Is the zeitgeist shifting toward action to curb global warming and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? Veteran Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett joins Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman to consider that question in the aftermath of the United Nation’s climate summit and General Assembly. While the actions of governments were disappointing, they see a new attitude among many businesses, who were far more engaged in UN activity this year. “The balance of risks in the eyes of many business executives have shifted,” says Tett. Many executives now think it is “riskier to stand on the sidelines and do nothing than to actually be involved in some of these social and climate change movements,” Tett reports. The challenge now is not whether to act but how. Edie completes her visit with Professor John Sterman at MIT, whose En-Roads computer model of the climate lets Edie identify policy actions that will hold contain heating of the atmosphere. “The conclusion here is it is, technically, still possible to limit expected warming to 1.5” degrees Celsius, Sterman concludes.
Facts and Actions come this week from Bradley Tusk, venture capitalist, political strategist, writer and host of the podcast, Firewall, which looks at the intersection of tech, politics and culture.
This episode is sponsored by BSR, a non-profit working with member companies to support corporate social responsibility. Check out their upcoming event here: https://bsr19.org/Podcast
John Sterman is the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society, and director of the MIT System Dynamics Group and MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative. Prof. Sterman has published approximately 200 works spanning corporate strategy and operations, energy policy, public health, and climate change. Author of award-winning books and papers, he pioneered the development of interactive “management flight simulators” of corporate and economic systems, which are now used by governments, corporations, and universities around the world. These include the En-ROADS and CROADS energy and climate policy simulations, developed in partnership with the non-profit, Climate Interactive, which have been used by policymakers, negotiators, business and civil society leaders, educators and the public around the world.
Maxwell T. Boykoff is an Associate Professor in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He teaches in the Environmental Studies program and is Adjunct Faculty in the Geography department. In addition, he is a Senior Visiting Research Associate in the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. Max has ongoing interests in climate adaptation, cultural politics and environmental governance, science-policy interactions, and political economy and the environment. His research has been mentioned in a range of outlets such as Science, Nature, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Grist, Utne Reader, La Razon (Spain) and National Public Radio (US). Check out his new book Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society and follow him on tweeter @boykoff
Bradley Tusk is a venture capitalist who protects startups from political risk. He is the CEO and founder of Tusk Ventures, the first venture capital fund dedicated to working with and investing in startups in regulated industries. His fund, Tusk Ventures, has now worked with and invested in dozens of startups like Bird, FanDuel, Lemonade, Circle and Ripple. Bradley previously served as Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign manager in New York City, Deputy Governor of Illinois, and Senator Chuck Schumer’s communications director.
Laura is a global expert on corporate sustainability, with two decades of experience in strategy consulting and has advised senior executives at global companies across a range of industry sectors and sustainability issues. Laura has also been a leader in BSR’s organizational growth and impact. She launched BSR’s financial services practice and New York office, and she is currently the Chief Operating Officer, leveraging her strengths in strategy, organizational change, and people management. Laura works with leading global companies to develop and enhance their sustainability strategies to maximize value for business and society. She is sought after to facilitate senior-level strategy workshops and multistakeholder collaborations. She has published reports on environmental, social, and governance trends among investors as well as sustainability integration and leadership. From 2006 to 2010, she facilitated the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, growing the initiative from 15 to more than 50 companies.
Gillian Tett is the US editor-at-large and chair of the editorial board, based in New York. In this new role, Tett works to shape FT’s global editorial strategy and opinions, organizes Editorial board briefings and writes two weekly columns covering a range of economic, financial, political and social issues throughout the globe. Tett plays a key role in developing FT’s US growth plan and initiatives.
From 2014-2019, Tett served as the US managing editor, leading the FT’s editorial operations in the region across all platforms. She previously served as assistant editor responsible for the FT’s markets coverage and US managing editor from 2010-2012.
Greta Thunberg: 00:06 How dare you? You have stolen my dreams, my childhood with your empty words.
António Guterres: 00:15 So more and more people are feeling that climate change is impacting on them today. And this is changing public opinions. Governments have less of less influence in countries as a whole.
Gillian Tett: 00:26 To the balance of risks in the eyes of many business executives have shifted from it’s riskier to stand on the sidelines and do nothing than do actually be involved in some of these social and climate change events.
Prof. Sterman: 00:38 So the conclusion here is it is technically still possible to limit expected warming to one and a half. It’s time to fight. This is not going to be easy, but it’s gotta be worth it.
Edie Lush: 01:06 Welcome to the global goals Cast, the podcast that explores how to change the world. Ah! What a week you could feel the tensions, protesters in the streets. Greta Thunberg lecturing the world from the general assembly podium and the secretary general rallying the people to pressure his own bosses, the governments of the world.
Claudia Edelman: 01:27 We are here to walk you through what just happened during climate week called UNGA or the global goals week. And to present to you part two of Edie’s effort to save the world from a catastrophic warming on the climate interactive computer model at MIT.
Edie Lush: 01:43 That’s right. It was incredible to watch the real world argue how to curb climate change and compare that to the lessons I learned from the climate simulation.
Claudia Edelman: 01:53 We will have all of that and a special guest from the Financial Times, but first, this.
Presenter: 02:03 This episode of global goals cast is brought to you by BSR, building a just sustainable world. Join BSR, November 12th through 14th in San Jose California to hear innovative companies are navigating a new climate for business and paving the way for people and planet to thrive in an era of unprecedented change. BSR nineteen.org/podcast. Thanks to CBS news digital and to Harman, the official sound of the Global GoalsCast.
Claudia Edelman: 02:39 We’ll come back. I’m Claudia Romo Edelman.
Edie Lush: 02:42 And I’m Edie Lush. To help us sum up climate week, we have brought in reinforcements.
Claudia Edelman: 02:48 We’re so glad to have our friend and colleague from the financial times, US editor at large and just launched Moral Money. Gillian Tett. Welcome to the program.
Gillian Tett: 02:58 Great to be here.
Claudia Edelman: 03:00 This is my 16th General Assembly Week and it is the first time that it felt mainstream that more people cared than the usual suspects.
Gillian Tett: 03:08 Well, I will get a medal for surviving 1615 general assembly weeks. But what was striking about this year was that in the past UN General Assembly Week has happened somewhat in a bubble of governments and nonprofits. And that was kind of really it. This year Business and finance and all of the associated groups around them, including the financial times were all over on Goal Week for the simple reason that the UN recognizes it needs to reach out to the business and financial community. And at the same time, executives right around the world are suddenly setting up and taking notice of what the UN is doing.
Edie Lush: 03:49 So Gillian, one of the articles you wrote last week was about how climate change could cause a new mortgage default crisis That’s clearly something pretty cataclysmic for the financial markets. Tell me about that.
Gillian Tett: 04:04 Well, the key thing to realize is that as the discussion about climate change gather steam, increasingly you’re seeing a lot of mainstream consultants and financial analysts and investors doing some pretty urgent modeling to work out how climate change could impact their portfolios going forward for both good and bad. And one of the areas where they’re increasingly doing modeling is looking at the impact of climate change on residential properties, which are vulnerable to say flooding on the East coast of America and asking questions like if there was a lot of flooding, what would that mean for the value of those properties? What would it mean for mortgages? What would it mean for the insurance companies and the banks associated with that? And you suddenly start to see a series of chain reactions that could be potentially quite serious.
Claudia Edelman: 04:56 And you mentioned about the computer modeling brings us exactly to the center of what this episode is going to be all about. By the way, Edie and you have done simulators, I have a FOMO of not having been in one. So I want to hear all about Edie. So Gillian, stay with us so that we can talk a little bit later about the rise and success of moral money,
Edie Lush: 05:17 But right now we’re going to give Claudia a little more FOMO as we pick up my conversation with John Sterman. You’ll recall he’s professor of management at MIT. Last episode I worked with him on his climate interactive model to see if I could design a set of actions that would prevent catastrophic warming. Let’s just say we left the world hanging at the end of the last episode.
Claudia Edelman: 05:41 Kind of like Climate Week.
Edie Lush: 05:42 Which of course is exactly the point. The model and the real world are scarily in sync. Professor Sterman told me how he’s broken down locks in the simulation that just maybe offer ways to break deadlocks in the real world. He told me about one session from a few years ago with a delegation from China.
Prof. Sterman: 06:03 Their view at that time officially in China is, listen, you developed countries, you created this problem. You have to cut your emissions. We, developing nations, you cannot tell us that we can’t do what you did. That’s amoral and we’re not going to have it. So we get to keep burning fossil fuel until we become as affluent as you are. So their proposals were large cuts from the United States, large cuts from Europe and all the other developed countries and very little from China, India, and the other developing countries. And I showed them that under that scenario Shanghai would be almost certainly inundated. Shenzhen would be inundated and they would lose their biggest and most important cities and centers of economic activity. And at that point I said, so what does this mean? And there was a long, long silence and I asked again, and another long silence. And then, somebody spoke and what I heard translated in my hear piece was: it means we have to leave the past in the past. And what he meant was: yes, it’s true, the Western developed nations have contributed the most to this problem. But if we want to save our country, we have to cut also. And what’s important about this is if I had stood up and said that and said, you must cut, because look, even if I cut emissions from the developed nations a lot, you still lose your big cities. They would have folded their arms and shaken their heads and because you can’t tell people these things. Instead what happened was they were completely free to choose any path of emissions they wanted to. So I was just showing them what happened with their own proposes. So they saw the consequences of their decisions. And I think that’s the only way these kinds of insights are going to arise and really have an impact.
Edie Lush: 08:27 All that happened just before China and the United States negotiated a bilateral agreement in 2014 to reduce carbon emissions. Ideal to set the stage for the Paris Climate Treaty. But now the biggest disagreements are between countries but inside one country. [Music] And have you had similar teaching moments on Capitol Hill in the US?
Prof. Sterman: 08:53 Yes. So I’m not gonna mention any names, but since the beginning of this year, I’ve presented this model myself and my team-mates to about 38 members of the Senate, to staff in the House and the Senate, from both parties, and senators from both parties as well. And I just got to tell you, nobody wants to hear yet another expert come and show them a thousand PowerPoint slides about what’s going to happen if they don’t take action. It’s just doesn’t work. But when you do this interactively, people get very excited and it’s… these are all very, very busy folks. But the meetings typically run lot because they are eager to see what happens if I do this, what happens if I do that? How can we get there? What does it mean in the real world?
Edie Lush: 09:49 So that’s why this simulation is so valuable. You can experience the real world impacts inside a computer and then return to reality with a much better grasp of what’s needed. When we took a break, we’d brought the temperature down from just above 4°C warming to 3°C warming. So we’re not doing too badly, but we’ve already lost New Orleans, lost Shanghai. So, that’s not looking so good. Does everyone who does this find it as difficult as I am?
Prof. Sterman: 10:26 In a word? Yeah. Most people are surprised that it’s as difficult as it is to get down towards 2, and people come at this with different positions on the political spectrum. Some people like pricing carbon, some people like a more regulatory approach, but it doesn’t matter. There’s no one lever that you can pull that gets you all the way there. We will see… if you can get us where we need to go Edie.
Edie Lush: 10:58 Oh my goodness. Okay.
Prof. Sterman: 11:00 But yeah, it’s hard.
Edie Lush: 11:03 14% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation. So let’s look at energy efficiency in transport. So this is cars, trucks, that kind of thing?
Prof. Sterman: 11:17 Well, it’s all modes. So it’s cars and trucks. It’s trains, it’s also shipping and aviation. And all of those have and can have more improvements in energy efficiency. So let’s pull that lever. I’m going to pull it just about as much as I pulled the lever for energy efficiency in buildings. So we were at 3. You pull it out here we’re at 2.9. So it helps, but there’s a couple of reasons it doesn’t help more. Unlike buildings, it’s generally not possible to retrofit cars and trucks, aircraft and so forth. So you know, you bought an SUV, you’ve been driving it around for a few years in the United States, that car is going to last for 16 to 20 years. You might not own it that long, but somebody is going to be driving it, and that old car continues to be driven around using the same inefficient engine as before. So that helped!
Edie Lush: 12:18 A 10th of a degree of Celsius. So what about the electrification lever? What happens if we..
Prof. Sterman: 12:25 Transport?
Edie Lush: 12:25 Transport? Yeah!
Prof. Sterman: 12:26 Great. So this would be a move towards electric vehicles. So let’s pull that lever and we can highly incentivize it. Not all the way. And that got us another 10th of a degree.
Edie Lush: 12:40 So we’re now at now plus 2.8°C increase. Goodness. I thought getting electric cars was going to do more than that. That is surprising to me.
Prof. Sterman: 12:52 So why do you think it doesn’t have more impact? I’ll give you a hint. Look back here on the mix of energy sources.
Edie Lush: 13:01 It looks like we’ve still got coal and oil still… at least a pretty big mix there.
Prof. Sterman: 13:07 Electrifying transport definitely reduces the amount of oil, especially in the second half of the century when all those existing cars and so forth are replaced and as electric cars have become cheaper and more capable and more widely available. So, it definitely reduces the size of the wedge of the oil. What about the coal? By the end of the century, we’ve got a lot of clean green, renewable energy, but between now and 2050, there’s still a lot of coal still being used. One of the challenges here is can you green up the electric grid faster? So how could you do that?
Edie Lush: 13:51 Can we tax coal? Can we move to nuclear?
Prof. Sterman: 13:55 Sure.
Edie Lush: 13:55 I feel like I’m getting slightly desperate here! I feel like we have to save the world in 20 minutes! I’m not sure if we’re going to get there!
Prof. Sterman: 14:02 No need for desperation! Let’s tax call. You tried that before. One thing you can do is simply stop building any new coal infrastructure, no new mines, no new electric plants powered by coal, etc. In what year do you think we could implement a policy that would essentially stop the construction of any new coal powerplants?
Edie Lush: 14:27 Around the world? Goodness. 2025, 2030.
Prof. Sterman: 14:33 Well, let’s try 2025. You can change it at anytime you want, and let’s see what that does. You can see the coal is going down much faster now.
Edie Lush: 14:42 The coal wedge definitely goes down. We’re still holding it 2.7 plus, + 2.7.
Prof. Sterman: 14:50 2.7 now. So everything helps.
Edie Lush: 14:51 Ok!
Edie Lush: 14:51 You could also accelerate the retirement of existing coal plants. That helps a little bit. But the economics of new coal plants and existing ones are unfavorable generally speaking. But I think this makes a very important point. Even if coal production were to peak next year, 2020, which is what’s happening now, it takes a while before all that coal disappears and is driven out of the energy system by renewables and energy efficiency. And in the meantime, all that CO2 is still accumulating in the atmosphere. Now you mentioned nuclear. So just as we’ve subsidized renewables, we can also subsidize nuclear, and well, let’s just do it and see what happens. So first of all, we’re at 2.7. So now subsidize nuclear about the same as the renewables. So what happened?
Edie Lush: 15:50 Nothing happened.
Prof. Sterman: 15:51 Almost nothing. Right? Temperature didn’t go down.
Edie Lush: 15:54 Nope, we’re still at +2.7.
Prof. Sterman: 15:56 Let’s figure out why. So let me subsidize nuclear a whole heck of a lot more. So now we’re getting a lot of nuclear.
Edie Lush: 16:04 Right.
Prof. Sterman: 16:05 But it only notched us down less than a 10th of a degree. So we’re at 2.6 something. But why? You know. So take a look at this graph of primary energy production and let me back up all the way to where there’s no nuclear and there’s a huge wedge of green energy now. Right? So now let’s heavily subsidize the nuclear.
Edie Lush: 16:32 I see. So by subsidizing nuclear, you’re actually cutting into the renewables, but not doing very much to impact oil and gas.
Prof. Sterman: 16:43 You’ve made a great observation here. A lot of people think, well before I pulled the nuclear lever, I’ve got this giant wedge of green energy, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal. With the storage you need to make it useful. Even when the sun’s down and the wind is not blowing and now we’ll add nuclear and if we can get a certain amount of nuclear, it’ll add to the green and we’ll be better off. But in fact what happens is you do get more nuclear, you have to subsidize it very heavily, but it squeezes out the green and you’re not really getting any significant net increase in carbon free energy.
Edie Lush: 17:24 Ok!
Prof. Sterman: 17:24 And it’s very clear that this, this would happen, right? If nuclear energy becomes cheap enough that the market wants it, then it’s going to be cheaper for a utility to do that than to invest in wind farms and utility scale solar so they won’t.
Edie Lush: 17:47 Okay, so let’s look at protecting the lungs of the earth. As Macron said the other day. So we want to reduce deforestation and let’s also plant some trees. Let’s increase the number of trees in the forests. What happens there? We’re at 2.7°C increase now.
Prof. Sterman: 18:11 So I’m going to put in a moderate reduction in deforestation and that was worth a 10th of a degree C and if we go a little farther, you can see emissions come down a little more and a very large reduction. Yeah, it helped a bit.
Edie Lush: 18:28 Okay. So we’re at plus 2.6. Yup.
Prof. Sterman: 18:31 So that helped. Now let’s plant some new trees on previously deforested land. And so that’s afforestation and that’s… I’ve got medium growth here. That’s we’re down down to 2.5 and we could do more. So that helps. Absolutely helps. So this graph on the bottom shows how much carbon dioxide is being removed every year by those trees, the new trees, as they grow. And well what do you notice about that?
Edie Lush: 19:05 So it takes a while for the CO2 to be taken out of the air. So really till you’re planting them now, it’s just before 2040 that you start to see any increase in removal of carbon dioxide from the air.
Prof. Sterman: 19:19 Right.
Edie Lush: 19:20 So I guess it takes a while for trees to grow.
Prof. Sterman: 19:23 Absolutely right. So you know, when you start a massive afforestation program, then you plant a million seedlings in a day, which I believe Tanzania just did. That’s fantastic. But those seedlings have almost no carbon in them next year. Maybe they’ve doubled in size, they still have almost no carbon in them. They don’t really start to remove carbon until they become rather large. And it takes, depending on the species and the climate, a hundred years before they’re really starting to store a lot of carbon. Afforestation is a great thing to do, but it doesn’t help in the near term.
Edie Lush: 20:09 Okay. Here’s another great thing to do. Let’s take a brief break to hear from someone. We’re very positive about. Laura Gitman, the chief operating officer of BSR, a global nonprofit that works with its network of more than 250 member companies and other partners to build a just and sustainable world. I asked Laura if purpose alongside profit was an idea that is going mainstream.
Laura Gitman: 20:36 I think it’s a redefinition of profit and a redefinition of purpose. I think it is redefining what it means to have a profit. Where, how are those profits distributed? You paying taxes? Or is the community that is contributing to your profit? Are they benefiting from those profits? And so I think it’s, it’s a more fundamental restructuring of the role of business itself, as well as a fundamental recognition that business is a critical player in helping society achieve its overall purpose. So a perfect example of this is the climate strike, which started more as a school strike with Greta Thunberg. But now we’re seeing employees from Amazon, and Microsoft, and Google walking out in support. So it really is employees standing up for what they believe in and what they expect their companies to be able to support and to demonstrate to the world their commitment.
Edie Lush: 21:34 And Laura, you’ve got an event coming up in my home state of California. Tell me about it.
Laura Gitman: 21:39 We do. So BSR has our annual conference. This year it will be hosted in San Jose on November 12th through 14th.
Edie Lush: 21:48 To learn more about BSR and to attend their conference, go to BSRnineteen.org/podcast.
Claudia Edelman: 21:59 Welcome back. When we left Edie, She limited temperature increase to 2.5°C above the pre-industrial level.
Edie Lush: 22:09 So the clock is ticking. We’re at 2.5 degrees increase now. What about agriculture? Because I know that we get a lot of methane emissions from cows from the front end. I know that there’s a big push to reduce meat consumption. What does that do when we pull that lever?
Prof. Sterman: 22:31 You’re absolutely right. A lot of the methane is coming from the technical term being enteric methanogenesis, but more popularly known as cow burps. Also, the nitrous oxide is coming from agriculture much of it. So let’s pull that lever and let’s have a moderate reduction in the methane.
Edie Lush: 22:51 Wow. That made a big change. So we’re now at +2.1°C or +3.8°F. That was a big one. Why is that?
Prof. Sterman: 23:02 So first of all, cutting the emissions from agriculture is feasible with technology we have today. You mentioned several things that would need to be done, reducing food waste. The IPCC in the UN and others, FAO estimate about 30% of all the food produced in the world is wasted. Even small reductions in that reduce the need for land, for agriculture, for uh, fertilizer, for all the fossil fuel that goes into cultivation and harvesting and processing. So that makes a big difference. Secondly, shifting to a less meat intensive diet for those who find that to be attractive, that can help a lot. You don’t have to become a vegan, but even cutting back your beef and meat consumption a little bit, not only make you healthier and ease your food budget, but it reduces methane and nitrous oxide emissions that come from livestock. So this is something that can be done and it makes a big difference. You’re almost there!
Edie Lush: 24:04 We’re almost there! We’re at 2.1. We haven’t pulled the lever yet on electrifying buildings in industry. What does that do when you pull that lever and what is that all about?
Prof. Sterman: 24:16 So it’s analogous to electrifying transport. It’s what I did in my own house here where we completely ripped out the fossil heating system, put in those air source heat pumps that are powered by electricity, which in my case is coming from our solar. But in general, that means you’d be running your heating and cooling your buildings, entirely with electricity. So as we’ve green the grid here, we get climate benefits. So lets do that and I’ve got about the same degree of electrification for buildings as we have chosen for transportation. And where are we now?
Edie Lush: 24:55 So we’re now at 2° increase Celsius, which is what the Paris Accords have put as the upper limit, which is good. I have to say though, we’re still not at 1.5 to stay alive. So I still feel like there’s something else we got to do.
Prof. Sterman: 25:11 Right. There’s a couple of options. We could try a higher carbon price. So let’s just do that.
Edie Lush: 25:16 It was at $50. We’re now putting it at $100 a ton.
Prof. Sterman: 25:20 So that’s about 90 cents a gallon, in the United States, which would leave the price of gasoline still well below European levels today. And it’s phased in gradually over a period of a decade. So people would have time to plan and adjust. And that got us to 1.9. There’s other ways to do it. So one of the things we haven’t tried is what if there’s a radical new technological breakthrough?
Edie Lush: 25:48 Like, what?
Prof. Sterman: 25:48 We have this lever here we call new tech, new technology. So what would it be in the real world? Well, it might be fusion, it could be an advanced next generation nuclear fussion technology. And maybe it’s something we haven’t thought of yet. Artificial leaf for, I don’t know, iron man’s arch reactor. So, because so many people believe that if we just had more R&D, we could come up with a breakthrough like this and make fusion feasible or make one of these other technologies feasible and then that would solve the problem. So what we’ve assumed here is when I pull this new tech slider, we’re getting a 100% carbon free energy source that’s going to be cheaper than coal. So let’s try it. So I’ve got a pretty big breakthrough here right now.
Edie Lush: 26:43 Huge breakthrough.
Prof. Sterman: 26:43 It’s this orange band.
Edie Lush: 26:43 A new tech band has appeared on your global sources of primary energy and absolutely nothing has had happened to the temperature of the earth. It’s still at 2°C!
Prof. Sterman: 26:57 So why is that?
Edie Lush: 26:59 Because it’s taken away from bio energy and renewables it looks like, or bio energy and nuclear. Yeah.
Prof. Sterman: 27:08 So this is quite interesting what you’ve just discovered. So I could make it an even bigger breakthrough. And now there’s a gigantic amount of this new tech, but it only is worth a 10th of a degree because you’ve squeezed out even more. So here’s the dilemma. New tech will grow sooner and faster if it’s really, really cheap. But the cheaper it is, the less nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, and the less efficiency people are going to invest in. New tech is so cheap. Why would anybody want to spend the money to insulate their home or put good windows into their home? Because their electric bill is going to be way, way lower. So you’re getting a… compensating effect, or a rebound effect.
Edie Lush: 27:59 Okay. And what about changing the assumptions about consumption? We know from our final episode of season 2 that we have this unsustainable ratio of 32 to one so Americans are consuming 32 times what an average Kenyan does. Can we fool around with that?
Prof. Sterman: 28:17 We can! So I’m showing you a graph of GDP per capita in each of the big regions and countries of the world, the U S European union, China, India, other developed and other developing economies. And if we reduce the focus on consumption, we do in fact slowed down the rate at which affluence continues to grow. Nobody’s getting poorer here, they’re just getting more affluent at a somewhat slower rate.
Edie Lush: 28:50 All right, so I’ve got us below 1.9°C, but it’s not enough for the, the low lying island nations.
Prof. Sterman: 29:00 So your carbon price is still pretty low at $50. Pretty low relative to what might be needed to get big changes in energy use and more renewables out there. So let’s increase it and we’re at 1.9, 1.8, I’ll make round this off here. I’ll make it $170 a ton. A lot of economists believe that’s in the ballpark of what might be needed. And we phase it in gradually, and you can give the money back to the people. And then, you know, one of the unfortunate realities of the fact that we’ve waited so long to do all this is that it’s very, very hard to get much below 2 unless you have what’s called negative emissions. And so we do have over here the different negative emissions technologies, like bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, like bio char, direct air capture and agricultural soil sequestrations, etc.
Edie Lush: 30:07 So this is under the broader, broader theme of technological carbon removal. What happens when we pull that lever?
Prof. Sterman: 30:15 It actually does quite a lot. And if I, if I pull it most of the way towards what various experts believe is the maximum that could be done.
Edie Lush: 30:29 We’ve now hit 1.5 degrees! Gosh, that was a close.
Prof. Sterman: 30:32 Yeah! congratulations.
Claudia Edelman: 30:37 Wow! Edie, you made it. But technically possible is only part of the challenge, right? It is politically possible to keep warming to 1.5°C.
Edie Lush: 30:47 Step one is to show it’s possible, giving hope and encouragement to those willing to roll up their sleeves and try. I talked about that with professor Sterman. Jonathan Franzen and just the other day said, we should just give up. It’s over. We’ve lost the fight to contain global warming. So seen from our work today, he’s wrong! And we shouldn’t give up and there is a reason still for optimism despite the current political climate.
Prof. Sterman: 31:18 So I think he is wrong. I think it is still possible technically to limit the expected warming and even if this turns out to be somewhat over optimistic, whatever we do makes for a safer world for ourselves and our kids and for all the kids then giving up. So I just utterly reject his approach. I mean one way to think about it is if you believe as he does that it’s too late, that people are never going to learn to cooperate. They’re never going to take the actions that can make such powerful differences as we’ve seen here, they’re never going to overcome the political interference of the fossil fuel industry. If you believe that you are going to get to be right because you’re not going to do a darn thing about it. And so do you want to be right or do you want to make a difference? I think we can make a difference, but we’re only gonna make a difference if we stand up and take action. And that action has to be personal. Insulate your home. Put solar on your roof. It has to be professional work to have your company become more efficient and get off of fossil fuels. And it has to be as a citizen, we aren’t going to succeed without collective action. It just makes no sense to give up. It’s time to fight. This is not going to be easy, but it’s gonna be worth it!
Edie Lush: 32:50 Another way to put it is this. Not the time to roll up our trousers and get ready for the floods, but it’s time to roll up our sleeves. No, not a great joke? Okay. Max Boykoff, at the university of Colorado, has a new book on how humor can move people to action while bad news just depresses them. Here’s an example from Jimmy Kimmel.
Special Clip: 33:11 “Attention galaxy! Planet Earth is going out of business! We’ve lost our minds and everything must go! Insane deals on everything on Earth. Panda bears! Giant sequoias! Large inflatable ducks! Portugal! Porcupine! Oceans! 50% off nocturnal animals: insects, reptiles and amphibians! Unused home gym! Artificial pine tree! St Patrick’s Cathedral! Bats! Other bats! Salmon! Tide pods! But you must act fast because Planet Earth is over soon and when it’s gone, is gone!”
Claudia Edelman: 33:42 Wow. all right. So both of you, Edie and Gillian, first of all, it’s so great to be able to have our conversation after the craziness of the UNGA & that we’re like able to reflect and, and talk to the audience that is not able to be here in New York and give them a sense about like how big this is. But both of you have done computer modeling, so how did that change your mindset?
Gillian Tett: 34:05 Well, people are forever modeling the outlook for the economy, and demographics, and the recently things, the energy standard demand, and all kinds of macroeconomic variables in businesses already. It’s really been just recently though they began to do it in relation to climate change. They should probably should have done it many years ago. And that’s really having impact not just inside the C-suite, but also amongst investor committees, and also amongst regulators. I can’t stress this strongly how significant, what the actions of central banks are right now, in terms of trying to concentrate minds inside the financial sector, because when you look at these models and think about the potential for defaults or asset price impairment, they are very significant.
Edie Lush: 34:48 So what I learned from this simulator was first of all, how every action that you can take, so whether it’s taxing coal, planting trees, whether it’s protecting trees, whether it’s worrying about population, they all start to impact each other. So you think you’re doing something great and actually it’s not great at all, or it doesn’t have as much of an impact as you thought it would on bringing the increase in the temperature down. It was really hard to keep that temperature from increasing, mostly because of the collective effort that it’s going to take to do just that. And I actually wanted to ask you guys, what was your impression from UNGA from the whole week about the promises from governments?
Gillian Tett: 35:32 Well in some respects what happened is that it quite disappointing because we didn’t see a lot more announcements. The Chinese who many people have been looking to for action essentially are so concerned about their domestic economy slowing down right now that they deliberately did not put themselves at the stage of this debate and of course the U.S. Administration is currently denying that climate change is really an issue at all. However, if you look around the edges, there were some encouraging developments, whether it’s a fat that the British government is increasingly trying to redefine the concept of aid and channel people’s pensions in the UK towards more socially positive in types of investments. If you look at the fact that the regulators and central bank governors are moving ahead with efforts to force the financial system to really get involved in trucking climate change, there are all kinds of measure that are happening one level beneath the very top presidential suite, which are very important, but anyone looking for the big bang, unfortunately we’re going to be disappointed.
Claudia Edelman: 36:33 And nevertheless, I do feel that these UNGA managed to get a zietgiest. There’s something that changed in the way that we see these things as relevant.
Gillian Tett: 36:43 The fear in many C-suites, many corporate boards, many investment committees is if they don’t get engaged in these issues, they’re going to suffer reputational damage. Their employees will be unhappy, they might lose money on their portfolios, their businesses could suffer. And so the balance of risks in the eyes of many businesses executives have shifted from it’s riskier to stand on the sidelines and do nothing than to actually be involved in some of these social and climate change movements.
Claudia Edelman: 37:10 And that is how you launched Moral Money.
Gillian Tett: 37:13 Well, absolutely. I mean, we first started looking at the idea of doing a special website, a newsletter around green issues, socially responsible business issues quite long time ago. And we’ve thought a couple of years ago was quite a minority, interest topic in the sense that it was really only mattered to people who were actively investing in a way that wanted to deliver social change. And then early this year, we realized that actually the rise of what people called environmental social and governance issues, ESG issues, was actually convulsing almost every corporate board and investment committee and bank across the Western World, because it’s now become part of risk management in the sense that businesses and financers know that if they ignore ESG issues completely, they actually run big risks now. We did a survey recently of our readers to see why they were signing up to it and reading it. So, voraciously, and what this shows is that the vast majority of people think that these issues, ESG, environmental, social governance issues, are really important to their jobs. But also the vast majority of people who responded, and they were mostly mid level employees, most of them don’t actually know how to make sense of it. So all we’re trying to do is find a way to cut through all these acronyms and get a sense of companies and individuals and employees can do to, at best, promote these new ideas and build a better world, but at least at worst, avoid the risks of ignoring them.
Edie Lush: 38:49 The other conversations that I’ve had last week but also actually in Davos, Gillian, were about how it’s still tough for the C-suite to figure out how to support the Sustainable Development Goals because there’s still so much work to be done around setting standards. So I wonder if you saw some movement last week around that.
Gillian Tett: 39:09 That’s certainly a lot of concern inside the C-suite and investment committees about just how difficult it is to actually take this sustainable development goals and turn it into an action plan. I’m in the argument right now isn’t about why, it’s really about how. Now the good news is that actually efforts to look at the accounting issues and the management issues and rating issues are really accelerating right now. There’s an explosion of innovation and competition amongst private sector companies to provide solutions. And the even better news is that a lot of big companies are now stepping up to try and provide this demonstration effect. There was a group of 17 companies which call themselves the Business Avengers after the Hollywood characters who are promising to take a lead in this respect, but still a long way to go.
Claudia Edelman: 39:57 Business Avengers. I love that. As long as they look as hot as the real Avengers. So thank you so much Gillian Tett for being here.
Edie Lush: 40:09 Thank you Gillian! Now facts and actions, usually we take a global view, but this episode has led us to something a little different. As John Sterman said, it is technically possible to contain global warming, but is it politically possible, especially when the government of the largest economy in the world is in gridlock for facts and actions on the deadlock over climate in the United States, we decided to turn to a multi talented guy. He’s a political strategist of venture capitalist and the host of the podcast firewall here is Bradley Tusk.
Bradley Tusk: 40:48 Hi, this is Bradley Tusk and I am giving you 3 facts and 3 actions from my perspective on climate change. The first one is the most obvious thing you’ve heard all day, which is Congress is wildly dysfunctional. There is no ability to pass or move or change anything and it really comes down to two reasons. One is because of gerrymandering, the vast, vast majority of elections are decided in primaries, not in the general election and the primary because turnout is really low is usually a contest to see who is either the most left wing or right wing depending on the district. The problem is, as a result, when you have 15% turnout in primaries, you’re mainly sending far left wing and far right wing members to Congress, for whom compromise or getting things done. It’s a lot less important than ideological purity. The second is the status quo that you can’t solve climate. To do anything meaningful climate, you’re gonna need legislation, which means compromise on a carbon tax or a much higher gas tax or a carbon sequestration funding. All of that means moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats working together. And third, if you’re on the left or the right, it’s not in your interest to change this. If ideological purity is what you care about, that’s kind of what gets you up in the morning and gets you out of bed, get you reelected, helps you raise money. So those are the facts. So what can you do about it? Three actions. The first is we need support moderates from both parties. I’m an independent. I think both parties are wildly corrupt. Most of my giving and voting tends to be for Democrats. But I do look to find moderate Republicans to support as well. Because if we don’t have moderate Republicans, then we’re never going to have the ability to get anything done and climate or any other issue. The second is we fundamentally have to reform the way that we vote in the first place. So the reason why things are the way they are, it’s why every policy out produced the result of a political input. I want to turn out, it’s 15% most primaries in most districts are gerrymandered. Politicians know that they have to keep that 15% happy at the exclusion of everyone else. But imagine turnout were 60 or 70% in the primary, then you’re trying to keep the mainstream happy and I was trying to keep a small vocal minority happy. How does that happen? If people can vote on their phones? How does that happen safely through the blockchain? So there have been now experiments run in West Virginia, Denver and Utah where deployed service men and women have been able to vote on their phone over the blockchain in elections. They have all got extremely wealth, the national cybersecurity center has ordered each of them and found that the elections were secure. As that trend continues, that becomes your opportunity to radically increase turnout in primary elections, which ultimately leads to more moderate candidates, more consensus, and then getting actually things done. And the third is more of a personal thing, but just don’t worry about passing anyone else’s litmus test but your own. Don’t worry about being considered woke. Everyone loves to have standards and that you have to meet in their purity tests, but their purity test is totally glued to their own self interest. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about what’s good for them politically. It’s about what’s good for them economically and the only thing that matters is what you believe.
Edie Lush: 43:42 Before we go, thanks to our guests Gillian Tett and John Sterman. To find out more about John’s En-ROADS Climate Solutions Simulator, go to ENroads.org that’s ENroads.org.
Claudia Edelman: 43:57 And thanks for listening. Please like and subscribe, wherever you get your podcast and follow us on social media at Global GoalsCast. See you next time. Bye Bye! Adios!
Edie Lush: 44:06 Adios!
Presenter: 44:13 Global GoalsCast was hosted by Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman. We are editorial gurued by Mike Oreskes. Editing and sound production by Simon James. Our operations director is Michelle Cooprider and welcome to our new intern Tina Pastore. Music in this episode was by Neil Hail, Angelica Garcia, Simon James, Katie Krohn, Ashish Paliwal and Andrew Phillips, who just won an Emmy for his music on “Stolen Daughters”, the HBO documentary on the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Congratulations, Andrew. This episode was made possible with the support of BSR also CBS News Digital and Harman, the official sound of Global GoalsCast.