SHOP NEW MERCH SHOP NEW MERCH
September 29, 2020
Missing America
8. Climate Change

In This Episode

Can the biggest threat to the entire world bring the entire world together? In our penultimate episode, we examine the enormous obstacles to confronting climate change, and how we must all work together to overcome them.

Host Ben Rhodes talks to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd about the roadblocks he faced from Rupert Murdoch and the fossil fuel industry, and activists from the Pacific Islands to Europe to the US about what needs to be done.

 

Transcript:

 

EPISODE 8 – CLIMATE CHANGE

 

[MUSIC BEGINS]

 

BEN (V.O.):  In November twenty-fifteen, I went to Paris with President Obama.  

 

For years, we’d been cajoling world leaders to reach an ambitious global agreement to fight climate change. We were in Paris to convince the remaining hold-outs.

 

Now, twenty-fifteen was on track to be the warmest year on record. In India thousands had died in a heatwave so intense it melted asphalt. Then, on our side of the world, the hurricane season spawned Patricia.

 

CNN ARCHIVE: ANCHOR: It is being called the strongest hurricane ever recorded, and now this potentially catastrophic storm is just hours away from making landfall in Mexico…

  

So the need for climate action seemed… pretty self-evident. So did the stakes involved. 

 

But at that moment, in Paris… something loomed larger in a lot of people’s minds. 

 

[MUSIC ENDS]

 

Not long before we arrived, the city had been rocked by coordinated terrorist attacks. More than a hundred people were killed at cafes and nightclubs on a pleasant Friday night.  

 

Not surprisingly, when I gave a press briefing during our climate talks…at the venue where this historic climate agreement was being forged…a lot of the questions were about *terrorism.* 

 

Or about Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.… and what we were doing to make sure there weren’t any terrorists among them.

 

But when the questions *did* turn to Obama’s work on climate change? *Those* ended up being about terrorism, too.

 

ARCHIVE: REPORTER: How does he prioritize this, how does he see this in comparison to the challenge of fighting terrorism.  Is it as great a challenge, as important a priority as the fight against terrorism?  Or maybe…greater because of ultimately the stakes at play?  

 

BEN: (ON TAPE) Well, they’re both critically important.  And we have to do both at the same time. I think over the long term, clearly we see the potential for climate change to pose severe risks to the entire world.  And so it’s a threat that has to be — 

 

REPORTER: — So a greater threat long term?

BEN: (ON TAPE)  I’m not going to rank them because they’re different.  Again, you have to do several things at once…

 

BEN VO: You can almost hear me trying to keep the indignation out of my voice. But I’d been around the block with these briefings, and I knew why we were getting the question. 

 

It wasn’t a sincere effort to rank these issues. 

 

It was a trap.

 

[THEME SONG INTRO BEGINS]

 

If I said climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism, it would kick off a political controversy back home.  

 

It would invite Republican attacks. Spark debates on cable news.

 

And it would be a *way* easier story to cover… 

 

…than the one about a planet — the only one we have — that we’re slowly rendering uninhabitable.

 

[THEME SONG FULLY KICKS IN HERE]

 

I’m Ben Rhodes. And welcome back to Missing America. A look at the many diseases sweeping across the world, in the absence of American leadership.

 

Today: The most dangerous of them all — climate change. A problem that *can* be solved. *If* we all take it seriously. And if nations work together to transform the global economy.

 

Instead, one of America’s two major political parties won’t even admit climate change is real … even with the entire west coast of the country on fire. As I’m recording this, the air outside my house is filled with smoke. And we have a President who’s done everything in his power to roll back action against climate change while making international cooperation impossible.

 

How did we get here? To understand the forces aligned against climate action, we’ll look at the case of Australia. *Another* country where powerful interests have worked to keep *their* government from fighting climate change… while the nation went up in flames.

RUDD: It was like the ultimate face-to-face engagement with the apocalypse. And I think it just burnt through literally into the Australian psyche.

And then — real hope. As we hear from experts and activists here and abroad about how America can help *unite* the world, and avert disaster.

 

The threat that could end us… can also bring us together. On this episode of Missing America.

 

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

 

— MIDROLL ADVERTISEMENTS: MAGIC SPOON, PAYPAL —

 

 ACT ONE

 

Before we get to Australia, I want to make a quick stopover. In the South Pacific islands that make up The Federated States of Micronesia.  

 

Yolanda Joab (JOE-ob) Mori (MORE-ee) runs a national education project there, dedicated to teaching Micronesians about how to deal with the effects of climate change.  

 

Because for them — as Yolanda made clear almost as soon as I started recording her — this is *not* a theoretical problem.

 

RHODES (ON TAPE): For an island nation, like Micronesia, what are the potential scenarios? What are the stakes here? What could happen to communities?

MORI: I think it’s important to note it’s not “potential” anymore?

[MUSIC BEGINS]

 

BEN VO: Yolanda says what *is* happening in Micronesia… like *at this very moment *… is that sea levels are rising. 

 

People living in low-lying *outer* islands are starting to move to higher ground, on the country’s *main* islands.

 

And even there, warming oceans are seeping inland and slowly upending indigenous people’s livelihoods.

MORI: Causing things like saltwater intrusion into taro patches, into freshwater lenses, and coral reef bleaching and degradation, which is impacting coastal fisheries, people’s water sources, people’s farming practices. So it’s making real impact on people’s lives right now.

And Mori says:  this… is just the beginning.  

MORI: So, the last thing I read and… I try not– I mean, I have to, but it’s difficult to read these things sometimes, because… y’know, saying things like “By the end of the century, the level of sea level rise, that…” I mean, that’ll submerge, essentially, places like the Marshall Islands, Kirupas. And when we talk about this and we say, “Oh, that’s– that’s so long from now,” it’s actually really not. That’s in the lifetime of my kids. So they’ll– they’ll be here still, and that’ll be their reality. 

Mori has a one-year-old and a four-year-old.  Too young to grasp the reality they’re inheriting.  

But Mori says with beaches as their backyard, they can see the changes happening. And she tries to explain it to them as much she can. If only so they understand why her work is so important that it often keeps her away from them, on the road.

I asked her if it’s frustrating: Being forced to confront the consequences of a problem…  caused entirely by bigger, more powerful countries. 

MORI: It’s incredibly frustrating. It’s incredibly frustrating. But it’s a reflection of the fact that we are a global community. And nothing is that happens in one place doesn’t affect another,  So it’s… it’s really important to try to bring that witness with me into these conversations and remind everyone that, you know, we were in this together as the problem, so we need to be in this together for the solutions. 

A decade ago, a *much* bigger, *much* more powerful country —  25 hundred miles south of Micronesia —  got the message.  

But when its Prime Minister tried to put forward some solutions?  

*His* work turned out to be frustrating, too.  

[MUSIC ENDS]

AP ARCHIVE: RUDD: Today, Australia has looked to the future! [APPLAUSE & CHEERS]

His name is Kevin Rudd. And in two-thousand seven, he led Australia’s progressive Labor party to a landslide election victory.   

Their conservative opponents had been in power for eleven years.

AP ARCHIVE: RUDD: Today, the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward. [APPLAUSE] 

 [CHEERS AND HIS SPEECH CONTINUE UNDER:]

He was the right guy for the job.  

Soon after his election, the two-thousand-eight financial crisis hit. Economies collapsed all over the world. But under Rudd, Australia didn’t even fall into a recession.  

By late two-thousand nine, Australia’s main political poll had him at a sixty-four percent approval rating. A near-record high.

ARCHIVE: RUDD: Let us be the generation that seizes the opportunities of today to invest in the Australia of tomorrow!

[The ARCHIVAL ENDS with the word “TOMORROW” ECHOING INTO SILENCE]

But less than a year later… he was out of office. Removed by his own party.  

And most agree a major reason… was the political fallout from his attempts to reign in climate change.

This summer, I talked to Rudd about how that all went down. He says climate change had been a top priority for him for years – politically…and personally. 

RUDD: I remember way back when — This is in the 1980s — going to an interagency meeting in Australia on what was called “the greenhouse effect.” And this triggered my interest as to what the hell was actually happening out there. But the real sort of emotional factor was frankly, my wife and daughter, who said, as I began rising through the ranks of the Australian Labor Party in Australia, that “If you don’t act on climate change, we’ll be divorcing you the day after the election.” (LAUGHS) 

That’s a sentiment that was shared by a lot of Australians. Like Micronesians, they live in a country that’s especially prone to the effects of climate change. 

RUDD: Well, Australia’s natural environment is fragile simply because of the nature of the continent itself. Prior to climate change hitting, this was the driest continent on earth, aside from Antarctica, so that if the environmental balance, the ecological balance shifts a bit, then the roll-on consequences are huge.

The biggest consequences being drought, heatwaves, and especially… fires.

ARCHIVE: ANCHOR:  [4:16] Good afternoon — the worst bushfires in Australian history have now claimed the lives of at least 84 people.  OTHER ANCHOR:  Firefighters in Southeastern Australia battling massive wildfires this morning… 

Australia’s been prone to these fires for millenia — they’re a natural part of the ecosystem.  Locals name the biggest ones after the day of the week they hit their peak: the Ash Wednesday fire. The Black Saturday fire. 

But just like the western U.S., as Australia has become hotter and drier…  the fires have become more extreme.

ARCHIVE: ANCHOR: The remarkable thing about this fire is just how quickly it’s moving – the wind here is unbelievably strong, the fire has changed direction several times this afternoon and the CFA has really struggled to keep up. 

RUDD: Normally, our experience of bushfires– and my memory as a kid growing up on a farm in rural Australia– is that they erupt in a particular spot. But if you throw enough resources at it, you could contain it. But when you have the eruption of one, two, three hundred of these across a large swath of the entire country, it denies you any ability to actually bring it under control.

Luckily, these fires tended to burn in relatively uninhabited regions of the country. But Australians could see the writing on the wall. In the hot, dry year of two thousand six, just before Rudd took office, there was broad support for climate action.  

RUDD: So for me, it was both a clear moral responsibility, a clear opening in the political agenda. Because we’re a progressive political party — the Australian Labor Party — it was a natural thing to make climate change action a centerpiece of our policy program for government.

Rudd’s very first act in office? Was to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol — the major international climate change agreement of the day.  

Then he quickly laid out a plan to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions sixty percent, by the year twenty-fifty.  

RUDD: Really there were two or three arms to it: We set out to put a price on carbon. We set out to establish under law a mandatory renewable energy target. And the third thing was at a local level to then fund individual renewable energy initiatives and energy efficiency measures so that the three would work together to bring down our global greenhouse gas emissions. 

In other words — a program that looked a lot like what climate activists have tried to get implemented in America.

At the time, Rudd enjoyed high approval ratings and led a population that elected him on a platform of fighting climate change. 

But despite all that… he ran into a brick wall. 

[MUSIC BEGINS]

You see, the irony is that  —  as uniquely *vulnerable* as Australia is to climate change… it’s also uniquely *valuable* to the industries that *contribute* to climate change. 

The country’s home to some of the planet’s biggest deposits of iron ore. Uranium. Lithium. And much more.   

RUDD: Because it is such an ancient continent it is also — outside of the Gulf — the most resource-rich, fossil-fuel-rich continent in the world. And so you have this dual dilemma, which is: inherently environmentally fragile, and at the same time, this mountain of earth, yielding enormous fossil fuel related wealth. So from a public policy perspective, it generates this natural set of dilemmas between how do you develop the economy given this issue of comparative advantage internationally, and how do you act responsibly to preserve our slice of the planet? And coming from the most coal-rich, carbon-rich state of Australia in my own home state of Queensland, it’s a bit like being a Democrat from Texas.  It can be tricky.

Sure enough, Rudd says Australia’s mining industry funded a smear campaign focused on turning working-class voters against his climate plan. A plan that looked, to the industry, like the first step down a slippery slope. 

RUDD: And one of the undisclosed agendas, particularly on the part of the mining companies, was that if Australia could actually establish and entrench a progressive regime in our country, that would actually catch on like wildfire in other parts of the world. In other words, if we could do the politics and the policy on this, then there was kind of no stopping the international precedents.

With the industries’ campaign eating into public support, and in order to get business leaders on board, Rudd made compromises to the plan. 

At which point… some of his own progressive allies turned against him.  

RUDD: So you get attacked from the right as, you know, for going too far. And you get attacked from the left for not going far enough. And where the rubber hit the road with this is when we finally legislated our price on carbon, it went down by one vote in the Australian Senate, because the Green Party then allied with the conservative parties here to defeat it — one saying it was not radical enough, and the other one saying was far too radical.

And all along, relentlessly pounding the nails into Rudd’s coffin… making sure that not just his plan, but his political *reputation* suffered… was the Australian media.  

Which happens to be largely owned by the same right-wing Aussie who owns Fox News.

Rupert Murdoch.  

[MUSIC ENDS]

It’s a hit job that hasn’t let up. Even now, years after Rudd left office, you’ll find anchors on Murdoch-owned Sky News saying stuff like this:    

SKYNEWS ARCHIVE: ANCHOR: How about Kevin Rudd? This bloke, who wrote the book on botched policy interventions, broken budgets, and political cowardice on climate change, he turns up now on our national broadcaster as some kind of oracle on national affairs! 

RUDD: Personally, what was it like? It’s like waking up each morning and having your head physically removed (BEN LAUGHS), placed on a platter in front of you and saying, “Now, would you like to have it severed into two parts or four by tomorrow morning?” And then once you get through a week worth of that: “Now would you like it pureed or just minced?” (BEN LAUGHS). The devil craft of the Murdoch and conservative political enterprise is to mesh this rolling dispute against the climate science on the one hand, and on the other hand saying “And despite all those scientific doubts, they’re about to screw the economy completely and destroy your working class living standards on the way through.  Apart from all that, they might be nice people.”

The attacks weren’t subtle.  But they worked.  

After he was replaced as Prime Minister by Julia Gillard, the Labor Party did manage to get a cap-and-trade bill passed. But the party was weakened… and got prematurely swept out of power.

The first move by the new conservative leader — Tony Abbott? Was predictable.

RUDD: What he did immediately was that he legislated to remove the price that we eventually managed to put on carbon. That happened in 2014. So a round of cheers and beers all round in the halls of power and the Australian fossil fuel industry.

So: Fossil fuel special interests pouring money into efforts to stop climate action….

Murdoch media creating a massive propaganda machine to support those special interests… 

Sound familiar? It sure did to us in the Obama Administration. 

And it was all top of mind when we travelled to Australia the following year, for a G-20 summit.  

We had just secured China’s signature on a bilateral climate change agreement — the precursor to the Paris Climate Accords. It was emboldening; Now Abbott and Australia seemed like outliers in a global march toward coordinated climate action.

So Obama decided to turn up the heat on Abbott.  

ARCHIVE: OBAMA: (CHEERS) “Hello Brisbane, It’s good to be in Australia” 

[CHEERS CONTINUE UNDER:] 

I remember a speech he delivered to a crowd of students in Brisbane. About halfway through, when he got to the part about climate change, I realized he was going off script.   

He called out Abbot’s climate policy, rallying the crowd.

BRISBANE ARCHIVE: OBAMA: As we develop — as we focus on our economy — we cannot forget the need to lead on the global fight against climate change.  Now, I know that’s… [APPLAUSE] … I know there’s been a healthy debate in this country about it. [LAUGHTER] 

He talked about the need to overcome old political divides. And to look squarely at what science is telling us about climate change.  

BRISBANE ARCHIVE:  Because I have not had time to go to the Great Barrier Reef, and I want to come back, and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit!

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES UNDER:]

I knew this’d be big news in Australia: Obama shaming Abbott on his own home turf.  

It felt good. Like we were finally punching back against the forces that had toppled leaders like Rudd and killed climate change legislation in America. 

Like the momentum was on our side.

Now, six years later, here we are. Trump, of course, enjoys lavish support from America’s fossil fuel industry. In return, he’s given them everything they could possibly want. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News? Remains basically a propaganda arm of the Republican Party. 

And Australia’s still led by a conservative Prime Minister — Scott Morrison. Who’s done little to change the fact that his country… one of the most affected by climate change… remains one of the worst polluters per capita in the world.  

[MUSIC BEGINS]

Here’s the thing though: You can only ignore this problem for so long… before reality kicks in.

SKYNEWS ARCHIVE: REPORTER: Thing is, this area doesn’t even look as dry as other areas! And yet it’s going up in flames! 

The hundreds of hellish bushfires that ravaged Australia earlier this year weren’t the *biggest* ever recorded. Barely.  

But they started three months earlier than usual. They were more widespread than ever before.  And they burned through areas that had never burned before.

SKYNEWS ARCHIVE:  REPORTER: Bateman’s Bay is a popular tourist destination. But the most intense blazes here have turned the skies a bright amber. 

It took many months before the last of these fires got snuffed out. At one point the smoke drifted all the way to South America.

But as the smoke *cleared,* you could practically *see* the new political path the disaster had blazed for the country. Towards finally, hopefully, doing something about global warming. 

RUDD: The huge outbreak of the mega fires which swept Australia in the January February period of 2020 were like the final piece of evidence landing on the table against those who had denied the need for effective global climate change action. The arguments about– against the science of climate change collapsed.  But now we’re at a stage where we still don’t know whether the conservative side of politics will finally break through and believe not only that they need to take real action domestically to rein in carbon emissions — which at present they haven’t for the last seven years — but also in the Australian national interest to assume once again a global leadership role.  Because unless the planet acts, then the driest parts of it are going to continue to fry. 

The Conservatives would be wise to reconsider their position. Not just morally.  *Politically.*

Last year, polls showed the vast majority of Australians once again considered climate change not just *a* problem… but *the* problem.  Ranking it as the biggest threat to their nation. 

And though you wouldn’t know it from watching the news, something similar is happening in America.  A Pew research poll this year showed nearly two-thirds of Americans support aggressive action on climate change.  More than ever say they’re feeling the effects of climate change personally. A joint poll by Yale and Georgetown even showed a third of *Republicans* consider climate change a quote “national emergency.” 

And this was *before* America got hit with our own megafires this summer on top of floods and hurricanes earlier this year. 

The will is there.  

Now we have to overcome the forces that want to stop that momentum.  The way they stopped Rudd’s Administration back in twenty-ten. The way they pulled America out of the Paris Agreement in 2017. 

A blueprint to do just that. When Missing America continues. Stay with us.

[MUSIC ENDS]

 

— MIDROLL ADS: ZIP RECRUITER, VOX DOCUMENTARY — 

 

ACT TWO

Shortly after taking office, Donald Trump announced America would pull out of the Paris Climate Accords.  

That decision will officially take effect on November 4th of this year.

Yes.  The day after the Presidential election.

[MUSIC BEGINS]

And even if the election goes our way… so much damage has already been done.  

FIGUERES: President Trump’s position on climate change in general has allowed other leaders not to withdraw from the Paris agreement, but to begin to delay, to begin to delay and not to do what they promised that they were going to do. 

That’s Christiana (christy-ON-ah) Figueres (fig-YARE-ez). She was the lead U.N. negotiator on the Paris agreement, and she continues to be a leading voice on international climate action. 

Christiana points out that, by pulling out of Paris and moving America backwards, Trump has emboldened other leaders who are moving in the wrong direction. 

FIGUERES: There it was very evident from the last negotiation in Madrid, that the two countries that were playing that role were Brazil and Australia. 

Australia… where right-wing Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a vacation in Hawaii while fires burned his country to cinders. Brazil…where nationalist President Jair (HYE-eer) Balsonaro has allowed the Amazon rainforest to be ravaged. 

Indeed, Christiana says the rise of nationalist leaders — from Trump to Balsonaro — is itself one of the biggest obstacles to climate action. Anti-globalist leaders who disrupt the very international cooperation that is needed to save the planet.

FIGUERES: You know, this exceptionalism and this nationalism flies in the face of what we actually need, which is international collaboration, and that is the basis of the Paris agreement, right. And so the fact that some are popping up, you know, and saying, “Well, you know, I’m an exception to that rule, and I’m going to go my own way,” is frankly quite appalling. You know, and I keep on thinking about a boat that has a hole in it. If there is a hole, it’s not only those sitting around the hole that go under, it’s everybody that goes under; the whole boat goes under. 

[MUSIC ENDS]

So step one for a Biden Administration? Rejoin the Paris agreement. And then, get to work plugging the hole Trump has drilled through our own climate policy… And our international credibility. 

MURPHY: Listen, countries are going to be very skeptical to deal with the United States on climate after the last four years. 

You’ve heard Chris Murphy on this show before. He’s one of the leading progressives in the Senate.

MURPHY: Right now, I think most countries are worried about a permanent Yo-Yo effect when it comes to U.S. global climate policy. This issue is so politicized here in the United States that nations are just going to say, “You know what? We’ll lead without the United States, because even if we do a deal with the Biden Administration, the — you know — Cotton Administration is going to just undo it. So let’s do our own thing without the US.” 

But there’s one major problem with counting America out: the world *can’t* take the necessary action to slow global warming without us. And not just because we’re one of the two largest polluters on Earth. 

EPNER: It’s because when we have the right leadership in place, we are the only country in the world with both the desire and the ability to bring folks together around this goal. 

Stephanie Epner is founder of the Climate in Foreign Policy Project. An initiative to get nations to consider climate change when they’re making international decisions.

EPNER: In the run-up to Paris, when countries were thinking about what they could do, the United States was putting serious diplomatic pressure on every one of our international partners, and they were doing so at Secretary Kerry’s level, at President Obama’s level; countries felt the consequence of not taking this issue seriously. But we were also bringing in technical experts and trying to advise them on ways that they could become more ambitious, changes they could make in their investment and ways that they could structure their energy systems to to be more in line with the goals that we were trying to reach in Paris. 

In other words, the United States was both a player and a coach…trying to help the world figure out how to transform the wiring of the entire global economy.

EPNER: The pressure that we’re able to put and the support that we’re able to provide on countries around the world is unmatched. And China doesn’t want to do it, and the EU can’t do it. And those are the only real potential options to fill that role.

Which leaves us in a quandary, right? If America needs to lead on the issue… but nations don’t trust a polarized America to be a reliable partner in the fight… how will the work get done?

As you’ve heard me say so often before, the answer begins… at home.  

[MUSIC BEGINS]

Chris Murphy.

MURPHY: The U.S. is going to have to do something exceptional to sort of restore people’s faith and trust in us. And that probably means that the next Democratic administration is going to have to make a really early, big downpayment on domestic carbon output, and do it in a way that’s permanent, not temporary.

Permanent. So it can’t be trashed by future Administrations. Murphy says there are two options for that big, early downpayment: 

One: Invest heavily in new domestic energy infrastructure, powered by *renewable* energy.

Or two: create a cap and trade system, or a carbon tax.  

MURPHY: Well, the latter is pretty easily undoable by a Republican administration in the future. But a massive infrastructure investment in renewables — that really won’t be undone in the future once it’s pumping out clean, relatively cheap energy — you know, may be the kind of thing that convinces other countries that we’re serious, and convince other countries that our contribution to global carbon reduction is permanent.

Massive investments in renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. And job-creating initiatives to make American infrastructure more efficient – jobs that can particularly reach communities that have been marginalized.

…along the lines of the Green New Deal. 

Republicans would be unable to erase those investments – and would pay a price for trying to kill new jobs and industries. And Americans would be able to reduce their carbon footprint, because there’d be no option to do otherwise.

SCHLOSSBERG: We’ve been told that this is a problem that’s going to be solved by us changing our behavior.

Tatiana Schlossberg was a New York Times science writer. Her book on sustainable consumerism is called “Inconspicuous Consumption.”

SCHLOSSBERG: We stop using plastic bottles and we bring our own bags to the grocery stores. And all of those things are good and meaningful. But that’s not how we solve this problem, because if that were true, it would’ve been solved a long time ago by the people who did those things. But there aren’t enough people doing those things. 

Instead, she says, we need a system of investments and regulations that embed sustainable practices in *everyone’s* everyday lives. So that it’s not constantly an individual choice to change behavior.

SCHLOSSBERG: Like if I’m at the store trying to choose between two light bulbs and one of them is energy efficient and one of them isn’t? There’s no way for me to really know which of those two things is better. But if there is regulation — as there was with light bulbs, which the Trump administration undid — then I don’t– that’s not up to the consumer to make that choice. Then every light bulb is energy efficient. Because otherwise you don’t get 300 million people to buy the right kind of light bulb. 

Legislation, like the kind Chris Murphy supports, would be like that lightbulb. But applied to the entire electrical grid. Joe Biden’s on board – his campaign’s climate plan calls for an emissions-free power sector by 2035.

Now, no question, it’ll be tough to get that kind of huge investment rammed through our broken political system… 

…But maybe not as hard as it used to be.  

[MUSIC ENDS]

As we saw in Australia, special interests have spent a lot of money trying to stifle climate action.  

In a country like ours, where big-money donations make or break politicians, it’s even worse.

But it’s becoming clear to a lot of very wealthy business people that if you’re betting on the future… the smart money *isn’t* on maintaining the status quo.

MSNBC ARCHIVE: FINK:]I believe more of our clients worldwide believe in some form of the science — if not all the science — of climate change, and they’re asking how they should be better prepared in their investment criteria. 

That’s from a CNBC interview this January with Larry Fink — CEO of the investment company Black Rock.  

He’s the largest asset manager on Earth, overseeing 7 *trillion* — that’s trillion with a “T” —  dollars worth of investments. So when he said climate change would lead to a fundamental change in how his clients invest?…  

…The business world took notice. Not because they turned into environmentalists, but because of the bottom line. 

FIGUERES: They’re not doing this to save the planet, right?

Christiana Figueres points out that investors are shifting away from fossil fuels because they anticipate it’s not going to be a safe bet. And that’s a good thing. 

FIGUERES: They have understood that moving their investment portfolio over to a portfolio that is zero net certainly by 2050, if not before, is actually protective of the assets that they own. And so they are encouraging their companies to move over as quickly as possible.

An increasingly climate-aware business community gives us a wider opening to push back against politicians — and moguls like Murdoch — who’ve willfully tried to convince people that any effort to reverse climate change is always a job killer.  

Kevin Rudd.

RUDD: There’s a very potent message which we who understand the need for effective climate change action can now deploy to those political groups in our countries, which have been terrified in the past by the Murdoch media and by the mining industry lobby: Because of the renewable energy revolution, guess what? It creates more jobs than the fossil fuel industry has ever created and can ever create in the future, in the United States and elsewhere. 

They’re also likely to be better paying jobs than those traditionally associated with the fossil fuel industry as well. These core economic living standards and jobs arguments are there to be made and deployed with full vigor in a campaign. Because guess what? Climate change in this respect is a bit like COVID-19. Climate change is no respecter of persons, and where it hits hardest is usually with working class families of low income who suddenly have to pay the price of a carbon-based industry, which is not interested at all in the long term living standards of those good people.

You hear from this a lot of people: The imperative to make a case that fighting climate change isn’t just the *morally* correct thing to do. But the most economically viable thing to do.

MILIBAND: General DeGaulle said that wars are too important to be fought by generals, and in the same way the environment is too precious to be just addressed by environment ministers. It’s got to be a preeminently economic, social, environmental, cultural set of issues that are of as much concern to prime ministers and presidents and finance ministers as environment ministers.

David Miliband should know… he was himself the UK’s Environment Secretary under Tony Blair.

MILIBAND: For me, the real opportunity is to make the desire for a low-carbon economy, a partner of the drive for a more equitable economy.  And whether it be renewing industrialized economies in a low-carbon direction, or it be helping developing countries move to low-carbon developed status, there is an opportunity there to combine the economic and the environmental in a way that isn’t just existentially necessary, but is also economically and socially invaluable. And it seems to me that’s the policy and political… I don’t like to say “trick,” but the policy and political gambit that hasn’t yet been pulled off.

There’s a reason David won’t call it a “trick.” Because let’s be clear: there is no simple “trick” that’ll save the planet. It’s going to be a process. U.S. leadership at home. Coordinated action abroad. Shifting incentives for businesses. Ending fossil fuel subsidies globally. Revolutions in science and technology. Support for poorer countries to develop with clean energy. And maybe most importantly… activism by individuals. That’s what’s required. 

Young people like Greta Thunberg and millions who’ve joined climate strikes understand this. Frankly, they’re pissed off. 

ARCHIVAL: THUNBERG: For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!

And the rest of us should be grateful. Because climate may be the one issue that ends up uniting the youth of the world…not just against the fossil fuel industry and Rupert Murdoch…but also against the nationalists, authoritarians, and peddlers of disinformation who are destroying our planet. Christiana Figueres:

FIGUERES: I think young people have realized that this is all about them. I’m 63 years old. I will see, you know, another few decades of whatever we create. But young people will be affected by this their entire life. And they’re absolutely right in being completely and thoroughly outraged at the fact that us adults are acting like children.

Now, we’ve run out of time. This is the moment. This is the time…the last chance we’ll get. 

FIGUERES: Because climate change is definitely on an exponential curve of damage. But solutions are also on an exponential curve of positive impact. And honestly, I think when you step back and you look at this, you say, “OK, which of these two exponential curves is actually going to win?” There is a race here, a race between negative climate impacts and positive climate solutions. The two are racing against each other and we know which one has to win. 

This isn’t like any other issue. If the *wrong* side wins, we are headed to an apocalyptic future of uninhabitable lands, massive refugee flows, catastrophic weather events, and resource wars. And in order for the right side to win, there needs to be a mass, progressive mobilization worldwide. 

America has to be part of that solution. So as we head into this election, we need to ask ourselves one question: do we want to be the country that did more than any other to destroy the planet… or to save it? 

Right now…the Republican Party is the only major political party in the world that doesn’t even acknowledge the reality of climate change. Think about that. It’s a form of extremism that will only become fully clear to the eyes of history. So right now…they have to be voted out. If they aren’t, it’s not just Americans who will suffer. 

Stephanie Epner:

EPNER: The weight of the United States, the consequence of our actions, you really understand that when you’re sitting across the table from leaders and from citizens that are from countries that… like small island states, where their entire future is based on the decisions that we’re making on climate change. They’re in the position where, you know, the seas could swallow their countries whole because of the United States, and because of some of the other industrialized countries and how we got to be so wealthy. And now they’re sort of sitting there waiting for us to correct the course that we’ve been on and change history, so they have a chance to survive. I mean, it’s really overwhelming to think about, the decisions we make at the ballot box have consequences for people across the world that we can’t begin to think about. It’s literally the future: whether or not their country will be swallowed by the sea. 

November 3rd, Yolanda Joab (JOE-ob) Mori’s country is on the ballot.  

Her children’s futures are on the ballot.

The future of the world is on the ballot.

We know what to do.

Next week, our final episode, and a break from our format. It’s a wide-ranging interview with Jake Sullivan, the senior policy advisor to the Biden campaign, about the issues we’ve learned about on this show – and what can be done about them. 

JAKE: Joe Biden would think about using the office of the presidency to achieve something more than just policy — to achieve a kind of greater sense of revitalization in our democracy. 

How a Biden/Harris Administration will fit America back into the world map. On the finale of Missing America.

[CREDITS MUSIC BEGINS] 

Missing America is written and hosted by me, Ben Rhodes.

It’s a production of Crooked Media.

 

The show is produced by Andrea Gardner-Bernstein.

Rico Gagliano (gall-ee-ON-oh) is our story editor.

Austin Fisher is our associate producer.

Sound design and mixing by Daniel Ramirez.

Production support and research from Nimi Uberoi and Sydney Rapp.

Fact checking by Justin Klozco (KLOSS-koe)

Original music by Marty Fowler. 

The executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Lyra Smith, and Tanya Somanader.

Special thanks to Alison Falzetta, Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau.

Thanks for listening.

Missing America