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248: Cheaper, Faster, Better: How We’ll Win the Climate War

With Tom Steyer

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About this episode

This week, Christiana, Tom and Paul bring the politics with a discussion on the upcoming UK election. Our hosts chat to Tom Steyer, Co-Executive Chair of Galvanize Climate Solutions, a mission-driven investment platform, about clean power S-curves, the Climate War and Texas. Christiana questions whether economic competitiveness will win over "political tentacles" in the urgent timeframe we face, particularly in the context of Trump's current position of advantage in the US electoral race. Tune in to hear what Tom Steyer and our co-hosts think.

They also discuss Tom’s new book, Cheaper, Faster, Better: How We’ll Win the Climate War, in which he shares his own story and showcases the inspiring and innovative work of other climate leaders in the clean-energy transition. He shows us how capitalism can be used to scale climate progress, debunks many of the arguments made by fossil fuel companies, and calls on all of us to make stabilizing our planet part of our life's work. As green technology is fast becoming cleaner and cheaper, reshaping our planet's future--and our own--has never been more crucial or within our reach.


Tom Steyer, Co-Executive Chair, Galvanize Climate Solutions and author of Cheaper, Faster, Better: How We’ll Win the Climate War
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Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:14] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Paul: [00:00:16] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:17] This week we talk about the general election in the UK called by Rishi Sunak for the 4th of July. And we speak to Tom Steyer. Thanks for being here. So, friends, it is so nice to see you. We're in the room together for the first time in a long time. It's lovely to be together. We're in London. Christiana has been in Europe for many weeks, actually doing a whole variety of things, so you came to London for a couple of days of recording. We've been recording a special series that will be out later in the year, more on that later. But for now, we're going to turn our attention to what's been happening this week, and there's been some fairly momentous news in the UK. So for those of you who may not be aware, there has been a general election called in the UK and it was called by the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, last week listening if you're listening to this, when you're listening to this about a week ago, and the UK prime minister, it's slightly unusual, has to call an election within five years of the previous general election. So he has made a decision to call it now in the summer of 2024. And the UK electorate will be going to the polls in July, on July 4th to make a decision on the future of the country. Now, the last thing I'll say before we get into the analysis is that it's worth remembering, Rishi Sunak was not elected as prime minister. Load More
Tom: [00:01:44] The UK has a parliamentary system where the country where the party with the majority of members of parliament, their leader gets to be the prime minister. And now there will be a choice between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, the opposition leader of the Labour Party. Now Rishi Sunak has been in office about 18 months, which sounds like not long, but it's actually quite a long time for a British prime minister over recent years.

Paul: [00:02:04] Time can go very slowly.

Tom: [00:02:06] Yeah, time can go very slowly. Liz Truss 44 days, not as long as a lettuce, the previous year. And he came out onto the steps of number ten Downing Street, as is traditional, and walked up to his lectern to declare a general election to the country. And it was really one of the saddest sights I've ever seen of a prime minister trying to call a country to a decision. As he came out, the heavens opened and a torrential rainstorm pelted down on London. And as he stood there trying to give his speech, someone at the end of the road held up a speaker, broadcasting the anthem of the 1997 Labour landslide victory. Things will only get better. And he stood there trying to give his speech, pouring rain, looking sad, soaking, unable to make himself heard over this music. It was not the most auspicious start to a general election campaign. Now, of course, an election had to be called in the UK by the end of January next year, but.

Christiana: [00:03:00] But it doesn't have to be on July 4th.

Tom: [00:03:02] It's an interesting choice, isn't it, July 4th and I don't quite know what that signifies, you know.

Christiana: [00:03:07] Yes but meaningful.

Tom: [00:03:08] Yeah, exactly. Something else the UK will lose on July the 4th, but really it was a sort of rather pathetic and desperate spectacle.

Christiana: [00:03:17] Very.

Tom: [00:03:17] So we'll get into the climate piece. But just first of all, a prime minister coming out in the pouring rain to make a very weak speech while there was somebody at the end of the street playing the 1997 Labour anthem, Things Can Only Get better, I mean, and it's gone from bad to worse for Rishi Sunak. How do you both rate the performance so far?

Paul: [00:03:38] Can I just invite Christiana as the sort of the ultimate political analyst to just interpret the I know you haven't got the detail, but what roughly does that play like?

Christiana: [00:03:49] Yeah well, I hesitate to step into national politics.

Tom: [00:03:52] No no, you're most welcome here.

Christiana: [00:03:53] But I have to say what I think is very sad about this is that gone are the days in which climate responsibility was not politicized in the UK. Do you remember that there was a time in which there was such public consensus on the UK, that no leader from either political party would ever have dared go against climate targets?

Tom: [00:04:18] So Rishi Sunak is the only one to have done that, yeah.

Christiana: [00:04:21] Well, that's what I mean. So gone are the days. That is so sad. That is so, so sad, because.

Paul: [00:04:29] He was richly punished by the climate, by essentially being drenched in the middle of his speech.

Christiana: [00:04:33] Well, exactly. And so now what we have is the UK Prime Minister, who has not just politicized it, but dramatically politicized it, or should I say, mockingly politicized it as he rained on his own parade.

Tom: [00:04:51] Yeah. On the day, by the way, when scientists said that a likely impact of climate change would be endless rain in the UK. I mean, a more poetic, fitting moment you could not imagine, yeah.

Christiana: [00:05:00] Yeah, or I don't know. Is it poetic or is it sad. I mean, it's just really sad, it is, it's really sad, as you're pointing out, Paul. A, he continues to disrespect the office, which I'm particularly sensitive to, whether you agree with the person there or not. But disrespecting the office that actually represents the Democratic will of people is not something to be taken lightly, and all of these, you know, the social media continues to mock him and mock the, it's just it's really very sad. Honestly, it is very, very sad. So I only take hope from the fact that he has called it early. Thank heavens.

Tom: [00:05:48] Yeah.

Christiana: [00:05:49] Why he called it on July 4th. Nobody knows. But maybe he will try to explain, but the UK population will speak and should speak loudly on July 4th.

Paul: [00:05:59] Yeah. I think the, the wise political heads in the UK and I don't really necessarily count myself amongst those, but they predict an absolute landslide for the Labour Party. And I think this is really good news for us politically in climate change terms. This is a you know, they have a more advanced agenda in the in the Labour Party. You know, we've been wanting for a long time climate change to surface in the political debates. And, and they really have done now and I think the people really are speaking. But there is a kind of careful what you wish for thing as well, because, oddly enough, whilst climate was not, appearing in the US presidential elections for a long time, we now have, Donald Trump is actually positioning himself as somebody who's, you know, going to drill, drill, drill and unleash the economic power of the oil and gas industry. That's where he's coming from. He'll he'll stop the subsidies for electric vehicles. He'll stop the windmills kind of thing. You have Biden with an agenda we're very, very familiar with. So we are starting to see climate change actually really in the political process. But of course, it's terrifying because it looks like Trump's sort of ahead. So where I'm going on the 4th of July thing is, I think that possibly at the very moment, you know, when, when, when Labour win, the Brits can extend the hand back to the USA and invite those people who want to come back under the crown to, as a mechanism to try and distance themselves.

Tom: [00:07:22] I'd just like to apologize to our American listeners.

Paul: [00:07:24] If you have the supreme authority of Donald Trump. I'm not saying that King Charles is everyone's cup of tea, but given the choice, you're welcome back. Look at Canada, lovely country. King's on the money.

Tom: [00:07:36] So, apart from your very serious and useful proposal there, Paul. Christiana, I want to get back to what you said, because Rishi Sunak has deliberately made is deliberately trying to make climate a culture war in the UK in a way. 

Paul: [00:07:51] Like Trump.

Tom: [00:07:51] In a way that it has not been.

Christiana: [00:07:53] Has not been.

Tom: [00:07:53] Up until now. There has been, Boris Johnson was, you mean love him or loathe him, and we say a lot of things about him on this podcast. He did push forward on climate issues. Theresa May signed net zero into law. David Cameron certainly there were all these push backs and this cut the green crap stuff he talked about, but he positioned himself as someone who held a unity position on this. So Rishi Sunak has come in and in a skeptical, cynical, divisive way has decided that he can actually get political advantage out of this. And this was in his speech, right. He said, no, he said, we prioritized energy security and your family finances over environmental dogma and our approach to net zero. We know that those things are not mutually exclusive, that actually the investments to climate are good for the economy, they're good for people, they're good for jobs. He knows that. But he is choosing to try to poison this debate in the UK to make it closer to the division we have in the US, which we will all pay the price for, for narrow short term political benefits. It's not going to work and he deserves to lose on that basis alone.

Christiana: [00:08:55] And what, I agree with that analysis, what I don't understand is what did he hope to gain by that.

Tom: [00:09:03] Right. Well, I can, I tell you what.

Paul: [00:09:05] Votes, but that's not really working for him.

Tom: [00:09:06] He is as afraid of the challenge from the right as he is, as the challenge from the left. So the Reform Party, the Nigel Farage Brexity entity that has emerged, very climate skeptic, is now polling pretty close to where the conservatives are. So they are worried that because their vote is now split between the center right Tory vote and the hard right Reform vote that he now needs to tack, it's a bit like what happens in the US with the Tea Party. He now needs to tack further to the right to try to mobilize the base to shore up his support, and he's clearly making that his election strategy, rather than trying to tack to the center and appeal to more pragmatic, moderate minded people.

Christiana: [00:09:48] His election strategy.

Tom: [00:09:50] Yeah. His election strategy. Yeah, I mean.

Paul: [00:09:53] Christiana looks unimpressed for those without visuals here.

Tom: [00:09:55] How would you how would you judge the election strategy. So I mean, it's it's flipping time. The Tories have been a disaster in the UK over the last 14 years. I mean, people who don't live here probably don't really have a sense of just how much everything has been broken in the last 14 years. Public services don't work. Everything is broken down. It's time, time for a.

Paul: [00:10:14] At least we're still inside the European. Oh no, we're not.

Tom: [00:10:17] Exactly, break with the European Union. Break down of climate analysis, destroyed the NHS, infrastructure crumbling, schools not working. It is time for a change of government. I genuinely think you might say be careful what you wish for with the US, but actually I'm fairly close to, declare an interest, fairly close to various people inside the Labour Party. I think they are serious. I think they have serious players like.

Paul: [00:10:36] Oh yeah no, we love the labour party.

Tom: [00:10:37] Ed Miliband, David Lammy. These people really are, they've been in opposition for more than a decade. They want to get into power. They want to do something serious. They want to repair Britain's reputation on the world stage and take meaningful and serious action on climate.

Christiana: [00:10:51] And it is time.

Tom: [00:10:52] And climate justice, and it's time. So this is it. It's time.

Paul: [00:10:55] And just picking up on Sunak's phrase, environmental dogma, I was looking up dogma and it says, a principle, a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertible truth. Now I, you know, I just think the balance of science is saying, yeah, you know, incontrovertible truth. Cigarettes bad for your health. Climate change major problem. Calling it dogma is like denial really, it's just using slightly fancy language.

Tom: [00:11:22] It's, yeah.

Paul: [00:11:23] By the way, just on the scary North American axis, Nigel Farage, who continues to be the sort of extremely strange, orbiting weird moon comet thing in the British political system is doubling down on his partnership with Trump, has partnered with Trump, gave speeches in 2016 at Trump rallies before Trump got elected, saying, and I always remember he said this, if the little people stand together, we can beat the big corporations, we can beat the banks, and we did it.

Tom: [00:11:46] Yeah.

Paul: [00:11:46] So there's this, there's ultra right wing populist uprising against business, sort of financed by business. It's so weird you couldn't make it up. Kafka deluxe.

Tom: [00:11:58] There's a, someone sent me a copy of an invite. Don Trump Jr and Kimberly Guilfoyle are in London in the next few weeks running fundraisers here. I mean, they're all over here trying to raise money from folks in the UK.

Paul: [00:12:07] Can we get a ticket?

Tom: [00:12:08] Would you like one? Yeah, maybe we can.

Paul: [00:12:11] Another look from Christiana that we will treasure, now.

Tom: [00:12:14] Yes. So should we turn to the business at hand for this week.

Christiana: [00:12:17] Yes please.

Tom: [00:12:18] Which is an interview with a legendary friend of the podcast who we've known for many years, Tom Steyer. So Tom, was a huge ally Christiana, I think it's fair to say.

Christiana: [00:12:27] We're switching over to the other side of the Atlantic.

Tom: [00:12:28] We're switching over to the other side of the Atlantic. Exactly. Currently the land of hope and opportunity, but possibly the problem land from November, as you've pointed out, Paul. But that remains to be seen. But Tom has been a giant on the scene of finding solutions for a long time. He was enormously helpful to us in the run up to Paris in all kinds of ways. We went and he hosted dinners for us. As you will hear in this interview, he is a climate investor, businessman, former hedge fund manager and currently the founder and co-author of Galvanize Climate Solutions, a venture capital start-up where he is looking at investing capital in really interesting new companies. He also used to run NextGen America, where where non-profit organization that supports progressive positions on climate change. And he sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, really positioning himself as the climate candidate in a manner that pushed all the other candidates to be more ambitious on climate. He is a huge ally, a great friend. He just wrote a book which is called Cheaper, Better, Faster, which is out now and you should absolutely get. It's a brilliant book. So let's turn to the interview with Tom.

Christiana: [00:13:34] Tom Steyer, thank you so much for joining us here on Outrage + Optimism. Tom, I don't know if you remember this, but the other Tom Rivett-Carnac has, just reminded us that ten years ago when we were, focused on getting a global agreement, you so kindly hosted a wonderful dinner, with then governor of California, Jerry Brown. And you did so in order to muster.

Tom: [00:14:05] At your home in San Francisco. I remember that very well, yeah.

Christiana: [00:14:08] In your home, your beautiful beautiful home.

Christiana: [00:14:10] Yes. Thank you so much. And you did that in order to gather, increasing political support for the adoption of of an eventual Paris Agreement. Now, fast forward, we have we've been able to see you many times since then, but now you have just, put out a book Cheaper, Faster, Better. And I'm wondering about the arc between these two. Would you, ten years ago at that dinner, been able to say that climate solutions were going to be cheaper, faster and better?

Tom Steyer: [00:14:47] If I'd said it, Christiana, I would have to.

Christiana: [00:14:51] Nobody would have believed you.

Tom Steyer: [00:14:53] I would have had to be hoping really hard. What I can say is over those ten years, the business world, combined with the political world working together, has worked really hard to create new industries, new technologies, new solutions, and has been amazingly successful. And there has been the normal way that industries change or that, new technologies come in is they spend a long time working to be better than the old technology. And when the costs change, when the cost curves cross and the new technology is cheaper, or the, the usability of the new technology is dramatically better than the old technology, it shoots up. So it looks sort of like an S it sort of flat, then it goes, it goes vertical and then it flattens out again. And that's what we're seeing in a lot of clean tech is an S curve where the new technology is now dominating. It is taking over. You know, at a rapid clip, a very rapid clip. But we need this in a, in a huge number of technologies, really, to rebuild the world in a sustainable way. And we're seeing it the technologies are being developed or have been developed. So it's very exciting, much better than we could have expected ten years ago, to be honest, Christiana.

Christiana: [00:16:17] Well, luckily for us, S is definitely the shape of the curve. And S is also the first letter of both speed and scale, which is exactly what we need. So you make a pretty good argument about the fact that capitalism and investment can scale. My question to you is about the other S, Tom. Can it also speed the scale? Because lately scientists have come out and they're pretty, they're pretty despairing about whether we might be able to keep ourselves under a 1.5 degree increase ceiling and it all has to do with speed. So what what is your insight into that S, the speed part?

Tom Steyer: [00:17:09] Well, of course, let me just comment and say, of course, you're right that the scientists, at the same time, we could never predicted how good technology would be. We also probably we specifically did not predict how bad the natural world would be. So when we talk about, I think it's always amusing talking to an American audience about 1.5°C. Since no one in America lives on Celsius, no one has any idea what that means. No one really knows what CO2 is because you can't see it or smell it or touch it. So we're always talking in these theories that make no sense to normal Americans. But what we do know is if the if the UN tells us and you obviously were hugely central to this in Paris, that going through 1.5°C is a danger point for us. Over the last 12 months, we've been over 1.6°C. And that is, you know, something that fluctuates. But that is by far the by far the hottest it's ever been when human beings have been on the planet Earth. So about speed, okay, just a couple things. Last year, of new electricity generation built around the world. So that's big, you know, electricity plants and power plants, 86% of them were renewable.

Tom Steyer: [00:18:26] That's speed as we grow. We are, what we're seeing is that is the vertical part of an S curve. And we are seeing this increasingly. But what that doesn't take into account. And of course, you know, this Christiana is it doesn't take into account all the electric plants that exist right now. So it's not only important that we get the new electricity plants to be renewable, it's also important that we get rid of the old plants that are polluting like crazy. And so when you talk about speed and scale, are we are you know, are we seeing real vertical move of the S in terms of a really high percentage of the new capability being clean, yeah. But the question is, what are we going to do with all those 40 year plants, 60 year plants that are sitting out there belching out smoke and CO2. And so when we talk about speed and scale, it's not just winning in the short term. It's really replacing the stock of rebuilding the world. Let's face it, that's what we're up against. And that's a challenge. And it's a challenge for all of us.

Tom: [00:19:28] So Tom, I mean, I this sort of urgent determination and optimism gets very high marks on this podcast. We hugely appreciate it. And I actually think the momentum that we're sort of seeing now is unstoppable. And as you've also pointed out, we've got a lot of headwinds, right. And some of them are based on science. And, you know, they've got a big election coming up in your country that we're we're all very nervous about. I'm sure you are. And I also take your point about the fact that nobody really understands what we're talking about right. I saw a hilarious bit of data the other day that said, if you ask people, most people think scope three is a toothpaste, which is probably not surprising. 

Tom Steyer: [00:19:59] Mouthwash.

Tom: [00:19:59] Mouthwash. Okay, right. So, I want to ask you about how much of a problem that is, right. Pew Center says that the amount of Americans concerned about the climate crisis has not really changed in the last ten years, it's something like 55 56. 

Paul: [00:20:14] North American's Tom?

Tom: [00:20:15] North American. Sorry, yeah. United States, 55 56%. Now, on one level, that's creating enormous swings, democratic right. Because people don't really understand what we're up against. So we see the risk with November and other things like that. On another level, if the technology is moving forward so fast, it's going to solve the problem. How much of an issue is it and how important is that we bring people with us in this transformation, or are we going to solve it through investment and technology?

Tom Steyer: [00:20:41] Well, I don't think there's any question, Tom, but this is a combination of the public and private sector. Let me just take a step back. I think that there's a sense, among some people that there's this thing called the free market and that the free market is like this state of nature, and people slug it out in the state of nature. And may the best woman or man win, that is not true, to be exact. In fact, every market has rules. These energy markets have a lot of rules. And those rules are set by governments. And so, you know, to a large extent, you know, it does matter that we have a free market where certain kinds of energy, fossil fuel energy pollute like crazy and don't pay anything for it. I mean, we used to have a rule in the United States, polluter pays. Well, in this case, polluter doesn't pay. So when you talk about, does do politics matter, sure they matter. The Inflation Reduction Act, the, the, biggest Biden administration climate law, the biggest climate law in American history by far, has real impact. It's an attempt to, in its own way, make polluters pay. So having said that, economics wins. You know, we have to just understand that the way this crisis is going to play out is that people are going to make decisions based on their own self-interest. Governments are going to make decisions based on their own self-interest. And that means economics is going to win. And we need to make sure that we're driving forward economically. Do politics matter, of course, politics matter because that's what sets the rules for the marketplace. But having said that, if there's something that is in fact cheaper, faster and better, it is going to get developed. It is going to get deployed in size and for the people who fight against it and insist on staying with the old technology, who are still using whale blubber to light their lamps, those people are going to lose and those countries are going to lose.

Tom: [00:22:49] Paul still does that, yeah.

Tom Steyer: [00:22:52] Well why not Paul. And why not.

Paul: [00:22:53] We're going to have electricity here in the next couple of months. I'm looking forward to it, but.

Tom: [00:22:58] Hang on, can I just ask one follow up question and then go to you Paul. So, so, so given that, I would love to ask. I mean, I've just come back from a month in the US, meaning a lot of people obviously very nervous about November. And I've just seen the polls and Trump ahead in six key battleground states. If Trump were to win again, do you think would you still feel that we can win the climate war, which is the subtitle of your excellent book?

Tom Steyer: [00:23:19] We're going to win the climate war.

Tom: [00:23:20] Okay, okay, great.

Tom Steyer: [00:23:22] The issue in the climate war is this it's the one that Christiana asked me, how fast do we win? Because winning slowly. 

Tom: [00:23:32] Is losing. 

Tom Steyer: [00:23:33] Is extraordinarily costly. Winning slowly means that we're going to let this problem fester and grow, and we're still going to win, but it's going to cost us so much more. And so do those things matter, they definitely matter. But you know, you can't stop. You know, one of the things that the states in the United States that are the legislators and the public officials, elected officials, have been dramatically anti clean energy and dramatically pro fossil fuel is Texas, which is traditionally been the center of American energy hub and the center of oil and gas. You know, over since 2019, Texas has tripled its amount of solar. They have more solar than they do coal. Solar is expected to grow 35% in the state of Texas this year.

Tom: [00:24:23] Wow.

Tom Steyer: [00:24:24] And they're not doing it to be nice. They're not doing it because they believe deeply in renewables. They're doing it because it's cheap, and they're doing it because it can survive and save their grid when it's really, really hot in the summer. And when they go through really cold storms, when people are going to die, if their heating goes out and which it has done.

Paul: [00:24:48] And is it not the case, Tom, that they also had a kind of slightly, enlightened electric regulator and that also helped that the, you know, there's a little bit of a political oversight issue. And this comes onto my question. I'm a huge fan of everything you've been saying, especially recently, about things like carbon accounting, because it's kind of my life's work. But I want to challenge you, okay, here because, you know, you've been so active and, in politically on climate change, and that's fantastic, really support that. But in a certain sense, someone might say, well, by doubling down on the tech through Galvanize and going really into the private sector solutions, cheaper, faster, better, yeah, that will win. But if you said economics wins, if I said to you, economics is, politics in camouflage, then, are, you know, isn't the shouldn't don't we still have to attend to the to the political side? Are you saying the political side is fixed?

Tom Steyer: [00:25:44] No, I'm not at all. I'm agreeing with you, Paul. I mean, I said, this has got to be a marriage of the public and the private sector, that the public sector sets the rules. And as you point out, in Texas, they have a very, open energy generation field by design, they've tried to make it whoever has the cheapest, best power wins. That's the way they set up their grid, and as a result, they have the most wind in the United States. As I said, they've tripled their solar and they're building their solar really, really fast because they've set up rules, as you point out, specifically in Texas, to actually have a free market where the cheapest power wins. So I by no means think that politics don't matter, because I think setting the rules, I mean, by definition, we have a marketplace that is flawed by not charging for pollution. But if you look around the world, let's say the United States goes, okay, no more renewables. It's a law, no renewables. You can't build renewables in the United States, okay, there are 8 billion other people on this planet. There are a whole bunch of other countries that can have different rules and they can build renewables, which are much cheaper. Not everybody in the United States knows that solar and wind are much cheaper than fossil fuel energy. And so if they have cheaper energy and they produce things cheaper, faster, better than us, we lose in the marketplace, in the world. So we have insisted on whale blubber. That's the only thing we're going to be willing to do. Whale blubber. Anybody who does any different, we're going to put we're going to slap them into jail. Okay. That doesn't work.

Paul: [00:27:22] Yeah. So my, my, my my concern is that I think that the renewables you're absolutely right. But the renewables, they just don't have the political power of the fossil fuel industry.

Tom Steyer: [00:27:32] They don't. But what they do have is the fraction of the cost. And so if you look around the world, 86% of new generation is renewable. Now where are we building new generation in the world. Not, you know, the US is going to build for data centers and for artificial intelligence, much more new electricity generation than we expected. But if you look around the world, it's places like Vietnam and India and Indonesia and the Philippines, China, places where new electricity generation is exploding. India is expected to have five times as much electricity in 2050 as they do now. Those people are making choices. Vietnam had zero renewables in 2018 or 2019, and now they have a higher percentage than the United States. That's because it's cheaper. They're not being saying like, we owe the United States a big one. Let's build expensive renewables to help them out. No, they're saying this stuff is cheaper. That means we can compete better internationally. We can win internationally. So let's do that. That's how the economics work. And so you can sit here and say, we refuse to go with the economics because you're thinking as if your country is ring fenced, not ring fenced. We're in a big world. We're interconnected. We compete in that world. If you insist on if you insist on the horse and buggy, you're going to lose.

Christiana: [00:28:57] Well, yes. And can I, we totally agree with you, right, Tom. We totally agree. And and the way that Paul has set this up is Paul is saying this is a competition between political tentacles and economic arguments. Very clear. Now why should we trust that economic competitiveness is going to win over political tentacles in time. I come back to the speed Tom, because winning late is not winning.

Tom Steyer: [00:29:38] I completely, Christiana, you know I agree with you. We know that politics can basically throw sand into the works of change, and people have traditionally tried to do that, but it's never worked. And so when you, you know, if you think just within a single country, yeah, you can make rules that are pretty onerous and prevent change. But and you can insist on the status quo, but you can't do that globally. And so when we look around.

Christiana: [00:30:12] And you can't do it forever perhaps, you cannot do it forever.

Tom Steyer: [00:30:14] No, and it just doesn't work. And so any country that chooses the past is choosing to lose. Now in a climate basis. I understand that we need global change as fast as possible, as widespread as possible. Yes. And that has that's going to be driven by economics. But those economics are going to take place in the context of a framework that governments set. And so do I think that, you know, governments can retard this. Yes, but if you look at the first Trump administration, when he was doing all kinds of things, we kept going, we're not going to lose this in the United States of America. If you look at what the US is, we're the second biggest CO2 producer after China. We're about a third of China. If we're 11%, we're expected to be half of that in, you know, the next ten years. Last year, the United States went down 4%. We're not going to lose this in the US because of Donald Trump. If you look at all the growth in emissions, it's not coming from Europe. It's not coming from the United States. It's coming from the developing world. You know, it's coming from the countries that haven't built the big electricity.

Tom Steyer: [00:31:25] It's it really is coming from India. It's coming from Southeast Asia. It's going to be coming from Africa. It's coming from China. So when we think about I think Americans tend to tend to see ourselves as, you know, sort of the world. We're not the world. In this case, I don't believe that Trump, even if he's elected and even though he tries, can stop us from moving this, this revolution forward as part of a global, he can he can certainly retard us in the United States, but I don't think he can stop the laws of economics globally. I don't think it will work. And I think that the real question is, are, is the United States going to be at the forefront, not by themselves but with other countries, or are we going to choose to sit out, you know, this gigantic, this gigantic economic and climate revolution that is a big darn mistake. And let me say one more thing. Americans know this. Republicans know this. This is known across the board by registered Republicans. It is not an issue they vote on.

Tom: [00:32:27] Yeah. I mean, what I love about what you're saying, which is where we've gotten to right, this is a matter of national self-interest, which is totally different. Going back to that dinner in 2014, it's a totally different game. I'm aware we've had you for 20 minutes. We have not asked you one question about your brilliant new book that came out two days ago, and thank you for coming on. Can you just tell us briefly, why you wrote the book? I mean, it's got this amazing kind of like, deep optimism and possibility, which is so you and we see that reflected in the book Cheaper, Faster, Better. 

Paul: [00:32:56] And so us. 

Christiana: [00:32:56] And so us.

Tom: [00:32:56] And hopefully us as well. Cheaper, Faster, Better: How We’ll Win the Climate War. Just say a few words about why you wrote it, at this moment and what you try to do with the book.

Tom Steyer: [00:33:05] I mean, from my standpoint as observing what's going on in the way we discuss climate in the United States, there are two big memes, both of which I think are completely false. One is we're never going to get off fossil fuels, that's how we do things, that's what runs the economy. Get over yourself. We're not changing. That's not true. And the second one is we're doomed. You know, we look at the climate statistics. The climate statistics are terrible. We are doomed. There's nothing we can do about it. Let's go to the bar and have a drink.

Tom: [00:33:35] Yeah. Interestingly, if the first was true, the second would also be true. But yes sorry, carry on.

Tom Steyer: [00:33:40] Neither is true. The truth is that we have the ability and in fact will inevitably win this. But we'll do it a lot faster. Paul, just to react to what you're saying, if we take it on together and, you know, traditionally the United States, I like to think as an American and I like to think, you know, in terms of, you know, my family history, that America steps up to big challenges and that we do the right thing and we get together and we put aside differences and we choose to, for whatever reasons, may be different reasons to take on big problems and work on them together. And that pulls us together because that's who we think we are, and that is who I think we are. And so when I look at this, it's like, no, we're not going to be forced to stick with an old technology because the people who run it are rich and powerful. And no, we are not doomed. Baloney. You know, human beings, the the group of us on this podcast, we all have been, our families have all been in tough straits over the last 50,000 years. There have been times when everybody's families have been scared and threatened in a real way. And so we don't quit and say, oh, that's well, let's just go to the bar and get drunk and forget about it. No way. This is a great opportunity for us to succeed. It's a great opportunity for us to succeed as people in the broadest sense and economically, and make a bunch of money. Great. That's the American way too. But it's a great way for us to do something important with our lives. That's what I'm saying. And that is much that's where we have to go. And that is a good thing for everybody. And it's, you know, it isn't just Americans. This is a global problem. This is something we can and must do together and recognize each other's values and strength, and being together is something to recognize each other as full human beings. That's what I really care about. 

Tom: [00:35:28] Love that.

Paul: [00:35:28] To quote Christiana's campaign at Paris. We can, we must, we will. Tom, I can recommend we can recommend to our listeners this fantastic book. It is a real kind of like manifesto about how to get get this done. I have a last question for you, which is based upon a funny thing in history, which I think you were quite closely involved with, which is the fight against proposition 23 in California. Is that correct?

Tom Steyer: [00:35:48] Yeah.

Paul: [00:35:49] So the way it looked to me was there were a whole bunch of kind of bad billionaires. And I'm thinking about the Koch brothers here, and they were pushing this really quite regressive bit of regulation. And then kind of the good billionaires came in right. You and Bill Gates and John Doerr and the Google. 

Tom Steyer: [00:36:06] George Shultz.

Paul: [00:36:08] There you go. And I mean, isn't that an amazing piece of kind of political theater, very 21st century. What what were your learnings from that extraordinary experience?

Tom Steyer: [00:36:18] Well, just to fill in a few of the details. I mean, basically, California has propositions where the voters get to vote on an idea or a law. It's really a law. And based some oil companies tried to come in and basically vote down the progressive climate law that the legislature passed in 2006, and people felt in California, you never beat the oil companies. They're too rich, they're too smart, they're too tough, they're too savvy. So basically, no one wanted to fight them because and they're really it's expensive. So George Shultz, who was a Republican, specifically a Republican who had been secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury, and, you know, a marine in World War II, all the things, and I co-led the no on 23 campaign, which was to say to the oil companies, you can't come in and undo our laws and, you know, basically mandate fossil fuels forever. And people thought we would lose. And George, who has died subsequently, but who was a lovely, wonderful friend to me, said, basically, we are not trying to beat these guys. We are trying to smash these guys.

Tom Steyer: [00:37:28] So we had rules. We're not going to talk about things people don't care about. We're going to get the business community behind us. We're going to get the chambers of commerce behind us. We are going to talk about jobs. And actually the thing that people could really relate to was health. Basically, they were like, we know that pollution is bad for health, and in this case it is. And we people felt like, okay, we can have clean air, more jobs, self-determination and do the right thing and and do the right thing was fourth. They wanted to have they wanted clean air and health and jobs. And we were making the point. That's who we are. We're we are for that stuff that you want for your kids and you want for yourselves.

Paul: [00:38:13] But I would encourage our listeners, in fact, Clay will put in the show notes a link to the Wikipedia page when you put your together your coalition, that was quite a coalition. You know, like oil may think it's big, but tech is bigger. And, allegedly the the musician John Adams, who wrote the opera Nixon in China, allegedly, he's a listener. If he wants to write an opera about proposition 23, I hope that he's encouraged to come forward, because I think it's an astonishing story of where, you know, two different forces came together and the right outcome happened. Happy ending. Very important.

Tom Steyer: [00:38:45] But it was also a new way of thinking about climate. And that's what this book is supposed to be. It's like, good grief, let's talk, stop talking about science. Let's stop talking about data. Let's start talking about people and what we care about and what we can do together. That's what I care about. And and if we do that, people know that this is a big chance for us. This is big chance for us to remake ourselves as people. And that's what I care about the most. It turns out it's going to be super profitable, but.

Tom: [00:39:17] That's good too. 

Christiana: [00:39:18] There's nothing wrong with that.

Tom: [00:39:18] So I just have to make, I have to make a little connection here, and I don't know if we'll leave this in or not, but, Tom, when you were successful in that, I was working with Paul at CDP in London, and Paul got a whole, it would have been a much better story if we'd actually done this. We didn't actually do it. But for a few days, Paul was trying to get the whole of CDP to go to France, to the beaches in Normandy, to write, thank you heroes of proposition 23, on the beaches where the D-Day landings happened, because it was seen as a beachhead that was then going to lead inevitably to the defeating of the invading armies.

Tom Steyer: [00:39:53] Well, let me say this. I do think World War II in the US was a chance for us to pull together, to do the right thing. I also will say that in terms of the people, to be clear, no one in no on 23 died on the beaches.

Tom: [00:40:06] Right.

Paul: [00:40:06] It wasn't Omaha, but it was equally important Tom.

Tom Steyer: [00:40:09] I want to do the right thing. And I'm saying to people, it's going to take effort, but we're really trying to prevent human suffering, and so it's like we and do I think of myself as equivalent to those guys on the beaches.

Tom: [00:40:23] No no, no, yeah. 

Tom Steyer: [00:40:25] What they did was something, that's the ultimate gift, right.

Tom: [00:40:28] Yeah.

Paul: [00:40:30] But in their memory and in their honour, we have to get this right. Sorry, Christiana.

Tom Steyer: [00:40:37] Sorry, Christiana.

Christiana: [00:40:38] No. That's okay. I just wanted to pick up on prevent human suffering. Because to me, that that is the space between, the political tentacles and the economic self-interest that ends up in a delta of time. And time is the equivalent of, of human suffering. Or time will determine how much human suffering. So, I appreciate that you brought us back to human suffering in the end, Tom, because it's not, you know, it's not just technology. It's not just investment. It is not just self-interest. It is human interest and our and our humanity. It's about our humanity.

Tom Steyer: [00:41:25] It is but the flip side, Christiana, I mean, I do understand this is to avoid almost unimaginable human suffering. It is also so much fun to win. I would like to point out to everybody, we're inevitably going to win. It is so fun to win. Why don't we go win. It's a great thing to do together. And if you've ever been on a winning team, everybody loves each other on a winning team, always.

Christiana: [00:41:51] Well, on on that note, on that note, Tom, I have to pick up and say on our, on our podcast at the end, we always ask our guests to tell us one thing that they're optimistic about, so I think we guess what you are optimistic about, but also one thing that you're outraged about.

Tom Steyer: [00:42:14] I'm optimistic that we have and will continue to develop better technology than anybody can expect and that we will win in the marketplace. I am really optimistic about that. I did read that story about Mr. Trump offering to basically, I need campaign contributions and I'll give you what you want if you give me money. I don't know that that's true. I read it in the Washington Post and.

Paul: [00:42:44] We all did.

Tom Steyer: [00:42:45] I don't know how much of it's true or exactly how exact it is, but the idea to me, this is also a fight for self-determination around the world, and I don't want to believe, and I am outraged at the idea that the people of this world will be sold down the river. I don't like that. And I think we need to be outraged by that kind of corruption. Outraged because that is, I mean, as an American, that is absolutely contrary to everything I want to believe about America.

Christiana: [00:43:17] Well put, well put Tom. Tom, thank you so much. Thank you so much for everything you have done over the years. Thank you for putting pen to paper. Tom and I know how difficult it is to write a book. So we are always in deep respect and honour to anyone who who does. Thank you so much for for doing that. And, Tom, just thank you for being such an eloquent voice for these issues for decades, decades, decades, decades.

Tom Steyer: [00:43:49] Well, I my hope you guys are so nice and I appreciate you having me on, and I appreciate the work that you've all done. I obviously know have known you guys for a long time. Let me say this. I hope the book is fun. I wanted to write a climate book, which is fun. When you read it, you think, I feel better, this is good. Terrific. This guy, I it was like, I don't want no one needs more doom and gloom and I want the exact opposite. Like, come on, let's pull up our socks and have a great time.

Tom: [00:44:18] Love it.

Christiana: [00:44:19] Love it, love it.

Tom: [00:44:21] Thank you Tom. 

Paul: [00:44:21] The joy of winning.

Christiana: [00:44:21] Thank you so much, thank you. 

Tom: [00:44:23] Thank you, great to see you, all the best.

Tom Steyer: [00:44:24] Great see you too.

Paul: [00:44:26] Bye bye.

Tom: [00:44:32] So how fantastic to get a chance to sit down and chat with Tom. What an incredible leader, thought leader, entrepreneur, innovator he has always been. Paul, what did you leave that conversation with?

Paul: [00:44:42] Well, I'm a big fan of Tom Steyer. I mean, I will make an interesting observation. Well, I think it's interesting a bit later, but no, just on the conversation that we had.

Christiana: [00:44:50] How about now?

Tom: [00:44:51] You're just, you're just giving us, building a buzz around your interesting observation. 

Paul: [00:44:53] You want me to make it now? 

Christiana: [00:44:54] Yeah, go for it.

Paul: [00:44:54] Alright, well it's not really exactly based on the interview, but I did quite a bit research.

Tom: [00:44:56] Is it actually interesting?

Paul: [00:44:58] Well, I shall let the universe be the judge of that. And if it's not sufficiently interesting, I should be struck down by terrible thunderbolt. But if, on the other hand, your accusation.

Christiana: [00:45:07] Would you like us to let you speak?

Paul: [00:45:10] I'm interrupting myself. How can I, don't interrupt me. It's very confusing. Anyway, I did a lot of research about Tom before he came on, and I actually thought I found to myself, to my amusement, the classic difference between someone from the United States and someone from Europe, because he, he said, a very formative part of his career, was actually going and working on a farm for a year when he was 19. And he worked really, really hard six days a week for 12 hours a day. And then he came back and he told his parents, do you know, on those farms the farmers aren't making any money. The people who are making the money, are the people who are making the tractors and John Deere and these companies. So I'm going to invest in those companies. And he started a career in investment management. And I mean, good luck to him. And he's done wonderful things since then. I think someone from Europe might have said, I'm going to unionize the farm workers and see if we can't build up the wages for them. Do you know what I mean. So there's just sort of different ways of approaching the human condition. That was that was my slightly, slightly off colour. But within the United States context, he's a superstar. And I think that his ability to put well, I actually got a question straight back to both of you. It was a great chat, but just point blank, would the Democrats be in a better position in the polls if they'd chosen him over Biden?

Tom: [00:46:21] I mean, I think that.

Christiana: [00:46:22] That rolls history back a couple of years.

Tom: [00:46:24] Yeah. You mean right now, if he was seeking re-election?

Christiana: [00:46:26] Now or in the previous election?

Paul: [00:46:28] Well it's interesting you mention 2020. And of course I confused 2020 with 2024. But luckily I'm just only I know that at the moment. I haven't shared it with all of you. We probably can't leave this in. We can't leave this in. It's too weird. I basically got confused between 2020 and 2024 in my head, but it's the question still stands, but it's considerably less relevant now I think about it.

Christiana: [00:46:51] Well, but but there's two ways to think about it, right. The first is, would it have been a more dramatic win for the Democrats if he had been the candidate in 2020. That's one question. Crystal ball. Interested to see what Tom thinks about that crystal. What do you read into that crystal ball. The other one is.

Paul: [00:47:18] As he stood for re-election now.

Christiana: [00:47:20] And and he would be standing for re-election now. The other one is what would be the consequences, what would have been the consequences for the Democrats if they had chosen to change, to change after four years in the White House to someone Paul who, despite our love and loyalty to Tom. And honestly, my, my huge respect for what he has done, especially in supporting more voting act of voting in the United States, which to me is his greatest, his greatest contribution that he has financially supported the act of voting, getting the vote out. So I think I have huge respect for him for for doing that. But despite that, and despite the fact that he was a candidate, he is remains relatively unknown to the US public. And and then when you put him up against Trump, who is across the board, no matter what your political leanings are the most known political figure because you either hate him or you love him, but he's the most.

Paul: [00:48:39] But he's on television every day.

Christiana: [00:48:40] Every day, and on all social media and etc. etc. that would probably not have been a wise decision.

Paul: [00:48:48] Quite right.

Tom: [00:48:49] So I mean, I, who knows, I mean, dealing in counterfactuals, right. I mean, if Tom had won the Democratic nomination, I mean, I think as if he had somehow become president, he would have been a transformative president from climate perspective. It would have been an astonishingly positive thing for the world. As someone who's not that well known, obviously that brutal process of becoming known to the electorate, what that does in terms of how you're then seen, I don't feel I have any insight into that. But but I have seen Tom in various contexts where he's been sort of somewhat attacked or criticized in some ways. And he is tough. He's a real street fighter, right. He is prepared to like, go and defend his position. He's thoughtful, he's rigorous, he's front foot. And when we look now, God love him at Biden, who increasingly doesn't just have that energy of dynamism and change, it does make you feel like someone like, Tom, we'll cover this in a future podcast. The Democrats are in a really tough spot in the US says the recent polls all, all listeners will be aware of. And this is a serious and really challenging reality for the next few months. I do wish someone else was there. I mean, obviously it's well above my pay grade, but you know.

Christiana: [00:49:55] Yeah, but what is weird is that in order for Tom Steyer to be a strong candidate for this November in the United States, he would have had to have been elected four years ago.

Tom: [00:50:07] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Christiana: [00:50:07] You know, so so to come now from where he is on to, on to the, to the ballot is, wouldn't help, but he would have been, as you say, a very strong leader four years ago.

Tom: [00:50:22] Now, what I think about him, that is actually interesting, now that you've asked the question, is that the the the core of Tom is deeply optimistic, deeply believing in the American principles of innovation, entrepreneurship, can do. As and when we get, and Biden has been a pretty impressive climate president. But as and when we get more elected representatives that really have climate at their core, that is going to be the attitude that carries them forward. It's not going to be, oh, everything's so terrible. And isn't the science awful. It's going to be, we can do this. Let's double down the stuff he told us about about companies he's investing in, the way in which he sees this evolution of life, the way technology is going to play a role, how that intersects with policy that is very intoxicating. It's very exciting. And I can see that having broad appeal.

Christiana: [00:51:10] Intoxicating in the positive way.

Tom: [00:51:12] In a positive way, intoxicating and positive. Exactly. And I think that as and when we see political leaders emerge with climate at the core of their message, it's going to be like the.

Christiana: [00:51:22] Yeah and not just climate at the core, but the opportunities.

Tom: [00:51:25] The opportunity, exactly.

Christiana: [00:51:26] That's the brilliant part.

Tom: [00:51:27] Totally, yeah.

Christiana: [00:51:28] He really embodies and speaks so eloquently too.

Tom: [00:51:31] He really does so.

Paul: [00:51:33] And just, you know, last thought for me is how great, you know, I mean he's, he's he's a kind of billionaire I think, but only like 1 billion or 2 billion or something. You know what a role model he is for business people, successful people who can, he got kind of he got the memo on climate change. He changed his life. He got fully into it. And I don't think I've ever seen anyone so happy or so full of a sense of purpose and fulfillment. And I think that he models that for others. There are eco conservatives across the USA who are bringing business in, who are dodging this silly political divide and looking at the main prize here, the long term, the opportunities for us to build a better world with incredible new industries. You remember Gore's phrase as big as the Industrial Revolution at the speed of the digital revolution. He embodies all of that for me, and I think that's great.

Christiana: [00:52:20] You know, you just touched a point that we haven't, double clicked on. And that is he is so committed to crossing the political divide, and the dinner that that you alluded to, Tom, he had George Shultz there at that dinner, and and he had him not for our benefit. He had him there because he had worked deeply, with George Shultz being.

Tom: [00:52:50] Former Reagan's secretary of state, of course.

Christiana: [00:52:52] And being one of the leaders actually of, of the of, of the Republican Party in the United States. And it was Tom's initiative to cross the aisle and work with George Shultz and bring together a bipartisan agreement. And he just does that so beautifully. So, you know, another fantastic political contribution that he could have, should have brought.

Tom: [00:53:21] Yeah. All right, so I think that's it, thank you very much. What a fun episode. Election in the UK. Brilliant Tom Steyer. A lot to look forward to in the next couple of months. And we'll see you next week. Bye.

Christiana: [00:53:31] Bye.

Paul: [00:53:32] Bye.

Clay: [00:53:36] There you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. I'm Clay producer this podcast. Thank you for listening to our podcast. And thank you to Tom Steyer for joining us this week on the show. Link in the show notes to purchase his newest book, which is out now. Cheaper, Faster, Better: How We’ll Win the Climate War. This is recommended reading by all of our hosts. Thank you, Tom for coming on. Go check out the book, again link in the show notes. A great read and thank you again to everyone who's been sending in voice notes and questions for our How to Live a Good Life series. As Tom, Tom Rivett-Carnac mentioned, the hosts just sat down and recorded some of the episodes for that series, and they were in person together, which is very unique. We will be releasing the How to Live a Good Life series later this year, so please hit subscribe to this podcast so that you don't miss it and stay tuned! I wanted to let you know that the voicemail inbox is still open for your questions about how do I live a good life during a climate crisis. We're still looking for questions.

Clay: [00:54:48] We want to hear what you think. So you know, like, should I fly? What should I eat? How do I talk about climate change with children? We've recorded a few episodes and we still want to hear from you. The inbox is open speakpipe.com/outrageandoptimism. Link to that in the show notes. Okay, one last thing for you here before we go, we have quite a few new listeners that have joined, and I want to mention that not only do we release a weekly podcast episode, but we also release a bi weekly newsletter that we write as a team, and that is perfect for in between episodes of the podcast. And it's loved by our listeners. So you can subscribe by checking the link in the show notes. It's always in the show notes. Subscribe to the newsletter. Stay up to date on all things throughout the Global Optimism and Outrage + Optimism ecosystem. Thank you. Okay, we will see you all next week for another episode. See you then.


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