Earth Day is this week, and that's focusing attention on climate change. Some scientists say certain strategies we've used to take on the pandemic could also be applied to global warming. Take, for example, cooperation. It became clear early on that individual cities, states and even countries could not defeat COVID on their own.
KCRW talks about that and other climate strategies with Mark Hertsgaard, environmental correspondent for The Nation magazine and executive director of Covering Climate Now, a global consortium of news outlets working to cover climate issues.
KCRW: Why is international cooperation so important when it comes to addressing the climate crisis?
Mark Hertsgaard: “You’ve got to have cooperation on climate change among countries and cities and so forth, or we simply will not get where we need to go.
The science is telling us we face a climate emergency. President Biden will say, on Thursday at the White House in a virtual global summit, that he is convening with well over 20 of the world's leaders, ‘Look, how can we all get our emissions reductions in sync here?’
It's not enough if just California alone reduces. We’re the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world, and yet we're only responsible for about 2% of total emissions. It's great what California can do on this and to show leadership. But we really need everyone, especially the big emitters, the U.S. and China in particular, they have got to take the lead here. Not only cutting emissions in their own economies, but living up to the pledge all of these countries made at the Paris Agreement five years ago: to help poor and developing nations, to avoid the fossil fuel route, to get off of coal, to get off of oil, and shift to solar and wind and energy efficiency and all of these renewable technologies.”
We have seen a tremendous outpouring of innovation during the pandemic. How do we harness those same skills in tackling global warming?
“I think the key to making those kinds of innovations in climate change lies in government policy. And right now too many government policies are moving in the wrong direction. We give tax write-offs for oil companies to go out and explore for more oil. Oil that we cannot afford to burn if we're going to have a survivable future.
What governments have to do is to shift the incentive structure. It's clear that the Biden administration understands this and the new climate and infrastructure proposals that they've put before the Congress recognize that the government has a strong role to play here.
Government doesn't have to pick winners and losers, but what it does have to do is lay out policy goals and the rules for the marketplace to follow. Instead of incentivizing more destructive behavior by developing more fossil fuels, we incentivize more helpful behavior: making it easier to purchase electric vehicles, for example, or even more importantly, to get to a place where you don't need a vehicle to get around in the first place.
That's a very good example of how government policies are essential to unlocking the genius of technological innovation that exists in the private sector, especially by the way, in the United States, and most especially here in the state of California. That's what we're known for. We are innovators.”
In some ways, the environment has taken a hit during the pandemic. Ridership on public transit has taken a huge hit. How do we go about addressing that?
“I think it's true that the environment took a hit during COVID, but it's also true that there were environmental benefits. People stopped flying as much, the emissions went way down temporarily because people weren't traveling by car or in airplanes quite as much. Some of that has gone back now.
The first thing we do is to recognize that those trends are there, and that we really need to reset. Governments are now spending literally trillions of dollars to revive their economies. That money has to be used in a way that builds us back better. We have to be using that transition money and stimulus money to move in a new direction, to move towards renewable energies, to move towards not allowing so much use of plastic.
There's a great opportunity to do that now. And happily, that's recognized at the top of the international financial system. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations. The European Central Banks, a lot of the big leaders in this area have been calling for this.”