« The Weeds

Maybe we’re not doomed?

2022-08-02

As the Earth swelters through yet another record-breaking summer, a surprise push for climate legislation on Capitol Hill gave us a shimmer of optimism and hope toward fighting climate change. But, while it’s a step in the right direction to reduce carbon emissions, it’s not a panacea. How do we maintain optimism, even when the right steps feel too small?

References:

Summaries of the climate, tax, and prescription drug parts of the Manchin deal

What Democrats' big new bill would actually do 

What the Inflation Reduction Act needs to pass, including Sen. Sinema

Princeton researchers’ estimate of the deal’s climate impact

The Republican vote against benefits for veterans exposed to toxins

The White House/Employ America plan to reduce gas prices

Nina Kelsey’s theory of the “green spiral”

It’s so hot in Europe that roads are literally buckling

Europe is burning like it’s 2052

Hosts:

Bryan Walsh(@bryanrwalsh), Future Perfect editor, Vox

Dylan Matthews, (@dylanmatt), senior correspondent, Vox

Sigal Samuel (@sigalsamuel), Future Perfect senior reporter, Vox

Credits:

Sofi LaLonde, producer and engineer

Libby Nelson, editorial adviser

Amber Hall, deputy editorial director of talk podcasts

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
- This comes from Planned Parenthood. It's hard to imagine a world where we leave future generations with fewer rights and freedoms. Since the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, politicians in nearly every state have introduced bills aimed at blocking people from getting the essential sexual and reproductive care they need, including abortion. Leaves everyone deserves access to care. And with supporters like you, they can reclaim our rights and protect and expand access to abortion care. Visit plannedparenthood.org/future to learn more and support their cause.
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Perfect section and your host for today's episode of the Weaves. I'm joined by my colleagues at Future Perfect, Vox Cerf. Senior Correspondent and frequent Weeds host Dylan Matthews. Hello! I'm order Seagal Samuel. Hey. And we are here to talk about climate change. So I'll be honest, when we were planning this episode just a few days ago, we were focusing it around the theme of pessimism. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia had seemingly torpedoed any chance of meaningful climate legislation under President Biden when he opposed a bill that would provide some $300 billion in tax credits and subsidies, all aimed at greatly expanding clean energy over the next decade. That, paired with the Supreme Court's Decision recently curtailing the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions seemed to mark to any ambitious efforts to fight climate change coming from Washington. And then on Wednesday evening, this happened.
- We are also following news out of Capitol Hill where there appears to be a breakthrough on President Biden's economic agenda. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin says he has reached a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on what they're calling the. Inflation Reduction Act. It will invest $300 billion in deficit reduction and nearly 370 billion in energy. Security and climate change programs over the next 10 years. News broke that Manchin had suddenly agreed to a legislative package that-- $369 billion for climate and energy proposals. Now, if it passes by reconciliation, This legislation would represent the most ambitious action Congress has ever taken on climate change. All of this comes as a backdrop to the of summer misery that has shown two things are true about climate change today. 1. The killing, record-breaking temperatures for the American sun's
All the way to Europe, so that climate change is unfolding in exactly the way scientists have long feared. And two, as bad as things have been, this will likely be the coolest summer of the rest of our lives. So, trying to keep those two ideas in mind, that this is as bad as it's been, And, it will only get worse, are key to understanding the unprecedented climate challenge we will face for the foreseeable future. Dylan, I'll start with you. I mean, how meaningful is this apparent deal struck by mansion with Chuck Schumer, both in terms of what it means for climate action in the U S and really for Congress's ability to do anything as a whole?
news and has reconfigured how I think about a lot of things about how the Senate works. To answer the climate question first, the person or the team that I go to for thinking about bills and what they do for climate is a group called the REPEAT Project at Princeton. I think it stands for Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit. But it's basically a team of Led by some engineers, Jesse Jenkins at Princeton and Aaron Mayfield at Dartmouth are the two engineers who lead it. And it's sort of trying to do scores for what bills do to the climate. So similar to how the Congressional Budget Office will tell you how much a bill costs or how much money it raises in taxes, this team is trying to tell you. How much will this affect the climate? And so their estimate, they do it relative to the US's. Sort of stated climate goals. So when Biden rejoined the Paris agreement, his first year in office, he... We set a goal to reduce U.S. emissions to 50% below peak level.
Emissions peaked in 2005, the era of Chevy Suburbans and cheap gas. And so the goal was to get it to 50% Below 2005 levels. The Princeton team estimates that this bill would get it to 40% below peak levels. It is not totally meeting the US's climate goals. There will need to be additional action, additional. Policies, additional changes to reach the levels by 2030 that Biden has. Been promising that we're setting as our goal, but it gets the vast majority of the way there, it gets sort of two thirds to three quarters of the way there by, by Jesse Jenkins's estimation, that's really big and it makes sort of the next. Steps in the US seem a lot more achievable. Maybe like things that smaller bills could do, like things that state action could do.
Like things that even just sort of changes in technology could accomplish. So I think it really meaningfully shifts my level of optimism about climate action in the U.S. And just to follow up, where did this come from? Mean, you know we were Wednesday morning. I think assuming this was over the midterm elections are coming up once the Republicans take over as they seem likely to do. That's it for climate action because we should remember all Republicans... In the Senate, uh, seem like they're against this and most other climate bills. And then suddenly Wednesday. Evening rolls around, things are happening. I mean, as someone who follows Congress and is at least geographically closer to Capitol Hill, I think then the two of us, do you have any ideas? How this came about really and what this maybe does say about could Congress do other things and just open the door to other kinds of action. So my. Understanding of the order of things here. And this is evolving and I'm sure there'll be sort of more TikToks of what exactly happened. And so, sort of, if you're
Listening to this months from now, read some subsequent stuff, things might have changed. My understanding of the timing. Here is that this was announced just after the Senate finally passed what was called the CHIPS Act. Used to be like the COMPETE Act and USICA. It's been this bill that has been percolating in Congress. Last couple of years to dramatically expand funding for certain kinds of technical scientific Particularly related to semiconductors, other things where sort of relevant to competition with China, sort of part of how They got Republican senators on board with it, was framing it as a way to compete with China. And Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, had said things to the effect of, We'll work with you on this. This is something we want to do. Only if you guys aren't actively working on reconciliation. And Democrats didn't technically promise that, but that was kind of the understanding going on.
Into it. And so Republicans did vote for it and it passed as soon as it passed. Chuck Schumer announced that they had this deal on reconciliation, which is just like a degree of like. Explicit shivving of Mitch McConnell that I really did not think either Joe Manchin or Chuck Schumer had in them. It's like something that I associate with- with him. Harry Reid, who was the longtime Democratic leader, who would do things like... As for when he was Nevada gambling commissioner, like he was once in an FBI sting operation and a guy tried to bribe him and he started choking the guy on camera and yelling, the son of a bitch tried to bribe me. That guy, I think can do deals like this. I did not think Chuck Schumer can do deals like this.
But they really kept a very, very tight lid on it, were very private about it, and only announced it as soon as they were kind of out of the woods. Senate Republicans. And not only that, but the cherry on top for Senate Democrats was that immediately After it was announced, Schumer put a bill expanding benefits for veterans, particularly veterans exposed to burn pit smoke in certain areas. In combat situations on the floor. This is a bill that had passed overwhelmingly before. Were so mad that Manchin had betrayed them that they overwhelmingly voted for him. Against it and blocked it. So not only does Chuck Schumer get this deal, he gets a perfect attack ad for every Senate race in the fall about how the Senate Senate Republican caucus voted against the troops and voted for them to be exposed to dangerous toxins just because he made them
I'm so mad with this climate deal. So as a piece of legislative artistry, I'm kind of in awe of it. It's really, yeah, it's really. High level legislative jiu-jitsu like house of cards level stuff pulled off against someone who generally is considered, I think, to be the master of that. Well. And of course it's not a done deal. You know, we don't know yet if a democratic Senator Kristin Sinema is. Going to sign on for it. You need all 50 plus you need a vice president Harris's tie breaking vote to make this work, but just to flip the script a little bit, to focus back on what's actually happening. Happening in the climate right now. You know, Segal, I mean, all this stuff happening in Washington DC is coming into summer that's really been, it's been truly awful. You know, we've experienced brutally high temperatures, wildfires. And we've seen them also in places like London and Paris that are neither really accustomed to or adapted to your triple digit temperatures. And that's not just because, you know, they don't use Fahrenheit, you know, is.
That's what we should expect, what we're seeing now, what we're experiencing now is this what we should expect in the years and decades ahead. And are we ready for that, I think? - Yeah, I mean, I think not only is this what we should expect, we should expect that this is one of the coolest summers we're gonna experience for the rest of our lives, right? Like as we're saying, this is the beginning and it's just gonna get hotter from here. I think especially in Europe, what happened with the heat waves was really eye-opening for a lot of people because we're talking about roads that are literally buckling. We're talking about train tracks catching on fire. We're talking about crazy stuff, right?
in places where we're kind of used to at this point, seeing really intense climate stuff. We did have that too, like big wildfire near Yosemite. But I think like the European side of it was pretty eye-opening for a lot of people, both because like they're not quite used to this and also because the infrastructure is just not built for this. Like those cities. Were not built to withstand this kind of heat. And I think now there's like sort of a dawning recognition that, oh, we're going to need to withstand this heat and more. Yeah, it really felt... Like a, like getting a glimpse of a future that no one really wants. I mean, just seeing that playing itself out in, this is not Phoenix, you know, these are, this is not LA, these are cities that are just not ready for this. And at the same time, you know, while we're, you know, experiencing an unusual feeling that I guess we're calling optimism right now around climate politics, we should know that the broad.
Picture around energy is not great. In 2021, actually, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions spiked by 6% to 36.3 billion metric tons. That's the highest level ever, and that comes as the economy did rebound after the COVID-19 crisis, and we saw a bit of a dip there. A lot of that is coming from coal. The increase in global CO2 emissions that year was the largest in history in absolute terms. At the same time, you know, we're experiencing a global economy is really having a hard time with energy. Especially within oil and natural gas, and that's thanks both to demand recovering again after COVID-19, but also all the disruptions of the war in Ukraine. That has an impact on the people Who are poorest in the world, uh, by one estimate in Africa, 25 million more people are now state of energy, poverty. They don't have electricity as compared to before the pandemic. And then you have all the way to. Rich nations like Germany where they're quite literally worried if they're going to have enough natural gas to heat the country.
Winter depending on whether or not the Russians actually send it that way. Prices are just going United States, obviously gas prices have been quite high. That really affects politics to say the least. Dylan, you're asking me, how does a world with more expensive fossil fuel energy that's grappling with that kind of energy crisis, how does that change the script or scramble climate politics anyway? So from first principles, if I was trying to reduce energy costs in the. Short term and handle the climate in the longterm. What I would do is take some action. To reduce gas prices in the near term while funding a bunch of climate investments. And that can look contradictory that there's a degree to which sort of for years. One of the goals of the climate movement was cap and trade or a carbon tax, which is explicit.
We tried to make gasoline more expensive, and we kind of did it through the means of a brutal war in Ukraine rather than attacks. And everyone's unhappy, which I think also tells us something about how viable those policies would have been. But the bill, the Inflation Reduction Act-- As Manchin insisted it be called, sort of does that combination. Um, so it has nine. Dollars in rebate programs for people paying for home energy and some... Consumer tax credits for like heat pumps, rooftop solar, things that are meant to make fuel costs and sort of the cost of heating. Your home lower in the medium to long to sort of medium five to 10 year range. The Biden administration recently announced that they were doing this policy that was developed by the group Employ America, which is an interesting group that is focused on the is an interesting group that is, is sort of focused on.
Fighting inflation without lowering employment. And one of their ways to do that was to do purchase guarantees at lower prices for gasoline. And the White House recently announced Were doing that and that they were going to try to slash the price of gasoline through that. The Joe Manchin bill also includes a bunch of new sort of drilling permits and things in places where that were important to Joe Manchin. He's still a guy who doesn't want to give up fossil fuels entirely. And so it's not like the ideal world policy. That someone who with the twin goals of short term fuel cost reductions and long term emissions reductions would make, but it is trying to do both of those at the same. Time, which has not always been the way that sort of climate policy has been structured. It's sometimes it's just been focused on the climate goals rather than doing. The things to, to near term prices that make the policy kind of like politically viable.
Interesting to me that the, this bill is apparently called, and this is at mansion's insistence, uh, the inflation reduction act, I believe, uh, which again, not the thing I thought that. So the most ambitious action in climate history from Congress would be called, but maybe that Drive home the fact that I think prices do matter, you know, it's been interesting to me watching What's been happening over the last? Months, I will simultaneously see sometimes back to back in my Twitter feed. All right. Here's something from a climate. And just about how serious this problem is, how little time we have to really deal with it. And that'll be followed by a. Tweet from president Biden, taking credit for gas prices going down. You know, it's to me that has always driven. Home that there is this, you got to keep both of these things in mind. You know, you can't really keep voters on side or I think political representatives, for the most part. If you're seen creating policies that will lead to more expensive energy. But on your end, you know, when, when you look at what's happening now, we see activists really, you know, the.
The streets. I mean, just really recently, I think we had congressional staff actually occupying Schumer's office in protest for at the time. That time, at least as failure to really push ahead on climate change. I mean, do you think that this will satisfy environmentalist? I mean, do you think that for those activists for. And this is really the number one issue, which is not the case, I think, for most Americans, this will be enough, or will we expect to continue to see them push for more and more in the years ahead? - I mean, I think absolutely we should expect to see them push for more and more. That is their job, right? Like, that is their job, and as we were saying, this bill contains a lot of great stuff. It's a really, really big deal. It also has some problematic aspects in it, and it's also not everything the US and the world needs. It's not like magically we've waved a wand and now everything is solved. So, yeah, I think we should expect to see that they're gonna keep pushing for more. I think, though, that when we say that this bill --
would reduce US carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. It's like clean energy tax credits are gonna be doing a lot of that work. And personally, like that makes me feel optimistic. This is kind of related. To what you guys were saying a moment ago, that makes me optimistic because it is changing the incentive structure, right? And you can change it with carrots or you can change it with sticks, but like carrots are. To be more popular. And so like the, you know, the title of the bill is sort of like a funny linguistic sleight of hand. But like, I don't really care and I imagine activists don't really care, like how you kind of sell the public on this, if you are like presenting incentives that actually are going to succeed in changing the incentive structure in a way that's good for climate, like, great, that's a win. So I think a lot of activists, environmental scientists are going to be very happy about this bill, assuming it does go through. And of course, they're going to push for more,
Like their whole their whole job is to keep pushing the Overton window again and again until and I... In a dream scenario, the US is doing everything that it should be doing. Yeah. The question is, can the Overton window be pushed faster than, I guess, the That's moving ahead as those carbonations keep getting added into the atmosphere, frankly. And of course, you know, we should also remember that while the U.S. It's historically the biggest emitter has been admitted the most carbon big developing countries trying to most of all will be really key to that as well going forward. So we can hope that this will have some. Influence on them as well. It's always been hard for American negotiators. I've been to some of those UN climate conferences in the past to talk that talk if, you home in DC they're not walking the walk. I mean Dylan one thing left is as I noted this is not a done deal yet we still have a cinema and she seems to delight in her role as the literal wild card.
In the Senate, I would hesitate to ask you to try to predict what's going on in your mind, but I'm going to just ask you to try to predict what's going on in your mind. - Sure. It does appear to be. Written in such a way as to address some things that she has said pretty consistently over the last couple of years. So. So one weird thing about Kristen Cinema, a former Green Party member and anti-war activist, the first bisexual... Member of the US Senate, is that she seems to be a true believer in kind of orthodox economic views on taxes. Like she really thinks higher tax rates on businesses are bad. I Like had some dinner with her and was like, it was like talking to someone at the Heritage Foundation. She just like truly believes this stuff. And the way that the financing is done for this because they're spending in a lot on climate, they're spending some on the affordable care act as well. They pay for it mostly through. More funding for the IRS, which might sound paradoxical, but, uh, you get something like six or seven bucks back.
For every dollar you put into the IRS at this point because it's so underfunded and there's so much low-hanging fruit that they can get by better enforcing existing taxes. It modestly It changes the treatment of what's called carried interest or money made. People like private equity managers, hedge fund managers that is treated like investment income as opposed to wage income. Even though it's these people's job, it should probably be treated as wage income. That loophole is not totally done away with. Part because she doesn't want it done away with, but it's modestly reduced. And instead of raising the corporate tax rate, It includes a minimum tax of 15% for profitable businesses. And that's something she has signaled openness to in the past. The detail here that was interesting to me is that even with the minimum tax, tax credits apply. And that's something that some.
Some climate people I know were really worried about because part of the point of a minimum tax is to get around tax breaks. You're doing your climate stuff through tax breaks for businesses that invest in and win farms and batteries and things. Then you have a minimum tax that makes all those credits go away. Like, what's the point? And so they explicitly have a carve out there. That even with that revenue raiser, you're still incentivizing these businesses to do stuff on climate. Am I also right though that there's a part in that bill that out sort of an IRS alternative to TurboTax. There is. This is very close to my heart. I feel like this was put in just to ensure that you would actually read to the end of this bill, which is about hundreds of pages. Absolutely. And to bring me just great personal joy. But yeah, on the IRS thing. Years the IRS had a deal with private tax preparers that they wouldn't set up an online
system where you could just sort of do your taxes through the IRS instead of going through a service like TurboTax. A free alternative. And this isn't even getting into more ambitious things like having the IRS mail you your tax return partially completed. This is just like the IRS could have a website that you go to to do your taxes. And so this includes $15 million to set up a team to build that. It's not the biggest thing in the world. I don't know that it. It's even the biggest thing to do on taxes. But it is just a huge inconvenience and a really egregious case of capture by industry that-- these businesses have managed to make you pay private business for the right to perform a basic function of citizenship. So I'm excited that that's in there. Our colleague Kelsey Piper has written a bit about just like how bad diesel buses are for school kids. There's tons of like air pollutant emissions,
that can have a really serious negative health impacts on kids. And there's a billion dollars in this bill to retrofit or replace school buses with electric buses and other buses that don't have that sort of air pollution problem. So Climate, but it's really, really good for like kids' health. And I think it's a really like under reported on issue. Incredibly important, something very close to our heart and a reminder that, you know, why climate change often is seen kind of as this overarching all important issue. It is connected to other things that are really important to poverty. To air pollution, to, to human health. And so, you know, if we can make progress in that, we can hopefully make progress. Elsewhere as well. And just to wrap this segment up, I mean, I think we all expected, obviously, the IRS would be the one to save us from climate change. So very happy about that. We're just gonna take a quick break, but when we come back.
We're going to be talking more about just how bad climate change might be. Support for the weeds comes from Burrow. You know when you... Feel all cooped up inside and wish you were outside? So you go outside only to miss the comfort of being inside? Well, Burrow is here to help you have it both ways. So you can enjoy the comfort and style of inside your home, outside, with the outdoor collection from Burrow. Burrow says they're known for timeless design, thoughtful construction, and little details that make life in your space easier. And that extends to the outdoor collection. With Burrow, you can get seating that allows for easy assembly and disassembly, so you can move or store them away as needed. No tools necessary. Burrow's outdoor furniture is made for all seasons and built to withstand the elements. Featuring rust-proof stainless steel hardware and quick-dry stain-resistant foam cushions.
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But now I want to shift gears a bit and talk more about what the latest science really says about about the climate we're likely to bequeath to the future and why it could be very bad, in fact it will be very bad, but perhaps not as bad as. As some of us fear, or that the really worst case scenarios might be. Seagal, I mean, what do climate models-- really tell us now about the future we're most likely to create. I mean, how much have we taken off the table? Ideally those really, really catastrophic outcomes. How much is that still potentially a possibility, depending on what, of course, we do in the here and now? - I mean, this is kind of like a-- nice story in that just a decade ago, a half decade ago, a lot of people just believed that if we continue with sort of the emissions...
Path we were on, if we kind of continue with our business as usual, we were going to end up with a planet that's four or five degrees of global warming, right? And that's an Earth we really, really don't want to live on, okay? And that's Celsius, to be clear, yeah. And then a bunch of things happened to make it such that those pretty catastrophic outcomes started to seem a lot less likely. We saw basically coal become a dying industry. We saw things like wind and solar get a lot, a lot cheaper, pretty quickly. And just the way activists sort of mobilized this whole narrative. That like now climate change is not just something that really people on the left talk about. It's like quite a mainstream thing to be concerned about. Basically now, with all like the different policies that have been enacted, we're talking about an expectation
That's something more in the realm of two to three degrees, which obviously is still more than 1.5. It's obviously still like... Serious and it's more than what we want, but it's not as bad as people were predicting even let's say 10 years ago. Which is really important. I think it's both an indication that we were actually making more progress, especially when it came to getting rid of coal. I mean, that's really. Been, I think one of the main drivers here, some of it also coming from climate models, getting a little more granular, a little more accurate, which is really important, but at the same time, you know, keep that in mind, you know, two to three degrees is a vastly different world. It does lock in a lot of damage, a lot of human suffering along the way. We don't know what that world will look like, even if we can be fairly sure, I think, that it will fact, actually, you know, one of the things we try to do here at future perfect is look at the whole suite of.
Major threats to humanity's future. And that does include climate change. It also includes things like pandemics, both natural and. Potentially human engineered in the future. It includes things like nuclear war. It includes things like the really hard to predict risk. That AI will become incredibly powerful and may really not want us around. It includes natural threats, asteroids, volcanoes, take your pick. Dylan, within the broader existential. This community, how, how was climate change viewed? Cause I think it's often viewed in a different way than what we might be here. From environmentalists, from even from climate scientists more generally, where I think really this is seen as the number one risk. Yeah. I mean, I think the important thing to. Member here is that in, in the existential risk world, there's a pretty hard. Distinction drawn between things that merely, merely in as many square quotes as possible, kill like no 90 to 99% of people to things that kill everybody. And that can see.
Unintuitive, but the logic is humans could have a vast future spanning millions or billions of years in front of us and wiping out our entire species. Forecloses all of that in a way that even something catastrophic like the black death or something twice as bad as the black death doesn't. That you could still rebuild, it might be a really awful few thousand years, but it's not the end of humanity's story. And I think, to Seagal's point... 10 degrees Celsius warming might just wipe off every human. And even if it doesn't kill them all directly with heat, there's obviously some degree of warming that would kill everyone directly with heat, but there's a point at which...
You kill so many people so fast that sort of global civilization can't go on anymore. And I think some of the more interesting conversations about existential risk are about what that point is. And sort of how that kind of civilizational collapse from a mass casualty event could happen. But the scenarios we're looking at of two to four degrees warming are really bad and they will kill a lot of people. And I really want to underline that as much as possible, that, that something. Not being the end of humanity does not make it good or acceptable, but it doesn't... Reach into a scenario that you hear more speculation about being possible with something like an engineered virus or nuclear war, though even there, there's some debate, AI risk, which most controversial and most speculative of these, that it seems like we have have gotten
It's not under control enough, but under control enough to prevent literally every human from dying. And that's kind of cold comfort. Found that that argument is persuasive to like literally anyone not, not, not versed in this stuff. Uh. Yeah, if you have not like gone to grad school at Oxford or like read the relevant Derek Parfit book, this is probably not going to move you to be calmer about climate change. But it does if you're like a relatively small movement, like existential risk is at this point and have to sort of decide what things you're going to focus on. I think they look at the world and see tons of organizations and politicians and business figures. Investing really heavily on climate change. You have like Bill Gates alone has put billions and billions of dollars into it. And they say sort of, there's some other things that might more plausibly and the human species, maybe I should focus more on those.
Like wrote a book on existential risks. So I feel a little odd sort of being the guy walking you through it. How have you seen sort of those conversations evolve and sort of what were the conversations like when you were talking to these guys and writing that book? Yes, that book. I realize is definitely available in bookstores or for that matter in my apartment because I have a lot of copies it now and times Yes, a bookstore near you bookstore near you at the internet, any kind of sources that you can get books at. I'm pretty sure you could eventually find it somewhere in the back, but yeah, it was, you know, I, I did talk to those people about these questions. And it is weird. I mean, in some ways you mentioned nuclear war and I'm reminded of going back and doing some historical research and you took the way nuclear war was talked about. In the fifties, even the early sixties, and you get these very strange, dr strange love ask. Conversations about, well, you know, this strategy might be 50 million dead, this strategy might be 80 million dead, you know, but we can sort of maybe win this war. And yes, that is sort of
true and yes, you know looking at what we know about climate change, will it be the thing that that ends us all together on its own? No, probably not, you know, even even if things Get probably worse than they seem likely to get at this point. Um, that said, it also connects to so many other things. You know, if climate change does become an essential risk, it probably does so by. Creating so much disruption so much suffering that then it leads to something else worse Maybe it makes that nuclear war more likely make it makes it that much harder for humanity to come together and really stop Up a more serious pandemic. So I think it's important to keep that in mind and. Do use this sometimes say, well, we, we actually do spend a lot on climate change. I've seen estimates that are in the range of 500 billion. Billion, 600 billion per year. When you think about it in a really broad sense, adaptation, energy, everything else, this is not an ignored. Issue. And in fact, in many ways, in the United States, I think it actually gets more attention, more energy than
Generally where Americans tend to put it in terms of polling. Again, we go back to the Manchin deal. I mean, the fact that this is actually pitched as something about inflation kind of... Of tells you a little bit about where this issue ultimately is, perhaps with a median voter. But that said, like you do. Really have to keep in mind that this will utterly change the world and, you know, will it make the world worse than it was? a hundred years ago, 200 years ago, when, you know, we tend to really focus on the progress that humankind has made in terms of life expectancy, in terms of the economy, in terms of political rights. Probably not, you know, almost certainly not, but you have to also keep in mind that you At the very least. And that's another thing here about this is a very different risk than those other ones. You know, war either happens or it doesn't for the most part, did it with a pandemic. Climate change is something that will just grow. And grow and grow with each year. Um, and so that itself I think will be.
Really challenging to handle. Even if you're doing more on a year by year basis because of the way that carbon emissions linker in the atmosphere because of the long-term effect they have, you will still be experiencing We worse than you had the year before worse than that two years before and so forth. So that's going to be challenging, but you know, Segal, I'm curious. You think is, you know, when we were talking about this panel, uh, I think you were, you know, you wanted us to really focus on, we, yes, you could sort of put climate change in that context, but. You didn't want to come out and say well this you're kind of underplaying it I mean, do you think that these kind of conversations do underplay the ultimate effect that climate change will have? Well, I want to go back to like what Dylan was saying a second ago about how, you know, the way of framing this in the existential risks community as like, yeah, climate change is bad, but it's probably not going to be like totally catastrophic in the sense that
going to wipe out every single human on the planet. And you know, I have, Dylan, I've had that same experience of like, when you present that, you know, that community's view to sort of like, a random person, they tend to think it's bad. And they like, you know, they're like, what are you talking about climate change is like the thing to focus on guys. And I think part of what's happening there is that, you know, like, first of all, as you were saying that that community, that sort of existential risk community is like, a lot of people in Oxford, right, like a lot of people in like one particular class background and like geographical situation. I think, when you talk to like, a broader swath of people, part of what they're doing in their response when they say, hey, that's batshit, is like they are capturing an important moral intuition, which I think is saying,
Like, yes, obviously we need to talk about how many deaths climate change might cause. That is one important axis to consider here. But even if it's not totally catastrophic in terms of sheer number of deaths it causes, it could still be very catastrophic along other axes, like the axis of justice, right? If you're in the global south, right, like it's very, easy for us in DC or New York or Oxford or wherever to say like, yeah, I'll be fine with my air conditioning, right? But if you're my relatives in India, Or the Middle East, for you, it might be the end of the world for you, right? And for your family. I think that just of thinking in a very utilitarian style, only about sheer number of deaths, does not exhaust the moral story when we think about climate change as a risk. I mean, I think the step even beyond
Even if humanity totally survives, right, even if this doesn't wipe out all of humanity, okay great, but we also have to think about other species, right? Animal species, what would an ecosystem collapse due to biodiversity. Some models predict that in worst case scenarios, up to 40% of species could end up going extinct by the middle of the century. I mean, that's like worst case scenarios, but that's pretty serious. And a lot of Moral theories think that other animal species and nature itself has its own kind of intrinsic moral worth, right? So I'm just bringing this up to sort of like remind us of something I think we all know but just like that sort of basic fundamental point that it's not just about and it's not just about humans. So there's a broader context we need to really keep in the forefront of our minds when we're talking about how big a risk climate is.
That's important not to galaxy brain your way into somehow being convinced that, you know, we will all just be fine at first off. We don't know if we'll be fine. We found about this issue. We don't know what we found about other issues in many ways. Climate change is like a way of thinking about the future. Future is inherently uncertain. No one can predict it fully. Sort of interesting things I've always thought about climate change though is that that is an attempt to do so. You know, these models are looking to the future and they're giving us one sort of reading in terms of Okay, what will these carbon emissions translate in terms of temperatures? Then they can begin to break that down based off, okay, this could do this to migration. This could do this. To species. Obviously we'll do this to sea level rise. You know, there will be other things changing Will continue to evolve. And I mentioned AI that's a big question mark in my mind, but that if it goes in. In a certain kind of direction could create a completely alternate future. So this is one area I think where we actually do have in some ways more control. You know, it is up to us.
What we can do about at least within the broader carbon picture, trying to create a future that has boundaries. That are safe. I think that's probably a better way to look at it. Safety versus, okay, now we know we'll be okay on the other side. Will be not okay. And, you know, again, we talked about politics. There are other sort of areas of optimism going around renewable all that generation just growing to all time highs last year, we've seen some resurgence around nuclear, which, you know, for a certain group of people in the, in the political sphere Very important when it comes to dealing with this. So all of this sort of, to me, adds up into a picture that, yes, okay, we take that really terrible, really pessimistic, really catastrophic outcome We are making some progress now, apparently, where we make some progress within politics as well at the same time. Time. You are going to have to accept the fact that we're going to have to live with the fact that we will have these summers every summer. They will get. Worse and somehow we just have to manage that. I think when we come back after
One more break. I want to talk again about how we remain optimistic in the face of all the facts. We just mentioned the face of the future that will. Getting warmer, so stick with us. Why is the app that makes using different currencies easy? Need to send dollars to your cousin in Bali fast? Getting paid in a minute. Other currency and don't want to lose out because of inflated exchange rates? Want travel money without having to slog through the currency exchange kiosk? Then wise might just be your answer. Rate, with no markups and no hidden fees. Sent over 100 billion dollars worldwide with Wwise. What's more, over half of those - Sending money abroad or doing business. Let Wise help you manage your money in different currencies with ease.
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One thing that people often point to is the technologies that are improving and in some cases way faster than any of the other technologies. Everybody really thought they would. So like, yes, renewables, wind, solar, all of that. We haven't really even talked yet about carbon capture being like a really promising technology that is maturing and will get cheaper over time. There's also like all these new technologies like hot rock geothermal that are still pretty neglected, but with more research and funding could yield like some exciting developments energy wise. So I think like that is a source of optimism, but we've probably all heard
this at this point that we actually already have a lot of the technology that we need. It's really a lot about political will and again, like I think we said earlier in the show, about changing incentive structures. So that's sort of like actually why I'm feeling more optimistic today, having just heard about this new bill coming out, is because it does seem like it would change incentive structures. And sort of just as a kind of a realist about human behavior, I kind of think that that is what we need. Just like we need to make it palatable for people. To change their ways and unpalatable and unprofitable to not change their ways. So for me, like right now where I'm sitting, having just seen this new build, that's something Me optimism. Yeah, you know, you mentioned carbon capture. That's always been something that's really been interesting to me because that's one thing that really would, assuming this is... Possible. And that should be a gigantic, there's like a 50 point caveat when you talk about
As I said, one of the things about carbon emissions is that they linger in the atmosphere. This is not like conventional air pollution. You slow that down. The air will clean up actually fairly quickly. Carbon, the carbon we do now, will have warming effects for decades. The one thing that could actually change that is carbon capture, if we could ever do that on... An industrial scale because that would actually begin to reverse things much faster than just simply. Trying to change the energy mix over time. And I think that would enable us to actually see real results. Fairly early on, which is one thing I worry about. Like I, I worry a little bit about the idea that you can see more. Ambitious action being put into place. And then five years later, you know, the climate will be warmer for the reasons I just said, will that then have a sort of. Negative effect on that will, will people say, well, what can we do really, you know, maybe we'll try to adapt and we'll just try to live with it, which also brings me another. That I wanted to bring up, which is how should we think about climate change as a problem? I read something...
Few years ago from the Breakthrough Institute, which is a non-partisan-ish technology forward think tank that does a lot on climate change and the environment. And they basically were thinking like, do we think of climate change as a way to change as an asteroid, meaning a single event, a catastrophic event that either happens or doesn't. It could end the world in that way. Or do we think about it more as the metaphor they use was global diabetes. Basically, this is something that's chronic that will be with us always. It will make things worth, especially if we don't manage it, but that's something we should be focused on. We should be managing it personally. I see it more along the lines of that chronic condition. But Dylan, what do you think? With that metaphor in terms of both the politics, but also just, again, the psychology of handling something that will not be going away no matter what we do. - I had not heard that metaphor before, but I like it quite a bit, and I think it's-- Important to me also because there are a lot of fairly neglected sort of other types of global diabetes ...the global air pollution problem which is obviously very connected to climate change but imperfectly connected and...
Things like moving from coal to natural gas, do a little bit for climate change and do a lot more to reduce air pollution and air pollution deaths. That's something that's killing millions. Of people every single year. Tuberculosis is killing millions of people every single year and we're kind of stuck. In terms of funding and methods for getting a vaccine for tuberculosis, I have a friend, Josh Morrison, who runs One Day Sooner, which sort of advocates for challenge trials and was advocating that in the middle of COVID to get a COVID vaccine faster. Being where you sort of deliberately infect a small group of people with a disease to test a virus, sort of in a... World environment where they get best in the world treatment. And that didn't wind up being. And super important for COVID, but he's really excited about it for tuberculosis many if not most people in developing countries have an inactive form of tuberculosis and so Doing trials in the populations, you're almost never going to get enough power to...
Learn what you need to learn. Anyway, that was way too much about tuberculosis, but there are a lot of these, Problems of the scale of killing millions or tens of millions of people, mostly in poor countries, mostly in... Countries of brown and black people that really have affected the world for years and years and years. Is a new one of them. And that's awful. And we should not be adding another set of problems there. But I think it also, there's kind of a psychological outlook toward climate change that this sort of model of it is in tension with. I remember our-- My colleague, Ezra Klein, wrote a nice column a few months ago, sort of encouraging people to still have children despite climate change. And I saw some pushback of people being like, who's not having kids? because of climate change. And then people like me are like, I constantly hear people saying that they don't want to have kids because of climate change. And I think it's definitely a class. I think it's definitely a sort of, you went to a liberal arts college and, um, have advanced degree.
And live in a city or college town or something. But I think there are real anxieties there. And I think recent developments have Given me, look, if you don't want to have kids because you don't want to have kids, that's great. And if you want to use climate because there's a lot of stigma against childless people who are childless. It's by choice, like go forth. But it feels increasingly offensive to me to hear people in rich countries. Trees who will have air conditioning, who will not die, who will be okay, appropriating a problem of. The global south to be about this. And I like the global chronic-- Condition framing in part because it refocuses it on the people who are suffering most from it. Yeah. It's, it's an awkward subject because it's, it's very hard to sort of make that case to, to note all these other. Problems, many of which have been with us for a very long time. You talked about extreme poverty, talk about diseases like...
Turkey locusts. I mean, that's in some ways the background and perhaps that's why we don't focus on it to the same degree. We've kind of just grown up This is the way the world is to a certain extent. This is the level of suffering we're simply accustomed to our customers. Seeing elsewhere, whereas with climate change, it is changing and we feel ourselves changing and we're implicated in a different kind of way. I mean, we're all, we're all part of the global economy. All implicated in how goods, how wealth is distributed around the world. And some of the similar way, we're all implicated in terms of the carbon emissions we emit, but we focus on this perhaps because we can feel it. Changing, but that doesn't mean we should lose sight of all of those other problems that crazed suffering themselves. Whether you're, you know, you're dying of a serious disease or whether it's a climate disaster, you know, if the end result is the same, it may not feel that different, I suppose. And you know, one thing here, The kids issue and that's something I think about a lot. For that first time I was on the weeds, we were talking about the decline of the.
Birth rate here in the US and around the world. I don't think people are mostly doing it, having fewer kids or no kids because of climate change, but I do think that's on people's mind. That really crystallizes it. And do you want to sort of create a world where, you know, you can continue to grow. You can continue to reduce. Over time, you can continue in that way. That doesn't have to necessarily be one you can only have if you don't get. About climate change. I mean, these two things have to be put together in that way. And that sort of brings us to the idea that these are all chronic conditions to manage. None of these will be going away over or something we have to figure out ways to deal with, I think, really. Um, I'm curious what you, what you think about this. Yeah. I know that we've like, we've have. Some talk in recent days about the phrase climate emergency and whether we should be viewing this as
emergency, which sounds more like the asteroid, right? Whereas the diabetes is more like, okay, chronic condition. I would like split that up into two separate things. Like if you talk about climate emergency, right? And if you're just sort of having like a linguistic debate about like, what's the, you know, psychologically most effective way to frame this for the public, if you're purely talking about like, what framing do you use when you talk to the public? Well, that's just like an empirical question, I think. So we should just look at that empirically in terms of psychology studies and polls and see what works better. And I've seen multiple studies at this point just showing the answer is like the boring social science answer of it depends. It varies by population. Subpopulation. It depends who you're talking to. If you're talking to a Republican, using the phrase extreme weather might work better than using the phrase climate change or climate emergency if you're talking to Dems.
Climate change or climate emergency might work better. This is true, by the way, not only in the U.S., but I've even seen studies about this kind of phrasing in places like Taiwan, right? So if you're just talking about the linguistics and how you package it for the public, it's empirical. I think we should just look at what the studies say about what works best for each population. But there is this other sense in which we're using the term climate emergency, and that's sort of like this whole question that has been rolling around in recent weeks of whether Biden should officially declare a state of climate emergency. That is something different from like the purely linguistic, how do we package this question. If you officially declare a climate emergency, that allows you as the president to do all sorts of things, use the Defense Production Act to
you know, do new stuff on renewables, etc. Like it could unleash all these executive orders, right? It has these like very concrete outcomes. That is like a whole nother question. I have actually heard from some insiders the possibility that the whole, you know, the whole question of whether Biden was going to declare A climate emergency officially, that might have been, you know, sort of the threat of that possibly looming might have been one of the things that helped break the impasse with Manchin and could possibly have helped suddenly catalyze this bill. I don't know, just a possibility, but I think that goes to show that even if a president doesn't actually end up declaring an official climate emergency.
Just having that as a possibility, kind of like looming in the background of maybe that will be declared, maybe that will unleash all these executive orders, that possibility in itself can shift the Overton window and can change what people are willing to consider doing. Doing, what deals they're willing to consider making. So, you know, I think like that, that has a lot of power. I think, of course, from an activist perspective, I'm sure activists would love to see Biden officially declare climate emergency. In addition to this new bill we're seeing, even though even just the prospect of him possibly declaring that possibly has already done a good bit of work. I just want to say I love the idea of the president sort of threatening to declare a climate emergency being the thing that Touches off this this bill because it just makes me think that
there's a lot more going behind the scenes in Washington than I thought, and it really does seem like there's real legislative hardball and political hardball, which is not kind of how I viewed the Democrats. So. If that can happen. I mean, that really opens a lot of doors, frankly, but it also to me is really interesting if that is the case, or even just a room. What we're talking about around the politics of this is that it does drive home the fact that. As much as you sometimes hear, I think climate scientists and others saying, well, you know, you, you can't negotiate with, with mother nature. I think that's something that the Bill McKibben has said a few times that the facts are the facts. Something politics can do about that. You simply have to adapt to the facts. That's what you have to follow. Even with those who are trying to do. Most around this in practice, that's not really case in practice. There are still, you're looking for political deals to be made. You're making negotiations as. You just said, I think you're thinking about how do I message this to different groups using empirical data to figure out what will appeal to other people? What will appeal to this other group?
What this says to me is that we are managing it, even if we do talk about it in catastrophic terms. Or as a binary or as something we either keep global temperature below a certain level or that's the end. In practice, this is another political problem, perhaps one of the most complicated political problems. Problems we really have or will continue to have, but it is a political and also an energy and also an economic problem. Probably in ways not too dissimilar to how we've dealt with other problems, whether we'll succeed or not. That's another question. There will be no succeed or fail. I think it will be sort of in that spectrum and we will either manage. This or we will suffer or suffer more, I suppose. You know, and I think, you know, one sort of like last thought here is that another. Paradox to see around climate change is that we, on one hand, we have built, built, built our way into this problem. We have built coal plants. We've built urban infrastructure. Millions and billions of cars. We're also going to build, build, build our way to get out of it, which is sort of our
Veronica, I think we need to build all that clean energy. We need to build all of that potentially carbon capture equipment. To build ways to adapt. We'll need to build air conditioning to protect people. All this is to say is that this is a long-term management problem, it's a long-term political problem. It's not fixed today, it won't be fixed tomorrow. But ultimately I take away. A slightly greater feeling of optimism I think that I went into both because of the deal but also because of our conversation today. Now, um, I don't know, you know, what, you know, what will look like for my, for my. It is five years old right now. What we're all here inherit, but we'll try our best to make it better. I'll just leave with you. I mean, you've, you've been doing this for a long time. You mentioned all those other problems that we have to face as well. I mean, ultimately, do you feel, how do you feel?
Ultimately land when it comes to thinking about climate change specifically? I have an optimism of cynicism in that I think where I differ with some of the climate movement is that I think anything you saw some with COVID as well, of hopes that these kinds of emergencies were opportunities to remake American society. In a more social democratic, egalitarian, sort of just. Racially just way. I think you see that in the vision of the Green New Deal, of the Sunrise Movement. You see it, I think a lot of Ed Yong's writing about COVID has had that kind of undertone of like, we should have used this to get universal health care and we didn't. I don't really think that's how American politics works. We sometimes do little things in emergencies, but we rarely totally restructure society. But what we can do is Use some of the grosser and crasser elements of our political system and twist them for good. There's a political scientist
Kelsey who coined the term green spiral. Her dissertation was all about how... A green spiral caused us to fix the ozone problem. And what she means by that is that you got industries that had invested in interest in solving the problem. You had industries that produced alternatives to hydrocarbons that were causing the ozone problem who really wanted to push for a solution. And I think part of what we're seeing in some of the more successful climate actions has been a triumph. Not just of activism, which is very important and I don't want to, to, to underrate, but there's. A real solar lobby now, there's a real wind lobby now, there's a real battery lobby now, and that kind of. Corporate lobbying is not my favorite aspect of the American political system, but it can build on itself and then they get investments that in turn build on itself.
The size of their industry and in turn build their political power, which in turn pushes for more investments that build the size of their industry, that in turn build their political power. And I think this deal, like some previous small things, like there's a small section called 45Q A tax credit for carbon storage or capture that was pushed by some oil industry people for fairly cynical reasons, but also is now being used for things that are better for the climate, like direct air removal. You have to make these kind of... Oddball political coalitions. And no, it's not the America of my dreams, but it's the one we live in, and it's one where decent things are still possible. So I think that's the shape of my optimism at this point. Well, you know, when I started this week I was...
Worried that we would be downwardly spiraling during this conversation. Now I feel like we've upwardly spiraled at least a little bit, but that's all for us today. Matthew since the girl Samuel for joining the panel our producer is Sophie Lalonde Libby Nelson is our editorial advisor Ambra Hall is the deputy editorial director for talk podcast and I'm your host for today Brian Walsh This episode is part of a series featuring topics and ideas from Vox's Future Perfect section, and is made possible by... With a grant from the BEMC Foundation. The Weeds is part of the Box Media Podcast Network.
It's summertime, and whether you're sipping that Mi Espresso or practicing radical optimism, there's been a lot of fun. Of new music to celebrate. And as the temperatures rise and the charts begin to shift, new contenders for the next summer hit begin to crop up. These next few weeks on Switched On We're going to be looking at the making of these summer hits, specifically Billie Eilish's new record and Charlie Puth's new single. Should he be a bigger artist? We think so. Find out live with him in the studio. Join me, Charlie Harding, co-host of Switched on Pop, for a Making of a Summer Hit series sponsored by Method. You can find Switched on Pop anywhere you get podcasts. you
Transcript generated on 2024-05-28.