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151: What on Earth is Happening in the US?

We learn more about what's still possible for US federal climate policy.

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About this episode

This week, a look at US federal climate policy ahead of the US midterm elections. We explore the scarily-small-and-measured-in-weeks amount of time we have to pass meaningful climate legislation before the US midterm elections, and where the optimism is in Senate blocked legislation, a so-called ‘Conservative’ leaning Supreme Court, and a Presidential Administration dealing with fossil fuel addiction issues - Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and high prices at the pump.

So, with the help of the NRDC’s Manish Bapna, we discuss whether it is still possible to squeeze through an acceptable climate package that would put the US back on track to achieve their net-zero goals, AND why his outrage fuels his optimism in the midst of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Plus! Stick around after the interview for the room shaking track ‘My Mama’ by musical guest, Dizraeli.

Mentioned links from the episode:

Thank you to our musical guest this week, Dizraeli!

TOUR: Dizraeli is coming to a city near you!

WATCH: See for yourself how Dizraeli is touring sustainably


Full Transcript

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

Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Paul: [00:00:17] Dame Christiana Figueres. And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:20] This week we talk about what's going on in the US with federal climate policy. We speak to the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Manish Bapna, and we have music from Dizraeli. Thanks for being here. Okay, you two. So it's lovely to see you. I've missed you. It's been the longest break from the podcast. Thank you. Thank you. You did an amazing job. I have to say, I listened to Clay last week and I was deeply concerned for my own job security. But I've been out with COVID for the last couple of weeks, but I'm back and I'm feeling better with enormous empathy for everyone who's struggling with it. It's not a fun disease, but there's been something rather interesting and significant has happened.

Paul: [00:01:08] This has changed whilst you've been away. We're going to come on to some serious matters. But perhaps the most serious matter is that we no longer have Christiana on the podcast.

Tom: [00:01:16] Unfortunately, she's been elevated out of our stratosphere.

Paul: [00:01:19] We now have yeah. That Dame Christiana Figueres OBE. Load More

Christiana: [00:01:26] Excuse me, DBE.

Tom: [00:01:28] DBE, Dame of the British Empire.

Paul: [00:01:31] You’re DBE and OBE. I mean, there's so many that it’s all about the British Empire. You're basically you've left Costa Rica, you're now working for the British Empire.

Christiana: [00:01:38] The question is who knew that the British Empire still existed?

Tom: [00:01:42] It stretches from Land's End to the top of wherever it goes, yeah.

Paul: [00:01:46] Look, seriously, in all seriousness, I would imagine you would be comfortable with us still calling you Christiana. Would that be all right?

Tom: [00:01:53] Does it have to be Dame Christiana?

Christiana: [00:01:54] Well, as long as you don't change the Dame for the damn, which some people are doing. Okay.

Tom: [00:02:00] Congratulations, Christiana. Extremely well-deserved.

Paul: [00:02:04] And I'm very sorry, Tom.

Tom: [00:02:07] After you, sir.

Paul: [00:02:08] If you're going to go, if you're actually interested, if you go to Christiana’s website, you'll see that she's been equally ennobled by practically every other country in the world. So I think the British came in last, but well done, good old Britain.

Tom: [00:02:19] Yeah, exactly. And thank goodness that the honours system is being used to recognise things like that. So huge. Congratulations, well deserved and recognition of you and so many people, including many of our listeners.

Christiana: [00:02:28] Exactly. That's the point. That is exactly the point.

Paul: [00:02:32] So many and just a tiny thing for our international audience. We're at Tom, it would be Sir Tom Rivett-Carnac, but the Dame is the equivalent of the sir.

Christiana: [00:02:41] Where for Paul it would be Sir Paul.

Tom: [00:02:44] One day, Paul one day. Now we're going to get on to the complicated issue of US federal climate policy. There's a lot going on in the US at the moment. It's very consequential for all of us. But we have to start really by mentioning something extremely serious that's happening right now. And it's amazing how easy it is to not be aware of this, but it's incumbent upon all of us to keep our eyes open to what's unfolding around the world. And this is not an easy one for those who've been following the news, there is a very severe heat wave right now unfolding across the Indian subcontinent. About a billion people are facing temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That is about 46, 47 degrees centigrade. And we should bear in mind, it's only April, right? The hot season is just beginning. And if you look at the analysis and the reports from the Indian Weather Service, they're extremely concerned, first, because records are dropping all over the place. And secondly, because this is happening during a La Nina weather pattern that normally leads to a cooling effect. But despite that, we're seeing these absolutely devastating heat waves. We've had Kim Stanley Robinson on this podcast. We've talked about that opening scene that I'm sure many people have read. We're not suggesting anything like that is unfolding right now, but my God, it's too close for comfort. So we just wanted to mention that I don't know if either of you want to come in before we turn to our issue of US policy on this very concerning phenomenon that's happening right now.

Christiana: [00:04:21] Well, the tone of the tragedy really that is unfolding is very eerily remindful of, is mindful a word remind full a word?

Paul: [00:04:36] It is now, Dame Christiana.

Christiana: [00:04:38] Yeah. Thank you. Of that first chapter of the book, if anybody, it's very difficult to read through that chapter. And now here we have something that hopefully will not have as drastic consequences. But we're moving in that direction. And here's the piece that I would like to underline. In a country that is a developing country that has no historical responsibility, in a country that has for so many years argued that what really counts is per capita emissions, because they have one of the lowest per capita emissions rates. Just to put two examples, India per capita emission hovers around two tonnes of CO2 per capita, whereas the United States hovers around 15. And India has for years been arguing that we should be looking at per capita emissions and that every single country should come down to two tonnes per capita because that would actually help to address climate change, which they're absolutely right. The injustice of this is just heart searing.

Paul: [00:06:04] So the book that Tom and Christiana are referring to is The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. And that paints a long and detailed picture of a plausible future with regard to climate change. But it begins and sets the scene in a very terrifying way with an extreme heat event in India. And it's just extraordinary sea life imitating art here. So that's that's pretty serious.

Tom: [00:06:31] Yeah. And I mean, obviously, it's very easy to feel very disempowered and powerless as we look at this terrible thing that's unfolding. There's very little that we can do when you get to this point of an emergency. One tiny thing I've done, which just helps keep it to mind, is I put a weather app on my phone, I have it on my home screen, and I put cities in India on there. And every time I look at my phone, I think about these people. And actually I found it's really kept it in my consciousness, not that it does any good, but it's actually.

Christiana: [00:06:58] What a good idea, Tom.

Tom: [00:06:59] It brings it to mind on a regular basis. Now let's move on and let's move on from the impacts that we're experiencing to hopefully what is going to become one of the key centres of solutions. And we're going to dedicate the rest of this episode to talking about what's happening at the federal level in the US, not only the federal level actually, but really what's happening at the US and the federal level is a major piece of that. Listeners will, I'm sure, be aware that towards the end of last year there was an infrastructure bill passed in the US that had certain elements of it that related to climate, something on electric vehicles and getting rid of methane leaks and energy efficiency mandates. But the big set pieces of what we were hoping were going to come from the Biden administration, stringent vehicle efficiency standards, plans to get rid of coal and transition power plants have not emerged in the way that we thought they might, and we understand the reasons for that, which is essentially that there is a perspective that the politics has shifted now that we are in the narrowing path to the midterms, and in particular now that Russia has invaded Ukraine and US voters are concerned about energy prices, we have seen this drop off the president's agenda. He barely mentioned it in the State of the Union. So we're going to get into this with Manish, who's someone we've known for a long time and is very expert. But which of you would like to come in with any comments on what where the US is right now?

Christiana: [00:08:25] Well, Tom, you said people are worried about energy prices. I do not want to speak for U.S. citizens, but I will because my observation from having lived there 20 years is that US citizens typically and you know, here we go, horrible generalization, don't really react to energy prices because that it's not very much on their radar screen. What they react to is to prices at the pump. What is either the diesel or the gasoline that they're consuming? What is the price of that? And the US citizens are incredibly, incredibly sensitive to that because it is a vastly driving country. People drive their more, you know, longer distances and more cars per family, etc., etc., than most other countries. And so they are very, very sensitive to that. And the fact that those prices have gone up because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is what has put a lot of political pressure on Biden, who, as you say, came in with a pretty ambitious climate plan.

Tom: [00:09:45] Most ambitious ever.

Christiana: [00:09:46] Yes, most ambitious ever. Exactly. Exactly. And then, you know, the interference there of West Virginia's Senator Manchin, who was unwilling to pass that bill and now the prices at the pump. So a very, very difficult case for President Biden, who must actually speak to both of these concerns at the same time.

Paul: [00:10:20] Paul Yeah. And, you know, before this podcast, Tom, you invited us to listen to an episode of The Daily which was talking really about how the administration had responded here. And the phrase that I really picked up was that the Biden administration had made a political calculation, which is what politicians have to do not to try and make a bigger and longer connection with the voters regarding this issue and kind of, you know, sort of kind of backing, you know, like accelerating fossil fuels, you know, driving increased fossil fuel production in response to this crisis. And, you know, I think that I was sort of sitting there thinking, like, what's the problem? What's the problem? What's the problem is digging down, digging down, digging down. And I was actually doing a little bit of research for our we're going to interview the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. He's a very brilliant politician. But one thing that listening to Sadiq Khan, he said that he was successful on climate change, he said because we educated Londoners on how bad this is. And I think that's the critical point. If we're trying to understand where politicians are going wrong, they're not educating the public about how bad this is. So if citizens in the US are looking at the gas price and they're going to simply vote for a new president or change political affiliation in the midterms because you know, the money is increased and they haven't got any kind of context to see a counterargument, then then, you know, we're going to be in this political calculation all the way to hell. So we have to actually get the public understanding what's going on because democracies can't function without an informed electorate. Now, the problem, of course, is that with very large amounts of money spreading all kinds of counter-narratives and with a sort of centralized media, you remember the good old days when the media would sort of say, well, a balanced view of what's going on. That's all gone with the Internet. And we're now in this rather strange environment. But I think the challenge is to inform the public, because only then can they make the decisions.

Tom: [00:12:22] I mean, I'm 100% behind that, Paul completely. And we should have started that 30 years ago in earnest, is the reality. And we should absolutely start it now. And time is very short. I mean, just listening to what you both said there in Christiana in particular, what you talked about that the question I'd like to ask before we go to Manish is are we making any progress in the US? Is the US actually moving forward? Because all the way back to Clinton, you know, as far as my memory stretches, the administration comes in, they says they're going to do something about climate. They have other priorities that they focus on first, be it health care or infrastructure. Then the midterms hove into view and they decide they can't talk about climate because it might potentially scare some voters. They then lose the midterms and then they shift to only doing something on executive action. And then in the end, we decide that we're just going to have to focus on the states because federal policy isn't really going to move anywhere. And that cycle, I mean, I've been round that loop.

Christiana: [00:13:10] That is such a good description of de ja vu.

Tom: [00:13:14] I mean, I've been around there three times.

Christiana: [00:13:15] Through that cycle constantly.

Tom: [00:13:16] I feel like right now we're just at the point where we're saying, oh, the other priority, the infrastructure bill got through, had a little bit of climate stuff. The midterms are now coming. They're probably going to lose the House. I mean, are we just going round and round or are we making any progress in each of these cycles?

Paul: [00:13:31] I can't say necessarily if we're making progress. But, you know, I definitely think that the idea that the public debate is being poisoned, for want of a better word, by a lot of corporate money, is more and more widely held. I think investors, for example, now looking at what responsible ownership means. They will say, for example, that, you know, that we're going to have to get the money out of politics. We're going to have to allow the public and a democracy to kind of do its thing. But I mean, you know, some weird things are happening. For example, Elon Musk has just bought Twitter. He issued a tweet recently and said, I'm increasingly convinced that corporate ESG or environmental, social and governance issues are the devil incarnate. I mean, what he's doing is he's playing with the fact that there's a moment in our society where we're trying to work out what responsibility means. We're trying to work out what that means in government. We're trying to work out what that means in corporations, investors, in civil society, in cities, in all layers of our society. And there's kind of everything to play for. And, you know, someone like Elon Musk is probably going to be very influential now. They could bring back Donald Trump and we could have all those tweets every day, although it'll be a lot easier now he's not president anymore. Or we could have some kind of new way of addressing our environmental, social and cultural challenges. But it could go either way

Tom: [00:14:52] I totally agree. So cultural transformation, society needs shift done, fully agreed. But the question right now is, can we get something material through the US federal system? You know, that's the exam question for today. Where we? Christiana, I'd love to hear analysis on that. Are we making progress or are we just going round and round? And the solution, of course, is what Paul said.

Christiana: [00:15:13] I agree that we're going round and round, or if you want to see it in a linear way and not circular, then we're making marginal progress. But we know that marginal progress is just not going to cut it. So I'm going to go out on a limb, a very brittle could break right under me. What if what if the Biden administration took the crazy prices at the pump as the reason to, you know, I don't like war language, but sometimes you just really have to have to use it. What if the Biden administration declared war on fossil fuels because of the Russian invasion linking that in the public's mind, linking that so clearly that the public would understand or those who want to understand, because some would never, that those prices are the way they are because of the Russian irresponsibility. And use that card then to push everything they can from the executive power to move the United States to much further, deeper, broader independence of energy, certainly from imports, but actually even from their own fossil fuels. Because until as long as they are dependent on their own fossil fuels, they're part of the same manipulative game. Now that's obviously very, very difficult to do. And right before the midterm elections, probably impossible. So I come back, you know, going out on a limb here, but it doesn't seem to me that staying within the stretch of what is reasonable and what is recommendable before midterm elections is going to get us anywhere.

Tom: [00:17:23] Yeah. And actually that backs in very nicely to what Paul just said, because all of us know John Marshall, who runs potential energy, who's a completely brilliant marketeer. And I was talking to him the other day and he was telling me that right after the invasion of Ukraine, the US population was roughly split in terms of who to blame for the rising gas prices. A third blamed President Biden. A third blame Putin and a third blame the oil and gas companies for price gouging. Six weeks later, and after a very significant and dedicated communications campaign by the oil and gas companies, a clear majority blamed Biden. Now, that's a missed opportunity for us, right? They grabbed that narrative because they didn't want to be blamed and they spent the money on the public affairs that actually shifted public opinion. So this is exactly what you were saying, Paul, to blame the president for this and narrowed the political opportunity and space that he had to do what you just described, Christiana. So we are missing a trick.

Paul: [00:18:21] But the good news is that we're having this conversation to an ever growing number of people. And there are ways that these lions, the corporations, can potentially be governed by the mice that are the government. But we have to do a little bit of kind of we've got to kind of arm the mice and kind of disarm the lions. But it can be done and it will be done and it must be done.

Tom: [00:18:39] I think we've just found an episode titled arm the mice and disarm the Lions. Right. Okay. Anything else that either of you like to say before we go to Manish?

Paul: [00:18:46] No, I'd love to hear what he's got to say. Dame Christiana you had something? 

Tom: [00:18:51] No right. Okay. So Manish Bapna is a completely brilliant individual that all of us have known for a long time. He's had a 25 year career in leadership roles. Prior to his current position, he was the executive vice president and managing director at the World Resources Institute (WRI). And he joined a few months ago as NRDC, Natural Resource Defense Council's new president and CEO. There's a 51 year old nonprofit of 700 scientists, lawyers, policy advocates from around the world to tackle the biggest environmental issues. It is a brilliant organization well worth supporting, and you're going to love hearing from many. So here's the interview and we will be back afterwards.

Christiana: [00:19:37] Manish, hello. Thank you so much for joining us here on outrage and Optimism. And we are so delighted to have someone, Manish, who is so clearly positioned to walk us through what on earth is happening in the United States. It does seem from those of us who see it from the outside, that we have basically two positions. And I'd love to hear your take on this, two positions, one, that is, let's open up the reserves of oil and gas. Understandable, because fossil fuel prices are going through the roof. On the other hand, we have a very sincere effort to invest more into the alternatives into renewables. And right smack in the middle of all of this is the Build Back Better Bill that Biden would have liked to have passed quite a while ago, but was not able to get it through. Mainly because single handedly, I would say single handedly, the representative from West Virginia basically tore the whole thing down. So now we're just a few months before the midterm elections. Very difficult situation for President Biden. What chance do we have of getting a climate bill, perhaps a more humble Build Back Better Bill, but one that would still have the necessary teeth?

Manish Bapna: [00:21:22] Christiana, absolutely delighted to be here with you and Paul and Tom on Outrage + Optimism. You know, the question that you're asking is a question many of us in the United States ask every morning when we wake up. But really useful, maybe to take a step back and just remember kind of, where I always like to ask where is the United States on its pathway to meeting its 2030 target? So 50% to 52% below 2005 levels in 2030 is the target. Preliminary estimates from the end of 2021 put the United States at 17% below 2005 levels. Take a moment. Let that sink in. That means in order to meet the target, a nearly 4% shift decrease in absolute emissions each year, every year between now and 2030. So the scale of the challenge cannot be overstated. In terms of how the United States can get there. A lot of the modeling that my organization, NRDC, has done, but many other excellent modeling groups, shows that we must see three interlocking pieces that will only enable us to get to the 2030 target. We need to see bold legislation. We need to see clean energy investments through Congress. We need to see strong regulation, kind of executive action from the administration, and we need to see greater increase in state and subnational action. These are interlocking pieces. So the way to get there, you can't rely on one or two. We need all three. And if all three come together, they enable the others to be bolder than they otherwise would be.

Christiana: [00:23:23] Yikes. Manish, that's a tall order. All three. It makes a lot of sense because obviously they are mutually reinforcing. Makes a lot of sense. That's the ideal scenario. Let's call it, now compare that to what you think is actually going to be I was going to say possible, let me call it squeezable. What can we squeeze through between now and 2030. Crystal ball for us.

Manish Bapna: [00:23:51] Money since you said squeezable. In my mind, the metaphor that comes up is a ketchup bottle. Right. And you've heard this metaphor before. It's an old ketchup bottle. We've been hitting it, hitting it, hitting it. Nothing has come out the next six months. Let me tell you what we need to see to come out.

Christiana: [00:24:09] To be squeezable.

Tom: [00:24:11] Just how ketchup works actually, sometimes.

Paul: [00:24:14] You know, not too much, but a lot.

Manish Bapna: [00:24:18] So on the legislation side, the heart of the Build Back Better Bill, which is now not is not being called Build Back Better anymore. But we're $320 billion in clean energy tax credits and another 150-200 billion in other climate and environmental justice investments. The reductions were in no small part concentrated on these ten year direct pay tax credits, incentives to support basically decarbonization of the power sector. Scaling up of zero emission vehicles. Looking at buildings and appliance efficiencies. A wide range of other areas that basically help support decarbonization. On the legislative side, the next few weeks are absolutely critical. We all know that the midterms are coming up in November, that the political window to get something through Congress is the next two months. And that is where the conversations are.

Christiana: [00:25:24] The next two months?

Manish Bapna: [00:25:26] The next month, 2 to 3 months, if we don't see significant progress, most people will say it will be too late just to go through all the various steps to get legislation through the Senate, complementary legislation through the House reconciled and signed, and the steps to take to get that done. If we don't see progress, quite frankly, in the next couple of months, significant concrete progress, it will be too late to get the August recess. Midterms are fast approaching. It becomes politically virtually impossible to do that right before the midterm elections. So this is the moment on the legislative side.

Tom: [00:26:08] Wow, can I ask a question on that? I mean, that's a we're getting used to near-term targets and timelines in climate, but that's a really terrifying one, 2 to 3 months. I mean, looking at it from the outside, just it seems to have been this series of walls and obstacles and problems. What confidence do you have that the package you just set out based largely around incentives to support the decarbonization of the power sector, have been structured in such a way that this isn't going to be dead on arrival. Do you think that that's done enough now to form that middle ground where this can happen?

Christiana: [00:26:39] And how do we deal with our best friend in West Virginia.

Paul: [00:26:44] The malfunctioning Democrat?

Manish Bapna: [00:26:46] So, one of the things to remember a little bit more, the optimism here. You may recall 2009 after the Lehman financial crisis, the United States stimulus package called TARP, $90 Billion was on clean energy. It was the third rail. It was the smallest piece. It was the most controversial piece. And you know, it did finally get through. You know, fast forward to build back better. A few months ago, about a $1.752 trillion package, the largest share was on climate 500, 550 billion. And the one that politically brought almost everyone together. So in the ten years since 2009, 12 years, things in the United States have changed significantly. That doesn't mean we have this yet across the finish line. But even Senator Manchin has spoken very positively about climate being the one area where he felt that there was significant alignment. Where he has raised questions are on the details of specific policy provisions, not questioning the importance of the clean energy tax credits themselves.

Christiana: [00:28:10] That's an interesting point. So for our non US listeners, Senator Manchin is the senator from West Virginia.

Manish Bapna: [00:28:18] And it's important to remember, Senator Manchin is in a state that Trump won over President Biden in 2020 by 40 percentage points.

Tom: [00:28:31] Wow.

Manish Bapna: [00:28:32] Trump was nearly 70%. Biden and Harris were close to 30%. This is a deep red state.

Christiana: [00:28:39] Yeah.

Tom: [00:28:40] So so given that change, I mean, you just described this long arc of transformation, which is encouraging. I mean, it's from failing big to failing small. But let's hope the next step is winning. But given that, do we think there's enough in this constructive, constructive package now to get us through in the next couple of months somewhere?

Manish Bapna: [00:28:59] I do, Tom and your pessimist might be right more often. Optimists win more often.

Christiana: [00:29:08] Yes, Manish. We are so on your team.

Manish Bapna: [00:29:14] But I believe that there is a lot of goodwill at the moment. I don't want to sound pollyannaish naive. Look, there's some really hard conversations that need to happen. There isn't a lot of time. We need to get very concrete about what can be contained in this bill. But my hope, my sense is that those conversations are indeed happening with the Senate leadership, with the White House. Ultimately, I think if everyone just went into a room and said, what could we actually agree on? What they could agree on would capture the bulk of what we need out of this bill through legislation to be able to take a significant step forward to meeting the US target. The challenge is there's a lot of other things, as you well know, on the global stage and in Congress. So time is tight. People must prioritize this because this is, as we all know, you know, an existential moment.

Christiana: [00:30:18] So is your sense, do I understand you to say, Manish, that there is, at least in theory, enough common ground there across the aisle for everyone to reach at least a decent result on a new proposal of the build back better bill. But what is actually the most difficult threat for it is actually the distraction that might be there because of all of the other things that they have to deal with. Is that what you're saying? So there's actually not the differences of opinion that still may be on the table, but rather will they be able to deal with everything that they need to deal with over the next two months? Is that what you're saying?

Manish Bapna: [00:31:06] I am saying that the differences of opinion within the Democratic Party and in particular with Senator Manchin and other senators can be overcome. That if you take what different people have said that there is a way to find a landing spot that can get us several steps forward from where we are today. The challenge a bit now, as you probably well know, is with Ukraine, there is going to be a number of provisions that also may end up within the bill that are about supporting existing infrastructure, trying to respond to the short term crisis. So it is quite likely be a bit more of a mixed bill, but still in my view, quite likely to be significantly net positive from a climate perspective. But it will be a little bit more mixed than may have been the case in late 2021. That is one piece of the puzzle. But as I said, there are three pieces that are needed. And just to highlight a little bit more. The other piece that the administration can do is on the regulatory side. President Obama during his administration, used the administration to actually move forward, aim to move forward in reducing emissions. We believe that the two most important rules that the administration needs to focus on again in the next few months, catch a bottle, next few months are on power plants and vehicles. And the reason that this is so important is because in order to both propose and finalize the rules in a timely way before the four years are up, you need to start moving fast. And that is what I want to cut a signal that the rules, the regulations are equally important, roughly in terms of the scale of reductions that they will help create. And those rules need to start to move much faster than what we've seen so far.

Tom: [00:33:22] And Manish, can those rules, those regulations, they can occur purely through executive authority, or are they likely to be challenged by a Supreme Court that is now very much on the conservative side? I mean, it'd be great in a minute to talk about the State, but is that regulatory piece at risk from legislative challenges in the courts?

Manish Bapna: [00:33:42] So you're raising exactly the right question that if the rules are not developed with a very strong scientific and analytical basis, they can be challenged. Companies, states can sue and hold up the rules in court. And so they need to be developed in a very, very thoughtful, robust manner. This is one of the challenges, as some of you may know, there is a very significant Supreme Court case that is also going to be decided in the next few months. It's called West Virginia versus EPA. And this case is once again raising the question about whether or not the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. And there are two sets of questions that are being asked whether the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases in a significant way and how and if so, how can it regulate greenhouse gas emissions? There's been three cases in the past that have already conferred this authority. But the judiciary, the Supreme Court, is all shifted to the right, and has become more conservative. And so this is creating a new uncertainty around exactly how the EPA will be able to set rules for power plants to tackle carbon pollution.

Tom: [00:35:10] Wow. That's a really ominous thing you just set out there in sort of very diplomatic speech.

Christiana: [00:35:17] Yeah, sorry, Manish, but what ever happened to the Clean Air Act of 2007? Where, so as far as my feeble memory tells me, that's when the EPA was given authority to regulate over greenhouse gases. So is the Clean Air Act being put into question?

Manish Bapna: [00:35:41] So you're absolutely right. 2007 was Massachusetts for EPA. There was another Supreme Court case in 2011, American Electric Power versus Connecticut. And the way this case is being framed is not to confront the decisions that were taken earlier, but to ask a more nuanced question. It's a question about whether or not the EPA can regulate power plants or any sector in ways that have major economic or political implications. It's something called the Major Questions Doctrine, and this is something that is not specific to the environmental or climate issues, but is a broader principle that conservative judiciaries and the conservative movement have been advocating, which is, in essence, that regulation or the role of the administrative state needs to be curtailed, needs to be confined, needs to be reduced unless there's explicit authority from Congress. And so that is in part the question that is being raised through this case. We believe and we and our DC is a party in this case, that is absolutely a false argument. We can explain why, but just to let you know that that is one of the more significant uncertainties at the moment. We believe we will prevail on that. But then there's the question not about whether also how and that's where how the EPA might be able to regulate may be more constrained than what we have seen in the past.

Christiana: [00:37:23] Wow. So this really goes to the core of what is the role of the state, what is the role of government? Protect its people or I don't even know what verb to use with respect to the economy. Protect the people or protect the perception of economic stability. Very, very interesting. Wow.

Paul: [00:37:45] Well, can I can I just build on that and ask you like a tiny question, Manish, just like, you know, you've spoken so eloquently about the need for us to see, you know, the interconnection of these issues about equity and kind of human rights and access to resources. And, you know, as we try and build a movement, how is it that this radical surrender of the state where the state says, we're not interested in national security anymore, let the children, you know, take the risks? You know, we don't protect each other anymore. How is that called conservative? What happened to the word conservative?

Manish Bapna: [00:38:23] The way in which this major questions doctrine is being framed is that of the administration, the ministries in many countries or departments in the United States, agencies are more constrained in what they can do unless there is explicit authority given by the legislature, given by Congress. And so I think the argument that the conservative movement would make is we're not against those things. We just believe that the legislature should be the one advocating for that. The problem is that legislatures rarely get into the level of detail that is needed to design these types of rules. That's a reason why you have departments with 10 to 20,000 experts who understand the science, understand the analysis, to be able to design the granular types of rules that can protect public health, that can protect children. They can protect the planet. So it is a false argument, in my view, but that is the type of response, Paul, you might get to the type of question that you're raising from those that share that belief.

Tom: [00:39:41] Manish, can I ask you, you know, you've set out these three pillars and the legislative path is there, but it's narrow. The regulatory path has enormous risk given we've got to assume that they've timed this case in part because the Supreme Court has now tipped and they feel they've got a better chance. But I mean, we'll see what happens. I'm glad to hear you feel optimistic. I'm sort of old enough to remember a few runs at this type of thing where when we're not successful, we sort of console ourselves with the fact that much of the authority resides at the state level and that can still move forward. So I'm curious to know if we're if we're not successful or even if we are, what chances of real progress reside at the state level? And also to go back to where you started, you said the US needs to reduce 4% annual emissions, real emissions each year. What proportion of that can we reasonably expect to achieve if we don't make the progress that we want to make on the legislative and regulatory pieces?

Manish Bapna: [00:40:40] So. So the states are, you know, absolutely critical. It's both what can happen in states and what can happen with cities and with companies. So, you know, subnational, as we know, encompasses many pieces of this conversation. And we've seen, especially since the Trump administration, a real explosion of effort at the state level. And it's not, so you have 29 states now with renewable portfolio standards. About a dozen of them are getting you to 100% clean electricity by 2050 or earlier. So there's some real momentum there. You have California just recently put forward a new set, a proposed new set of vehicle, kind of clean vehicle rules that would get you to 70%, zero, nearly 70% of zero emission vehicles by 2030 and 100% by 2035. Wow. If you get that passed, you typically have ten, 15, 20 other states that adopt California's vehicle emission standards. So they're earlier existing vehicle emission standards have been adopted by 16 states that represent 40% of the country. So you get that kind of replication of that. That could be quite exciting. And it's not just blue leadership, you know, leadership from blue states on the coast. Illinois just passed a very ambitious bill a couple of years ago, or Alaska I'm sorry, a few months ago that gets you to a carbon free power sector. Within the next 15 years. You get North Carolina, a fairly purple red state that just passed a pretty bold climate legislation. You have Texas that has wind generating and other renewable energy, generating a quarter of the power consumed, which exceeds what they get from coal.

Christiana: [00:42:44] Already today?

Manish Bapna: [00:42:48] Already today. So you're starting to see this type of shift happening at the state level. Yeah, but again, so that's incredibly exciting, Tom but coming back to your last question on its own, I don't believe states can get it right.

Christiana: [00:43:03] With coming back three your three piece strategy here that we need all three.

Paul: [00:43:10] And super struck by your comments about this kind of clever legal argument that the legislative has got to give the rights, you know, it's a kind of catch 22 that they haven't got time to go into that detail, but they've got to go. It's a sort of super clever legal strategy put together probably by a lot of money, frankly, from the fossil fuel industry and people with financial interests in it. How do we and this is really a question about how to be an activist. You know, you've got the most you've got to work for two of the most interesting and influential NGOs in the history of the environmental movement. WRI and now NRDC. Can you describe how you know, you can see how you can help the people listening to this podcast to think through how they can maybe engage with that movement, building sort of change a narrative and help, you know, in the United States but worldwide for the people to reconnect our governments and our civil servants with their kind of sacred duty, if you will, to to protect the citizen in the state. How do we get out of this kind of legal trickery and back to the sort of reality of human survival, for one, a better word?

Manish Bapna: [00:44:28] You know, I've had the absolute privilege to work with the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which I'm heading at the moment. Many people may not realize these two organizations are, in essence, sister organizations. They have the same parents.

Paul: [00:44:50] Forever, quoting Gus Speth, talking about greed and selfishness and not environmental problems. But sorry I interrupted you.

Manish Bapna: [00:44:56] No, absolutely. You know, John Adams, Gus Speth, Dick Ayres, a number of people set up NRDC back in 1970. Gus Speth then went to found the World Resources Institute. Jonathan Lash, the president for the World Resources Institute for nearly 20 years, spent his first ten years, the Natural Resources Defense Council. Frances Beinecke, who was heading up NRDC for a very long time and worked there for close to four decades, has spent a very as a very influential member of the board. So the two organizations are tightly connected.

Christiana: [00:45:36] But hold on. Manish, but they're not Siamese twins.

Manish Bapna: [00:45:39] They're not twins.

Christiana: [00:45:41] That's the interesting thing. Yeah.

Manish Bapna: [00:45:44] So, you know, WRI where I spent my first 14 years, you know, truly global. You know, WRI is about count it, change it, scale it. You know, the analytical work, thinking about how you translate the hard nosed analysis into outcomes and then how you get change at scale. You know, agenda setting, designer of game changing platforms, you know, deeply embedded in a dozen countries around the world and thinking about how to move the global conversation. NRDC, an incredible array of both carrots and sticks. It's about science, it's about the law, it's about policy, it's about advocacy. But, you know, a different set of levers. You had NRDC, best in class on litigation, the best lawyers, the environmental lawyers that anyone would want. Incredible kind of edgy advocacy communications teams working with Hollywood about how we bring climate into mainstream entertainment. Three million members around the world. How do you activate that? Right. And Paul, that brings me to a second party. The question about what can people do? You know, I remember NRDC was founded roughly around when the original Earth Day in 1970 took place. And, you know, it just reminds me, you know, 1970, the original Earth Day, 20 million people came out on the streets. That was 10% of the United States at the time.

Christiana: [00:47:36] Wow.

Manish Bapna: [00:47:37] It led to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the setting up of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was an environmental revolution. We need that today. We saw that in the run up to Paris. Christiana, as you know that so well. We need that again today.

Christiana: [00:47:55] Yeah.

Paul: [00:47:58] Get out on the streets.

Manish Bapna: [00:47:59] I was there, I was there on Saturday.

Paul: [00:48:02] Okay. Thank you. And just one final question that for me, that can you see systemic changes in any context that you think are really working, that are models that you'd love to see grow?

Manish Bapna: [00:48:14] I think we should be if we take a step back and think about just vehicles, zero emission vehicles, it is actually pretty incredible how quickly we're going forward on this S-curve. I was struck by some numbers I just came across a couple of days ago, fourth quarter, 2021, EV sales in Europe hit 28%. Germany hit 34%. In the United States, quite a bit less, about 6%. But that's largely because EVs in the United States are still at the moment quite confined to the luxury segment. Within the luxury segment, they were 31% for luxury passenger cars. So just how we think a little bit about that is incredibly important. I think there's some exciting things related to that. But the other piece I do want to bring up, because we haven't spoken as much about that in this podcast yet, but I know it is important to all of us. It is kind of how I also think we are trying to be much more intentional about bringing equity into the conversation about decarbonization and the climate challenge globally in the United States. It's something that we have been late to do. We haven't been very granular about it. We talk about how many renewable energy jobs might be created at the national level, but what does that mean for a particular state or particular community? How do we begin to develop transition plans at the community level or even for countries in ways that can actually bring issues of equity much, much more centrally into the conversation? And how do we also in the United States, you know, there's been some small early steps being taken to bring environmental justice voices more to the table. One of the things about the Build Back Better Act that was passed in the House was the very significant investments also made to deal with many of the environmental issues that are confronting frontline communities, overburdened communities that by and large happen to be communities of color, black and brown communities that have been much too long left out of these conversations. So that's Paul, another area where a lot more work needs to be done. But I do think we're starting to see some some early, early steps in the right direction.

Paul: [00:50:49] Thank you.

Christiana: [00:50:49] Yeah. Thanks very much for bringing that in, Manish, because we do tend to sort of put it at second priority level. And if we continue to do that, we're not going to move on this at all. So thank you very much for ringing that memory bell for us to remind ourselves of that many. We would love to have a much longer conversation with you, but sadly, we have to come to the end of our conversation today. Hope to talk to you later on in the year when we know a little bit better what's going on in the US. But as you might know, our tradition is to ask all our guests at the end to name one thing that you are still outraged about. And there are many. But what would be your top pick today? And one thing that you're really excited and looking forward to and optimistic about.

Manish Bapna: [00:51:46] On the outrage, there are quite a few things I'm outraged about at the moment. Perhaps the usual suspect, the fossil fuel industry, using the pretense of Ukraine to advocate for more drilling, for more infrastructure, you know, solutions that will not meet the short term concerns and pain that Ukraine or the world, Europe or the broader world is facing, but will lock us in to greater warming that we can't afford. The fact that despite absolutely record profits, they're not reinvesting those profits in clean energy, but they're actually returning them in terms of stock buybacks, increasing shareholder wealth. So there's something there that's just wrong. But one other thing. The World Bank’s spring meetings just concluded. And, you know, one of the most terrifying conclusions from that meeting is when you look back to pre-pandemic levels, some of the estimates of the number of people falling back into extreme poverty are absolutely terrifying. 250 million people.

Christiana: [00:53:05] Oh, my gosh.

Manish Bapna: [00:53:06] When you add the COVID and the response to COVID energy prices and now the forthcoming food crisis, which is going to get worse before it gets better. 250 million people falling back into poverty, extreme poverty, 1.90 dollar a day, while wealth continues to get increasingly concentrated in certain industries and certain individuals, that is morally unacceptable. I'm optimistic, Christiana, about outrage, about the power of outrage. People that do something right. You know, I, you know, just just coming back to the Earth Day, coming back to what we saw in the run up to the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals. You know, you know, we need that now. We're starting to see that it's been tough with COVID. But I was, many people were out this weekend for Earth Day getting that energy back, getting that outrage back. We need that because that is what moves things at the scale and speed that we need.

Christiana: [00:54:17] Yeah, I love that combination of outrage and optimism.

Paul: [00:54:21] Optimistic about the outrage is an absolutely fascinating kind of Jujitsu.

Christiana: [00:54:26] Some of you know, Manish, we ask this question of so many people, but this answer is a first, so totally delightful. Manish, thank you so much. Thank you so much. And thank you to you and NRDC, its members and so, so, many people who continue to put pressure, frankly, on what should be happening in the United States. So I really appreciate that. And if we may, we would love to have you back once we know where things are going to again, interpret that for us. So thank you very much for today and we look forward to a further conversation.

Manish Bapna: [00:55:08] Absolutely. It's been a privilege.

Christiana: [00:55:11] Thanks so much, Manish.

Tom: [00:55:20] Great. So what a privilege to get a chance to sit down with Manish and get the benefit of his insight into what's going on in the US. Where are you both after that discussion?

Paul: [00:55:29] I'm just there's so much that he spoke about. He's so experienced and knowledgeable. So great to know that there's that kind of force dealing with these multiple problems. But I know there was one thing that stuck in my mind and I was reading about it subsequently about the US Supreme Court is trying to suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency should, remember tha Manish was talking about that, you know, doesn't have authority to control pollution. And it's like they talked about the court's conservative majority. And I started to think to myself, what are they meaning by conservative? I think this word conservative has been completely hijacked. I think people who are trying to suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency can't control pollution, they are not conservatives, they are radicals. They are super radical, new kind of sort of ideological judiciary. You know? I mean, look, it is what it is, right? You know, everyone will write about it and talk about it. But I just think such an incredibly reckless approach towards such a dangerous pollutant which is already having this enormous damage, you just can't call that a conservative action. So I reject the idea of conservative judiciary.

Christiana: [00:56:50] Well, but they're still being incredibly obstreperous. Whether, you know, whether you want to call them crude, obviously they're not. But let's just be clear for listeners that actually the Clean Air Act of the United States does authorize the EPA to regulate air emissions from both stationary and mobile sources. So that means from plants, energy generating plants, as well as from vehicles. And what is happening here is that West Virginia as a state is actually arguing that basically to weaken the Clean Air Act. So it's not that EPA cannot do it currently. It can. It is authorized. And West Virginia is seeking to weaken that, which is very dangerous. Very dangerous, because that then, of course, means that every state can do willy nilly whatever they wish and definitely weakens the hand that the executive has in being able to establish standards for vehicles, standards for plants, which is one of the most powerful tools that the EPA has for regulating emissions. So a very negative approach here that is being exploited now because of what the Trump administration did in very strategically placing people who do not believe in the executive power and well beyond that, who do not believe that climate change should be addressed, placing them in very strategic positions that allow for this now to be questioned.

Tom: [00:58:50] Yeah. I mean, well, as you say, Paul, there was so much in that interview. I mean, I've always slightly believed that I probably should have been a lawyer in this life. And I think I actually realized in that interview I would have been a completely terrible lawyer because, you know, just the degree of attention to like when he talked about the fact that you now have a conservative leaning Supreme Court. So you have a major risk that any different rulings can be struck down. So the necessity to construct the arguments, which are based on endangerment findings and scientific basis so that you can get them through. And he was able to still sound optimistic about the possibility of getting them through. But if you look at that from the outside and think now you have a conservative majority court, it looks really concerning actually that they will remove the endangerment finding of greenhouse gases under the under the Clean Air Act, that they will do all sorts of other things that weaken the authority of the federal government. And I have to say, I was filled with enormous appreciation for Manish and his 700 colleagues who are working tirelessly to find the right arguments to try to prevent any of these things from going on. And thank goodness that they are and so many others, because it's such important work.

Christiana: [01:00:00] Thank goodness that they are in the face of craziness, right in the face of complete craziness. So the US Postal Service just released a $6 billion contract for new trucks that are going to be combustion engine trucks. It is completely crazy. I mean, just from a logical point of view, how are they spending money on new trucks that have combustion engines? When you have alternatives that are there, that are electric trucks, especially at a time in which fossil fuel prices are going through the roof, it is just completely crazy. Yeah, completely crazy. How do they put those two things together? Where is the logic here?

Paul: [01:00:52] So I just want to kind of like launch a campaign with actually no budget, no plan, no one's going to follow this campaign and it's just going to disappear. But my campaign is to say, and by the way, I was in the UK, we have a Conservative party and that was not the party that I kind of grew up with. But it's, you know, like a lot of the population would call themselves kind of conservatives. I don't think these crazy people who are saying, you know, climate change doesn't matter. And, you know, we can face any kind of risk and we can pose any kind of risk on our children. And we can impose any kind of risk on the more vulnerable. They don't own that word conservative. That's not right. Let's not call them conservatives. I don't know if we're going to find a name. But let's not call these crazy radical people exposing the whole world to so much risk conservative, because I think we kind of lose the argument we need to make against their radical craziness, when we call them conservative. That's not what they are.

Christiana: [01:01:53] So what does conservative mean to you, Paul.

Paul: [01:01:56] That the world is conserved, like we get to survive another thousand years, that humans can like, you know, the trees conserve nature, you know, not like just, you know, big machines or some ghastly problem with the atmosphere smashing everything up.

Tom: [01:02:14] And we should point out in all humility, because we've been talking about the US, but in the UK where Paul and I sit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP and member of the Cabinet, gave a speech this week on Monday. I don't know if you picked up on this interview in which he basically set out in his words, because he was prominent in the Brexit campaign, that the promise of Brexit can now not be delivered under net zero legislation. So the Government needs to abandon net zero legislation in order to free themselves from the shackles of regulation and move forward into this future that they're trying to believe that they're able to construct. But that net zero is not a part of it. So this is a full frontal attack in the UK as well and we'll get more into that at another time. But I like your idea, Paul. I mean, maybe just calling them, I know it's going to swear them, but probably best not to. Right. Anything else for me to review you before we go to our music?

Paul: [01:03:01] Not really. But Christiana is about to say something. She's thinking so hard. I can tell.

Tom: [01:03:04] That’s the deliberations of a dame.

Christiana: [01:03:07] I'm just really concerned that we're shuffling the chairs around on the Titanic. Right. And not really getting to grips with this, especially in the United States. And now, Tom, you bring in the UK. I guess the question that I asked myself is what is the leadership that is necessary to step above and beyond the shuffling of the chair? And I know that the shuffling of the chairs is really necessary if you're playing that political game. And maybe the answer is you have to play that political game because there's no other option. But, you know, there's a point in which. From the way, way. Bottom of me. I want to reach out to very different leadership that does not let itself be curtailed by those chairs that need to be shuffled. So that's not an answer to anything. It's just a cry from the bottom of my gut. Yeah, we are so running out of time. We're running out of time. And we just can't continue to shuffle these chairs.

Paul: [01:04:21] No, I mean, Christiana, when I hear you speak about that kind of leadership, I can tell that you're thinking about it and visioning it with all your heart and extraordinary, almost unimaginable intellect. So I'm looking forward to, I'm sure we speak for many people going on that journey with you. Let's find that.

Tom: [01:04:39] Leadership for sure. We need it. Right. Okay. So as ever, we're going to go to our music. And this week we have a amazing piece of music from Dizraeli called My Mama. So we will leave you with that. And thank you for coming with us on this journey this week. None of this stuff was ever going to be easy, but we've got to stick with it. Find that leadership that Christiana was talking about. It's true that real failure is possible, but real success is possible, too. So let's keep working for that. Thanks for joining us this week. We'll see you next week.

Paul: [01:05:06] Bye.

Dizraeli: [01:05:09] I wrote this song for my mum when she was recovering in hospital from an accident. It's a healing spell for her, and it's also a healing spell for Mother Earth and a way of honouring what we come from. Mother Earth is in us in the same way that the DNA of our own mother is in us, part of who we are. Our material. And I also want this song to uplift us and give us some of the resilience that we need to heal and face our challenges. Like my mum, who did get up out of her wheelchair and she learned to walk and dance again.

My Mama by Dizraeli [01:05:40] [Song plays]

Clay: [01:09:15] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. Dizraeli everyone with his track, My Mama is what you just heard. And hey, if you did not listen to that song with a nice pair of headphones or speakers, I can't recommend it enough. Go back and listen. The bass that comes in on the first chorus will shake the room or shake your head or whatever you're listening on to be specific. And speaking of shaking the room, Dizraeli is on tour and you should go see him. He's got three UK dates this week, starting tonight, Thursday night in Nottingham and tomorrow, Friday in Birmingham and Saturday and Brighton and yeah, more in early May. So I've got a link for the tour dates and tickets in the show notes and this was really cool. He's touring differently this year. His entire tour is doing things like traveling by train instead of a diesel bus. The entire tour crew is eating sustainably and local and even some equitable solutions are happening. They're paying talented musical performers from economically marginalized communities in the cities that they're performing through on the tours and free tickets to these shows are being given to people from economically disadvantaged communities, too. So it's these kinds of radical collaboration that are an opportunity to dismantle systems of oppression, you know, do local climate solutions work, build real community and social equity. So yeah, Disraeli is inviting us to take part in creating the future we want. So go to the show notes, click the links, buy a ticket, go see the show. He has all these really creative opportunities to financially back the tour and make these beautiful music moments happen. So again, check the show notes and enjoy the show. Thank you so much to our guest this week, Manish Bapna. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I sleep better at night knowing that Manish and the NRDC team are doing what they're doing. You can connect with Manish and learn more about supporting the work of the NRDC in the show notes. If you listened last week, Christiana and I excuse me, Dame Christiana and I talked with Edwina Flock from the Environmental Music Prize. Just a reminder to all our listeners, voting is open and live, baby, so you can go get your votes in, enjoy some music and support environmentalism by going to the link in the show notes. Now on a more serious note, this week our production team was discussing how our podcast is increasingly more often entering into the painful and unjust realities of the climate crisis. You know, the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness of ourselves and our community is how we're going to win this thing. And that means that your mental, your physical, your emotional and your spiritual health is vital to this better future that we're creating. So this week in the show notes, there is a crowdsourced thread of resources for taking care of our fear and our anxiety surrounding the climate crisis. The thread was started by Elena Wood. She's a climate communicator and sustainability scientist, and you don't need our permission to take care of yourself. But here it is anyway, if it helps, you can take a break and come back whenever you are ready. You're not alone. We need you around as your best full self, fully you. And that means you've got to take care of you. Okay, deep breath. Optimists win more often. It's a marathon, not a sprint, people. And let's stay rooted and connected. If you need a little joy and optimism in your feed, go ahead and join us online @OutrageOptimism, yes new social handles. And if you love this podcast, you know, it helps sustain us, your feedback. So leave us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts. We read every single one and we love hearing from all of you. Okay, next week we'll be here with another episode because we love being together and I will be here at the end of the episode again. So I will see you then, my friend.


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