In this episode, I interview Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University. Most of his work has focused on the mitigation and adaptation sides of climate change. A quick reading of Professor Yohe’s bio will give you a sense of what a heavy hitter he is: - He is the author of more than 175 scholarly articles, several books, and many contributions to media coverage of climate issues. - He has been involved since the early 1990’s with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a senior member. - He was a Lead Author for four different chapters in the Third Assessment Report that was published in 2001 and as Convening Lead Author for the last chapter of the contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report that was published in 2007. - He was a Convening Lead Author for Chapter 18 of the Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report on “Detection and Attribution” and a Lead Author for Chapter 1 on “Points of Departure”. - Most recently, he has been a contributing author to the IPCC Special Report on a 1.5 degree temperature target for mitigation. In this episode we discuss: - Professor Yohe’s history at Wesleyan and how his views of climate change have and have not changed since he entered the field in the early 80’s. - His views on the three choices our planet has in response to climate change. - How an economist approaches the issue of studying and addressing climate change as well as Professor Yohe’s work with the IPCC. - Professor Yohe’s views on the political climate and the role policy and regulations play in climate change, including his thoughts on the Green New Deal. - Professor Yohe’s thoughts on Tobacco, Big Oil, President Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Michael Bennet. - His advice to people who are looking for ways to get involved in the fight against climate change. I hope you enjoy the show! You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 and email at firstname.lastname@example.org, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and provide suggestions for future guests or topics you'd like to see covered on the show.
In this episode, I interview Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University. Most of his work has focused on the mitigation and adaptation sides of climate change.
A quick reading of Professor Yohe’s bio will give you a sense of what a heavy hitter he is:
He is the author of more than 175 scholarly articles, several books, and many contributions to media coverage of climate issues.
He has been involved since the early 1990’s with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a senior member.
He was a Lead Author for four different chapters in the Third Assessment Report that was published in 2001 and as Convening Lead Author for the last chapter of the contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report that was published in 2007.
He was a Convening Lead Author for Chapter 18 of the Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report on “Detection and Attribution” and a Lead Author for Chapter 1 on “Points of Departure”.
Most recently, he has been a contributing author to the IPCC Special Report on a 1.5 degree temperature target for mitigation.
Professor Yohe continues to serve as a member of the New York (City) Panel on Climate Change (NPCC); the NPCC was created in 2008 by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help the City respond to the risks of climate change. The third iteration of NPCC reports was released on March 15, 2019, at the offices of the New York Academy of Sciences.
He has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the “Hidden (climate change) Cost of Oil” on March 30, 2006, the Senate Energy Committee on the Stern Review on February 14, 2007, and the Senate Banking Committee on “Material Risk from Climate Change and Climate Policy” on October 31, 2007.
In April of 2011, Professor Yohe was appointed Vice Chair of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee for the Obama Administration by then Under-Secretary of Commerce Jane Lubchenko for the Third National Climate Assessment. The Third National Climate Assessment Report was released by President Obama in a Rose Garden ceremony on May 6, 2014.
He served as a member of the National Research Council Committee on America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change between 2008-2011 and the National Research Council Committee on Stabilization Targets for Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations that was chaired by Susan Solomon from 2009 through its release in 2010. His more recent activities include the National Academies serving as the Review Editor for their report on the “social cost of carbon” and as a member of their Panel to review the 4th National Climate Assessment. He was also a member of their Panel that prepared the 2017-2027 Decadal Survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space for NASA in 2018.
Professor Yohe is currently Co-editor-in-Chief, along with Michael Oppenheimer, of Climatic Change (since August of 2010).
His opinion pieces now frequently appear in various national media venues.
All of that is a long way of saying Professor Gary Yohe is an expert that has dedicated much of his career towards the fight against climate change, and anything I may accomplish on my journey is standing on his (and people like his) shoulders.
In this episode we discuss:
Professor Yohe’s history at Wesleyan and how his views of climate change have and have not changed since he entered the field in the early 80’s.
His views on the three choices our planet has in response to climate change.
How an economist approaches the issue of studying and addressing climate change as well as Professor Yohe’s work with the IPCC.
Professor Yohe’s views on the political climate and the role policy and regulations play in climate change, including his thoughts on the Green New Deal.
Professor Yohe’s thoughts on Tobacco, Big Oil, President Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Michael Bennet.
His advice to people who are looking for ways to get involved in the fight against climate change.
I hope you enjoy the show!
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and provide suggestions for future guests or topics you'd like to see covered on the show.
Links for topics discussed in this episode:
Gary Yohe Biography from Wesleyan University: https://gyohe.faculty.wesleyan.edu/
Bill McKibben: http://billmckibben.com/
Michael Mann at Penn Station: https://www.michaelmann.net/
Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth: https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/
Michael Bennett: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bennet
The Paris Agreement: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/d2hhdC1pcy
Center for American Progress: https://www.americanprogress.org/
Resources for the Future: https://www.rff.org/
Environmental Defense Fund: https://www.edf.org/
National Climate Assessment: https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/
Song Gary commissioned with Baba Brinkman, Erosion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEx-F-pSdXA
Song Gary commissioned with Baba Brinkman, Destruction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W68mLkxYWg
Song Gary commissioned with Baba Brinkman, Redemption: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0awFSnTeI4
Jason Jacobs: Hello, everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Hello, everyone. Jason here. My guest is Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, which also happens to be my alma mater. Professor Yohe specializes in microeconomic theory, natural resources, and environmental economics. He's also a researcher on the economics of climate change and integrated assessment modeling. He was a senior member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC as it is called, that was awarded a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. He's also been involved with the IPCC since the mid 90s and has served, among other capacities, as Lead Author for four different chapters in the IPCC Third Assessment Report and the Convening Lead Author for the last chapter of the contribution of Working Group II to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Jason Jacobs: All that being said, Gary's an accomplished guy and brings a unique and different perspective to the podcast. We covered a wide range of topics including Gary's history both in teaching and also in climate change. We talked about Gary's views on the most impactful things to bring about change and some things that maybe will be less impactful or that don't have the political will to go through like a carbon tax. We talked about our current president and the geopolitical landscape. We also talked about how concerned to be or how optimistic to be, given all the things that we're seeing now and the things that have been trending over the last several decades.
Jason Jacobs: Okay. Gary Yohe, welcome to the show.
Gary Yohe: Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here.
Jason Jacobs: I'm happy to have you. It's funny. So you have been a professor at Wesleyan University for how long?
Gary Yohe: I started here in 1977.
Jason Jacobs: Awesome. 1977.
Gary Yohe: 42 or 43 years, something.
Jason Jacobs: So, I went to Wesleyan University as an undergraduate. I graduated in '98, which means you were here when I was here.
Gary Yohe: I don't remember you.
Jason Jacobs: Well, in fact, I would be very surprised if any professor remembers me. I'm a little sad about it but I'm a very passionate person but it took until after college and into my professional experience before I really uncovered how to tap into that. So, it makes me sad that there are people like you that are doing such high impact things for the world that were also doing those things when I was here that it was just two ships passing in the night.
Gary Yohe: It happens to all of us. I can remember when I was a graduate student at Yale in economics sitting in the back of the room for seminars. My job was to try to figure out a really good question to ask and the guy would talk and I would think and think and think and think. About four minutes later, I'd have a really good question to ask. That topic had long since passed. There was no point in asking that question. It happens to everybody. That's part of the learning experience.
Jason Jacobs: It is. I think another thing that was surprising to me as I learned more about your background is that, at least in my experience at Wesleyan, and I don't know if this is representative of all liberal arts, it was pretty contained in terms of we looked at history or science or different topics but in a way that wasn't really very well integrated with the world, whereas I feel like with your work, you've not only been looking at the intersection of economics and climate change but also actively consulting with the government and with industry and with the IPCC reports and the scientists so is that a common thing in liberal arts or is your work an exception?
Gary Yohe: I think my work is an exception. I think Wesleyan was the best place for me. Wesleyan is a liberal arts university with extraordinary faculty across three divisions. We encourage students to come in and follow their nose. They may come in thinking, "I want to major in history," "I want to major in biology," or, "I want to major in something else." Advisors will say, "That's fine. Go take some of that, but go take some of this. Try a dance class. Try a humanities class." And that's what we do. That's what liberal arts is all about.
Gary Yohe: Wesleyan treated me the same way they treat their students. I came in as a theoretical economist for two or three or four years. I was doing decision-making under an uncertainty and the environment of economic models. In 1981 or so, Bill Nordhaus phoned me up and said, I learned environmental economics from him and Charlie [Kubnotz 00:04:55], "Would you like to be part of a National Academy of Sciences study on climate change?" Back then, there might be four economists in the planet that had any idea what climate change was all about. But it seemed like a good idea at the time so I said, "Yes."
Gary Yohe: That's how it started. This university allowed me to stop being what they hired me to be and allowed me to go and do climate change and instead of publishing in really, really good economics journals, I started to publish in science and nature.
Jason Jacobs: What year was that?
Gary Yohe: '82, '83.
Jason Jacobs: Got it. So, you've been actively studying climate change since '82, '83?
Gary Yohe: That's right.
Jason Jacobs: And I guess, given that that's a lot of years, what's different about your view of climate change now or about the problem then when you started?
Gary Yohe: I know a lot more about it and the science has progressed, the economics has progressed, but the major message has not. Back then, the major message was, "If you want to worry about it and why would you want to worry about it?" We hadn't yet quantified the damages. What you have to do a slow emissions, slow fossil fuel consumption, that sort of thing. You were not allowed to talk about adaptation, how to respond to the damages of-
Jason Jacobs: Not allowed by who?
Gary Yohe: The environmental community. They thought, if you talked about adaptation, you were giving up on the problem.
Jason Jacobs: What ability did they have to make rules?
Gary Yohe: They didn't make any rules for me. I ended up worrying about adaptation and mitigation. The message that still is around and if we had been able to articulate it in 1983 or four might have been useful. The planet has three choices, mitigate, adapt, or suffer. You have to do something but we are already suffering. It is irreversible. This is not your grandfather's pollution. It can't fix it. We have committed the planet to what we've committed the planet to and you can't go back and take it. All you can do is ameliorate what the future will look like.
Jason Jacobs: Got it. So, you feel like we are already past the point of no return, is that what I'm hearing?
Gary Yohe: No. We passed the point where it is impossible to say that, "I'm not observing climate change and I don't see any impacts on human activity or ecosystems or anything that somebody might really worry about."
Gary Yohe: The point of no return is when you commit the planet to, I'd say, three degrees warming, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, so that instead of three or four feet of sea level rise, we're talking about 20 or 25 feet of sea level rise, so you're talking about New York is in trouble, Boston's in trouble, Miami's in trouble, all of Florida's in trouble. That's the point of no return.
Jason Jacobs: How far off are we from that? Is there a clear idea of what threshold would be crossed to bring something like that about?
Gary Yohe: We are, and those were degrees Celsius. We are at about one degree warming since pre-industrial levels. In equilibrium, we have probably committed the planet to two degrees warming. The jury is still out from the scientific community about whether or not if you reduce concentrations, that the temperatures will actually start to come back down. We're not sure that's going to happen. If it doesn't happen, we have a lot of work to do in the next 50 years.
Jason Jacobs: A lot of work in terms of adaptation?
Gary Yohe: A lot of work in terms of mitigation as well, in terms of slowing the pace of the emissions of greenhouse gases, the heat-trapping gases that cause the planet to warm because if … This is a debate for Bill McKibben. He created 350. It was the target for atmospheric concentrations that would stabilize temperature at some particular level. We've blown past 350 a long, long time ago. We're at about 430.
Jason Jacobs: And you're talking about part per million, PPM?
Gary Yohe: That's parts per million, carbon.
Jason Jacobs: Don't lose your thought. Is that the best metric for a regular person who's concerned about climate track in terms of knowing where we are against this problem?
Gary Yohe: I don't know. It's one of two or three, I think, manageable metrics. Atmospheric concentrations are certainly things that are reported. They make sense. They depend on cumulative emissions, not annual emissions but emissions over a long period of time. So that's another thing that would be reported. There is an uncertain correlation between cumulative emissions and increases in temperature. When I talk, I talk about cumulative emissions. The reason for that is that it allows you to think about, it's not necessary to be really, really strict year in and year out, year in and year out. What is required is that over the course of 10 or 15 years, you were very strict, so if you go a little high early, you've committed yourself to going a little low late or if you get really aggressive early, then you've bought yourself some time and you can emit a little bit more late.
Jason Jacobs: It's cumulative emissions as expressed by what, so it's not PPM but how do you talk about it?
Gary Yohe: It's gigatons of carbon emitted across the planet and people are now sort of keeping track of that. Every country that's a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change keeps track of how much it emits. You add that up and you go from year to year to year and you find out from that whether you're above a trajectory that will hold temperatures to something that you would like, like one and a half or two degrees or if you're above that, you find that out.
Jason Jacobs: Got it. And so with Bill McKibben and the 350 and now we're at 430, is there a similar aggregate number for the cumulative emissions that is commonly tracked?
Gary Yohe: It's something like 1,700 gigatons of carbon and we emit about 30 gigatons of carbon a year.
Jason Jacobs: Given that carbon is … I mean, it's invisible and you talked about how there's symptoms today but I think one problem that we're having in terms of addressing the problem urgently is that I think the symptoms that people in the Western world would tell you is, "Gosh, it feels windier when I'm walking around in the city than it used to," or, "We didn't even have a spring this year. It just went from winter to summer."
Gary Yohe: So, there are a number of those sorts of things that people observe. They look out their kitchen window and they see the impacts of climate change and warming are not always bad but if they watch the news last night, they found out that there were 55 tornadoes in the middle of the county in the United States of America in one day in May. That has never happened before.
Gary Yohe: A couple of years ago, there were 42 inches of rain in Houston under Hurricane Harvey that was created not because of climate change caused the hurricane, because climate change took away the steering currents that told Harvey where to go. It got over Houston and said, "I don't know what to do. I'm just going to sit here and dump rain." They got 42 inches. It was the third 500-year flood in the previous five years in one place.
Gary Yohe: And so, for somebody like me, what you're looking at is the statistics. What is the likelihood that the distribution of weather associated with old climate would generate those sorts of events. The answer is it's very, very small. The climate has changed. The distribution of events has changed.
Gary Yohe: A question I get frequently. "Is this the new normal?" No. I have no idea what the new normal is. It's just the snapshot on the way to the new normal. We get to choose how bad the new normal is going to be.
Jason Jacobs: One thing I worry about is that … So, take these extreme events. Let's call it a tornado. This is a wildfire or flood, there's flooding in the Midwest or the wildfires in Los Angeles so when these events happen, for those that are personally effected or the friends and loved ones of those that are personally effected, they get mobilized the same way that if you're friends with a family whose child gets pediatric cancer. Then, all of a sudden, you get mobilized. You didn't know pediatric cancer was such a big issue but you're going to turn into their biggest fundraiser and champion but it kind of takes one of those events to awaken most people.
Jason Jacobs: So, maybe if there's an extreme event like what you're describing in my town or my city or my state, that I get mobilized but that's only one town or one city and one state in a whole wide world. So, what's it's going to take to mobilize everybody? Is it just kind of the random chance of Whac-a-mole of eventually getting the extreme event in my place or there's something we can do to accelerate that urgency in a widespread way?
Gary Yohe: I think that is an obligation of those of us who study this and those of you who communicate this to point out that it's just not, "Oh, it happened there. It's not going to happen here. It happened there. It's not going to happen there." Or, that the Paradise fire in Northern California. They had had fires just about every other year on the woods that abutted the town. Those fires never got into places where people lived. So, they got used to the idea. "Fires are going to happen. Somebody's going to fix it. It's going to go away. It's not a big deal."
Gary Yohe: What climate change did was impose a drought on the forests and allow beetles not to die over the winter, so all of a sudden, the woods that used to be perfectly comfortable with having routine fires were kindling. All of a sudden, a spark from a muffler from a car going down the middle of the state road in the middle of the forest started a fire. In two and a half hours, it was inside the town where people lived. That is a fundamental change in what experience is.
Gary Yohe: So, the message has to be that you may be used to having these disasters and watching it on TV and stuff like that but begin to think about why are they so intense? That fire blew up. There were tornadoes above houses that took fire 500 feet in the air. That has never happened before. So, what do we know? This is not good. We have to worry about this problem.
Jason Jacobs: When you say, "All of a sudden," these are a set of underlying conditions that have played out over decades and decades.
Gary Yohe: Right, right. All of a sudden is that these events start to show up. What opens your eyes is, "Boy, they are really intense." Maria was too intense for a standard hurricane in that time of year over Puerto Rico. Harvey was too intense. Florence, the next year, was too intense. You at some point said, "I'm not fond of forensics," but there's something called forensic attribution, which is how much of the intensity of an extreme weather event can be attributed to human-induced climate change, i.e., it would not have been that intense. The hurricane would have happened but it would not have been intense, as much as it was without climate change.
Jason Jacobs: Is there a word for that area of study?
Gary Yohe: Forensic attribution. Michael Mann does it. If you want to interview somebody that would be really, really good on the science stuff, you should look for him. He's at Penn State and he loves talking to people.
Jason Jacobs: So, is it true that the symptoms that you're describing here are based on emissions that we emitted decades ago and that the emissions that we're doing today, the symptoms aren't going to play out until decades from now?
Gary Yohe: Yes, and no. Depends on cumulative emissions, so what happened in the past has contributed to atmospheric concentrations but that does not mean that emissions this year and next year and the year after that don't contribute to the intensity and frequency of damages that the planet and ecosystems and humans and stuff will face. What is true is because of what I just said, the most valuable emissions to remove from the history of greenhouse gas are the ones you emit today because their damages will persist for 100 years.
Jason Jacobs: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's like a fresh cycle, essentially when it goes up, it goes up with a … I don't know if you call it a half-life.
Gary Yohe: It's exactly half-life. The half-life of carbon dioxide-
Jason Jacobs: Because we knew that. I had no confidence in that.
Gary Yohe: The half-life of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 100 years.
Jason Jacobs: I heard hundreds from some people. Is that an overstatement?
Gary Yohe: No. Its half-life is 100 years. The lifetime of a molecule of carbon that we emit today is potentially 500 years, 1,000 years.
Jason Jacobs: Have we faced a problem that has similar characteristics to this in the history of humans on the planet?
Gary Yohe: Not in my life. I don't think so. I think that this … I'm an economist so I'll give you the jargon. This is the mother of all discounted value, long-term future considerations, enormous uncertainty problems for which the answer is iterative risk management, recognize that you're not going to make policy for the next 100 years and not have to change it.
Gary Yohe: Take into account where you want to be in 100 years and make a policy for 20 years, understanding that after 20 years, you're going to have to make an adjustment and you're going to adjust mitigation, how much emissions you're going to reduce, adaptation, where you're going to make investments in that and how much you're going to suffer.
Gary Yohe: The other thing to think about is mitigation and adaptation are investments, just like you're used to. Financial investments are exactly the same as mitigation and adaptation. You spend the money now, and you get the benefits downstream.
Jason Jacobs: In terms of your work, you've got economists and you've got climate scientists and everybody's thinking about climate change. Are those efforts separate and distinct or deeply collaborative?
Gary Yohe: Deeply collaborative.
Jason Jacobs: Can you explain a bit about the work that you do?
Gary Yohe: Starting in 1982, there was one committee and there were a couple of scientists, a couple of economists, a couple of sociologists on this panel. That was the beginning. After a while, there were communities of people that worried about adaptation and communities of people that worried about the implications of emissions and the costs of reducing emissions. So, there were three communities.
Gary Yohe: For a very long time, we all met for two weeks in Snowmass, Colorado and talked to each other about what we have done over the past year and designed experiments in terms of the modeling that everybody would do and come back and compare the results.
Gary Yohe: I got lucky, one, by being at Wesleyan and, two, by majoring in five different things when I was at the University of Pennsylvania. One of them was philosophy. One of them was mathematics. That where I ended up. One of them was physics, one of them was chemical engineering, and one of them was chemistry.
Jason Jacobs: You have five majors?
Gary Yohe: I changed majors a lot. I only had one major when I left but I changed majors a lot.
Jason Jacobs: Phew! I was about to have a major inferiority complex.
Gary Yohe: You all should know that the reason I got out of physics, chemistry, and chemical engineering is because they had labs in the afternoon and I was playing Division I golf. I wanted to be able to practice in the afternoon.
Jason Jacobs: So, can we then give golf credit for all of the accomplishments that you've give to the climate fight over the last dozens of years?
Gary Yohe: Probably. To some degree. What I learned in my college career is the vocabulary of lots and lots of people with whom I will end up collaborating. I can talk to an atmospheric [inaudible 00:20:16]. I can't tell him what to do but I won't understand when he tells me what he's done and why it's important.
Jason Jacobs: So, it's obvious to me where the climate scientists fit in. When I think about economics and my caveat is that I was a terrible economics student so be thankful that you didn't know me when I-
Gary Yohe: But you've never been in this office before.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. Maybe you could have turned me around. I could have gotten one of the most improved player award, but when I think about economics, I think about things like GDP growth in perpetuity, for example, and I think about some alternate viewpoints like this book that I've partially read. I haven't finished it but it's called Doughnut Economics. Are you familiar with that one? That it essentially talks about how economics needs to be fundamentally rewired for the next chapter of human history where it isn't tied to GDP growth because GDP growth doesn't factor in the toll that that growth takes on the planet. So, either we need to decouple it like the eco-modernists say where you are untethering that growth from the natural resource or you need to rethink economics to not be about growth but to be essentially about staying in balance, in harmony with people's livelihoods and surroundings. So, that was a long-winded way of asking what is the economist's role in helping avert this planetary crisis?
Gary Yohe: Economists who are worried about climate change have to realize that climate policy is not going to solve all of those social problems that you just mentioned. What economics that we know and calibrated to GDP and energy intensity and things like that allows us to do is, in the first approximation, think about what it will cost to change the emissions, how that will play out in distribution across the planet in very aggregate terms and you get a picture of what it looks like to adapt and decisions for adaptation are easier to think about in economic terms because they really are cost benefit problems, very specific locations so people can tell you what would be the benefits and how much will it cost and is it worth it to do that?
Gary Yohe: Mitigation is much harder because it's much more international, depends on how negotiations go and free rider problems and uncertainty and that sort of thing. So, the best you get out of economics is sort of a vague picture of the distribution of possible outcomes and some idea of why you might get on a high trajectory and why you might get on a low trajectory, which doesn't sound very significant but the level of uncertainty in climate models is about the same size.
Gary Yohe: Thinking about how this atmosphere works to manipulate the climate across the globe and be manifest in the weather across the globe in specific locations is an enormously problem. So, we're doing the best we can with what we can do but we're trying to recognize that climate policy isn't going to fix all the world's problems. We're going to take the world's problems as a given, work on what climate policy should look like.
Jason Jacobs: Is your piece trying to think through what policy will bring about certain behaviors from the market?
Gary Yohe: Yeah, or certain behaviors by decision-makers who might not be playing in the market. They just have their own view of how they're going to make decisions and what they think is important.
Jason Jacobs: And how does it work? Do you have an opinion on a policy path, for example, that you're rooting for and then go do the work to see if it will support or refute or does the work lead you to the hypothesis?
Gary Yohe: It sort of goes back and forth but it's usually the work leads you to a hypothesis. On the side, there will be some positive economic analysis that comes from the roots of economic theory and for a developed country that tells you this policy would be better than that policy.
Gary Yohe: So, a carbon tax. Every economist that I know agree that you have to price carbon. There are lots and lots of different ways of pricing carbon. The simplest one is a carbon tax. Cap and trade is another one where the markets decide what price a cap and trade is. If neither of those are politically feasible, you can impose regulations in technology standards.
Jason Jacobs: Is political feasibility a criteria in the recommendations that you make as an economist?
Gary Yohe: Eventually. If the first thing you do is try to do the hard core economics but then you say, for example, "We can achieve, on average, the same outcome with the carbon tax or cap and trade except that cap and trade has a variable price on carbon and businesses don't like variable prices." So that becomes another source of uncertainty.
Gary Yohe: And so, pure economic theory says a carbon tax is the best idea. In the United States of America, the only place a tax can be written is the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives. That's just not going to happen. So, okay. We figured it out. That would be a really good thing. Dick [Schmalenzie 00:25:11] tells you that will never happen. And you say, "Okay. Well, we're going to have to live with that."
Jason Jacobs: Why do you think that is, that it'll never happen, given that there's such consensus in the economic community that it's the most powerful lever that we have?
Gary Yohe: There is not consensus among the members of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives. Historically, the Ways and Means Committee occasionally decides it wants to impose a tax and it does. Then, it think it's done and, "We're finished with that problem. We'll move onto another problem." Climate is not one of those problems. Once you pass a tax, you're done. Next year, it has to be bigger than this year. The year after that, it has to be bigger than the year from now, and you have to figure out, one, at what rate should it go up and, two, how you get a monolithic institution of decision-making to make adjustments year after year after year after year.
Jason Jacobs: So, when it comes to this kind of tax policy historically, I am certainly not a historian in this area so one question that comes to mind is is there precedent in terms of as this kind of tax policy has been shaped and passed, what has the interplay been between these policymakers and the economists? Is seems like this the economist's lane and the policymakers are unequipped to properly access without the trusted economist making recommendations and if the trusted economist are making, it sounds like a consistent recommendation, then is there precedent for policymakers just ignoring that on other issues besides climate and carbon tax?
Gary Yohe: Not sure. They certainly do it for this, and the replacement has been cap and trade in a lot of places. There's cap and trade in New England. There's cap and trade in California. California has a wonderful cap and trade program. Jerry Brown used it to fix the economic harm and problems of the state of California, generate a couple billion dollars a year in revenue and they use that to underwrite investments in adaptation. That worked. That worked.
Gary Yohe: Okay. Fine. Good. But if Jerry Brown had gone to Sacramento and said, "I want to tax carbon," that wouldn't have worked. So, you live with what the world will give you as a policy tool. If you discover that one of the policy tools just doesn't have anything it's attached to so you could push on it all you want and nothing's going to change, then you say, "Okay, that's a constraint."
Jason Jacobs: So, is the biggest pushback from the policymakers that the free market should solve this?
Gary Yohe: No. No. They think that the free market is the source of all wealth and all income and all welfare across the economy and people should get out of the way of letting the market fix all of society's issues and make the rich people really rich and any influence, any consideration of a climate policy is just verboten.
Jason Jacobs: And is that because they don't believe that it's a problem or that the free markets will address it?
Gary Yohe: They don't believe that the free markets will address it. There is no market that will address climate change. They're not necessarily sure that it's a problem but even if they are sure, they're much happier with the short-term gains of ignoring it and less concerned about the potential damages that will happen downstream for people that they don't know and don't care about.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. See, that's what I feared it was because when you hear that, then it just becomes sacrificing what's clearly the long-term right for greed in the short term. The caveat, though, in the area where I have more trouble candidly, is the people that say, "Well, that's easy for you to say. You sold your company. You don't need to worry about how to put food on the table in the short term. You have the privilege and the luxury to care about future generations and some problems that's decades away that you can't see or touch other than some extra wind when I'm walking around in the city, right? I'm trying to figure out how to put food on the table for my five kids and I'm working three jobs and I'm living in the red week to week and month to month and even more in the red if I get sick for a day or I get hurt or something comes up where I have to miss my hourly job."
Jason Jacobs: So, the greed on behalf of the rich that don't need any more and are just elbowing out everyone so they can keep earning, I have a real problem with but that latter one is a tougher one I'm still sorting through.
Gary Yohe: Right. I fully understand that. I've met a couple of people who are very, very rich and have decided they have enough. They are trying to figure out how to effectively distribute, not give away their money, distribute handles on things that will make people's lives better.
Gary Yohe: So, get malaria out of this community's life. That would be a really good thing. If you're healthier and you don't have to worry about malaria, then maybe the rest of your life will get a little bit better. In the meantime, I can only do one thing at a time. I want to do it very, very carefully. So, that's what I do.
Gary Yohe: Bloomberg has been very, very aggressive in supporting climate policy and he does it by allocating through his philanthropies, monies for things like the Sierra Club but he doesn't just show up at a meeting of the Sierra Club and say, "Okay. Here's $75 million. Do with it what you want." He and his people sit down and say, "Okay. You're asking me for this $75 million. What are you going to do with it? How are you going to manage it? How are you going to manipulate it? How are you going to efficiently run this operation?"
Gary Yohe: So, his skills in risk management and potentially your skills in what you did for a living get to apply to people learning how to take $75 million and apply it to reducing emissions or getting rid of coal-fire power plants in an efficient way.
Gary Yohe: The other guy, by the way, is Bill Gates.
Jason Jacobs: I've been paying attention to some of the things that Bill's doing and Bill seems clearly focused on the breakthrough side of the equation, the fundamental science breakthroughs that could move the needle in an outsized way if they happen but that require more capital and more time. How do you think about that as it relates to more incremental deployment of what's already there as it relates to policy? How do you stack rank in order of what can have the biggest impact?
Gary Yohe: He knows more about that than I do. I'm pretty good at identifying where the problems are. I did spend three and a half hours talking to him about climate change. I was supposed to be an hour and a half meeting in Seattle and he kept canceling appointments and stayed to listen-
Jason Jacobs: When was this?
Gary Yohe: 10 years ago.
Jason Jacobs: That's pretty cool.
Gary Yohe: It was very cool. And, at the very end, somebody said, "You've got a meeting coming up. You really can't cancel it." So, he had to go. He stood up and he said, "This is climate. This is the first problem that I've ever seen that I don't think technology can solve and we have to do the social science. We have to do manipulating markets or structures of social institutions and things like that to get things to work and then move on."
Gary Yohe: So, I think he learned from that how to organize how we went into Africa and started to fight malaria. It was not a technological fix. It wasn't screens on everybody's windows. It was something entirely different.
Jason Jacobs: Do you think we can get there without a price on carbon?
Gary Yohe: No.
Jason Jacobs: And given that, do you have a clear view on is it one size fits all in terms of there's on type of structure that should be applied across the board or is it geography-dependent or industry-dependent? How do you think about the right solution?
Gary Yohe: All hands on deck. If we could tax carbon and tax would go up but the rate of interest annually in a predictable way and businesses got accustomed to that, that would work really, really well. You wouldn't be taxing carbon as it comes out of production process. You would be taxing carbon as it enters the economy. So, instead of hundreds of millions of sources, you'd only have 2,500 places where you would keep track of that. And that would work really, really hard.
Gary Yohe: Okay. So that's the paragon. It's not going to happen but the ramifications if you did that give you a glimpse on if you want to do is regulate industry, regulate emitters, regulate what the targets should be for those places for those particular people. That's what the Obama administration did. The Clean Energy Plan was essentially a series of regulations that effectively would have reduced emissions.
Jason Jacobs: Which didn't pass, right?
Gary Yohe: It didn't have to pass. It was an executive order. It got taken away by Trump but a regulation like that effectively puts a price on carbon. There are lots of ways of pricing carbon. That one is called a shadow price. Can't go to the Wall Street Journal and look up with the price is. If you go talk to somebody who's generating electricity with a fossil fuel, he or she will tell you what's the price of carbon. The Clean Energy Plan put an effective price on carbon and it was going to increase as time went on. Cap and trade in New England for electricity generation puts a price on carbon. It goes up at a rate of interest not because we set the price in the market but because we reduce the total quantity that people are allowed to emit. Then, they can buy and sell back and forth.
Jason Jacobs: Do you think the US, as an example, should land on one structure at the federal level?
Gary Yohe: Not by itself. I think the US should be very happy to reengage with the international community and the Paris accord and work on what an international structure would look like so that the interface between the United States and Bangladesh, the United States and countries in Africa, the United States and Germany, the United States and Canada, the United States and China would understand how this is all working together. The US can't do it by itself but it has to play. It has to play in that game. It's one of the real, real harms of withdrawing from the Paris accord.
Jason Jacobs: This issue is clearly, from a political standpoint, gotten to be a very partisan one, which, to me, seems silly given that it affects all of us regardless of our political leanings. Do you think that what you're suggesting the right path forward is in terms of that international collaboration, is that a partisan stance or is that one that should be party agnostic?
Gary Yohe: I think it should be party agnostic. Climate became partisan about 20 years ago and I'm not quite sure why but there were people that the skeptics were saying, "Our climate isn't changing. You guys are full of it." "Oh, yeah, well climate is changing but it really doesn't matter, so you guys are all full of it. We shouldn't worry about it." "Well, actually, we're seeing some effects of climate change, but they won't hurt anybody, so everybody go away."
Gary Yohe: That became a partisan question. It got so partisan that the skeptics could just make stuff up but those of us who were doing the real science couldn't make a single mistake. If we made a mistake, everything was disbelieved, but if Fred Singer says the sky is gray today and it's perfectly … Actually, the sky is gray today but if it's perfectly blue and somebody says, "Fred, the sky is blue." "So, yeah. Well, okay. My bad." But if I said that, arguing with Fred Singer, nobody would ever believe me from anything else.
Gary Yohe: We spent enormous amounts of energy in IPCC and National Climate Assessment, stuff like that, trying to make sure we never make a mistake. That's really, really hard. The reason for that is the partisanship.
Jason Jacobs: No theories as to where that originated or how it came to be?
Gary Yohe: I think it's great. I think it's just great. To go after them, my wife and I have this conversation all the time. They breathe the same air. Rich people, those greedy people, those people that are skeptics, those people that are damaging what we're trying to do to make the world a better place breathe the same air, drink the same water. Their kids are going to go up into the same future. Why can't they see that? I don't know. I don't know.
Jason Jacobs: So, one thing I was interesting when we were talking a bit before we started recording is that you had mentioned that you're coming at this from an economist perspective in that you're not a business person. So, when I was talking about some of the CEOs and such that are coming on the podcast, that's not an area where you spent a lot of time thinking about. Given your perspective, how do you feel today about the Exxons of the world, the big fossil fuel companies knowing that for decades their scientists had this information about the harm and not only stalled but actively mislead the public?
Gary Yohe: Yeah. It's sort of the same way I think about tobacco companies.
Jason Jacobs: How do you think about tobacco companies?
Gary Yohe: I think it was immoral. I've written opinion piece that have said that the Trump approach is essentially immoral. When he was going to cut the budgets for the NIH and for climate change research all across the federal government and stuff like that, that's what I think about it. Exxon funded research in climate change but they used it to figure out that they should go drill for oil on the Arctic, which was actually pretty forward looking of them but it made me really uncomfortable but I will tell you a different story.
Gary Yohe: Chevron is a big oil company. They have a refinery off in the Gulf Coast. They use solar energy to run their refinery. They don't use their own product because it's economically better. So, I think that those companies in Saudi Arabia and those countries are beginning to come to the realization that they're going to leave a lot of oil on the ground and just because nobody's going to want to buy it.
Gary Yohe: The canary in the coal mine, if you will, when Trump said, "I'm going to open all these coal mines in West Virginia," and stuff like that, "And revitalize the coal industry," people would come to talk to me and I would say, "Doesn't bother me at all. Nobody's going to buy that coal." Investors, companies, had already moved on and they are not going to come back to retrofit their [inaudible 00:39:11] to use coal and they think that in 5 or 10 years, it'll be enormously expensive.
Jason Jacobs: So, that's great because so economics is making coal less attractive but what about if you take in this country natural gas. So cheap, yet it still emits. And it might emit less than coal but it still emits meaningfully. The fact that it's so cheap inhibits the transition to clean energy. Can't the economics first approach backfire?
Gary Yohe: Not necessarily. I think the constraint on natural gas has to be it's a bridge from coal and oil to alternative energy like wind and solar and nuclear, things like that. So, the warning sign would be if people are investing in natural gas in long-lived infrastructure projects, that's problematic. What do they look like? They look like big pipelines.
Gary Yohe: So, if you build a pipeline and you expect it to last for 60 years, you've committed the planet for 60 years of that natural gas but if you've got another way to distribute it to the marketplace and the whole country doesn't have that natural gas, you can have Pennsylvania, that has a lot of natural gas, use a lot of natural gas but do it with trucks or short pipelines or something like that, allow it to be viewed as an interim solution, unless you can talk to somebody who makes the investment and says, "Yes, it's a six-year pipeline but internal rate of return, if we view it as a 20-year pipeline."
Jason Jacobs: So, bouncing around a bit but back to the fossil fuel companies, do you think their executives, that the misinformation campaigns and such happen on their watches, should they be criminally liable for their actions?
Gary Yohe: Don't know. I don't know. I know that the Clean Air Act got much stronger teeth when they went from $25,000 a day is the maximum fine for violating a pollution control to the CEO would be held criminally responsible for violating the standard.
Jason Jacobs: Funny how that works. Yeah. Yeah. Hold the CEO personally responsible and all of a sudden, the urgency level ratchets up several notches regardless of where the principles should be.
Gary Yohe: But that's a forward-looking sort of thing. Your question was a backward-looking sort of thing and I'm not quite sure what to think about that.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I have another forward-looking thing then to throw at you, which is do you want to see the BlackRocks of the world divesting actively from fossil fuel in their portfolios?
Gary Yohe: Over time, sure. What I recognize is the people that make those sorts of decisions have fiduciary responsibilities, so I have to do it carefully but people have divested from South Africa, they resisted for a very long time but eventually got around to it and it worked.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I had one executive from a company that actively works with those big fossil fuel companies as part of his business, commercially, make the case that if we want to achieve the clean transition, the quickest, most efficient way that it is better to work with the big incumbents with the infrastructure and the resources and get them to adapt versus starting from scratch and trying to disrupt them.
Gary Yohe: That's sort of what I was saying. You just have to be prudent. Don't expect that it's going to happen right away.
Gary Yohe: Let me show you a way that I think would be better and it's something Bill Nordhaus has written about. It's called the climate club. It is for nations. It is created when a couple of big emitters decide that they will negotiate reductions in carbon emissions and verify them to each other.
Gary Yohe: That happened in the Obama administration between the United States and China. I was on the campus the day that that President Xi and President Obama signed that and people were on the ceiling. It broke the logjam and that's why we have a Paris accord.
Gary Yohe: The idea that Bill's created is not only do you encourage countries to come in. The only way you get into it is restrict your emissions to a level that would be negotiated with the members of the climate club and so why would anybody want to do that? That's going to hurt your economy and stuff? The opposite side is that when you are a member, you can impose a tariff on imports from non-members for everything in proportion to the carbon content. If it's a sweater and if it's completely organic and natural, except for distribution, there's no carbon content so the tariff would be zero. But if it were something bigger where you using it to produce something that takes a lot of energy and a lot of that came from carbon, tariff would be high.
Gary Yohe: The World Trade Organization has agreed that that would be legal. American Economic Association presidential address two or three years ago talked about it but he also talked about it in Stockholm this year when he won the Nobel Prize.
Jason Jacobs: You can't mention the Nobel Prize without me stopping you right there and asking about your experience with the Nobel Prize because of course we had to sneak that in before the episode, not that the episode's wrapping but we can't let you escape here without talking about it.
Gary Yohe: Okay.
Jason Jacobs: You won a share of a Nobel Prize, right?
Gary Yohe: I did.
Jason Jacobs: When? How did it come about?
Gary Yohe: 2007, I think. I got up in the morning. My wife went down to make coffee. I was preparing for a class and she came up and said, "IPCC just won the Nobel Prize."
Jason Jacobs: Did you know that you'd been nominated?
Gary Yohe: Nominations aren't public for 50 years.
Jason Jacobs: So, they're not public until 50 years after they occur?
Gary Yohe: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The nominations, pretty clear somebody won if they were nominated but everybody else, it's secret.
Jason Jacobs: And what was the basis for the nomination? What was the work that IPCC had done?
Gary Yohe: The description of why IPCC got the prize was that we were effectively communicating a significant amount of climate change problem across the globe and integrating that into discussions about policy. Gave a Nobel Prize to scientists for communicating their science when none of us are really very good at that. Was the same year Al Gore won, so he was the communicator and we were the creator of assessment insights into the climate stuff.
Gary Yohe: Every six years, we publish 2,600 pages and summarize that into 22 pages of summaries for policymakers that were designed to be read by heads of state. Takes a while to do that.
Jason Jacobs: What an amazing honor.
Gary Yohe: Yeah. It's okay.
Jason Jacobs: I can't think of a much greater one.
Gary Yohe: Yeah. I mean, Linda said, "Okay. What are you going to do?" And, so, "I'm going to sit down and write something up in case somebody calls." 30 minutes later, Andy Revkin from The New York Times called and I was ready.
Jason Jacobs: So, given that 12 years have gone by since you won that prize, how are you feeling about our trajectory as a species in terms of doing the things that need to be done to get out ahead of this problem?
Gary Yohe: That's actually an easy question. I'm still doing this work, so I must think it's going to make a contribution. That's what I wake up to do, get up in the morning and I want to go write a paper. I want to go do this research. I want to go talk to somebody like you. I want to help Michael Bennet become president. I spent this morning talking to Chris Murphy, the US Senator. I will tell you what differentiates him.
Gary Yohe: When I talk to people like that, I guarantee them that I will not talk about anything that I'm not expert in, so therefore I will only talk about climate stuff. The thing about climate that differentiates Michael Bennet is that he recognizes that there are enormous health effects of the exposure to heat and extreme events and stuff generated by climate change. It's not just asthma and allergies, vector-borne diseases like Nile virus and stuff like that. It's depression, it's suicide after extreme events, after about 5 or 10 days, people just get completely beaten down by what has just happened to their lives. So, his proposal is to fund a new division in the National Institutes of Health with brand new money that will anticipate the health effects of climate change. Nobody else is talking about that.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, so it's kind of another branch of adaptation.
Gary Yohe: The NIH is really, really good at what they do. It's the perfect place to put money.
Jason Jacobs: So, specific candidates aside, what advice do you have for listeners given that we do have an election coming up in terms of if someone cares about climate change and they care about our democracy and they want to put a leader in place who is going to give us the best shot to decarbonizes quickly and effectively, what do they look for and how should they assess one candidate versus another?
Gary Yohe: I think they should look at the mix of policies that the candidate is talking about, adaptation and litigation and a variety of things like that. I think they should look for somebody who sees the urgency in the problem but sees the potential for mistake.
Gary Yohe: So, language that I wrote that I think is the reason that I'm proud of that, the Nobel Prize, is that responding to climate change is an iterative risk management problem involving both adaptation and mitigation. It takes into account distribution of income, co-benefits, costs, attitudes towards risk. That was adopted by consensus unanimously by 169 countries around the world and it has framed assessments since 2007, New York Panel on Climate Change, the America's Climate Choices, National Climate Assessment, subsequent IPCC reports, all are based on risk, not on cost-benefit analysis.
Jason Jacobs: Do you think that in order to bring about wholesale change at the policy level that it requires bipartisan support?
Gary Yohe: Yes. And it requires international support. So, one of the things that I would look for in a candidate would be somebody who says, "We have to reengage with our responsibility for the global response to the climate risk."
Jason Jacobs: It seems like it's broader than just a US issue that globalism is on the outs, essentially.
Gary Yohe: Yeah, and I don't understand that. I do know that there was a time earlier when the United States wasn't participating much when Bush 43 was the president. The rest of the world sort of just sitting around waiting for the United States to come back.
Gary Yohe: Obama got elected and I mean, Todd Stern was the chief negotiator. He went to his first conference of the parties of the Framework Convention. Got there a little late. I don't know why but he walked in and got a standing ovation as the representative of the United States-
Jason Jacobs: Just for showing up?
Gary Yohe: … just for showing up. "Thank god you guys are here. Let's go. Let's go to work."
Jason Jacobs: So, given that any major climate legislation requires bipartisan support and given that it's a polarized and politicized issue, do we stand a better chance by digging in on the progressive side and scrapping, clawing, and getting enough votes or voters, or is it more centrist where it's more trying to build bridges across party lines and come up with compromise solutions?
Gary Yohe: I think it is concern about the ability to cross party lines. I've written that I'm not real fond of the Green New Deal.
Jason Jacobs: I read that and definitely on my list. I'm glad you brought that up because I wouldn't have let you escape without talking about it.
Gary Yohe: Yeah. All of the objectives that are there are perfectly fine and didn't have any specifics in it and all that sort of stuff but a lot of progress that happened after the release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment disappeared overnight because the other side started to call it socialism.
Jason Jacobs: Well, let me ask you a question about that, though. On the one hand, they're making these bold proclamations and things that the right says are far out and crazy, but on the other, I've heard some people saying, including some people on the right that care about climate because there are a few as I'm sure you know but that say that it actually creates an open space for the right to propose a climate policy but it's a less extreme one than the Green New Deal, so it has essentially moved the Overton window.
Gary Yohe: That's the old Ted Kennedy argument that Ted Kennedy was so far out there that he would make a statement and somebody could come in just a little bit to the right of him and collect some support. Senator Kennedy knew exactly what he was doing with respect to that. If you read down to the bottom of what I wrote, it doesn't say that it should simply be nothing but climate. It just said that the various components of the Green New Deal should stay in their lane and not get in each other's way.
Jason Jacobs: That's another one I'm wrestling with, honestly, because I was at a conference recently in Europe. Overall, it was not a very diverse conference in terms of gender or ethnicity. Some of my colleagues actually pointed out to me that this fact that it was not very diverse and that, in some ways, climate change to them is, it's a white problem. It's a white problem in that it's like it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to think with the time horizons that climate necessitates when there's a here and now of a ton of people on this planet, the wealth and equity and the people in poverty, extreme poverty and things like that and in a world of resource constraint that climate will bring about, that these inequities are only going to get worse. So, therefore, we must in order to get the widespread buy-in that we'll need for a transition like this, we can't separate or decouple the social issues from the climate issues, otherwise, there'll be big chunks of the world that just won't sign off because they're not going to sign on to keep the status quo from the social standpoint for the next chapter.
Gary Yohe: There's no evidence of that. There's 168 countries that signed onto the Paris accord and because, if you read the Paris accord, it's not just targeted reductions in emissions for country and stuff like that. There are funds for adaptation. There are funds to support investments in new technology, recognizing that new technology that might work to reduce emissions in the United States might not work in Nigeria, might not work in Pakistan, might not work in India. So, it has to be sight-specific and that was a deliberate part of the negotiations on the Framework Convention.
Gary Yohe: But a large number of us, a long, long time ago decided that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not the intergovernmental panel on social welfare. We cannot solve all of the world's problems. We can work and provide information for people who were having a conversation about how to approach climate change and a lot of our work will talk about the social ramifications of a carbon tax or an adaptation or things like … And tell people how to take into account the risk and attitudes towards risk, distributions of income and things like that, that we don't write policy. The Framework Convention does and the Framework Convention is very sensitive to stuff that you just talked about.
Jason Jacobs: But what I heard from you is that essentially that the Green New Deal is not necessary because the issues of inequity are addressed already in the proposals that are being made.
Gary Yohe: No. No, no, no. What I said was that the Green New Deal had the potential of hijacking climate policy because opponents were labeling the whole batch as socialism. Within a day and a half, Trump was saying we're taking away airplanes. Senator Barrasso was saying we're taking away cows, we're taking away my ice cream.
Jason Jacobs: But we're not. But, so what? Is it the fault of the Green New Deal or is the fault of the people that are making up falsities about things that aren't actually happening yet?
Gary Yohe: It is the fault of the people who wrote the Green New Deal, who created a very slow-moving target.
Jason Jacobs: What do you mean by that?
Gary Yohe: Something that's going very slowly in the air and you can shoot at it.
Jason Jacobs: Oh, so the Green New Deal in itself is a target?
Gary Yohe: It's a very slow-moving target.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I've heard a lot of people that are climate insiders that feel like essentially the movement's been neglected for so long, that regardless of whether they agree with the substance or lack of substance or whatever is actually in the Green New Deal, all the attention that it's bringing to the issue, just the amount of times that the word climate is being mentioned in conversation is a huge net positive.
Gary Yohe: They were not paying attention on Black Friday after Thanksgiving.
Jason Jacobs: What happened on Black Friday after Thanksgiving?
Gary Yohe: The Trump administration dropped the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment under the assumption that everybody would be off shopping and nobody would pay any attention. They were required by law to issue it and so they tried to hide it.
Gary Yohe: So, what happened? Well, in fact, everybody was out shopping. There was no other news. So, in 168 newspapers around the country, above the fold on Saturday was the release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. I was on the phone and on TV in six continents starting two days before it was released because people knew it was going. That new cycle lasted 10 days and I was still taking phone calls from BBC eight days after the release. That continued and that caused the eruption amongst democratic candidates to start talking about climate change.
Jason Jacobs: Are you saying that the Green New Deal hasn't also done that?
Gary Yohe: Yes.
Jason Jacobs: It has not?
Gary Yohe: Has not. All of that happened before the Green New Deal showed up and candidates were already talking about climate change.
Jason Jacobs: So, the Green New Deal hasn't increased the volume of [crosstalk 00:56:38]?
Gary Yohe: It has not precipitated the volume of conversation in the Democratic Party at all.
Jason Jacobs: Huh. That's interesting. That is different information than I've been hearing from many other places and that doesn't mean right or wrong or-
Gary Yohe: A lot of candidates have signed onto the Green New Deal. Kamala Harris has signed on. Klobuchar has signed on and things like that. They did it pretty quickly. I'm not sure they thought about it really, really hard. Some candidates, like Michael Bennet, have not signed on but if you look at what he's talking about across lots of different types of social issues, he's picking up most of the chips.
Jason Jacobs: So, do you actually think that it's not the substance you're taking issue with, it's calling it a tagline, that's it's like a target?
Gary Yohe: Yes. Yes.
Jason Jacobs: I've heard people argue just the opposite, that what we finally have is a tagline on a blimp and something to fly up there that we can point at and talk about and brand and own.
Gary Yohe: They don't live in my world where I have to keep people on the other side.
Jason Jacobs: Help me understand that. What world are you living in that that is harmful. I'm not saying it's not. I just really want to understand it.
Gary Yohe: It's complete political world and places where I could go and have a legitimate conversation with people and think that I might have a shot at convincing them of something. So, you go around and give a lot of talk and things like that. There are just people in the audience that you see that you just know that there's really no point in talking to that guy. That person, that woman, that man is not going to change his or her mind just because of climate change, so if that person has the Green New Deal to shoot at, then that person will, instead of trying to get into the substance, say, this is all just socialism. You guys want to take my jeep.
Jason Jacobs: Do you think standing in the middle of the aisle and trying to make nice then is the approach that will breed the most success politically?
Gary Yohe: Yeah. Very slowly but yes. I think there are people who have experience walking across the aisle and they've set up good communications. What they don't need is some sort of tagline that gets in the way between the people that these guys talk to and the people that those guys talk to.
Jason Jacobs: What people or organizations are doing the work that you think helps the cause the most that just stands out to you as exemplary citizens in this area?
Gary Yohe: Center for American Progress, Podesta's group. Resources for the Future, Environmental Defense Fund. Those guys.
Jason Jacobs: And what is it about their work that makes them stand out to you?
Gary Yohe: It's honest. The question you asked a long time ago. Did you start the research or the paper that you're writing with a particular conclusion in mind and make it happen or do you do the work and then honestly evaluate what the result is? Brookings does. Resources for the Future does. Environmental Defense Fund does and CAP does. They are honest brokers.
Jason Jacobs: So, I don't know if this happens to you but anecdotally, I've come across some other professors and what they say, that are in this broader area, not economics or climate economics like you but what they say is that students and other people get pointed at them all the time that are like me that care about the planet and are concerned about climate change and want to help but don't really understand the issue or where to start or how to personally be helpful. I know that a bunch of our listeners are like that so I guess speak to them for a minute. What advice do you have for them in terms of how they should think about getting involved and where they should start?
Gary Yohe: I think they should start where they live. They should get involved by becoming educated. The National Climate Assessment is a good place for science information and impacts information written not for scientists but for general public. So, go to nca2018.globalchange.gov and educate yourself so that you know what the scientific community honestly thinks is going on. It is honest and it has been written to be very careful not to make a mistake.
Gary Yohe: And then, think about what it looks like in your daily life so there's a variety of things that you can do. Some of them are pretty obvious and everybody talks. You're going to buy a new appliance, buy one that's energy efficient. If you are thinking about replacing your roof because it's 25 years old, replace the roof but also replace the gutters and make them commercial-size gutters because more rain is going to happen and it will keep you from flooding your house.
Jason Jacobs: Can I ask a question? There was a study that came out recently that said that the small nudges for your personal behavior change are actually more harmful to the climate fight than not because the people that get those nudges and actually do these small things are less likely to support the widespread systemic change that's required, so are these small nudges the same type of distraction as the Green New Deal is?
Gary Yohe: I don't know that literature. I don't think so. Two other things that I've talked about. One is every once in a while, local TV stations have to go up to get their license renewed and they take public input and in the public input say, "We demand that at some point in the local news every week at a predictable time, there will be 5 or 10 minutes of reporting by a designated reporter about something that has to do with climate, an impact that was observed or an investment that was taken, just so that that perpetuates and people can see that people are noticing climate change, responding to climate changes. This is how they're doing it.
Gary Yohe: The last thing, there are people in positions of power and deliberation, legislators and governors and things like that and citizens who are engaged in their communities and in their state and in their country typically come up with ideas like, "You should be doing this and write a letter to the governor," or, "Write a letter to the senator," or, "Write a letter to the Congress." I think you really should be doing that. That's perfectly fine. That's what democracy is all about.
Gary Yohe: What I suggest, though, is that if you find somebody and I personally think such a somebody is Chris Murphy, our junior senator, every once in a while, just write him a thank you note. "I really appreciate what you're doing and particular, I saw you supported this," or, "You dropped that bill," or whatever. Just thank you, essentially for your sacrifice. 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
Gary Yohe: Then what I say is that, "If you do that, I will guarantee that that note will get past the gatekeeper and Senator Murphy will actually take that home and show it to his wife and his children and say, 'See? They think I'm doing good for you.'" That's a really worthwhile thing to do. How's that? That's a good idea?
Jason Jacobs: I think that's making a case for how little things can go a long way. It's a very human condition but it's true.
Gary Yohe: It's framed for what I know about Connecticut politics and it probably doesn't apply to Wyoming. In Connecticut, people expect their senators and congresspeople to come home every weekend and travel around and go to events and talk to people and stuff and then go back to Washington and do their job. So, it's really a seven-day job.
Gary Yohe: In Wyoming, they don't expect you to fly all the way to Wyoming for three hours and then fly back. The first person that I really knew who had a job like that was Chris Dodd. He never saw his family. We insists on that from the people that represent us and that's an enormous sacrifice.
Jason Jacobs: Two last quick ones for you and then I'll let you get your dinner. Second to last is, so, if you take out the human element and you just had money, $100 billion or make up a number. Add a few zeroes for all I care but you can allocate it to any which way you chose to maximize its impact on the climate fight, where would it go?
Gary Yohe: If you really gave me five minutes to do that and gave me the money, I would probably phone up Bill Gates and say, "Here's some more." Give it away. It's really hard to give money away effectively. You have to be very careful.
Jason Jacobs: Yet, you think giving more away will help that?
Gary Yohe: Give it to Bill because he knows what he's doing or I know Bloomberg, too. You could give it to him because one, they manage money really, really well and, two, they know what they're doing and three, they've practiced this problem. And if I weren't allowed to do that, I'd have to think really, really hard where to go.
Jason Jacobs: Last question and that is just that when I reach out to you, I thought I was reaching out to this elder statement in climate, recently retired, right, or in the process?
Gary Yohe: June 30th.
Jason Jacobs: Oh, June 30th, coming right up. Congratulations. But one of the things you mentioned just as an aside blew my mind, which is that you actually had some raps commissioned and got a real rapper on board to sing about them that are related to climate. So, I have to ask you about them. What are they and where can we find them?
Gary Yohe: Guy is Baba Brinkman. Just Google him and you will find him. One's called Erosion, one's called Destruction, and one's called Redemption. The first one, Erosion, we released on inauguration day for Trump and then every year since then, we've released one on the anniversary of Inauguration Day.
Jason Jacobs: And how do these come about?
Gary Yohe: I got a phone call from Baba, cold call. He has something called a rap on climate chaos and he performs in New York City at Aaron Burr's house, at SoHo theater. He said in the middle of this, "They bring in people that know something about climate and you answer questions. Would you like to do that?"
Gary Yohe: Appearing off Broadway sounded like a good idea so my wife and I went in. So, he did that and I answered some questions and he answered some questions and stuff like that. I just ended up really liking him.
Gary Yohe: That was in the summer. In the fall, shortly after the election results, I just called him up and asked him if he would like to write something in honor of an enormous disaster that we had just done. He said, "Sure." I did the fact checking and he did the lyrics.
Jason Jacobs: Amazing! We'll have to check him out. I have to tell you, as well, that that was a very Wesleyan thing to do.
Gary Yohe: Yeah.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I went to school here and it's crazy. You could just be walking on Foss Hill or across the field. You don't see footballs and lacrosse sticks and the things you see at normal schools. You see accordions, unicycles.
Gary Yohe: Sometimes, you see lacrosse sticks and things like that.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. It's gotten a lot more athletic since I left 20 years ago, 21.
Gary Yohe: It has stuck me that among faculty at Wesleyan, I'm unique for two reasons. One is that prize and one, I appeared on Broadway.
Jason Jacobs: Amazing. This has been a-
Gary Yohe: Thank you.
Jason Jacobs: … fascinating discussion.
Gary Yohe: It's been good. I've enjoyed it.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. We took a circuitous path, if that's the right word but I think that we covered a bunch of interesting ground that- Yeah, yeah.
Gary Yohe: Circuitous suggests that it was a circle. It was more like a random walk.
Jason Jacobs: Random walk. That's better. I definitely learned a lot and I think that our listeners will as well, so Professor Gary Yohe.
Gary Yohe: I appreciate your coming down, finding me. I appreciate what you're doing. I mean, you picked up a blank computer and decided to work on this. That was very brave of you.
Jason Jacobs: Well, another 30 years and maybe I'll hold a candle to you. Professor Gary Yohe, thanks so much.
Gary Yohe: Thank you.
Jason Jacobs: Hey, everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. No, that is dot co, not dot com. Someday, we'll get the dot com, but right now, dot co.
Jason Jacobs: You can also find me on Twitter at @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. Before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.