Episode #11: David Hawkins (Transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: This is episode 11, and we talk today with, our guest is David Hawkins. He is the director of the Climate Program at the National Resources Defense Council, whose motto ... I don't know if this is official. I saw it somewhere on the internet, so it's got to be real, is to "safeguard the earth."
Brian: I believe it.
Quinn: I mean, that's pretty fucking cool, right?
Brian: It's awesome.
Brian: He's been there for 50 years.
Quinn: What company do you work for?
Brian: Oh, we work for the NRDC. We safeguard the earth.
Quinn: Oh cool, cool.
Brian: No big deal.
Quinn: Yeah. All right.
Brian: I think last year or the year before, NASA gave somebody the title Planetary Defense Officer, I mean, you've made it if that's what they're calling you.
Quinn: Right? There's a lot of pressure there though.
Brian: Yeah, but you gotta step up. I guess that's true.
Quinn: A little more than having a podcast, right?
Brian: Sounds cooler, but more responsibility.
Quinn: Ah, do you think The Avengers are like, "What the? That's my gig?"
Brian: I would go with yes on that one.
Brian: They stole it.
Quinn: Who do you think is most pissed and who do you think is like "all right."
Brian: Tony Stark definitely pissed. Because that's like is whole thing.
Quinn: He's got ... I mean, I wouldn't say he has nothing else. He has billions of dollars.
Brian: He has everything.
Quinn: They did destroy his house, though. But still.
Brian: He's got a big ego. He wants the credit.
Quinn: Sure. Of course. He at least wants the title, right?
Brian: At least the title. God they really did get his house good. Didn't they?
Quinn: Yeah. They fucked him up pretty hard. I feel like Captain America is out, that guy wigged out so hard. Now he's like whatever.
Quinn: I'm out. I'm out.
Brian: Hulk would be pissed, obviously. He just gets mad.
Quinn: Yeah, but he doesn't have a choice.
Brian: That's true.
Quinn: He's so emo. Speaking of emo. It's a rainy day here.
Quinn: Didn't see that coming. We're playing some Leon Bridges in the office.
Brian: He's so good.
Quinn: In headquarters. He's so good. He's so dreamy.
Brian: Then I was mentioning before listening to Leon Bridges and then Sun Little came up. And then the Fantastic Negrito.
Brian: My god.
Quinn: Yes. Love Negrito. And I mentioned Sharon Jones, who rest in peace ... You haven't even of heard of Sharon Jones.
Brian: Sorry, I don't know who that is.
Quinn: She's going to change your life.
Brian: She's already up on my Spotify. So I can't wait to listen.
Quinn: Right. So, I'm going to mangle this per usual. Singing to herself for her whole life and got a recording deal like 50. Or 60 or something.
Brian: Oh, whoa.
Quinn: Yeah. And her amazing band, The Dap Kings. And these albums are amazing. There's a whole documentary on her, you got to check out, they made about her comeback from cancer. Cause she'd had it.
Brian: Oh wow.
Quinn: And then she died of it, earlier this year. Late last year.
Quinn: I mean but what she's got ... It's so good.
Brian: I'm pumped.
Quinn: It's the best.
Brian: I'm pumped.
Quinn: Also, speaking of raining. You rented a car today after complaining a week about having to drive here in the rain.
Brian: No, I wasn't comp- .... I made one little comment. You said specifically, "Bitching is okay."
Quinn: Yeah it was.
Brian: I had a little bitch moment.
Quinn: Yeah, but ... I can tell everybody.
Brian: Yes, I guess you can. Yes, I've rented a car.
Quinn: Right, you rented a car to come here.
Brian: I rented a car to come here. I have a very busy day and it's raining.
Quinn: Say for, theoretically-
Quinn: In the rain.
Quinn: But now you got to do deal with parking and stuff.
Brian: I got to deal with parking. I can't drive past assholes who don't know how to drive. So I have to deal with all the assholes.
Quinn: Which is everybody. Right.
Brian: I don't love it. All though I had great time coming here because I got to listen to music while I drive. Which I really can't do in the motorcycle.
Brian: So that was a plus. It was a good ride over.
Quinn: The whole thing seems pretty inefficient though. Just driving. Obviously, driving in this town besides being a death trap.
Quinn: Do you feel like you see it more when you're in a car? And you're like, I'm stuck in this madness? Or when you're in a motorcycle and you're like, thank god I'm not part of this. But I might die. Sorry, I'll probably die.
Brian: I think it's both. You get the different points of view from each one. I'm at least having more fun when I'm on the motorcycle. Cause I ... I don't know, it's just more fun. You can go past everybody. It feels nice. You can smell everything. All the smells when you're on a motorcycle. You don't realize you're missing all these great smells when you're trapped in your dumb car.
Quinn: I'm not super interested in that. Like the smells of Los Angeles.
Brian: Some smells are nice. When you drive past flowers or flower shops.
Quinn: Are all these specific comments and analysis of the inefficiency of traffic patterns. Are those going on your application for Asgardia.
Brian: Yes, absolutely. If I have anything to do with it, there will be no cars. I mean, there probably won't be anyways cause its space and every thing. But maybe they'll build some roads and then some cars.
Quinn: You know there's moon buggies, right?
Brian: Yeah, that's true. Well I don't know where they're gonna ... There's a lot to be figured out still when it comes to Asgardia.
Quinn: Wait, Asgardia's on the moon right?
Brian: I don't think it's on the moon. I think it's a separate floating structure.
Quinn: Hold on.
Brian: I'm pretty sure.
Quinn: You don't even know where it's going to be in space.
Brian: Listen, I'm just a-
Quinn: Space is pretty fucking big, man.
Brian: We're going to figure it out. I don't even know if they know yet.
Quinn: What do you mean, we? Are you part of this or not?
Quinn: Is the website still loading?
Brian: I can't get the website to load. But everything's fine.
Quinn: All right, well listen. You're gonna ... You guys are going to get around somehow, right?
Brian: Yes. Robot motorcycles.
Quinn: Technically, fewer emissions. Another planet or moon?
Quinn: We don't know.
Brian: Who knows?
Quinn: [inaudible 00:05:12] And that kind of segways into our guest today.
Quinn: Because this guys, David, he's basically been stopping missions with his bare hands. Since like the dinosaurs.
Brian: Since forever.
Quinn: If anybody should be Planetary Defense Officer ...
Brian: It should be him.
Quinn: It's David Hawkins.
Brian: It's David Hawkins. Give him all the titles.
Quinn: Right? All the titles. All right. Let's go talk to David.
Brian: Yeah, let's go talk to him.
Quinn: Our guest today is David Hawkins, Director of the climate program at the National Resources Defense Council. And together, we're going to ask whether carbon capture and sequestration can be a fundamental building block of our fight against climate change. David, welcome.
David Hawkins: Thanks, Quinn.
Quinn: David, give us a quick rundown on who you are and what you do?
David Hawkins: Okay, I guess I'd call myself a Connecticut Yankee. I was born in Connecticut many decades ago. When I got out of college in 1965. I didn't know what I wanted to do. So, I went to law school. That meant I didn't have decide.
David Hawkins: 2/3rd of the way through law school. I still didn't know what I wanted to do.
Quinn: I have a lot of family members who did that exact same thing.
David Hawkins: I wound up leaving law school for a couple of years to try to figure out what I wanted to do. And it was a good time because it was just before the first Earth day in 1970. Got married and my wife and just celebrated our 50th anniversary. [crosstalk 00:06:49]
David Hawkins: Yeah, well we were both teaching school so we had the summers off. We found an island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Which we rented for thew hole summer for $900 for the whole summer.
Brian: Hold on. I'm sorry. $900 a day, a week, or ...
David Hawkins: The whole summer for nine weeks. Yep. We were the only people living on the island and it was ... I guess you'd called it, total emersion into the way natural environmental systems functioned.
David Hawkins: I kind of sat there for that summer and the next summer and said, "this is too precious to lose." I know what I want to do with a law degree. I went backed and worked on the first Earth Day in New York City in 1970. Helped convince Mayor Lindsay to close 5th Avenue to cars. Which was a great success.
David Hawkins: Then I got a job in non-profit environmental law firm. Then I went to NRDC in 1971 and I've been there ever since. Except when I worked for the Carter administration at EPA. So that's my life story. Or at least part of it.
Quinn: We'll take it. That sounds eerily similar to Brian's life story, which is really interesting. Well thank you for that and for all that you do. And we're going to really quick go through some of these specifics so people can fully appreciate how much have impacted our world.
Quinn: I know you've recently won the California Air Resources' Boards highest honor for all of your leadership. And someone's whose only lived in L.A. for nine ish years but is fully aware of what the air situation was like when you got started. I would like to thank you. I greatly enjoy less poisonous air and being able to see the sky.
Brian: We love that.
Quinn: I'm sure Brian, also appreciates the lack of acid rain on his daily motorcycles experiences.
Brian: It's fantastic.
Quinn: Among of the things you've tackled. And again, we don't have to spend to long on it. But I think people will appreciate it because your kind of the Forest Gump of pollution here.
Quinn: Again, the smog, acid rain, soot. You worked on federally mandated bus lanes, car pool lanes, parking for bicycles in downtown garages, air quality, impact highway projects, which certainly matters here. And places like D.C. The vehicle mission inspection programs. Like you said, you've worked for Jimmy Carter, which is amazing. Not on his peanut farm, necessarily.
Brian: Not on the peanut farm?
Quinn: Yeah, apparently not on the peanut farm.
Brian: Thought it was peanut farm situation. I love peanut butter, David.
Quinn: No. No.
Brian: But I do like PB & J. But I mean who doesn't? Throw a little bacon in there.
Quinn: Right? All right, so David, real quick. We're just going to set up our conversation. Again, our listeners have heard this a million times. We're big believers in asking questions. But we want to provoke action.
Quinn: Obviously, that's something you have made a life out of. So that's what we're going to try to do today. Get some context, talk about our specific topic of the day and then, hopefully, provide some actionable steps our listeners can take both personally but also, especially, with their vote. Seeing it is as the most important year, of our lives.
Quinn: Brian, whatever the hell you name is.
Brian: David Brian, whatever.
Quinn: Yeah, we'll take it. Sound like my dad, now.
Quinn: We always start with one important question. Brian, you want to tackle it today?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. Get ready, David. One important question, like he said, that we like to ask to really get to the heart of why you are here on the podcast today. Instead of saying, tell us your life story or who are you? Our question to you is, why are you vital to the survival of the species.
David Hawkins: Okay.
Brian: It always gets a laugh.
Quinn: It's crazy but we want you to be bold. Again, it's two fold. You're here for a reason. Both existentially and also on the podcast.
David Hawkins: And that would be the human species, I assume.
Quinn: Yes. You know what ... sadly we're slightly human here first. But obliviously, everything and everybody matters. As we know it's connected.
David Hawkins: I guess, I have to be honest and say, I'm not vital to the survival. I understand that it's kind of tongue in cheek question. There are tens of thousands of people working on climate protection, which is what I spend my time, 24-7 on these days.
David Hawkins: They are as dedicated as I am. Most of them haven't been working on it as long as I have. Most of them are smarter than I am. But I'm really proud to be a part of a global community that is working to address a problem that is going to fundamentally affect our children's lives, our grand children's lives.
David Hawkins: This is a problem that once you break it, you can't fix it fast. It's very different ... I told you about the drinking water problem in Flint, Michigan. That was a terrible thing to happen and the kids that got lead poisoned, you can fix those kids problems easily.
David Hawkins: But once you stop delivering lead tainted water to the households you have fixed the problem going forward. THat's not true with climate change. With climate change the pollution stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years after we've stopped putting it in there.
David Hawkins: That's why this is such a terribly difficult problem. Because once we're ... I like to say, OJ Simpson's lawyer might have said, "once we've admitted, we're committed."
Quinn: Oh, I like it. THat's a nice one. That's good and it's true.
David Hawkins: And it's true. It is true.
Quinn: We can't just vote in a new house every two years and have it swing back and forth.
Brian: OJ's getting a reality show, though. So everything might be okay.
David Hawkins: We can't turn off the faucet and the problem stops.
David Hawkins: The fact is that everything in the bath tub is creating the problem. And the longer we fill the bathtub the bigger the problem is.
Quinn: Right, on that note and everything we have been pumping into for the past, since the industrialized aged, and continue to do and going forward. Let's establish some context, for our specifics or question of the day.
Quinn: Folks have said, that one of your greatest strengths has been your ability to look pretty far out and see the issues or the opportunities that come with those issues that the rest of us don't get.
Brian: Like Professor X.
Brian: Nice. I'm going to be wolverine and then Quinn, you want to be ...
Quinn: That's a tough one. Silver Surfer, I guess.
Brian: Yeah, Silver Surfer, got it.
Quinn: Okay, great. So the climate is like magneto here, I guess, right. All right, so anyways. We'll come back to whether you've got a training room and how does Storm feel about this?
Brian: She fits in. Her name is Storm.
Quinn: It's true. It's true. Okay.
Quinn: It feels like we're at a tipping point with clean energy, hopefully. Right? Despite the efforts of the current administration. In many parts of the world there have been a number of clean energy success stories in the past year or so. Where clean energy production, whether it's solar or wind, off shore or on land, is now cheaper than gas and coal in a lot of places. That's massive, it's driving the corporate world certainly, paradigm shift and hopefully, that keeps going.
Quinn: There's a boat load of new, relatively affordable, electric car models coming down the pipe in the next couple years.
Brian: Yeah, especially this year. I keep reading articles on how it's the year of the electric car. All kinds of new companies getting in.
Quinn: You hope so. THey're not the whole puzzle but it's certainly piece of it.
Brian: It's a small helpful part.
Quinn: Then becoming available and finally affordable will make a big difference.
Quinn: There's a variety of state and city based collisions here in the US that are still sticking to the Paris goals. But there's a ton of work to do, obviously. There's a lot of questions as to how far behind the world really is when it comes to the promises that were made in Paris. And staying under 1.5 or 2 degrees celsius.
Brian: And we have to get to ... This should be pretty clearly by now, priority number one. Stop now. Right now, spewing emissions into the air. How our plants, ships, planes, which is going to be a tough one to tackle.
Brian: Cars, cows, farts, people, perma frost. Just cool it.
Quinn: Yeah, right. The question becomes, what about all the carbon we've already released? Like you mentioned. This stuff has been up there, and it will continue to be up there for few hundred years. What do we do about that? Because we all know, right, that the climate that we're feeling today. Is running about 30-40 years behind the actual emissions. Is that right David?
David Hawkins: It is. Yeah, that's basically right. Essentially, what you need to think about the atmosphere as a room where the thermostat has been turned up and the furnace is pumping away. And the room hasn't yet reached the temperature that it's going to reach as a result of your pushing that thermostat up.
David Hawkins: The difference between that example, is that we can't can't turn that thermostat back. Because the thermostat is being driven by the gas that is the pollutants that are in the atmosphere and the stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. It's as though, somebody locked that thermostat in the heat position.
David Hawkins: We're stuck with an increase in temperature. That's do in large part to the pollution that has been put into the atmosphere over the last couple hundred years. But it's also true because we have a lot of energy producing power plants. Electricity producing power plants that fueled by coal. A lot that are fueled by natural gas. Coal is the worst.
David Hawkins: People are rightly saying, "Well we need to shut those coal plants down and replace them with wind and solar." And we do need to do that, and we're fighting hard. That's our primary target.
David Hawkins: We need to not be engaged in fantasy about being able to do it overnight. Here's a scary couple of numbers. There are about 2 million mega watts of coal fired power plants in the world. You don't need to remember that number, because the scary part is half of the power plants were built in the last 10 years.
David Hawkins: That means we got, essentially, a lot of juvenile coal plants that are going to be hard to turnoff immediately.
Quinn: And they've barely even started to contribute to the problem. Kind of like my children.
David Hawkins: That right. They have a lifetime ahead of them. We can shorten that lifetime with strong policy action. But you know, one you got that power plant chugging away, the politics are more difficult to turn off something that people are paying for and replace it with something that you have to send them a new bill for. Even though, wind and solar are in fact ... New wind and solar are in fact in many places cheaper to build then a new coal fire power plant. I'm talking about the 10 year old and younger coal fire power plants that are already built. And there's that's cheaper to build than those because they're already built.
David Hawkins: That an unfortunate truth. They didn't pay the cost of damaging the climate when they got built, so we have to have policy that pushes them to either; shut down or do what technology can do to keep their pollution out of the atmosphere. And that's were something called carbon capture and storage comes in.
Quinn: Right, okay. To sum it up. We're basically dealing with ... Right now, the north easter that's pounding you in Connecticut, is the product of ... Sounds like over the past few months we've discovered the warming and that Arctic, which is due to emissions, that our great grandparents put into the air years ago. It's time travel.
Brian: Thanks, Great Grandpa.
Quinn: Yeah, it's time travel basically.
Brian: It's time travel. This is Back to the Future and I'll be Marty McFly, obviously. But also still Wolverine from before.
Quinn: Well. We can come back to whether you're Marty McFly. I don't think you quite have the guitar skills, Brian.
Brian: We'll figure it out.
Quinn: Well. Okay. On the future part, let's talk about carbon capture and whether we can rip some of that stuff out of the atmosphere. Because wouldn't that be great. But turn out it's a little hard.
Quinn: From what I understand, and again, I'm happy to keep tooting your horn here. But it seems like you were one of the first folks to point ahead and say, "Hey, this might be helpful." Let's talk about carbon capture and subsequently sequestration.
Brian: A lot of folks don't really realize this, yet. And a lot of other folks think it might save the world from the whole kit and koboodle.
David Hawkins: There are two kinds of carbon capture. One is capturing the carbon before it's put in the atmosphere. And that involves geoengineering where you basically put filers on coal fire power plant in the smoke stacks. This is a technical simplification. But basically, you catch the CO2. The carbon dioxide before it's released from the smoke stack. And you compress it, so that it essentially turns into a fluid at high pressure. And then you stick it into geologic formations where it can't get back out to the atmosphere.
David Hawkins: You can think of this as, basically the fossil fuel, the coal that being burned, has all this carbon in it. And that carbon came out of the ground with the coal. What carbon capture and storage does when you're applying it at the power plant level is that is catches that carbon dioxide and puts it back in the ground where it came from. Rather than letting it go into the air.
David Hawkins: And that technology has been in operation on a small scale for 40 years or more in the United States. Unfortunately, it's on a very small scale. Why is that? Well, because there is no law requiring the power plant operators to keep their carbon dioxide from going into the air. The main reason that some small amount has been captures is that, believe it or not, the oil industry buys that captured CO2 and injects it into oil fields in order to get those last stubborn barrels of oil out of older oil fields. It's kind of ironic that the main use of carbon capture from power plants up to now, is to feed the oil industry.
David Hawkins: We are not limited to just sticking this captured carbon dioxide into oil fields. We can stick it into other kinds of formations that don't produce any oil. And the CO2, basically, over time will turn into rock and not get back into the atmosphere. That as you can imagine ... If nobody like oil industry is paying to have that CO2 put into those geologic formations, there has to be reason to do it. What's that reason? It's called regulation. There has to be a requirement for these ... as a condition to doing business. You have to cut back on your pollution.
David Hawkins: This is not a novel idea. We make automobile makes cut their pollution when they make new cars. We make power plant operators cut their sulfur dioxide emissions and that helps reduce acid rain and cuts down on lung disease. And we've done this for decades. We just have to do it for carbon dioxide.
Quinn: I'm going to mangle this. But again, we try to take the position of our listeners, which is pretty informed. I know that there were items involved on that front specifically in the clean power plan. Can you enlighten us as to what those were? And where they stand now, with Dracula running the show?
Quinn: What was the intent and where are we now?
David Hawkins: Yes. Absolutely. The background on this, is that at the end of the Bush administration NRDC sued the Federal Government, saying you've got a duty to regulate carbon dioxide pollution from power plants.
Quinn: What was the basis of that lawsuit?
David Hawkins: The basis was another lawsuit that NRDC participated in that went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that carbon dioxide was a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Therefore, EPA had an obligation to regulate it unless EPA could demonstrate that CO2 was harmless.
David Hawkins: And of course, EPA can't demonstrate that CO2 is harmless. So they have a duty to regulate. We brought that lawsuit and then we proceeded to negotiate with the Obama administration. Which, ultimately let to the Obama administration issuing the first ever rules to cut back on carbon pollution from new power plants and from existing power plants. That existing power plant rule is called The Clean Power Plan.
David Hawkins: That was immediately the subject of lawsuits by the industry. And unfortunately, The Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote ... It was Justice Scalia's last act before he died. They issued an order putting that enforcement of that rule on hold until the case wound its way through the courts. You got to love lawyers but that case is still in the courts.
Brian: You are one.
David Hawkins: No. That was a joke.
Quinn: No offense. No offense.
David Hawkins: Yeah, I guess the only reason you have to love lawyers is if it were the law. That you had to love lawyers. Anyway, that case is still dragging through the courts. The Clean Power Plan is not enforceable at the moment. And Scott Pruitt of the Trump EPA has proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan.
David Hawkins: We are tracking that and if he takes final ... If he issues a final rule, repealing that Clean Power Plan. We'll take that to court and we think we'll win that case.
Brian: Oh, yes.
David Hawkins: But unfortunately, as long as these rules are tied up in court, we don't have a legal handle to force power plants to install this kind of carbon capture equipment, at the moment. But that's where we're headed. I think that before I retire, and that's not going to be real soon.
Quinn: Please don't retire.
Brian: Can you just keep working please, we need you.
David Hawkins: We are going to have rules that require power plants to capture their carbon. I am quite certain of that.
Brian: It's not just new carbon plants being built but you could apply that technology to current ones, as well.
David Hawkins: Yeah, you can. In fact, there is a large coal fire power plant that's operating in Texas. That is using this technology to capture carbon and it's a power plant that was built 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, it's technical feasible. And the economics are not punishing but, you know, if you don't have to do it then paying a penny is too much for some people. Some power plant operators. They won't do it unless they have to do it.
Quinn: Right, could you talk us a little bit ... Again, we're pretty informed, pretty progressive actionable listeners but we always want to make sure everybody gets what we're talking about. Could you just back up for one second and talk us through, a little bit, the mechanics of where the technology is today? And any obstacles are running into just on that side? Where we made progress ... Again, were is it today?
David Hawkins: Sure. I'll start by talking a little bit about the technology that gets applied to power plants. And then I want to move on to the second kind carbon capture, which is pulling the carbon dioxide out of the air.
David Hawkins: First, at the power plant level. It's essentially, the technology has been around, as I say, for 40 years or more. It's essentially, a chemical shower.
Brian: That sounds fun.
David Hawkins: Yeah, right. If you got gases that are full of pollutants coming out of a power plant, before they get released from the stack. You just run it through a big chamber that is filled with a chemical solution. Those chemicals absorb the CO2. They suck the CO2 out of the gas stream. Then that CO2 is ... In the next stage it's separated from that chemical mixture. And compressed into this fluid, which is then put into pipelines and injected under ground.
David Hawkins: The chemicals are reused over and over again to capture more CO2. That's basically how it works. The technology is proven, it's proven in commercial uses and it is, as I say, it is used on a limited number of industrial plants because that's what the oil industry will pay for that captured CO2.
David Hawkins: The issue there is, not technology or technical readiness. It is the fact that we don't have a policy making people use that technology. In a way, it's like the rules that applied to sulfur dioxide when I started my career, back in 1970. At that time, there was technology. It was rudimentary to pull SO2, sulfur dioxide, out of power plants stacks. But there weren't any rules requiring it to be done. So it wasn't done.
David Hawkins: And that's one of the first things I worked on, was getting rules to require that sulfur dioxide to be pulled out of power plant stacks with using technology and now every new power plant that's built has to use that technology. So, that how things change. That's a situation-
Quinn: Fascinating. It's not really too much of a technical hold up, then.
David Hawkins: Not at all. No it is not.
Quinn: At least on the first front.
David Hawkins: Yes. Let's move to the second kind of carbon capture. That is, okay we got all these billions of tons of CO2 that are in the air and are going to be in air for a long time. What cane we do about that? Well one of the things we can do about it, is stop interfering with what trees already do.
David Hawkins: That's what trees do. They take carbon dioxide and use it to build the wood in the tree.
Quinn: Trees are so [crosstalk 00:32:40].
David Hawkins: Yeah, well you know, it's Mother Natures ... You can't beat Mother Nature. Even though we seem to be trying.
Quinn: Right. Great idea, everybody.
David Hawkins: We can stop cutting down as many trees as we are. And we can be more riggerous about re planting trees. We can also reforest areas that are currently degraded land. That's something we should do. But that's not a total solution by any means.
David Hawkins: The other thing that people are exploring is using an engineering approach to suck carbon dioxide out of the air. It's important to look at this technology and put money into approving it out. But it's going to require laws to actually make it happen, in the real world. You're never going to bring down the cost of doing this to zero. Therefore, they're going to have to be laws and that's where your listeners come in. Cause those laws are only going to be adopted if the politicians understand that the people that they want to have vote for them are demanding it.
David Hawkins: If that doesn't happen, then these solutions are not going to come forward at the speed we need them to come forward.
Quinn: Sure, and now, I want to get that. The steps our folks can take. Because that is our end goal.
David Hawkins: Right.
Quinn: What of things I want to talk about a little bit is ... Again, we want to be as pragmatic as possible, here. Again, it's a year of action. You can have the pipe dream of getting everyone onboard but it's pretty tough to do. But it does seem like most folks, especially most young folks are on board. Obviously, many of these utilities have no interest in paying an extra penny for carbon capture technology and it's clear that there's also a specific segment of folks, conservatives, that aren't on board with action for a variety of reasons.
Quinn: It's like that's the last block to sway. And you can't group them all together because, again, they all have their specific reasons or multitude of reasons. We've had some conservative climate activists on and one of the most popular ideas ... And they were bobbing Jerry Taylor and Reverend Mitch Hiscooks. Who all sort of represent different factions of conservative climate action
Quinn: One of their, sort of, most popular ideas that they've been pushing is a heavy carbon tax, that replaces a lot of these regulations, if not all of them. Basically the idea, coming back to what you said, giving business and these utilities no choice but to pivot and evolve. Because the tax is heavy enough. Assuming it doesn't start to heavy because it never does. And that will enable us to get rid of the regulations because we won't need them anymore.
Quinn: Obviously, a lot of this pipe dreams and will be more complicated, and somewhere in the middle if it ever were to happen. But I'm curious, your thoughts on something like carbon taxes and incentive, versus the regulations that keep getting mangled.
David Hawkins: Right, well the first job is persuading politicians that we have to do something to cut carbon emissions. That is absolutely the first job. We shouldn't be doing anything that inter fears with that. So, we have to be careful that we don't get stuck on a big fight about what tools to use. Or what recipe to use. It's important we get people to agree, that we have to take strong action.
David Hawkins: With that said, carbon taxes are a fine tool. But they are a tool. Not the total solution. We think that absolute best recipe would be a mixture of carbon taxes and strategically performance standards. Which some people call regulations. But they're performance standards. We know that if we're going to protect the climate, cars have to be clean. Power plants have to be clean. The fuel that's used in cars has to be clean. Our buildings need to be efficient, so they don't waste energy. Our appliances need to be efficient, so that they don't waste energy. And a carbon tax can help push in those directions but it's an indirect tool. A direct tool is to use technologies capabilities to actually establish performance standards. We know that works.
David Hawkins: We have had performance standards for cars since the early 1970's. And that's one of the reasons Los Angeles' air is cleaner than it was today. We had lead in gasoline for 50 years. Until we adopted performance standards saying, no more lead in gasoline. That has prevent the poisoning of tens of millions of kids. These performance standards work. And there is absolute nothing from a policy standpoint that argues against a hybrid system. Where we have a combination.
David Hawkins: Now the argument that some will make is, "Oh, we're not going to get the Republicans to get onboard doing anything like a carbon tax, unless we promise to do away with regulations." Well, I actually don't agree with that logic. Republicans are going to get onboard to do something about protecting climate when they're voter say, "We want you to do something about protecting the climate." Until they feel that political pressure, you can offer all the anti-regulatory sweeteners you want, and they're still not get on board. THey're just going to sit there and say, "All right, what else can you bring me? That's not enough. What else can you bring me? That's not enough."
David Hawkins: Until they feel political pressure, they're simply going to negotiate from a standpoint of, I don't care. I don't have to make a deal because I don't have any pressure to make a deal.
Quinn: Right, and it's just ... The frustrating thing is, and again it's early days but, seeing what happen in Washington state earlier this month. Democratic Governor, Democratic majority, how relatively stem but still. Failed to pass a carbon tax, is just ... Man.
Quinn: Obviously, it's a funny thing because of course the state's where there's going to be, theoretically ... A state like Washington where, theoretically, there would be the most action on climate. Are of course, the bluest states that aren't pumping out all this carbon but at the same time, it should be the place where we can get this sort of thing done. Especially, where everyone is so fired up. And yet it failed. It's really frustrating and a little confusing to see those last folks waiver that we needed to get it over the line. When you have, again, suppositiously all the pieces in place.
David Hawkins: Yeah, it's not to surprising. It's an important lesson. And unfortunately, the frame of a carbon tax, is something that's very easy to attack. It's red meat to go out and say, "Oh, look. These people are going to make your daily automobile trip more expensive." THey're going to make it more expensive for you to heat your house. You're going to have to choose between feeding your kids and heating your house. You're going to have to choose between paying your medical bills, going to the doctor, and heating your house.
Quinn: WHat's so interesting about that though is, those are literally verbatim the arguments a Republicans have made for a century on why they hate taxes on the first place. And yet, the thing the activist ... And again, I do believe in carbon tax. I don't think any one thing is the pure solve, 100%. But it's aren't they going to have answer all those questions for this too.
David Hawkins: That is the dilemma with a carbon tax. The frame of a carbon tax is, we're going to make something more expensive. And what is that something, it's something that people use a lot of today. The problem is you have to persuade the average person who doesn't have protecting the climate at the top of his or her list of priorities. You have persuade them that they're going to be better off after this tax is in place.
David Hawkins: There's a good strong argument that they will be better off. But the opponents of a carbon tax can play on the very skepticism of Government promises, that they're using to attack Government today. And they'll say, "the Governor is saying we're going to tax gasoline and we're going to tax natural gas, more. And he promises you'll be better off." Well do you believe him? I think the example in Washington State is, that there were enough politicians that, essentially, reached the conclusion that they weren't going to be believed. And that they we're going to be punished by the voters for making these products more costly.
David Hawkins: In contrast, when you're talking about an acting a strong anti-pollution law. The frame is very different. The frame is, we're going to make it illegal for companies to pump these poisons into the air. Everybody wants few poisons in the air. We've got this evidence that is solid and backed by good solid science that shows that it's not going to make a very much more of a cost difference in the products you pay for. And you will get the benefit of fewer poisons in the air.
David Hawkins: With the carbon tax, it's just a more complicated argument. Cause the first thing that people hear is, things are going to be more expensive. And then they hear but there going to be benefits. With the anti-pollution frame, it's we're going have less pollution. And we can afford it.
Brian: That seems all right. I'm into that.
Quinn: Right, okay. Do you have any hope that we can depolarize this issue? So it's not so closely like with partisan affiliation? That it's not ... Again, it's wonderful that we interviewed these awesome climate activists and there's a lot a of other news last week in the Atlantic about the college Republicans taking this to task, which is awesome. Because the young folks are really going to make a difference.
Quinn: For a lot of folks it's still heretical to believe in climate science. Even for some moderate Republicans these days.
David Hawkins: Right, I think ... I've been working in this area since 1970. Actually, the last 10 years is more of an aberration than a normal state of affairs. We had in 2008 election, we had a Republican candidate and a Democratic candidate both saying they were going pursue strong climate protection policies. We had Republicans vote for climate bills in congress, even when there was a Republican in the White House. The election of Obama, in 2008. Caused the Republican leadership to look at issues that they could exploit and they decided, among others, that climate change was one.
David Hawkins: They were going tag it with the label, job killing energy tax. That's become the litmus test of being a Republican in the National Legislature, in the Congress. It's not so much of a litmus test in other states. But it is the litmus test for Republicans in congress. But as I say, that's no normal. It will change. And why will it change? It's going to change because more and more communities are starting to do serious planning about what they're going to have to do to their streets, their bridges, their flood control measures to deal with sea level rise and to deal with increase storminess. And in California to deal with forest fires and to deal with drought.
David Hawkins: As they start actually ascending the professionals to work, to figure out, okay what kind of program do we have to put in place. What do we have to put into our county's budget to confront these disruptions in the climate. They're going to get these reports back that are saying, "Oh my god, this is going to be an unmanageable problem."
David Hawkins: You can't avoid these damages to our community just by denying the existing of climate change. Because the climate doesn't care where the politician denies the reality of it. It just keeps chugging away and response to what we're doing.
David Hawkins: That is sink in. At more and more community levels. We're already seeing it in a place like South Florida. Where you have bipartisan county officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, agreeing that there needs to be a climate resilience plan. And that it's going to require a lot of money to protect South Florida from the damages associated.That's going to happen in more and more places. It's going to happen up and down the Atlantic coast. It's going to happen in Gulf Coast. It's going to happen in California, even more due to forest first. It's even going to happen in places like Texas. Where the hurricanes coming in from the Gulf Coast are going to be recognized as more and more difficult to control as the climate gets disrupted. As drought effect Texas agriculture.
David Hawkins: These are things, which the professionals that work for Government agencies in trying to protect the public welfare. They're going to do this work and they're going to discover, we have a problem that isn't being managed. That information is going to gradually get pointed out to the politicians that get elected to go to Washington. And they aren't going to be able to keep ignoring it.
Brian: Right. So we got to put some pressure on these bastards. Yeah? What steps should folks be taking to deal with corporations that are still polluting their districts. Obviously, divesting but is there anything more impactful specific to business that we can all be doing?
Quinn: Yeah, it seems to be three prongs; businesses, State and Federal voting, and also, maybe, on a hyper local level. Let's start with corporations. What can our listeners do to put pressure on those businesses?
David Hawkins: Well if they own any stock in companies, they can vote for resolutions that are increasingly being offered that are, basically, saying you've got to evaluate the risks of climate change. Both the risks to your operations but also the risks to your business plan as Governments act to do something about climate. Now Exxon Mobile, for example, lost it's first ever resolution from shareholders. The shareholders were presented with a resolution saying, Exxon Mobile needs to do serious planning to address how to look at its business plan, given the likely hood that climate policies are going to get tougher.
David Hawkins: The management urged a no vote on that. But it was adopted. So now they are going to be required to do these analysis because the shareholders are directing them too.
Quinn: That's amazing.
David Hawkins: That's one important but modest step. The other thing that can be done is, as consumers of products, you can reward companies demonstrating more seriousness about doing something about climate change. Shift your business away from companies that are not. We had the opportunity to do that with our electricity purchases. Now you can purchase electricity from companies that are supplying wind and solar based electricity. And then the cost premium is a lot less than it used to be.
David Hawkins: Another thing is being pursued by state's and cities is to bring lawsuits against the fossil fuel companies for the damages that the cities are suffering. There's the oil companies are doing a big propaganda campaign to complain about these lawsuits saying, "Oh, well everybody uses oil and gas and what we've been doing is legal. It's not fair." But there's a simpliar way to think about this. The damages are happening. People are paying for the damages. The question is, who should pay for dealing with this? Should it be the tax payers? Or should it be the customers that actually use the fossil fuels?
David Hawkins: If the oil companies are held responsible for these damages, yes, they'll pass it on, on the price of the gasoline that they sell. But that's as it should be. That means that when you and I go and fill up our car, we're going to pay a little bit for the damages that the use of that gasoline is going to inflect on our community. But we have a choice. We can make fewer trips. We can buy a more efficient car. We have a choice that will reduce the amount we pay. If that amount is embedded in the price of gasoline. But if we're a tax payer and we get a tax bill that has embedded in it our share of $5 billion community expenditures to deal with climate change damages. You and I cannot reduce our tax bill by buying a more efficient car. Because the tax bill is going to be levied on us as a tax payer not as a consumer of the gasoline.
David Hawkins: The reality is, someone is going to pay for dealing with the harm that caused by the use of those fuels. Isn't it more fair for all of us as users of gasoline and other fossil fuels to pay for it that way. Rather than paying for it as tax payers.
Quinn: Sure, that makes sense. And now, I want to get to the State and Federal question but let's use an example. And we talked about Exxon on, again, the grossest highest level of being a shareholder there and what's happening with them and the lawsuits some of these cities are taking them. We're actually going to talk to some of those Mayors soon.
Quinn: Let's say, Brian's got a coal plant in his district.
Brian: Brian's coal.
Quinn: Nope, that's not the idea. You're not the coal person. Someone else's ... God.
Quinn: All right, there's a coal plant in Brian's district. Which is over and over happens to minorities. They suffer the worst from these things. That's where we put our prisons, that's where we put our power plants. What are specific local measures that can be taken by these folks? Besides protesting outside in caring signs. Are there actual measures that can be taken under any of the remaining clean environment laws or are there specific things they should be saying to their city councils? Or should they run for office themselves? To take on someone that is poisoning their air so directly.
David Hawkins: Right, one thing that citizens can do is to make sure that, that coal plant is complying with the laws that are in place today. And as I said, we don't have enforceable law in most states requiring control of carbon pollution. But we have a lot of laws that are enforceable for control of other kinds of power plants. Sorry, other kind of pollutants. One thing that can be done, is you can find out whether the power plant is complying with those other laws. Are they complying-
Quinn: And to stop you right there. How can Brian best educate himself on whether they are ... How can he ask the most informed questions of the city council? Who might not have that answer themselves. Where can we point people to find out that information.
David Hawkins: Right, well the USEPA has publicly available emission pollution reporting files.
David Hawkins: Yeah, still.
Quinn: Have you checked today?
David Hawkins: Yeah, they still have it. It's available at the EPA.gov. In the air program office. And that's something that we got put in the law in 1990. We got a requirement that, basically, every coal fire power plant in the country has to do what's called continuous emission monitoring. They have to have instrument in their smoke stacks that records the amount of pollution for each and every hour of each and every day. We got that requirement so it had to be electronically reported and available electronically on the web. That is the case. Those reports are all available.
David Hawkins: Brian knows the name of his coal fire power plant, he can-
Brian: It's not Brian's coal. [crosstalk 00:57:00]
David Hawkins: He can get that name at the EPA website. And get the latest quarterly report of the emission results. And they are also required to actually, report when they have a violation.
Quinn: Is that on the website, as well?
David Hawkins: Yes. Environmental groups like NRDC, The Sierra club, other groups, we have brought a number of enforcement lawsuits against coal plants that are not complying with these emission regulations. That's something that can be done.
David Hawkins: A second thing that can be done, is even though the Federal Clean Power Plan is not being enforced because of the Supreme Court's stay. There's nothing preventing state's from adopting their own versions of Clean Power Plan. In California, for example, has a state law that controls Carbon Pollution from power plants and other types of carbon emitting sources. The North Eastern States have a collaborative where they require CO2 controls on power plants. With the change in the leadership in New Jersey, that state is joining that collaborative.
David Hawkins: Other state's can be ... Both California and the New England states can be pointed to as examples of states that have adopted these rules. A push can be made in your listeners states in they're not in either of those places to push their state legislatures to submit and introduce and adopt those kinds of bills.
David Hawkins: Even if those bills do not succeed. Just organizing around a message that says, there are practical affordable technologically available things that can be done for the pollution sources that are located in our states. It's a great way to get people educated about what is possible.
Quinn: Yeah, that's very specific and concrete and really helpful. Let's say a conservative is actually is listening to this. Hello. And they're in an even moderately red state, let's say Texas for example. Where things can go a lo of different ways. What can a moderate republican that cares about environmental action in this year specifically, what should they be asking of their conservative reps, specifically?
David Hawkins: One thing that can be pointed out about Texas is that when George W. Bush was Governor of Texas he signed a law that required an increase in the amount of wind power for electricity. And that law has been a huge success. There is an enormous amount of wind power generating reliable affordable electricity. That is pollution free. And that's result of a law that George W. Bush signed. It's been a success story. It's sort of like Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. George W. Bush actually is responsible for growing wing power in Texas. This is something that people can brag about. And more can be done.
David Hawkins: In addition, to promoting the good thing. We can discourage the bad things. There's still a lot of coal plants operating in Texas that wouldn't need to operate if we upped the amount of wind power that Texas was building. There's still a lot of wind power left. These are things that Republicans should be able to get behind. If they are present with the facts.
Quinn: That sounds pretty darn reasonable. We're getting to time here. We can't think you enough for everything, obviously, you've done over the past 200 years.
Brian: You've been with NRDC for 200 years, right?
Quinn: Right. Who else should we talk to out there?
David Hawkins: YOu've mentioned the three conservatives that you talked to. I know Jerry Taylor well. I know Bob Engliss. They're the genuine article. They really are working hard. That's a good thing. Another very impressive person who happens to be a Texan is a scientist named Katherine Hayhoe. H-A-Y-H-O-E. I think Jerry mentioned her on your podcast.
Brian: Every single guest we've interviewed.
Quinn: Everybody has and we've just been waiting in invite for the perfect moment. I basically, I figure if we get to 50 guests have all recommended Katherine Hayhoe then we have the best chance of her saying, "Yes." It's preposterous. She's amazing.
David Hawkins: Yeah, she's very good. Another guy that I think very highly of, who's in the Bay Area in California. Another scientist his name is Ken Caldeira. C-A-L-D-E-I-R-A. He is a very active climate scientist and publishes a lot, tweets a lot, and just does brilliant analysis and he's done papers for example, saying if we really want to make this target of keeping temp ature increases below 1.5 or 2 degrees. Here's how many wind turbines we have to be building every year. And guess what? We're only building a fraction of that amount. He does these studies where he puts it in terms of people can understand.
Quinn: I like it. I like it.
Brian: Ken Caldeira, all right. Thank you.
Quinn: All right, so let's summarize what our listeners and progressives in general and everybody can be doing to take action. One is; if you're a shareholder of one of these fossil fuel companies, small or large, you can either divest, which is great, or you can stay as a shareholder and speak up. Like a lot of these folks have been doing. Seems like there's pros and cons to both sides. But regardless, take action.
David Hawkins: You could actually do both. If you had fair amount of stock, you could sell all but a few shares and still use those few shares to have a voice. Although, it wouldn't be as loud a voice.
Quinn: But it's something.
Quinn: Number two is, visit the EPA site that you mentioned before. And we're going to put in the show notes for everybody. And may even just throw that on the website. Make that something that is, again, shocking it still exists. But seems to be a pretty powerful tool. And find out if your power plant is up to snuff.
Quinn: Three, again, it seems like we say this all time. Like you said, someone has to pay for this stuff. Use your vote locally and federally and make it personal. Because, like you said, until there's pressure on these people ... And again, I think it's clear from what happened in Washington this month. Everywhere it's going to take a lot of pressie because, like you said, framing attacks. Framing anything like this, someones going to have to pay for it on all these fronts, and it's going to be a hard fight. But the more pressie we can put on them, especially, in a year like this. The better chance we have of starting to build momentum and having some successes on this stuff. Does that all sound right?
David Hawkins: That is right. We got a big challenge.
Quinn: Donate to the NRDC.
Brian: 84% goes right to programs.
David Hawkins: We are very grateful for the fact that we have a couple million supporters. Most of whom, contribute $20 or $30 a year and we try to make that money do as much good for the environment as we can.
Quinn: 84 cents on the dollar sounds pretty damn good to me.
Brian: I'm into it.
Quinn: Brian, likes to lead our little lightning round here. This is how we'll sort of close things out. Again, we really appreciate the time.
David Hawkins: Sure.
Brian: We have a few questions that we like to ask everybody. When was the first time in your life, when you realized that you had the power of change? Or the power to do something meaningful?
David Hawkins: Well it was when I was in law school. I was working on Earth Day, the first Earth Day. I was able to convince the Mayor's office that we should do something really clear like closing 5th avenue to automobiles. They were persuaded to do it and it was a huge success.
Brian: And you say your not vital to the species. Very good, very good. Question number four, how do you consume the news?
David Hawkins: I'm on my iPad every morning. Sometimes before the sun is up, reading the New York Times. Reading the Washington Post. Reading all whole mess of trade press articles. Then I usually watch MSNBC when I'm having breakfast or CNN. Those are typically the places that I get my news from.
Brian: Nice. All right, we know you're an avid reader, David. I actually read a little something it said if you weren't doing what you were doing, maybe you'd own a bookstore. And so we love this question. If you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would it be?
David Hawkins: Boy.
David Hawkins: Well I can give you a serious response.
Quinn: Give us both, whatever you want.
David Hawkins: Okay, there's a book called The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wolf. It's about Alexander Von Humboldt. Who was really the first ecologist and it's a fascinating book about how he understood how nature works. I guess, if that one is too much of a lift, maybe Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.
Quinn: Yes, it's a great one.
Brian: Not the first time somebody has mentioned Dr. Seuss on the podcast.
Quinn: Yeah, not at all. My kids love Seuss. Those are both awesome recommendations. I'm excited to check out The Invention of Nature.
Brian: Yeah, that sounds great. All right, we got another one for you.
Quinn: And this seems to be a big one, specifically for you.
Brian: Yeah. We've done our research and we're going to-
Quinn: Specifically, your daughter mentioned this in the very first email.
David Hawkins: Okay.
Brian: Got any hobbies? Singing?
Brian: Maybe do a little singing?
David Hawkins: Yeah, that's right. I sing and I don't know whether your mic will take it but [inaudible 01:08:51].
Quinn: Amazing. Yes, that is our first official yodel.
Brian: That's so awesome.
David Hawkins: I do a love to yodel. I sing in a Russian Chamber acapella chorus in New York City, where half of the members are Russian or Ukrainian. It's wonderful job.
Brian: That's so great.
David Hawkins: She probably also told you that am a Lego fanatic. I love to build ... Yep.
Quinn: You're among good company here.
David Hawkins: Yeah, I've got lot of Lego models stuck around the house. Where ever my wife lets me put them.
Quinn: You and me both, champ.
David Hawkins: Yeah. They're great. I haven't let the fact that my kids are all grown up stop me from buying and building Legos. It's a great invention. By the way, there's a Lego model of an off shore wind turbine.
David Hawkins: Yeah, that's my next project to build.
Brian: That's so great.
Quinn: That's amazing. Yeah, my kids are young and into Legos and love it. I'm the same way. I ordered ... I managed to get my hands on the Saturn 5 when it came out last year. And it just came directly to my office.
David Hawkins: Nice. Yeah. Nice.
Quinn: One day they'll find that out.
Brian: Holy Cow. David, where can our listeners follow up online?
David Hawkins: Well I do have a Twitter account. It's DaHawk7843. SO D-A-H-A-W-K 7843. I don't tweet super often but usually a few times a week. So there. Occasionally, I'll blog at NRDC.org. Go to the experts page and if you don't find a blog by me, there are a lot of excellent blogs by my co-workers.
Quinn: Awesome. We love it. Well listen David. Man, we can't thank you so much for your time today.
Brian: Very much.
Quinn: I know this ran a little long. But it seems super worth it. And I think our listeners are going come out of this with a lot context for some pretty cool technologies that may or many not work out. But could be vitally important. And again, should be developed alongside all of our efforts to stop putting emissions in the atmosphere in the first place. And also, some really specific steps they can take to take local and global corporations and their representatives to task for how things are going now. And what they want to do in the future. We really, really appreciate it. And of course, for all that you do. Making Los Angeles breathable has been a real plus.
David Hawkins: Well thanks so much, thank you for doing this. It's a terrific show. It's great that you're paying this attention to this critical problem.
Quinn: All right, thank you so much David and we will talk to you again soon.
Brian: Thank you David. Have a great one.
David Hawkins: Okay, nice to meet you virtually. Yep.
Quinn: All right, take care. Bye.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome work out or dish washing or fucking dog walking late at time. That much more pleasant. As a reminder please subscribe to our free email news letter at Importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on twitter @importantnotimp. So weird. Also, on Facebook and Instagram at ImportantnotImportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us. You know the deal. And please subscribe to our show where ever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcasts. Keep the lights on, thanks.
Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little your podcast player and at our website importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome, Tim Blane, for our jamming music. To all of you for listening and finally most importantly to our mom's for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys.