MRS. ROBINSON: Thank you.
MS. FIGUERES: Thank you, Frances. Thank you for inviting us.
MS. SELLERS: Oh, we're delighted to have you. I'd like to start by stepping back a little bit from the climate change question. We've been so focused on COVID and the pandemic around the world and here in the U.S. that I think some people may have lost track of why 2020 is such a critical year. And maybe, Ms. Figueres, you could address this. Why is it a critical year, according to the goals you set up in 2015?
MS. FIGUERES: Well, 2020 is actually a critical year across many different issues. It was a critical year for climate. It was a critical year for biodiversity. It was a critical year for oceans. It was a critical year because, unfortunately, we have been delaying way too long on all of these issues, and 2020 is the start of what we call "the decisive decade," specifically on climate. This decade that we are starting, the decade of the '20s, is the decade in which we must, absolutely must, be able to cut our emissions by one-half by the end of the decade, 2030.
If we do that, Frances, we actually open up a path to a very, very positive world with much more safety, better health, better social justice, certainly better environmental conditions, and more economic growth. But if we don't, we condemn ourselves to a world of increasingly physical destruction and human misery that is very difficult to imagine.
So, this is it--2020 is the start of the decisive decade.
MS. SELLERS: Wow. Thank you for putting that into some perspective. And Mrs. Robinson, what does it mean in terms of these goals that President Trump has withdrawn from the agreement, from the Paris Agreement? In November that will become formal, and I'd love to understand from you what the implications of those steps are.
MRS. ROBINSON: It obviously doesn't help to have the leader of the United States at the federal level stepping back from an agreement which all of the countries, 195 countries, under Christiana Figueres, my dear friend, had agreed in Paris in December of 2015.
Luckily, many states in the United States, many cities, many businesses, a great deal of civil society say they are still in the Paris Agreement anyway. And, in fact, the day after the presidential election is the formal day when the United States would withdraw, and it is clear that the other presidential candidate, if I can put it that way, Vice President Biden, has made it clear he would stay in. But it all depends on the next election, whether that takes effect.
But I do agree with Christiana when she talks about the importance of now and of 2020, and I have to say, you know, in January I was actually quite, you know, depressed, and I'm not allowed to be depressed because I have a new role, or a relatively new role as chair of the elders who were brought together by Nelson Mandela. He wanted his legacy to be continued on peace and human rights, and Archbishop Tutu was our first chair. Kofi Annan was our second chair. I am now chair of the elders, and we're not allowed to be depressed because we're supposed to bring hope.
Well, I wasn't feeling very hopeful in January, because countries didn't seem to be stepping up to the ambition needed, as Christiana said, to have global emissions in 10 years. And actually--
MS. SELLERS: Let me ask you--
MRS. ROBINSON: --and then COVID hit, and I now am a little bit more hopeful because of the lessons of COVID.
MS. SELLERS: Let me ask you specifically about one leader who you asked to step up, Justin Trudeau in Canada. Were you hoping that Canada might fill the void of leadership left by the United States?
MRS. ROBINSON: Well, Canada certainly can play a role, and I'm glad to see they are, you know, stepping up and moving back from what would be bad decisions, which were being threatened in relation to a huge mine there, which I wrote an op-ed about. But Canada is an important country from that point of view.
But I really think we need to understand the moment we're in and why we're there. If I may, I'd like to explain why it's so important to address the climate crisis, which is still looming, because I always talk about climate justice, and that stems from the injustice of climate change. And I think people should understand there are probably five layers to that injustice. Your video showed a little of it.
But first of all, it disproportionately affects the poorest countries and poorest communities, so there is a racial injustice linked up there.
Secondly, the gender dimensions within that, because women have unequal roles in societies, and they don't have land rights, and they have to go further in the drought for water, et cetera, and they have to try and build resilience in their communities, as so many are doing.
The third injustice is the one the children have reminded us of, the intergenerational injustice.
The fourth is one that is more subtle but very real, the injustice of the pathways to development, because the rich countries, the industrialized world, we built our economics on fossil fuel, and now we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuel. But developing countries--and Christiana will remember this--before Paris, promised to go as green as possible, clean energy, but they said, "We will need the investment, we will need the technology, we will need the skills, we will need the training," and they haven't got enough of that. And they are finding oil and gas and indeed coal, and what are they to do to take their people out of poverty? So, we need a solidarity which we're still not seeing.
And the fifth injustice is the injustice against nature herself, the loss of biodiversity, which Christiana mentioned, the extinction of species.
So, this is the reason why it's so important. All of that is on the negative side, but Christiana and myself love to talk on the positive side, and she is particularly good on the positive side.
MS. SELLERS: Well let me turn to Ms. Figueres right now, if I may, and ask about the parallels. Some of the injustices Mrs. Robinson just brought up are playing out as well in the COVID pandemic. We've seen a disproportionate impact on the poorest people in the world. Does that give you reason for hope, Ms. Figueres, or how do we process these parallel injustices that have been so clear in these twin disasters?
MS. FIGUERES: I do think that there's reason for hope here, hope that we are learning lessons that we should have learned over the past few decades, but that perhaps because climate change is more chronic and COVID is more acute, everything with COVID actually happens in a very, very short period of time, including the lessons learned.
So, we are definitely hoping that, first, there is going to be lessons learned about the need for collaboration, about the role of science, about making very, very careful decisions that include so many factors in that decision-making process. But also, we are very much hoping for recovery packages, that as the world comes out of the first wave of the health crisis we are all moving into the economic crisis that comes after the health crisis, and that economic crisis needs to be met. And we know that we already have $12 trillion that have been allotted to recovery packages around the world, and it could actually go up to $20 trillion. Never--never in the history have we seen that level of capital injected into the economy, and it is very, very important that that capital be very wisely injected, because that level of capital, injected over the next 18 months, will define the characteristics and the structure of the economy worldwide, over decades to come.
Now in the United States, if I can just come to the U.S., the U.S. administration has approved a $3 trillion recovery program that is actually of huge concern, because it includes the purchasing of debt of fossil fuel companies. Now, if you are hit by a storm, the last thing you do is you go out onto the ocean and you buy boats or ships that are actually sinking, or, in fact, that were simply sinking even before the storm. If you're going to take advantage of the storm, you use the storm to figure out which boats are actually more resilient and more robust, and those are the ones that you invest in.
The coal industry was already on its knees before COVID, and it is even more on its knees now. It does not require the U.S. administration to go out there and purchase debt, especially from coal companies. That is absolute folly.
Now the House has passed a $1.5 trillion recovery program that is green, that actually focuses on clean technologies and on the boom in the clean tech, that can bring immediate shovel-ready jobs, and that is going to build the economy for years to come. What a difference between those two visions.
MS. SELLERS: Right. That was exactly what I wanted to ask you about. One of the huge issues, of course, after the Great Recession of the 1930s and World War II was this emphasis on fossil fuel-based growth, growth all the way. There was some change after 2008, with a redirection towards more green investment.
But are there countries in the world that are taking the current stimulus packages and spending it in ways that you see as wise, for example, the EU perhaps? Where does the U.S. fit in comparison with other countries?
MRS. ROBINSON: I think the EU is a very good example--
MS. FIGUERES: Well that--
MRS. ROBINSON: Sorry.
MS. FIGUERES: Go ahead.
MRS. ROBINSON: I think the EU is a very good example, because you have the Green New Deal of the EU with its very important Just Transition Fund, a fund that enables the transition for workers as well, workers in coal, in particular, and also, ultimately, in oil and gas. And the Green New Deal, it has a biodiversity strategy. It has now its recovery package, which is aligning with the Green New Deal, possibly not as much as some of us would like but it certainly is acknowledging the need to align the recovery so that we come out of COVID with the right decisions and looking to the future.
MS. SELLERS: COVID, in some sense--oh, go ahead.
MS. FIGUERES: I was just going to agree with Mary, because honestly, the EU is such a leader in this. They have taken very, very tough decisions, but they have been consulted profoundly, and they have really understood that when the economy is on its knees, that is the moment to inject all the innovation that is going to be necessary for that economy over the next few decades.
So, they are actually taking advantage of this emergency and creating it into the opportunity that it is. That is the vision that is sadly lacking in the United States.
Now it's not only in Europe and in industrialized countries. To come back to our continent, in Latin America, Chile is doing the same thing. China is beginning to move in that direction as well. And I think the United States should be very concerned, because if China continues the leadership that it already has, in all of this clean tech, the U.S. is just going to be wiped off the table with respect to its competitiveness in all of this clean tech. The U.S. should be very worried.
MS. SELLERS: So, let me ask you a little bit about one of the sort of accidental outcomes of this disaster. I was speaking to a CEO the other day about travel, and of course, you know, very few people are traveling. Zoom has become the way of conducting conferences like this, discussions like this, and also many business meetings. Could Zoom be the answer to some of the climate's problems in the upcoming years?
MRS. ROBINSON: Well certainly I've been saying, quite truthfully, I was traveling too much, because like Christiana I was very keen to persuade as many people as possible. Now you can persuade by Zoom. I think there are times when you have to be face-to-face, and indeed the European Union found that. They had to get the heads of state together to agree to a recovery package. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been able to do it.
But it is actually a very good move that we can now convene globally, and exchange and listen to each other globally, and not have to use the emissions to travel. That's very helpful.
MS. SELLERS: So that said, Ms. Figueres, I'd love to ask you about the airline industry. I mean, they've made efforts to renegotiate agreements about carbon emissions. Are you seeing other industries under strain trying to rethink their approach to a greener future?
MS. FIGUERES: Well, the airline industry is, as you say, a very, very good example. In the United States, soundly, the airline industry is not being invited or coaxed into rethinking itself, but in other regions, in other geographies, they are. And it is definitely true that the airline industry will never return to what it used to be last year. They know that. And, therefore, they have to reinvent themselves. They will not be able to continue the business model that they had, where they were basically deriving all of their profits and all of their capital flow from the sale of business seats, business class seats. That is just no longer going to be the case.
As Mary has already pointed out, all of us, most people who travel for business will be really thinking about it twice, because it's not good for our health, it's not good for emissions, it's not good for the wallet, and we will be able to do a substantial portion of the work that we used to do in person, we will be able to do it like this.
Now, that does not mean that you can substitute air freight or air travel for those who want to travel to, beyond belief, beautiful areas in the world to have the experience of being either in nature or in history. That travel will very likely come back. The question is, how are the airlines going to make sure that their operations on the ground are 100 percent--100 percent carbon-free, because they can do that. And how are they going to make sure that, for example, that their short-haul flights can move over to zero-emission fuels, of which there are many in development? Long haul will take longer, but short-haul flights and operations on the ground have to move down to zero emissions ASAP, or otherwise they are not going to have popular support.
MS. SELLERS: Do either of you see other industries that face equally transformative futures because of the decisions they're making now?
MRS. ROBINSON: I was very interested yesterday to see that BP is changing itself from an international oil company to an international integrated energy company, and has committed to be zero-carbon by 2050, at the latest. Now when this was announced some months ago there was a lot of skepticism, and maybe there still should be. But we have seen much more realistic, you know, detailed measures that are going to be taken by a big oil company.
Now we need that to happen, and what we need is oil companies, also, to begin to fund Just Transition so that their workers, that they will have to lay off, they will have to lose their jobs, and will also be included in a solution. And that already should be happening much more than it is in coal in the United States. Instead, coal plants are closing and they're forgetting the workers.
MS. SELLERS: So let me take the discussion a little bit from these areas talking about big business to how you would address somebody on the ground level who said they can't afford, who would suggest they cannot afford carbon taxes and green policies because of the immediate economic impact on their businesses. How do you manage the working person who comes to you and challenges your globally valid ideas?
MS. FIGUERES: One way to think about this, Frances, is to think about carbon emissions as wasted carbon or inefficient carbon. When you look at, let's say, your home, if you live in Europe, or, in fact, if you live in the United States, chances are that your home is completely inefficient, and it is not properly insulated, and hence, the very scarce resources that are in your pocket are actually going to cooling the park in front of your house, or cooling your neighbor's house, or in the winter, heating up someone else's property. That is ridiculous.
So, efficiency in both our homes and our offices is one very clear way to avoid carbon emissions and be careful with your income. Carbon efficiency equals energy efficiency. They are both the same thing.
So, it's not true that everything that we do to address climate change is actually a cost. Many of the actions that we can take are actually savings that we can take, and that we need to begin to understand. Addressing climate change both at the personal as well as at the global level is not a burden. It is definitely a responsibility, because of our responsibility toward the future generations and to the younger generations. It is definitely a responsibility. But it doesn't have to be a burden. It can be an opportunity.
MS. SELLERS: Are there economic incentives to incorporating green energy and infrastructure into recovery plans?
MS. FIGUERES: In the European Union, yes. That's exactly the program that Mary was referring to. That's exactly what they're doing. They're giving that kind of incentives. Those are not in place in the United States yet.
MRS. ROBINSON: Could I just inject a point that I think the three of us might enjoy? As Christiana said, we can learn from COVID, and one of the lessons is that government and leadership matters. And it has been very evident that women-led governments are doing better. You know, there are problems that COVID can recur, but I think Angela Merkel in Germany, and the prime ministers of Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, all women, are doing well--
MS. FIGUERES: New Zealand.
MRS. ROBINSON: --New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, Taiwan, the president of Taiwan--taking tough decisions, listening to the science, and bringing their people with them, being trusted that they are actually doing what is needed at this point in time. And I think women's leadership is actually at a good moment now, which ought to be appreciated.
MS. SELLERS: So, women's leadership is also a reflection of a population that will vote for a woman leader, right?
MRS. ROBINSON: Well, I think so, yes. I think, you know, once we have the examples, and we have more and more now, I think we're seeing a real change. But there are still barriers, as we know. And, you know, even in your--you know, the choice, which is going to be a woman, apparently, of a vice president candidate by Vice President Biden, it is awful to see what is coming out in social media, the sexism of the remarks that are being made, even by senior figures, who should know better. It is quite shocking, but that's the way it is. That's why women have to try harder and do better.
MS. SELLERS: Right. Well, here you are with two female leaders on this topic. I am very proud to be with you on this screen.
But tell me, Ms. Figueres, what are some of the specific recommendations for integrating economic recovery and climate change solutions?
MS. FIGUERES: Well, as we said before, there has never been an opportunity to do that, that is as immediate as the green recovery. It's just unbelievable. It's almost as though the universe had told us, "Oh, you don't want to learn? You don't want to really do the right thing? Well, here's a slap in the face so that you will actually wake up."
I cannot stress enough the importance of these recovery packages that, as I said, could go up to $20 trillion, over the next 18 months. You see, we thought that we had almost a 10-year period to make all of these investment decisions. That period has now contracted into 18 months. All of this money is going to be decided over the next 18 months.
So each of those dollars that goes into recovery, that goes into the different airline companies, that goes into infrastructure, that goes into banking systems, that goes into all of the different sectors that need financial support, for sure, they should all be put through one very clear question--does this contribute to long-term economic growth and stability? Stability understood writ large--social stability, economic stability, environmental stability. If the answer to that question is yes, that is a dollar well invested. If the answer to that question is no, that dollar should not be invested. It's as clear and simple as that, and it's as urgent as that.
MS. SELLERS: Let me ask you both a question that came in from one of our viewers today, and I'm going to read it to you. This is a question from Martin Hatch from New York, who asks, "What are the obstacles in developing and executing a worldwide Marshall Plan for sustainable energy and energy conservation?"
Mrs. Robinson, would you like to take a first crack at that one?
MRS. ROBINSON: Oh, I love the question because wouldn't it be wonderful if we had that level of real cooperation globally. We kind of had it in 2015, because we got the 2030 agenda in September of 2015, and I wear this badge for the sustainable development goals. And then we got the Paris Climate Agreement under the great stewardship of Christiana.
We would do much better, even if we had global collaboration on COVID itself, on the development and availability to everybody of a vaccine, as a global public good. But, you know, I wish that we could be in a world of a global Marshall Plan. Instead, I think we're going to see different areas doing what they're doing.
I do agree with Christiana. I was worried about China going into coal in its recovery. It seems to be now moving more towards wind and solar, and it is a leader in the world on clean energy. And certainly, the European Union is giving good leadership. But I doubt if we have a world at the moment that we can have a global Marshall Plan, much as it would be wonderful if we could.
MS. SELLERS: What are your thoughts, Ms. Figueres, on that?
MS. FIGUERES: Well, as usual, I totally agree with Mary. 2015 was really the year in which the world wrote its business plan, its long-term global business plan. That business plan is the combination between the SDGs on the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement.
Now that was a very important component, and we would not even know where we had to go if we didn't have that plan. But sadly, when it comes to the financial chapter of that business plan, that chapter still remains blank, or at least it remains not completely written.
Now we do have some capital that is beginning to move in the direction that we need to. We have, for example, the alliance of asset owners, that is up to 40 institutional investors, totaling $5 trillion, who totally understand that that business plan is one that has to be financed. And they have committed to having an investment portfolio of zero carbon by 2050, at the latest, which means they are the owners, or partial owners, of almost all companies. They are something called "universal owners," where they own a piece of almost every publicly listed company in the world.
So, they are exercising their pressure, as investors and shareholders, on those companies, for those companies to become carbon neutral. Now that's a very good start. That's a very good start, because that means the owners of these companies are actually having this very tough conversations with those companies. Why? Because they understand that they have to bring down their risk.
This is not because they are in love with the planet and they want to save the planet. This is not about, you know, that kind of wonderful la-la land that they would say. No. This is in total protection of their assets. They know that the only way to protect their assets, and, in fact, to grow their assets, is to bring down the risk of exposure to climate change. They know that. They have understood that. Insurance companies have understood that. So, they are pressing their companies. In order to protect their assets and their value they are pressing the companies to do the right thing.
Now, unfortunately, it's only 40 institutions, right? It should be every single one. Now they've only been in existence for a couple of years, as a group, and they are bringing every day more and more. So, this is a process, and, unfortunately, we don't have the political conditions to do something like a Marshall Plan. I think eventually, five years from now, we will look back and we will see the many different components that, over time, made up a sort of Marshall Plan, but we're right in the middle of it now. And it is not orchestrated top-down like the Marshall Plan was. It's actually something that is occurring bottom-up, in different sectors, as each sector realizes that the risks are way too high.
MS. SELLERS: Thank you both very much for joining me today. Unfortunately, that's all I've got time for. I'd like to thank you first, Ms. Figueres, for joining me today. It was a delight to hear your views.
MS. FIGUERES: Thank you. Thank you very much for bringing both Mary and me together.
MS. SELLERS: And Mrs. Robinson, it was a delight to see you across the Atlantic as well, so welcome to the show and thank you for joining us.
MRS. ROBINSON: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it, as always, with Christiana. We soldier on together, and will continue to.
MS. FIGUERES: Thank you.
MS. SELLERS: I will be back in a few minutes with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Thank you very much for joining us.
MS. WENDLAND: Good afternoon. I'm Tegan Wendland, coastal reporter at NPR station WWNO in New Orleans, here with landscape architect and author, Kate Orff, to talk about the role of design in coastal resilience. Thanks for joining us, Kate.
MS. ORFF: Hi, Tegan. Thanks.
MS. WENDLAND: So, you designed a really interesting project in Gowanus Bay using artificial oyster reefs to buffer waves and protect New York City, and that was a real shift away from the traditional engineering-focused approach to coastal resilience. So how was your design initially received when you released it prior to Hurricane Sandy, and how did people's ideas about resilience projects shift after that storm?
MS. ORFF: Yeah. Well, there was a big shift. I mean, well, first of all, it was a project called Oyster-tecture, and the idea was really to sort of completely reset the notion of people interacting with nature in the city. So, for this project, rather than kind of propose a series of walls and bulkheads and levees that really cut us off from the water we were really trying to start a movement, like make this a social and ecological movement. So, Oyster-tecture really was about kind of bringing people back to the water and engendering this kind of community-driven oyster reef building project.
So, you know, it's really a different mindset, I would say, altogether. And right now, I mean, we had Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast and that was a sea change. You know, no pun intended, with the water lapping at your feet in Chelsea, it was a huge wake-up call that climate change isn't some distant thing in the future. It's something that we need to do now.
And I think there is also a big realization that the sort of typical gray engineering fixes, you know, sea walls, et cetera, these are short-term fixes and they're not comprehensive, they're not holistic, they don't think about more like ecological revitalization, risk reduction, and sort of social life in a really holistic way. And that's sort of where I'm hoping to push things.
MS. WENDLAND: Sure. And Louisiana has one of the most elaborate coastal restoration plans in the country, which emphasizes using Mississippi River diversions to rebuild areas that have turned into open water, especially south of New Orleans, in order to protect the population center there.
So really using engineering solutions to get us out of problems that were, in fact, mostly caused by engineering, like the leveeing of the Mississippi River over the past 100 years or so.
So, what are some ways that we can stimulate getting engineers, like the bureaucratic Army Corps of Engineers, to think outside the box?
MS. ORFF: Well, first off, I'm super inspired by all the attempts by the Army Corps and the [unclear] and other agencies to really try to address what is a profound challenge to what is America's wetlands. This is an incredible, bountiful, economic, ecological asset in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is imperiled. And I don't think there is any way to not sort of wrap our heads around this, frankly very emotional reality.
We have sea levels rising. We need to reduce our CO2. And then we have wetlands subsiding. So, this is creating a kind of an existential threat to this incredible bounty of this ecosystem.
I mean, I think there's been a huge amount of progress with the Army Corps of Engineers' Initiative on Engineering With Nature, and so there's really strong directions. But yes, we need to connect the river to its basins and kind of bring back this sort of age-old dance between fresh water and salt water. And really, I just would reset the flows around this incredible system.
And yes, we do need to think out of the box, not only from an engineering standpoint--this isn't a problem to be solved. This is a completely different mindset--and also think out of the literal box of the levees that we find ourselves kind of trapped in. We have to think differently and we need to live with water.
MS. WENDLAND: Sure. And Louisiana's coast has a really fascinating and complicated culture, a lot of working-class oyster farmers and fishers, people who have really lived off the land for hundreds of years and are devastated by the loss of this land that they're really emotionally attached to. And everyone has opinions about how to solve land loss, and these opinions are informed by deep knowledge of the land and the ecosystems there.
So, what role can design play in engaging stakeholders?
MS. ORFF: Well, design has a role to play in thinking systematically and bringing many, many disparate things together to form this more holistic and integrated picture, and I feel like that is the future. Design has a role to play, really, in visualizing the positive. We all know what is at stake, right? The time is now to act. And I think design has a role to play in visualizing what could we gain? How can this new low-carbon, blue-green economy positively impact people's lives, and not just focus on loss, and focus more toward the future in this transition.
I mean, another role that design does need to play in sort of working with and articulating the needs of stakeholders is really articulating tradeoffs, because I think one thing is clear is that this is not a win-win. We need to be able to understand the tradeoffs, injustices, historic injustices, use every tool in the toolbox, of ecological restoration, financial tools, planning, design, financial instruments, insurance, et cetera. Sort of look at the entire picture in a holistic way. So those are a couple of ways that design needs to step up.
MS. WENDLAND: What's something that makes you really hopeful right now?
MS. ORFF: I mean, I'm hopeful about a lot of things. I was really hopeful listening to Christiana and Mary speaking, just before us. I have seen personally the power of nature and natural systems to sort of come back and to rebuild, if only we can set the ecological and geographical conditions for them to do so. I've seen the protective benefit of natural systems in action with oyster reefs buffering storms with wetlands, absorbing surge, et cetera. And so, I do have confidence in the power of nature.
I also feel super excited to feel like I'm sort of part of this feminist climate renaissance that you see with Christiana and Mary, just before us, this part of, you know, a sort of women's leadership that's taking on these questions differently, with different mindset, not with segregating things into a series of problems to be solved but to look holistically across social and ecological systems to think about justice, to think about ecological biodiversity, and really take all of these challenges together and sort of try to, you know, chart a new path forward. That also gives me hope and makes me able to wake up in the morning and feel like I can get to work.
MS. WENDLAND: We're really alive in this era that's marked by so much death and destruction, but everywhere that I look I feel like I see incredible examples of nature bouncing back. You know, trees washed down ravines by floods in the Midwest that are continuing to grow, or ground cover regrowing on the sites of massive forest fires, so-called invasive species in Louisiana like water hyacinths actually filling in open water and rebuilding marshes there.
So, you know, are we silly to think that we can influence the workings of nature, and what are the limitations of design in this unprecedented era?
MS. ORFF: Well, I really feel like design has such a clear role to play. What I mentioned before, the Oyster-tecture project, we've now translated that into a large construction pilot project, which is in Raritan Bay. It is funded by [unclear] funding, and it is essentially a string of breakwaters seeded with oysters, that's sort of reducing risk and erosion, bringing educators back to the shore and then rebuilding this structural, ecological habitat for finfish and shellfish.
So as much as I would like to say it's just a matter of getting out of the way, we actually have an incredible amount of work to do, on a policy level, on a regulatory level, on a design level, on that sort of synthesizing federal, state, and local regulations to be able to advance projects that can really address ecological restoration on a large scale.
So, these projects that I'm working on are really almost at a community or neighborhood scale. What I'm super excited about is to kind of take some of these ideas and we can just scale them up. Like how do we think about the entire Mississippi River corridor as like a next-century national park that has, you know, benefits for that Iowa hog farmer and also for the Louisiana shrimper? How can we think about water quality? You have to sort of jump out of the scales that constrain us, and we do need to think big because we are facing this century's future of ecocide. Unfortunately, this will impact the poorest of the poor in the worst way.
MS. WENDLAND: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Kate Orff, landscape architect, and contributor to our FutureCoast.org. And now we'll turn it back over to The Washington Post.
MS. ORFF: Thanks.
MS. SELLERS: Welcome back. Once again, I'm Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer for The Washington Post. This is the second half of our program on conservation and sustainability, and we're moving from the big global questions we've just heard about to the more regional ones, with the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, who is here to talk with me about his own commitment to sustainable development and to a Green New Deal.
Welcome, Mayor Garcetti.
MAYOR GARCETTI: Great to be with you, Frances. Thanks for having me.
MS. SELLERS: You are also the leader of two consortiums of mayors, one national and one international, that have made commitments to climate change.
MAYOR GARCETTI: Yes. I'm the leader and co-founder of Climate Mayors, a bipartisan group of mayors across the country that are not only doing the hard work at the local level of implementing the work to combat the climate emergency but we also, when President Trump indicated that the United States would withdraw from Paris, we now have over 400 mayors who have committed to implementing Paris in their town, in their city, in their local government, in 48 of the 50 states in America.
And I also chair C40 Cities, which is the global network of now 96 cities, the largest cities in the world responsible for a quarter of the world's GDP, who are leading the way in whether it's electrification of transportation and buildings, looking at the way that we can make sure we have a green energy sector. We are sharing those best practices while responding to a pandemic simultaneously.
MS. SELLERS: All right. And before I ask you more specifically about some of those initiatives you're undertaking in Los Angeles for climate change I would like to have an update from you about what's happening with the COVID pandemic there. How are you doing and how are you managing levels of hospitalizations?
MAYOR GARCETTI: Our hospitalizations are now down about 20 percent from the peak that they were a couple of weeks ago. I think people received the message that this was on all of us. This wasn't just about what's open and closed. It's about our own behavior, whether it's masks or mixing households, things that we have to do or that we shouldn't do.
And we are seeing some good stabilization. We've never had the mass kind of deaths that we saw on the Eastern Seaboard, and we didn't see the huge jump that we saw in the Sunbelt just in the last few weeks.
So we're holding steady in a city that's very vulnerable, very dense, very diverse, but I'm proud of the work we've done, first city to wear masks and mandate them, first city to have widespread testing, whether you have symptoms or not, first city to close the race gap between African American deaths and population, and so much more. Our tests are turning around 23-hour response time. We are holding on, and, you know, people are struggling through this. But I think Los Angeles is helping lead the way, that this is really about our collective action together.
MS. SELLERS: And talk about fighting on many fronts, you also have a wildfire. How much of that is under control now?
MAYOR GARCETTI: So, the wildfire, which is east of Los Angeles, in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, I believe, is now--remember, when you hear 5 percent containment that just means 5 percent is never going to come back at all. So, I think it's well encircled right now. There is a lot of hard work going on. We know, in California, I always say, if you are still a climate denier, ask a firefighter. He or she will tell you that this is real, and these extreme fires that are part of the extreme weather, here in California and around the world--it might be hurricanes on the East Coast but here it's fires--we feel confident that that fire can be controlled. But as we've seen in past seasons, it's when three or four of these break out simultaneously that we're really stretched to the brink, and we've even lost our firefighters in the midst of this struggle.
MS. SELLERS: And now you're facing the combination of the problems of displacement with fighting the COVID pandemic, right?
MAYOR GARCETTI: Absolutely, and we see that. You know, long before we were told to stay in our homes we've seen people who have been displaced out of their homes, whether that's because of economic inequalities and homelessness or whether it's because of some of the things that we see when we see extreme climate, like the fires, that take people out of their homes, paradise, which was so powerfully shown in a documentary that came out this week.
We know that this is really about human beings. It's not just about our planet. And I always use that language because I think many of us do want to save the planet, but a lot of human beings think that that's a very abstract thing. Don't tell me about saving the planet. Tell me about my life and my livelihood. And increasingly human beings are recognizing this is about our families, our communities, our jobs, our homes, and I think that's the language that those of us fighting this climate emergency need to continue to adopt.
MS. SELLERS: Well, the Climate Mayors recently sent a letter to congressional leadership calling for a green and equitable recovery. Explain to me what that looks like.
MAYOR GARCETTI: Absolutely, and, by the way, we've also convened at the global level. I asked the mayor of Milan to look at COVID-19, and we've put out an interim report globally on what we think recovery from this pandemic should look like.
There are a few principles, and we have a global Green New Deal that we put out, as part of my chairmanship of C40, that really does look at, first, accepting that this is a climate emergency. Second is making sure that the investments in the future adhere to the 1.5-degree rise in temperature, and no more, that is in the Paris Climate Accords.
But third, the most important part, we think, both locally and internationally, is making sure that our recovery is equitable. We have to fold in the inequality that is in our societies and in our world, to any of the responses. So no stimulus that's not a green stimulus, investments in public transportation, looking at cities as the engines, and sustainable cities as the engines of coming back out of this crisis, and also looking at things like no longer investing, and completely divesting from fossil fuels, whether that's in our pension funds or whether that's in our operations.
Cities, collectively, can lead the way. As I mentioned, the C40 cities are a quarter of the world's GDP. So, we're more powerful than any one nation, and what we can do to put that forward. But right now, we can't go back to normal. We told Congress, don't return to the way things were, because if that means pollution, if that means traffic, if that means heating our planet, the normal is not acceptable. We have to reimagine and reinvest in where the growth will be for jobs, but also where the health will be for human beings.
MS. SELLERS: So, do you think Congress has the political will to move forward on these suggestions right now?
MAYOR GARCETTI: Absolutely. I mean, there's nothing like a crisis. I've been joking that Republicans are acting like Democrats and Democrats like Republicans. What do I mean by that? You know, women we came together for the first CARES Act, the Democrats didn't get in our own way with a ton of new regulations. We kind of said, "Let's spend this quickly." And Republicans said, "Let's spend."
So, I think when we see a crisis, wartime leadership is the kind of metaphor, is much different than peacetime leadership. This is not about just every coalition and taking two or three years to bring these things together. This is about taking brave action.
And I think the nice thing about bringing mayors to this is I can bring the Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana, or I can, you know, point out the coalition that we have in the reddest of states, where people realize they save money, they save lives when they invest in a green city. They look at ways to reduce their costs but they also realize--you know, Mayor Suarez, the Republican mayor of Miami, is one of the cities most endangered by sea rise. And he is a member of C40. He is one of the leaders of Climate Mayors, as well.
And it's funny. When we all sat down as mayors once, there was the mayor of Cincinnati and he had a whole conversation over dinner. And afterwards the mayor of Cincinnati said, "You're a Democrat, right?" And he said, "No, I'm actually a Republican, but you're a Republican, right?" And the mayor of Cincinnati said, "No, I'm a Democrat." These things really transcend these reductive and dead-end kind of partisan divides, when we realize this is about protecting our people, which is our first and last responsibility.
MS. SELLERS: And yet we seem to have had an unprecedented politicization of public health and other things in this disaster.
MAYOR GARCETTI: At the federal level, of course, and I put that squarely at the feet of our Congress and our president.
But I'll tell you, I was talking to Larry Hogan, the outgoing head of the National Governors Association, yesterday about testing. We put together calls three times a week of all the California big-city mayors. A group of us are Republicans and a group of us are Democrats, and there's even a completely independent person who is neither.
So, I think that those of us who are in the midst of this look at that sort of partisanship and just say this is the most irresponsible time. You look up in Canada where the conservatives praise the liberals for what they've done on public health. This is a moment for us to praise each other. I will praise the Republican governor of Ohio because he's done a great job, and I'll call out a Democrat who isn't doing a good job when it comes to this.
But we have seen no glue come from this White House when it comes to leading on this pandemic, and certainly, worse than no glue, we've seen hostility when it comes to climate. You know, President Trump will be kind of the death cough of the Flat Earth Society of our generation, who would deny that this is happening to our planet and somehow think that they could just close their eyes, bury their head in the sand, and pretend this isn't happening. That will be his legacy, and I hope it will be in the dustbin of history.
MS. SELLERS: Last year in Los Angeles you announced a Green New Deal that was to be carbon neutral by, I think, 2050. What steps have you already put into place, and are you able to, given the other fronts you're fighting on at the moment?
MAYOR GARCETTI: Absolutely, and I encourage people to check it out, because it actually was the second iteration of our sustainability plan. Cities often do these and then they get shelved away and administrations change. I want to do it differently. I wanted a greenprint that had the next-year goals, two years after that goals, five-year goals.
And we have over 100 different things, from the "five big zeroes," as I call them--zero-carbon transportation, zero-carbon buildings, zero-carbon electricity, zero waste, and zero wastewater, which is very important, not just because of the droughts that we face but the electricity that we use to move water around our state.
And in all of them--I'll give you one example when it comes to water. We are going to recycle 100 percent of our water. In the next 15 years we will build that out. About 60 percent of our water use gets cleaned, coming from our sewers and other places, and washed out to the ocean, which doesn't need it. We're going to use that, and that's three times more water that will be completely cleaned, completely usable, not have to be pumped from another state or from Northern California, and it's three times the size of the L.A. Aqueduct, which famously William Mulholland built.
We are shutting down our gas plants that we rely on in-basin for our electricity, and replacing them with the cheapest, largest, battery storage, solar plant in American history, that is less than starting a new natural gas plant. We are looking at 100 percent of our buses being electric by 2028, when the Olympics and Paralympics come here, of our city fleet and of our L.A. metro fleet a year or two after that. We're doing things now where we see those rolling out already, because you can't afford to wait.
And my, you know, push to all my fellow mayors is don't be left behind. There are a lot of jobs in this as well. In fact, one out of four jobs in Los Angeles that we have added have been related, in some way, to a green industry. So, if you're a city that wants to wait for others to do it, you're going to see these industries, this manufacturing, these good middle-class jobs and careers go someplace else. But if you adopt them early you can see a pathway for more equitable economy as well as a better environmental health for all of us.
MS. SELLERS: Let me jump in for a second on this. One of these issues is cars, right? When I think of Los Angeles--I lived in Irvine for a while--I remember people driving for long hours from place to place. Your plan calls for 80 percent of cars to be either electric or zero-emission fuel. How are you going to bring Angelinos out of their cars onto public transportation? How are you going to incentivize this for the program?
MAYOR GARCETTI: Well, as you said it's both. People could stay in their cars if they're electric. I've been driving an electric car since 1997, when the GM EV1 came out, and, you know, to me, once you get into an electric car, I don't think you'll ever go back to a gas car. They're just better. They're better for maintenance. They break down less. They're wonderful to drive.
But with public transportation I think there's two or three things you have to do. One is you have to invest in a fleet that obviously is zero-emissions. Two, build out a network that works, and we passed the largest measure in U.S. history times two, of any local government, to build and expand 15 rapid transit lines in famously spread-out Los Angeles. So finally, to our airport, where we've never had public transportation; in our southeast cities, which are some of the most working class, most Latino areas of Los Angeles but have never had a rail line. Connecting these lines downtown. Investing in busways. We're looking at alternative technologies from monorail to, you know, the dedicated BRTs, bus rapid transit lanes. And even working with folks like Elon Musk on tunneling, to get to Dodger Stadium and potentially other parts of our city.
So that is a way to make it, I think, more attractive and connect people to where they need to go. But second, it's our goal to make it also free. That's not going to be done overnight, but we've already done that with our students and our L.A. city buses, where we have a guarantee if you're a high school student or a community college student you can travel for free. These are customers in the future. These are folks who will take us on to transit. And when you talk to a young person, they don't want to buy or own their own car if they can, and many can't afford to anyway.
So, we have to, especially coming out of COVID-19, make public transportation much more attractive, and one of the ways to do that, I think, with targeted populations at first, is to make it free to ride public transportation and really bring the promise of it forward.
MS. SELLERS: I'm still stunned, given the sprawling nature of Los Angeles. You know, electric cars are great for people who can afford them, but isn't this sort of injecting more inequality in some ways, forcing people into electric cars which are expensive?
MAYOR GARCETTI: No. I mean, right now you have electric cars that are costing the same as their gas counterparts. There are certainly expensive models if you want to as well, and that will only continue to come down. But we wanted to go further. We invested in a car program that's electric cars that you can swipe out and basically rent by the hour. And we put them first in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, in communities of color, to say that we don't think you should have to buy a, you know, expensive Tesla to be a part of this transportation revolution.
And so those, instead of putting them in places that were higher income, we went to lower income areas, with a different model that allowed people to have that transportation on their own when they need that, and it's been very successful.
So, we're continuing to look at models to make sure everything we do we've put through the three E's--environment, equity, and the economy. And when we did that seven years ago, when I put out my first plan, people said, "You're crazy to be talking about equity and the economy in an environmental plan." Now it's mainstream. The Green New Deal has come forward at the national level, our global Green New Deal at the international level, and people realize in this pandemic, whether it's health or whether it's our fight against climate emergency, if you're not looking at inequality--economic inequality, job opportunity, racism, the way that years and decades and centuries of the way we've structured things kill people at an unequal rate because of environmental degradation--then you're not doing your job. And I'm glad to say Los Angeles has made that not just an issue area but a prism through which we refract every policy we enact.
MS. SELLERS: So, buildings. Why is it that buildings in Los Angeles are the biggest source of climate pollution, and how will you address that specifically?
MAYOR GARCETTI: Well globally they are as well, whether it's in a cold climate, the heat that you use, or in a warmer climate like ours, the air conditioning. But we know that this is bang for the buck for building owners. That it can actually reduce their costs. The greener the building is, the cheaper it is to maintain. But we also know that's where most of spend our time, so buildings, whether they're homes or our workplace, that's where we consume the most electricity.
So we are, as a city, adopting that we will have zero fossil fuels in new buildings that we build. We're looking at that and helping, really, right now this is more of a financing question than a good public policy. I think everybody agrees this is good public policy.
But there are two things we have to consider. How will we finance the often very expensive upfront money that absolutely pays for itself over the long term? And so, we're convening funders and banks and investors and pension groups, both with Climate Mayors and C40 cities, to look at how we can do that globally.
And then secondly, we have to look at the jobs. When we do change how we consume our electricity in buildings it affects different folks who, in the past, have been part of natural gas or oil. And we have to make sure that they are at the front of the line and getting the jobs of being the electricians, or the maintenance folks with new technologies that will reduce our emissions but continue to have middle-class jobs. I think that's a really legitimate criticism, when people say to environmentalists, "You just want to do these things but you don't realize that people without a college education, who can't necessarily be easily retrained, won't have any work." Well, we need to put that at the front, so we're working with our community colleges to do just that, to train people in a pipeline to be able to make sure that they are part of saving the Earth but also saving their livelihoods for their families too.
MS. SELLERS: I have a viewer question for you, which I'm going to read to you right now. It's from Charlie Challstrom from Maryland, who asks, "What are the top three most effective local government climate change actions?"
MAYOR GARCETTI: Absolutely. Well, first and foremost I think it's around transportation and electrifying vehicles, both helping the private sector do that and calling on all local governments to do that. Over half of our vehicle purchases, well over half now, are fully zero-emission vehicles.
Second, where we control some of the big levers, whether it's a utility--and we have the largest municipal utility--or whether it's a port--and we have the largest port in the Americas--or an airport. These are places where you can enact policies. For instance, I think electric trucks, the time has come. And when the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, responsible for 40 percent of the goods that come into America, adopt targets and incentives for zero-emission trucks, that will change the marketplace. So second, it's using the leverage that you have as local government to buy and to mandate.
And then I think, third, it's really incentivizing--and people forget about this because it's not as sexy seeming--good planning. When you have neighborhoods that integrate together, where we shop, where we eat, where we work, where we live, where we study, and not in a city like Los Angeles, spread those out into different places, then that's really where we will reduce our emissions--reduce our vehicle miles traveled, reduce the need that we have to be able to be away from our families and spend time in traffic.
Those are the three biggest things, really good planning, using the leverage that you have if you're a city that controls some of these larger things, to drive marketplaces, and then, of course, what we can do straight up front on transportation and electrification.
MS. SELLERS: So, I have a couple of questions for you, in your role as co-chair of Vice President Biden's campaign. What advice have you given him in his search for a running mate?
MAYOR GARCETTI: So, I'm very honored that he called on me, as well as being a national co-chair, to be one of the four co-chairs of that search. He gave us the advice, which is he said, "I'm not looking for a demographic or a geographic or a political decision. I'm looking for the best person." And he had such an extraordinary relationship with Barack Obama. He is looking for that woman who can give him the best advice, before the biggest decisions, who can really be his partner, and who can be deployed, whether it's on Capitol Hill or to a foreign capital."
The advice I've given him is find the person that you will work with the best. It's a reflection of you, who you pick, and not in political terms but in personal terms. And I think that as long as he can explain to the American people why, with a group of extraordinary women--all of whom, by the way, I want to say publicly, could be exceptional vice presidents, so they are all winners in my mind. There is not one winner and the rest--that he can explain to the American people why he has chosen this woman to make history and also to help us rebuild this country, then we will understand that his vision of restoring the soul of America and building back better, this will be, I think, the most important year of our lives, not just the election but the coming year, how we build back.
And we have seen just extraordinary things come out of this man already, bringing the different factions of our party together, bold plans on the environment, bold plans on racism, bold plans on the CARE economy, and bold plans on manufacturing. He will restore our place in the world, but I know that he will do that with a wonderful woman by his side.
MS. SELLERS: Let me ask you specifically whether you advised him to consider mayors, and what you would say about the issue of whether they have enough national experience.
MAYOR GARCETTI: Oh absolutely. I think mayors absolutely do. They are chief executives. You know, that was an easy one. When it comes to climate, we are in the front lines of that. When it comes to international trade, when we run things like our ports and airports, we know that better than some people on Capitol Hill. We know homeland security because, unfortunately, incidents happen on the ground in our areas. And we understand, I think, how economies work, and this pandemic especially.
So, whether it's a governor, a mayor, or an exceptional legislator, or somebody outside of government, I know that the vice president is looking for someone who can be the president, who can be the vice president, and who can be the counselor that he needs, individually.
But, of course, I would always say that mayors--I think in most other countries mayors of big cities go on to be the prime ministers or presidents. Here that seems like a bigger jump, but not in my mind at all.
MS. SELLERS: So, if Senator Kamala Harris is his pick, will you run for her Senate seat?
MAYOR GARCETTI: No. I have no plans to run for her seat. That's actually an appointment that would go to the governor, and then, you know, two years later ask me. But I'm every single day focused on saving lives with COVID-19, trying to bring mayors together globally to confront this crisis, to build racial justice in America. You know, ask me in a year when we're out of this one. I don't think about the future when we're in the midst of the greatest struggles we've ever faced.
But I do have so much love and confidence for elected officials right now. This has been the toughest time, I think, to be an elected official. I read history, and in pandemics they usually throw everybody out and often kill them, at least in medieval Europe whenever there were pandemics.
So things are, I think, a little bit better than that, but I just have seen the courage, not just of elected officials but everyday Americans, dealing with a crisis that we never asked to come, with an economy tanking, and then, finally, this opportunity to build a multiracial democracy.
So, I'm focused very much on day to day. I'm proud of what Los Angeles is doing to lead, and my commitment is to my people right here.
MS. SELLERS: Unfortunately, that's all we have time for, and I want to thank you very much, Mr. Mayor, for joining me today.
MAYOR GARCETTI: It was a great pleasure. Thanks for having me.
MS. SELLERS: Thank you.
We’ll be back at Washington Post Live in a little more than an hour with Senator Ted Cruz for a wide-ranging look at how COVID has hit the state of Texas so badly, and also the next stimulus plan. Join another reporter then who will be interviewing Senator Cruz, and also check in on WashingtonPostLive.com for information about upcoming programs.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
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