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First of.


A website or domain. That's Squarespace. Com/american. A quick warning. There are curse words that are unbeeped in today's episode of the show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, thisamericanlife. Org. Okay, so we're going to try something different today, something we have never tried on our show. I got the idea for this from a conversation that I had with Ja-Yong Fan. Ja-yong did a story for our show a little while back, and she's not somebody who's normally on the radio, she's a magazine writer. When time came for her to record her script, she sat in the studio with one of our producers, Diane Woe, who had her read. It's a weird thing to sound relaxed and natural while reading words off a page in a totally soundproof room, hearing your voice on headphones. Diane did with Jay-Yong what we always do. She didn't tell her, Go back and do that sentence a little looser or underline this word or whatever. And that just hit something in Jay-Yong in this way that doesn't usually happen.


Having a fellow Asian-American who looks exactly like me coach me through that process, hearing exactly how much more American she sounded than me, it made me think anew about my voice and the way I speak English.


Okay, I have a bunch of things to say that that. First of all, this idea that you and Diane look exactly the same, that's racist. You do not.


Fair point.


And then it's interesting to me that you perceive it as- Jayong has thought a lot about the way that she speaks English and the way that others do. Going back to when she was seven years old and she came to the United States from China. This was in the 90s. I was born in a mostly white part of New Haven. And it was just understood, she said, that it was her job in the family to learn to speak perfect, accentless English as soon as possible.


And my mom and some of her peers had said, Oh, you have this very narrow window in which your tongue can adjust the new language or not because Chinese is so different than English. And really, because I was seven or eight at the time, I really didn't even think of it as in the brain. I thought about it as the rigidity of my tongue. And I was so afraid of my tongue literally hardening in my mouth and not being able to contort to this language. And I think it immediately becomes a test of your ability to survive and thrive in this new environment.


How well you can speak without an accent?


Right. I've been told, Okay, you're going to be living in water for the rest of your life. Well, the better you can swim. I better get a few different kinds of strokes under my belt.


And when you view that whole attitude now, how do you see it?


The adult me doesn't necessarily endorse the goal of speaking accentless English and the need to fit into the perfect American ideal, whatever that is. But that was what my parents thought was necessary to protect me in a foreign country.


John did the hard work of mastering the countless little subtleties of pronunciation and usage to the point where she thought she sounded more or less like native English speakers. Friends, especially white friends, told her she didn't have an accent. And when she herself had little twinges of like, Oh, maybe I sound different. She shrugged it off as being too hard on herself.


And hearing my voice on the radio, hearing myself speak, it was a very rude awakening. It was embarrassing and slightly mortifying. I do sound different, even when I'm trying really, really hard not to.


To be clear, the difference that she heard, it wasn't that she had an accent like you normally think of an accent. Specifically, what she was hearing.


Was- Overannouncement. And maybe I was unattuned to how much effort there is in my most casual speech. A huge part of how I sound different is I'm so afraid that if I don't make the sound explicit, I won't be understood. And that process of making it explicit is what actually makes me sound really different.


Whereas- It's funny. As you're saying this sentence, I feel so aware of how every final T and every final D you're actually enunciating.


Right. That effortfulness is part of how I speak.


Okay, so we're finally getting to the reason that I'm telling you all this. One night, a little while back, I ran into J. Young in an event. And she explained all this to me and told me how since coming on our show, she was feeling self-conscious about her English in a way that she hadn't for years. But also, and more importantly, she was finding herself listening to Chinese-American friends with new ears. Suddenly, she was hearing the huge variations and cadence and speech that can give way that you're not a native speaker.


It would come out in the string together of certain words. I became convinced that I could tell how old someone was when they arrived in this country and started speaking English because the more fluidly they could pronounce certain words or write out a cadence, the younger they must have been when they arrived.


Yeah, I remember you said to me that night, if you could just hear somebody speak, you would be able to tell them how long they had been in this country or how old they were when they arrived in this country.


Right. Their age of arrival.


And I said to you at the time, challenge accepted. Do you remember we were sitting there? I said, if I find, let's say, three people who move to this country, could we have you come on the radio and you would guess how old they were when they arrived and you could exhibit your superpower? And we would find out if, in fact, you were correct.


Exactly. And that I could hear in their speech something that they themselves didn't even necessarily hear. And that's what made it magical to me. And so.


That is what we're here to do today. Zhang Yang is going to play that game, maybe the only way she could ever find out once and for all, if indeed she can do this. We've created an entire radio game show for that purpose. Let me hear some studio audience, please. And then after doing that, we tried to figure out other experiences that people have that would best be captured not the way we usually do it on our show, following people around with microphones and recording them, interviewing them, but in game show format. So we are very excited to bring you something we have never heard of anybody trying, namely an entire program of stories done as game shows from WBC Chicago, CIS American Life, Amara Glass. Stay with us. Kai Kuaan, with great power comes great pronounceability. Okay, so we came up with this game to test Zhang's claim. Tobin Lo, one of the editors in our program, he's also Chinese and American, got excited about the idea, volunteered to be our Bob Barker, our Alex Trebeck, for the game. I handed off to him.


Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. I am Tobin Lo. Hello, audience. Welcome to a game we are calling Date of Arrival, in which Ja-Yong-Fan tells you when you immigrated to the United States. Ja-yong, welcome. How are you feeling? Are you feeling confident?


I'm feeling a bit of trepidation, I have to admit. I was pumped for this, but now that the date has arrived, my Asian fear of failure is kicking in.


Well, the good news is we have great guests lined up for you today. And if you guess two of them correctly, you're going to win our prize, which is a brand new car.


This only ups the stakes and my anxiety. I'm hoping that I can channel my anxiety for success.


It's all good. I have complete faith in you, Jia-Yang. Are you ready to hear the rules? Hit me. Okay, so each guest is somebody who immigrated to the United States from China at some point in their life, and they have been given up to three sentences to read aloud. Each sentence contains phrases like, Urban and rural America. These are phrases that, Jayang, you picked because they can be challenging to pronounce, or they're sentences that be very familiar to someone who's lived here for years. And at the end of each sentence, Jayang, you get a chance to guess at what age they came to the US. If you are within one year of the correct age, we will give you the point. Does that make sense?


One year. I mean, that's narrow, but yes, I accept.


Okay, great. Well, then we are going to welcome our first guest, Luke Ma. Hi, Luke. How are you? Where are you calling in from? Hi, everyone.


I'm doing lovely. I'm calling in from San Jose in California.


Just for a point of reference for Jayong, how old are you?


Oh, yes, I'm 41.


All right, we are going to go ahead and have you read sentence number one.


All right, here goes. And I have to say, my Asian fear of failure is taking in two now. I feel like I must... I have to stomp. I have to stomp on Jayang. I don't want to be on the phone then. So sentence one. The airplane flew over urban and rural America.


Jayong, hearing sentence one, are you ready to make a guess?


Not quite. Not quite. I think I need a little... I think I'm going to need a little bit more.


All right, great. Yes, here goes sentence two. Got my hands up, they're playing my song. I know I'm going to be okay. Yeah, it's a party in the USA.


Okay, great. That's more information. I'm going to have to go all the way for sentence number three. I think I'm going to need as much information as I can wrangle.


All right, sentence number three. Peter Piper picked a pep of pickles, Peppers.


Okay, so can I reach for my lifeline? Yes.


Okay, so this is a secret lifeline that we are going to allow Jayang to access, which is that, Luke, we are going to ask you to say her name. That's all we're asking, is just say her name. Right.


Sure. Ban, Jayang.




Curveball. Curveball.


I don't know if that helped or confused because clearly he is.


Someone- Because you don't have an ABC like me just mangling your name left and right.


Because he obviously can speak Chinese because he pronounced the syllables correctly, but also had a mastery of the tones. But I think I've been given all the information that is permissible. And I think I have a number in my head. I'm going to go with five.




Reasoning here is that Luke has nailed every single sentence. There's no micropause of anxiety when he says, Urban and rule America. The double R in rule is so natural. I'm almost tempted to say that he has no accent whatsoever, which is usually the case when you come before the ages of four, five, six.


Okay, final answer is five. Luke, would you like to tell us at what age you moved to the States?


Yeah, I moved to the States at 37. No, I moved to the States at one month before I turn nine. Shit. But what you said about my accent is what I think most native speakers and other people have said, which is there doesn't seem to be a discernible accent. And yet somehow in my head, I feel like there is a difference, but I can't really verbalize exactly what that difference is. And the only difference I've been able to hone in on in my head is the sense of the ability to drop into a casual fluid, lighted tone in between syllables, where I always feel like my pronunciation or the way I speak is just ever so slightly two % overannounced compared to native speakers.


That makes a lot of sense to me. But having said all that, I wonder if you can hear my accent.


So if I were to put it on a spectrum, I feel like the way Tobin speaks to me is like native beyond native. It is the most fluid, perfectly expected American.


Sound I can imagine. I'm with you 100 % on that. Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. So he is the platonic ideal- Yeah.


His voice, his sound, the structure of his throat is perfect is what we're saying, I think. No, no. I think if we were aspirational, Tobun has achieved that last two % to get to a hundred.


He is Nirvana.


Yes. You guys are hitting on every insecurity I've ever had of talking to other Chinese kids and then being like, oh, wow, you are... There's nothing there. It's absent. And she's being like, okay, thanks, I guess.


Right. Well, yes. I mean, so you hear yourself as B plus?


I mean, Asian B plus. I hear myself as a 97 or a 98 compared to Topic, it's a 100.


Okay. Asian B plus. Okay.


Yes. Yeah. And for chatting for you, In honestly, I feel like I would put you at a 94 or 93. I think this person most likely is an immigrant and probably an Asian-American immigrant.


I actually feel very affirmed, because part of listening to yourself is this search for, and wondering if you hear yourself correctly, is this question of whether you exist in the same reality, in the same acoustic reality as everyone else. And you gave me a 90, 93, and I would give myself a 91. So the fact that we are both in the same ballpark affirms my sense that, okay, I am not crazy and I'm not living in delusion. You are hearing myself more or less the way that I hear myself.


Okay. Unfortunately, we have to move on. Luke, thank you so much for joining us.


I'm glad I could be of some use.


All right, so we are on to guest number two now. We're going to welcome Frank.


Hi, Frank. Hi.


Hi, Frank. Frank, could I ask you to introduce yourself?


Sure. Frank. I'm 55.


And where are we reaching you, Frank?


In the San Francisco Bay area.


Frank, could you go ahead and read sentence number one for us?


Yeah, sentence one. The airplane flew over urban and rural America.


Jayang, after sentence one, are you ready to make a guess?


I think I have a sense of the ballpark, but I would love additional data, so I'm going to go on to ask for the second sentence.


All right, sentence two. Got my hands up. They're playing my song. I know I'm going to be okay. Yeah, it's a party in the USA.


Okay, that was sentence two. How are we feeling, Jayang?


I think I'm ready to make a guess.


Wow. Okay, after sentence two, bold move.


I think that I would like to go with 19.


Okay, can you explain your reasoning?


Sure. I could hear the way that he really lingered on urban and rural. Even though he said both those words fine, I can hear the effort. I don't think he came here as a child. And on top of that, I can detect the hint of an English accent. And I wonder if Frank is someone who either spent time in Hong Kong, which was formerly a British colony, or went through an educational system that had British English instruction, and then maybe came here as a young adult because I can tell that he's absolutely fluent in the language.


Got you. Okay, so 19 final answer. Yes. Okay, here's what I'm going to say. Technically based on the rules of the game, you got it wrong. But you're damn close. Frank came at age 22, and I am very tempted to give you the point because of some of the reasoning you gave. Yeah. So maybe that's a place to start. Frank, can you talk a little bit about learning English in that process for you?


Yeah. So when I was young, when they decided to put English back into the curriculum after the cultural evolution, we really didn't have much material from the US. So anyone that lived in China, my age or above would know that's the age of the material from BBC. And so that's where I picked up my accent.


That's interesting. And the irony of it is that I grew up in... I was born in '84, and I grew up when the only Chinese you were supposed to speak was state mandated, like accentless Mandarin. Do you remember? So you weren't supposed to speak any regional accent at all. And that's the Mandarin that I speak, completely devoid of any regional accent.


I disagree with that.


Oh, really? How so?


Because in my effort to look up Jayang videos, I saw one of you interviewing restaurants in Chinatown. Yes. So in my view, you have less of an accent in English than your accent in Chinese.


Well, this is a plot twist. What do you mean? What do you hear in my Chinese?


For instance, the distinction, you don't really try to make that clear.




Wow. Oh, wow. Yes. But you don't hear like an American accent in my Chinese.


Right. Not an American accent, but a- Southern. Right. Right. Yes.


Few, Frank, because if you're going to accuse me of having an American accent in Chinese, that was really going to throw me for a loop.


And on that note- On that note.


Thank you. Thank you so much, Frank. It was a real pleasure chatting.


Thank you, guys.


We are ready for our next guest. Please welcome Larissa. Hi, Larissa. Hi there.


Hi, Larissa.


Yeah. My name is Larissa. Joe, I'm 35.




Wait, am I 35? I'm 34. Okay.


Okay, so.


We are ready to jump in. Larissa, if you would, could you read sentence number one?


The airplane flew over urban and rural America.


Okay, definitely going to need the second sentence, Robin.


Larissa, can you read sentence number two?


Got my hands up. They were playing my song. I know I'm going to be okay. Yeah, it's a party in the USA.


Okay, that's sentence two.


Yes, and I'm going to go for sentence number three as well.


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickles, peppers.


Okay, I think I'm going to go for 10.




I'm thinking out loud. I think this one is a bit challenging.


Here's what I'll offer. Would you like to talk to Larissa a little bit more before locking in your answer? Yes.


Oh, yes, some mercy.


Okay. Well, so can I prompt then? Larissa, the last time we talked, you told a story about volunteering for a local library at some point. Could you tell that story?


I was volunteering to become an audiobook recorder at the Washington talking book and Braille Library. This was when I lived in Seattle. You have to audition for it. You basically just read some passages. And later the volunteer coordinator got back to me and they said, Yeah, the judges, they're are hesitant to accept you because they don't know where you're from, but they know you're not from around here. They know you're not American. They can't tell where.


That was actually really helpful. Tobin, if I may, I'm going to alter my guess, and I will give you my explanation. I'm going to say... I'm deciding between 15 and 16, and I just can't quite pull the trigger. I'm going to go for 16.


Okay, you're going for 16. You're coming up. Can you tell me a little bit why?


It's the way she says the word song. She swallow the G in a way that I don't think a native ever would. So it came out like song rather than song. And when that happened, my ears perked up because that's exactly the way that my mom would have said the word song.


Okay, you can't see that I am squirming in my seat because, unfortunately, you went the wrong direction.


No, no, no, no.


Your guess of 10 years old was closer because the actual answer was that Larissa moved here when she was seven.


It's so frustrating because that's the age I came here. How aware are you of your accent? I mean, do you feel like you can hear it?


I would say until that experience, which was maybe seven, eight years ago with the recording book, I thought I was camouflage. I thought I was good. And when I heard that they could tell I didn't sound like I was from the US, I felt, I don't know, a little disappointed or a little offended. And then I spoke to my boyfriend at the time, who is American, grew up in America. And I said, What? I don't have an accent. I speak really good English. And he said, Yes, you speak very good English, but you don't speak like an American. And I said, What do you mean? And he said, for example, he slurs things. He doesn't enunciate. And then when he pointed this out, he says, I enunciate everything.


And when he said that, was that a moment of recognition? Or were you like, What are you talking about?


Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I think it comes from making sure I am understood in English by my parents and other immigrants, other immigrants, wanting them to understand me.


Right. And I wonder if there's a part of you that wants to have no accent at all. Ideally, would it be better just to be completely accentless?


Yeah. If for a long time, my experiences have made me to be ashamed of it. And now I'm just like, Why?




I don't want that. I'm going to stand up for where I come from, the things that shaped me, the things that... Even the experiences that made me enunciae because this is something I did to help my community. And now it's really part of me. Yeah.


No, I really like your logic there and also the evolution of your comfort with how you speak. I mean, it's so interesting to talk to you because I do feel like I'm talking to a version of myself that brings up all my anxieties about how I speak, but also my aspiration for self-acceptance. There's something about your acceptance of your accent that I finds so inspirational. It is not this race to be accentless, the way that I fear I have conceived of my journey in English. I do feel self-conscious about it.


Larissa, if there was a piece of advice for Jayang to get to where you are, is there something that helped you get to where.


You are? Oh, that's a great question.


Yeah. So I.


Guess maybe.


I would say... So why do I have this accent? Why do I speak this way? And I say, Well, it's because I lived in China for seven years. It's true. And then I say, Well, if I don't want that accent, the way to not have it is to wish that I hadn't lived in China and to wish that I was maybe born in the States or something. And do I wish that? And I said, No, I don't wish that. So I want the experiences that also gave me this side effect of the way I speak. And they are an emblem. They're like a memory of that.


But thank you, Larissa. I feel like I'm meeting my future self, the person that I would the comfort with my accent that I am aspiring to be. So it's been a real pleasure to talk.


Okay, so three contests. I hate to add insult to injury, but I do have to say your score was zero for three. Maybe this is the time I should tell you you will not be winning the brand new car, but also the car was going to be just a rental that we were going to give to you for the weekend.


You spared me from having to wrangle a friend into being my driver for the rental.


Well, Ja-young, thank you for playing our game. I would say see you next time. But I think we've learned that this game is impossible and we would discourage it. No one should ever play this game ever again. Shut it down. Good night, audience. We'll see you not next time.


Thank you, Tobin.


Tobin Loe is one of the editors of our show. Coming up, we've got a simple game show, Save the World. We find out that's in a minute, Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues. To American Life, Myron Glass, today's program, it's a game show. An entire program of stories presented not the way we usually do, but as game shows, radio game shows. Today's show is also, by the way, a rerun. We've arrived at act two of our show, and we're calling act two.


You Bet Your Planet's Life.


That's George gray, who agreed to take a little time out from his day job as the announcing of the Price Is Right to help us with this next game. And before I get to what I should explain, that this one comes from a question that I have had myself about this thing that I've seen in the news. You know the Paris Agreement on climate change and how it has these goals that countries are supposed to meet if we're going to hold the planet to less than two degrees of warming overall, and ideally just 1.5 degrees of warming. I've wondered for a while now, is there any chance at all, any chance that the United States is going to make the goals? Forget about the rest of the world for a minute. Just talking about the part of this that we in this country control. Will we, as a country, one of the biggest carbon emitters, will we make our goal? To do that, we would have to cut our emissions by 50 % by the year 2030, for starters. Is there any realistic path that gets us there? Well, today's game show episode seemed like a perfect opportunity to finally find out.


And so with that in mind, we turn to our next game show.


Welcome to You Bet Your Planet's Life. Is there any chance at all, ladies and gentlemen, that we will actually make our goals and cut our emissions to half? Well, stay tuned, because today we find out and win valuable prizes.


Well, thank you, George gray, for that nice intro. And why don't we bring on today's contestant?


Well, IRA, hailing from New York City and Austin, Texas, Director of Research at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. She's modeled parts of the climate and energy future and worked around the globe for the US government, the International Energy Agency, and the Asia Pacific Energy Research Center. Say that three times fast. Please welcome, Melissa Locke. Come on down.


Well, welcome, Melissa, and I hope you're ready to play.


I'm excited. I'm ready to go.


Now, I understand that you are a super taster. Was there a moment where you discovered that?


There was a moment. I was eating a piece of chocolate, and I went to my friend, I think this one's from Ecuador. And they went, How on Earth do you know that? And I said, Well, it's so different than the other one. They're like, No, it's not. They don't taste different. And I was like, They are completely different. And they ran off and got a bunch of different ones for me to try. It turns out I can tell the difference, blindfolded.


Well, those are skills that will not aid you in our.


Game today. Probably not.


And let me ask you to take a look up there in the big board, because in this first round, here's what we're going to do. We're going to try to get to 50 % cuts in emissions by the year 2030. Or to be very precise about this, our country's goal for the Paris Agreement is to cut 50 to 52 % of where emissions were back in the year 2005. And, Melissa, in each of your turns, what we're going to do, you will propose a number for the amount of emissions that you think we can cut, and then you'll explain how you think we can cut it. If the judges rule that that's credible, if there's reasonable evidence that your proposal could work at the scale and speed you say it could, you will hear this sound, then it goes up on the board. If the judges think your plan is bogus, malarchy, impossible, you will hear this sound, and we all take one step closer to planetary disaster. No pressure.


No pressure at all.


George, where do we start?


Well, IRA, Melissa is starting our game with 25% already on the board.


George, maybe you should explain exactly what this is about. Because this surprised me. I really didn't know this before we all started working on this game show.


I'd love to, IRA. Since 2005, we've already reduced our emissions around 18%. That's because of cheap wind power, cheap solar power, cheap natural gas replacing coal, and because states, local communities, and big corporations are making moves to lower their emissions. But wait, there's more. Another 7% or so is locked in and ready to roll by the end of the decade. All told, 18 % plus seven % gives you… Let's carry the 1, 25 big percentage points.


Yeah, that was news to me. Our emissions have been going down ever since 2007 in this country. But what that means is we are already halfway to our goal of 50 % by 2030 before we even start our game.


That's right, IRA.


So, Melissa, your goal is to credibly get us the next 25 % on top of that. And let's just jump in. How much do you want to put on the board for your first turn?


I'm going to go for another 15 %.


Okay, 15 %. And how are you going to get that 15 %?


I think that President Biden's big climate and energy law is going to actually get us all the way to that 15 %.


Is that true? It'll get us that much.


Yeah. So it's called the Inflation Reduction Act, but really it's the biggest energy and climate legislation we've ever passed. It's massive.


And so how does it do that?


So it's a whole host of different things. It's tax credits supporting clean electricity. I'm talking about solar and wind and nuclear, all the stuff we need to produce zero carbon electricity. And then it gives us a lot of tax credits to bring a lot of electric vehicles on the road. There's tax credits for businesses to help them insulate their buildings, let's say, so they can use less energy in the first place. And there's tax credits for capturing carbon before it actually goes into the atmosphere when we're making stuff like concrete and cement.


Wait, is concrete and cement actually a big deal?


Yeah, it's huge. It's really huge.


Okay, so you're saying that all these things will add up and these things together get to 15 % of our goals under the Paris Agreement?


So some people are saying 10, some are saying 20. I'm good with 15 right in the middle.


All right, let's turn to our judges and see what they say.


Oh, IRA, the judges say yes.


So, George, what's Melissa's score?


Well, IRA, the big board is at 40 %, which means she needs another 10 % to reach our goal of 50 %. 10 % emissions cut.


Okay, so now it is your second turn, Melissa. In your second turn, how much do you want to put on the board?


I think I'm going to go for it and put up a whole 10 %. I'm going to go all the way to 50 %.


Okay. All right. Going all the way. Daring. What do you got? Okay.


So I should say right off the bat that what I have is a whole hodgepodge of stuff. Okay. So it's a lot of different things. And so what I'm looking at doing is saying, where do we already have momentum? Where are we already moving? And we just need to move a little bit faster. So squeeze a couple more percentage points out of the things that are already working for us.


Okay, which means what?


So this means three buckets to me. So the first one is electricity. So it's doing all the stuff that's in the Inflation Reduction Act, but pushing it further, building more solar, more wind, more nuclear, storing more electricity. Okay. Bucket two?


So bucket two.


Bucket two is about working with just a few big industries, the ones that produce a lot of greenhouse gasses. How do we work with them to get their emissions down really quickly?


For example?


Steel is a good example. We make steel with coal today, but we can make it with electricity. Let's do that.


Okay, bucket three.


So bucket three, I'm thinking about waste. There's two big things that I want us to stop wasting, and that would get us a few more percentage points. The first part of this is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions that we just throwing in the atmosphere. We're just wasting them. The big one here is methane. It's fixing leaky pipes. It's about plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, stopping putting methane into the atmosphere.


The second kind?


The second waste is the waste we have when it comes to zero carbon electricity. We've already built a lot of wind turbines, a lot of nuclear power plants, a lot of solar panels, and we're not using all that zero carbon electricity. We're just wasting a lot.


Of it. Why?


There's a bunch of different reasons, but it comes down to supply and demand not matching up.


This is the thing of the solar energy gets made, but there's no way to store it and there's no way to get it to the homes where it's needed. Is that what you mean?


Yeah. That's like, it's such a waste, IRA. It's like we already paid for it. It's already there and we're not using it.


And so to fix that, what do we do?


To fix that, we build a lot of wires to move this stuff around. Then we also figure out ways to store that electricity.


Okay, so between those three buckets, you're saying that adds up to 10%. Can I ask you in the most real way possible, do you think that's actually going to happen? Are we actually going to get to 50% by 2030?


I think we're going to get close. I don't know if we're going to get all the way there. I mean, we could over shoot it, honestly. There's a lot of different factors that go into that, including behavior, including broader things that are happening in the world that I have no insight into. What's going to keep us from maybe getting there as fast as we want is all the non-technical stuff. So being able to actually build something, get it permitted, get it paid for in our markets, I think it's going to be close. I don't know if we're going to get over the 50% line in time, though.


All right, well, judges, what do you think?


Oh, wait. Oh, wait. Is this coming in? The judges say yes.




Congratulations, Melissa, for winning round one.


Thank you, IRA. Thank you, George. I appreciate it. But remember, this is only round one. There's another round after this.


Well, exactly. That's exactly what I was going to say. You progress to our bonus round. Let's talk about that next round, right? Because the first goal that America set for itself with the Paris Agreement is to cut 50 % of our emissions by 2030. But the bigger goal is to cut all greenhouse gasses as far as possible to get to net zero by 2050. In your view, is there a credible path towards that you can imagine actually happening?


There's definitely a credible path. I think there is, but it's going to be challenging and it requires us to make a choice to get on that path. A lot of it is just doing a lot more of what we've already been talking about, not just making more buildings more energy efficient. We're making every single building more energy efficient. We're electrifying those buildings. We're pulling all the emissions out of those buildings. We're getting every single car and and bus and plane to zero emissions, every single thing in our transportation.


When you say it this way, it just seems like so big. It's hard to fathom that that could actually happen.


I mean, it's massive. It is massive. It is a huge undertaking. Some people describe it as like a wartime effort. I think that's right. It's massive to do this over the next just few decades. We're talking about 2050. That's not that long from now.


Well, that makes me feel like not so super hopeful, just to say.


But if we don't actually get there, we know the costs of inaction, of not moving there, and they're not pretty. I'm talking about extreme events that flood Houston or swing across Florida heatwaves in Southern California that lead to people dying. When you start to add up all these health costs and also the insurance costs, the cost of rebuilding homes, it's so much larger than building solar panels and nuclear power plants and retrofitting buildings and replacing cars.


Well, listen, thank you so much for playing our game. Let's bring in some inappropriately cheerful game show music. And George, tell her what she's won.


Well, Melissa, how about a brand new SUV? Two plane tickets to… A subscription to diesel and steak lovers magazine.


What else you got there, buddy?


Well, Melissa, this is perfect. How about autograft copies of the collected works of Bill McKibben?


That's not like it. Well, listen, thanks again, Melissa. And George, take it away.


Thanks so much, everybody. And we'll see you next time if we're not all fleeing a wildfire or hurricane on You Bet Your Planet's Life.


You can see our contestant, Melissa Lott, in an episode of Nova called Chasing Carbon Zero. She also has the least hand-wringy podcast about climate change imaginable. It is all very practical. Here's how we tackle this problem. It is called The Big Switch About the transition to a Net Zero World. Act three. You didn't hear it from me. No, really, you didn't. This last game actually happened on another show, a podcast called Normal Gossip. And if you haven't heard Normal Gossip, the way it works, people on the show basically dish about actual gossip, like true stories about normal everyday people sent in by listeners. And last season, the producers recreated a version of, you know that old game, Telephone, where somebody whispers something to the person next to them, who whispers it to the person next to them and on down the line. One of our producers, Sean Cole, has this rundown of what happened when they did a version of that on normal gossip and how it revealed some interesting things about the stories that tell each other. Here's Sean.


The folks at normal gossip, they created the game for a very practical reason. While they were gearing up for season two, they got to talking about how long it had taken during season one for the guests to relax and settle into the conversation.


We were having this brainstorming session where we were talking about ways that we could just give them some more time and space ahead of the recording to loosen up.


This is the producer of Normal Gossip, Alex Su-Jong-Lawflin.


I came up with this idea that what if we had them play a game that is a game of gossip?


Gossip itself, of course, is like a game of telephone. They figured, let's just do that. Alex grabbed one of the gossip stories from their inbox and read it to the first guest that they had and then recorded her telling it right back, just whatever that person could remember. Played that for the second guest, had them tell it back, and so on.


I told them not to take notes because you don't generally take notes when somebody's telling you a gossip story, right?


You're not taking- Unless you're a gossip columnist, I suppose.


Yeah, exactly. Unless you're me. I said, do the best you can. If you don't remember something, that's fine. If you feel like tweaking a detail for fun, you can.


But for the most part, try and be pretty faithful to the story you heard. Alex didn't really expect anything interesting to happen. But then when she listened through to all the versions, she realized she was seeing in real time how gossip works, how a story can evolve and change, that there was a logic to how it changed. Sure, there was some willy-nilly embellishing here and there, but for the most part, the changes were for a very specific reason. I'm going to get to that. But first, you need to hear the original version of the story so that you can appreciate when we get there how different it was by the end of the game.


Yes, I have the text here.


I asked Alex to read it to me. I should say with every gossip story they tell on the show, the names and all the identifying details are changed. It's completely anonymized. This story concerns two people who they called Kyle and Elliot. They started dating sometime before the pandemic.


Kyle had grown up super religious and had been married to a woman. But he came out, left his family, left the church, and moved to the city where he met Elliot.


And Elliot's really the main character of the story. You need to know that he's part of this active group chat with some college friends where they talk about their lives.


Everyone in the group chat was obsessed with Kyle. He was so warm, genuine, thoughtful. They move in together, adopt a cat, and are teaching it all kinds of tricks. Then, Elliot proposes and Kyle proposes back. It's so adorable. The pandemic hits and the group chat starts doing Zooms as you do. Usually significant others pop in and say hi, and they all love to see Kyle. Around June, Elliot mentions that he's going home for a bit, doesn't mention Kyle. A few weeks later, the group Zooms and Kyle doesn't show up. They ask where he is. Elliot says, I didn't want to bring this up yet, but Kyle has actually left me. Turns out, Kyle just packed up and disappeared, left the cat, no explanation, ghosted his fiancé. He disappeared off social media and nobody knows where he went. Elliot is crushed.




Forward a year later, our friend of a friend is scrolling TikTok, and suddenly they see a viral video with Kyle. It turns out, Kyle has reinvented himself on TikTok in the last year. He's suddenly super religious, but also still very much queer. He seems to spend his videos making a lot of references to leaving a toxic relationship and loving yourself. Our friend of a friend is like, What the fuck? Kyle has millions of views, tons of followers. Now we've tracked him down, but he's obviously oblique talking shit about Elliot. What do you do? Do you tell Elliot?


Ends with a Dear Abbey conundrum type question there. Anyway, that's where we start. There were eight guests listening to and repeating back some version of the story over the course of an eight week season. It was quite literally a long game. And I'll just tell you right now, the only parts of the story that didn't change practically at all were the very beginning.


There were two guys in a.


Relationship together. Two guys. There is Elliot and there's Kyle, right?


A gay couple.




Elliot and Kyle.


Meets Kyle. They start dating. They like each other. They move in together.


And the very end, where the friends see the TikTok video and ask themselves the question.


And the question is, do we tell Elliot or not? Do we.


Tell Elliot? Should we tell him.


About this TikTok? They don't.


Know what they're.


Supposed to do.


Yeah, what would.


You tell Elliot? I'd tell Elliot and Harpie.


Almost everything else became completely unrecognizable. By the way, Tobin Lo, who was in Act One, happened to be a guest on Normal Gossip when they did this. Maybe you heard his voice in there. With the first couple of folks, the changes are relatively small. The very first guest, Danielle Henderson, she's a TV writer, she inserts the scene where Elliot discovers that Kyle has left.


And then he goes.


Back to their apartment that they share, their place that.


They share.




Kyle is gone.


He has.


Packed up everything. But it's still the same plot as the original. The second person, Cailin Kaler, who writes about sports, when she heard Danielle say that Kyle packed up everything, seems to have taken that to mean everything.


Kyle is gone.


The apartment.


Is empty. There is no note.


There is.


No trace of Kyle.


It's like he never lived there.




Probably took all his furniture and food and whatever.


She also, I think, inadvertently leaves out a pretty important detail at the end. The fact that Kyle is still gay. Probably just didn't think to mention it. Besides that, she casually adlibs this loose dialog in the beginning where Elliot's friends are all a flutter about meeting Kyle.


Everyone is very.


Curious Who's Kyle?




Introduce us to Kyle. We want to meet your new boyfriend. You're so happy. How are things going?


But those few alterations set us up for some real misunderstandings that are about to take off with the third person, Tracy Clayton of the podcast, Strong Black Legends. She hears this part.


Everyone is very curious Who's Kyle?


Elliot introduces us to Kyle.


And takes it to mean that the friend group never does meet Kyle, which is very different. That and the missing detail of Kyle still being gay leads to this ending from Tracy. Again, the friends are scrolling TikTok.


And so they come across a TikTok of a very evangelical, like born again Christian, very strict, everything that's not.


In the Bible is.


Wrong type of person. And he's just going off and saying all of this terrible stuff and probably.


Very anti-trans.


Anti-antiracism, anti everything good. And it's just going off.


About all this wild stuff. But then.


This man starts talking about this terrible, toxic relationship that he was in and dropping all these hints, but not really saying too much. So nobody really knew if he was talking about Elliot or not. But the friends are like, he's definitely talking about Elliot. That's so fucked up.


Also, this new, somewhat more sinister version of Kyle took even more from the apartment than he did before.


The cat is gone.


First mention of Kyle taking the cat with him. All of those embellishments are crystallized and even built upon in the fourth iteration of the story, which is tag team told by Bobby Figure and Lindsay Webber, who host another gossip podcast called Who Weekly. More than anyone else, they really tried to imagine themselves into the heads of the friend group. Like when Elliot tells them, I just moved in with this guy, Kyle, and we got a cat together.


And his friends are presumably like, Who?


How do we not know this person?


Why you moved in with somebody? You've got.


A cat.


With them? We don't even like know who it is. But you know what? We're so happy for you. We're going to feel positive about this. This is how I would feel, I guess, if a friend of mine did this to me. Although I would be a little bad, but that's okay. That's my thing.


Not these people. They feel happy. I'd be a little fuss. I'd be in the back of my head. I'd be a little fuss. Yeah, because you can't.


Just drop in the group chat that's active all.


Fucking day long. Oh, hey.


By the.


Way, I live with someone and we have a cat. Yeah, I get the feeling the friends haven't even seen a photo of it. The friends have seen a photo. Wait, no, the friends have not seen a photo. I think the friends never even saw a photo of this person.


Bobby, we're telling the story. It's our story.


So you.


Can say that if you just want to say. The friends never saw a photo of this person. They don't even know what this person looks like. They just know their name is Kyle.


You get the sense, listening to Bobby and Lindsay, that they know they're embellishing some of the details, but they're also hewing pretty closely to the basic plot points they heard in Tracy Clayton's version. So Kyle robs Elliot blind, takes the cat, Elliot's crushed, the friends are trying to be supportive.


The friends are one of them at least, is on their TikTok page, on their FYP.


Fyp is the For You page.


And on the FYP is a video of an evangelical TikTok influencer who is apparently extremely religious, extremely fundamentalist, has really problematic opinions. And is like, Here's my lifestyle. I'm viral for these horrible opinions, right? Oh, look at my cute cat, Greg. And then the friends were like, Wait a minute. Wait, I have another twist.


He's like, I'm straight.


That's the-.


Right, right? Yes. He's like, I was in this.




Relationship, but I.


Found God.


Here's my cat, Greg. I'm straight. And my ex was toxic. And the friends see the TikTok and they're sharing it. And they're like, Is this about Elliot?


This, of course, is a huge change. They're naming the cat, Greg. I'm kidding. The fact of Kyle now being straight. Funnily, this is the first iteration of the story where the detail of Kyle being previously married to a woman was left out. So in the original, Kyle was with a woman in the beginning of the story. Now he's with women at the end. And more and more, Kyle is becoming a villain. Until by the fifth telling of the story, he's out and out malicious, even criminal. That version, the fifth one, was the one told by our very own Tobin Lowe.


They are also getting a cat together. Let's call the cat Mr. Mestopheles from Katz the musical because as one does.


I know this will sound biased because I work with him, but his version is really one of my favorites in this reverse Groundhog Day movie about Elliot and Kyle.


Cut to one of his friends in the middle of the night, scrolling through TikTok as one does, comes across a TikTok on their For You page. And it is this guy talking about how he catfishes people. His whole thing is that he pretends to be gay. He gets in these relationships. He's actually a very religious, conservative person. And so he's catfishing these dudes to be in relationships with him. And it's all a sham. It's all a sham. And so then he goes into like, I recently did this to a guy. We got a cat together, Mr. Mestopheles. Then I took him for all he's worth. Actually, it was a really bad, toxic relationship.


Did you hear what happened there? Basically, Tobin took these loose facts from Bobby and Lindsay's telling, the empty apartment, Kyle being straight and very religious and conservative. He combines all.


Those things. Into a catfishing scam artist who is not only doing that, but bragging about it on TikTok.


This is Alex again, the normal gossip producer.


Which seems to me like, honestly, this is the turn that makes the least logical sense to me. Sorry, Tobin. But if he's a scam artist, why would you be bragging about it? Then your scam is ruined.


I hadn't even thought.


Of it. And it's funny because Tobin has said multiple times, he thought he was telling it perfectly.


I stand by what I said. I thought that I told it exactly as it was told to me.


This, of course, is my colleague, Tobin Lowe. He deigned to consent to an interview for this story.


If you would ask me afterwards, the only Liberty I was very conscious of taking was changing the cat's name, which I thought was just fun and harmless.


To be fair, Bobby did use the word scam one time in his and Lindsay's telling of the story. But there was nothing about catfishing and certainly no mention of multiple victims of same. Tobin ultimately heard the original version of the story, and I had to wonder what he thought about it.


I think I was surprised that they were happy at one point or they had a really good relationship.




I think that I would have assumed that that would survive in some way in the retellings. The original is just sad. And then it becomes extraordinary in a way that by the end, people's hurt is not the focus. It's how wild people's actions are. And you've drifted far away from the original smaller, more human hurt.


And he has a theory as to how they all collectively got there.


In retrospect, I think what happened is that everyone knew that there was this thing coming in the story where Kyle was going to leave Elliot. That's like, all roads lead to this big moment in the story. I think to some degree, we were all reverse engineering to that moment. How do you explain the beats of what happened? How do you explain everyone's actions so that that makes sense and lands really hard. Right. So that you recreate the same gasp that you had when you heard it.


Right. So that.


I can create that moment again.


Because in the original, there is no explanation. And you're just like, What the heck?




And that's an uncomfortable feeling.


Right. Exactly.


Just like it is in life. But, of course, as Tobin had to remind me, the original story is life. That version wasn't part of a gameat all. It really happened. Weirdly, there was only one more major change to the story after Tobin's version. When the comedian Brian Park tells it next, the guy in the TikTok video is not Kyle, but one of Kyle's many unsuspecting victims, warning other TikTokers to watch out for this predator, which, of course, makes a lot more sense. Oh, and there's no mention of them getting a cat. And then the two versions after that are basically identical to Brian's. It's like there were no more questions to be answered, no gaps in understanding. All of the reverse engineering Tobin talked about was complete, which makes you wonder if there's a natural end to a game like this. If you can only retell the story so many times before it plateaus, it stays static. I bet you that happens to urban myths, too. Alexu Zhang-Lawflin says watching the story go through all of those changes was thrilling. It was like seeing your own little monster come alive on the laboratory table. But by the last couple two, three versions of the story, she had this other feeling as well.


It makes me feel sad.




It makes me think of the way that people become caricatures to each other. And it just feels like, I don't know, not to be all didactic and stuff, but we're talking the night before Election Day. And I've watched this play out for months the way that people just get flattened into conservative who hate everybody or radical feminazies who want to kill babies.




And it just bumps me out to see it happen so quickly, even in such a low stake story.


It's like all of us are playing the game all the time.


Yeah. Yeah. And maybe in those moments when you feel like you want to jump to a conclusion or flatten somebody because it makes the story better, maybe don't. Maybe don't. I don't know. I would like to create fewer of these monster, Kyle's, even if they're fictional.


That seems like a worthy slogan on behalf of decency and fairness to others. Let's create fewer monster, Kyle's. Only a handful of people in the world would understand what it means, of course. But just like the juiciest gossip, maybe it would spread. John Cole.


Is one of the producers of our program. To hear the full episode the normal gossip did where all this plays out, you can find that and there are other episodes wherever you get your podcasts. By the way, the friends did tell Elliot about the TikTok. He laughed.


All the games people played... Every night and every day now. Never meaning what they say now. Never saying what they mean.


Our program was produced today by Tobin Loe. People who put together today's show include Elna Baker, Chris Bender, Zoe Chase, Sean Cole, Michael Comethe, Elviva to Cornfield, Valerie Kipness, Stone Nelson, Catherine Raimondo, Nadia Raymond, Ryan Rumory, Charlotte Sleeper, Lily Sullivan, Francis Swanson, Christopher R uswantel, Matt Tierney, Julie Whitaker, and Diane Wood. Additional production help on today's rerun from James Bennett II. Our managing editor, Sara Abdul-Raman, our Senior Editors, David Kirstenbaum, our Executive Editors, Emmanuel Barry. Special thanks today to John Bystline, San Shian, Justin Ellis, Kelsey McKinnie, Jay Toviera, and Jeff Triplet, our website, where right now you can find all kinds of merch, onesies, T-shirts, sweatshirts, public radio tattoos for your holiday shopping thisamericanlife. Org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Special thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Troy Malatea. He's actually on his way to the office right now, probably because they sent him this.


Tory Malatea, come on down. You're the next contestant on This American Life.


I'm Eric Lass. Back next week, with more stories of this American life..


I'm talking about.


You with.


Me at.


The gate.


Do you want to go? Do you want to go? Do you want to go? Do you want to go? Do you want to go? Do you want to go? Do you want to go?


Next week on the podcast of this American Live. Ever since the governor of Texas started putting migrants on busses and sending them to New York City, over 150,000 of them have shown up. And one place to see them, if you're bothered to look, Times Square. Every night, they risked their lives, came through the Dary-end gap, and they wanted to take a selfie, hang out. Is this a place where you could meet a woman?




What's your opening line?


I couldn't.


Tell you right now, but.


When the time.


Comes, you improvise.


That's next week on the podcast, Renewable Public Radio station.