunity for our economy. It’s an opportunity for our children, it’s opportunity for environment, and we want people to get excited about it. We think the future can be awesome. I think it can be economically beneficial, and a brighter future if we do this in a committed way. And so to me, that’s number one in terms of The organization itself, we really have, I would say fairly ambitious plans to help shape up a policy agenda at the federal level that facilitates the work we’re talking about.

But also at that state and local level, we would love to see Rewiring Missouri, Rewiring Colorado, Rewiring New Jersey, Rewiring England. And the reason is not so much that we want to see our brand in lights. It’s because that narrative, and that that approach, both is we think going to help us get as a society around the corner, but also reflects where we think the work needs to be done at the local level, it needs to be done by people who want to go to their town halls and say, No, we this is important for us here, we need to have our building code streamlined in a way that allows us to do this in our houses. We want to build the narrative and build the movement, much like you’ve seen in other sort of social changes.

It used to be that everywhere you went there was smoke inside of restaurants, right. And now it almost seem as odd that there is when you are at a place that has that if at all. And the reason is that everywhere it kind of just became the way the ethos changed, and certainly on climate, and particularly the optimistic vision of people demanding and wanting to see it not for necessarily moral reasons, but also for economic reasons. Boy, that would be if we could play a role in that and help that happen. I think that’d be a great success.

Host Raj Daniels  36:29

It’s a beautiful vision, if there is someone that’s listening right now that wants to get involved with the organization, you know, has the dream of Rewiring America, Rewiring Texas, Missouri, like you mentioned, what’s the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Adam Zurofsky  36:41

Well, that’s a great question. And thank you for asking. One of the things that’s been striking to me, since our launch this summer, has been how many people have sort of come out, raise their hands, and said, hey, how can we help? We’ve had people go to our site, make donations, we’ve also had a tremendous amount of volunteer interest. People sort of said, hey, I’ve got this skill I can write, I have some local policy expertise, I’ve come from finance, whatever it is, and they’ve signed up.

So on our website, there’s a place where volunteers can come along and sign up. We have someone on our staff who actually is responsible for taking talking to valance people want a volunteer understanding where they might fit in and helping and make the use of their skills and talents and interest. So I would encourage you to do that, I’d encourage you. We’re a nonprofit so any donations are greatly appreciated. And we’re also hiring I mean, we are always looking to build out some capacity, if the fit is right, as we grow. So any of those three would be great.

We also welcome you, we’re pretty open-source we put on, for example, this, we put this house whole report out last week. And we’ve also made available just not the report, but also plan on making some of the underlying modeling assumptions available, too. We welcome people to engage with us, we want to get this right, we want to we want this narrative to be one that is not necessarily Rewiring America’s narrative, but then a narrative that is that everybody can feel confident about, believe in, stand on firmly, and launch out to, as I say, a brighter future. So come volunteer, lots of work to be done lots of lots of opportunities for you, come support us otherwise, rewiringamerica.org is our website, and we obviously very much welcome any interest in that event.

This is an opportunity for our economy. It’s an opportunity for our children, it’s opportunity for environment, and we want people to get excited about it. We think the future can be awesome.

Host Raj Daniels  38:32

And I will put links to the website in the show notes. And I highly recommend people read your reports. They’re phenomenal reports. They’re not too jargony. They’re very easy to digest. So I strongly recommend that. Adam, last question, if you could share some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, and it could be personal or professional, what would it be? But before I go on, you know, you mentioned earlier, you’re you know, and I said courage you’re at, you’re not afraid to try new things, specific advice, professional, personal for the audience, would it be?

Adam Zurofsky  39:02

I think professionally, I would, I would just say, always ask why you’re doing something. I think that there’s this great tendency and, you know, I think it’s when it’s corporate culture, I saw this both in corporate culture and in government as well. People, you know, afraid to screw up, afraid to do something so they don’t look bad and whatnot. But I think one of the things that I’ve always tried to do is ask, Well, hold on, what are we trying to accomplish? We’re not here just we’re not showing up at an office just to show up at an office. We’re trying to accomplish something, whether it’s getting policy enacted, in case of my law firm represent a client, in the case of our work at Rewiring America now develop and propagate the narrative and the pathway that I’ve talked about. Always ask yourself, is what I’m doing helping us advance that? Right is kind of how can I help advance I can best help keep that goal in mind and I think that through-line really helps, has always helped anchor me as a way to kind of think about my work as where I should prioritize, what I should be spending my energies on?

And sometimes you’re wrong. That’s just life. But being wrong can be a refreshing experience if people recognize that you’re trying to get it right. But while you do it, I think that the, you know, the challenge I’ve always found when, when young folks have always worked for me, is I think they’ve always kind of or too often feel as if it’s the continuation of school where there’s a right answer, and their job is to get it, as opposed to their job to help advance the mission of what we’re all trying to work on. So I think that just keeping that in mind and, and recognizing that you may, you may make some mistakes along the way, but that you’ll get a lot further and a lot more traction and respect if you do them in the service of trying to advance the broader goal of either the organization or the work you’re doing.


Saul Griffith on the Green New Deal and the enormous opportunity in shooting for the moon.

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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Raj Daniels

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