Big Oil’s 9 Biggest Lies About Climate (with Bill McKibben and Neela Banerjee)
Record gas prices helped oil giants rake in record profits last year while the climate crisis continues escalating. The companies say they are committed to a green future, but are their proposed climate solutions viable, or just more greenwashing? Andy breaks down these issues with Bill McKibben; scholar, climate activist and founder of Third Act; and NPR climate editor Neela Banerjee, who led the first investigation into Exxon’s climate denialism efforts.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
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- Follow Neela Banerjee’s reporting for NPR: https://www.npr.org/people/1102879885/neela-banerjee
- Read “Exxon: The Road Not Taken” from Inside Climate News.
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Andy Slavitt, Bill McKibben, Neela Banerjee
Andy Slavitt 00:29
This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. Email me anytime, email@example.com. So I’m not the kind of person who thinks that all corporations are evil. You know, I’m not the kind of person that tends to look for a bad guy in every situation. But I do think it’s important and worth examining the role that oil companies have played and continue to play in our society, particularly with the urgency that we all have to speed the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, though, lie that we are not facing climate change that it’s not real, that’s been told over the last few decades, may be the worst lie that’s ever been told. It may be the most harmful lie the public’s ever been led to believe. And as we’ll talk about on this podcast, Exxon Mobil had done not only really thorough documented work going back as far as 50 years, to predict with incredible accuracy, the climate changes we would see. But they also literally retrofitted their own operations. Knowing that sea levels were rising, and doing all those things to get ready for climate change, while telling the world that they shouldn’t support things like the Paris Accords, the Kyoto Accords, and suggesting that we do not need to make a transition from fossil fuel energy. And then if we did transition, it would matter if we did it now or anytime in the future. And that lie is really come to haunt us. And even now today is we’re in a different places, we’re at a place where people no longer deny climate change, they instead put up a series of arguments, which say, of course, we believe in climate change. But none of these solutions work, or the things that we’re doing are already more effective. It’s really a subtlety, and a more satisfying education, that are coming from oil companies today, and I want to explore them. And I want you to ask you one favor, stay to the end of this podcast. We have amazing guests. I’m so proud we have them. And I’ll tell you who they are in a minute. But at the very end, we do a rapid fire thing, where I asked these two guests, the nine statements that are made consistently by oil companies and others to have us really doubt whether or not we can and should make the transition to renewables as quickly if we are trying to. And those statements are statements that I think have a lot of recent for us to think there may be some truth to them. And I asked them both, whether the statement is a truth, whether it’s a partial truth, or whether it’s a damn lie. And I want you to just Stick around and listen to that. Because these are the things we are hearing instead of climate change is a hoax around the dinner table in the newspaper from news channels, et cetera. And it’s really important that we understand them. A lot of them do come from the oil and gas industry, which, instead of trying to brand itself as the energy industry, it’s a very profitable business. They have the top five companies, we had $180 billion of profit last year alone. And their assets are made up of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of oil that’s still in the ground. My guests are Bill McKibben, who is a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College, and he’s an author, a journalist. It’s an environmentalist, he’s written extensively on the impact of global warming. He’s a founder of an organization called third act, which organizes people over 60 for climate justice. He’s incredible. If you don’t know, Bill, if you haven’t read things he’s written, He gives both at the end. And at the beginning, I think one of the clearest depictions of how energy works, and how we’re accessing energy that I’ve ever heard, it’s great. And the other guests we have is equally great. She is Neela Banerjee. She’s the deputy senior supervising climate editor for NPR. And she leads the newsroom and all of their climate coverage. Before she was at NPR, she spent time at an organization, you’ll hear her talk about a Collins and climate news. And she led the team that revealed what we now know about Exxon, which is that they had done very ambitious climate research, dating back decades. So I think this episode pairs nicely with the episode on Monday with John Podesta. If you haven’t listened to that, I suggest that you also listen to that episode, if you’re interested in this topic, John is in charge of implementing the inflation Reduction Act, climate policies, and between what you’re hearing from public sector from them. And what we’re hearing about what the private sector needs to do, and is doing today, I think you will come away with a real understanding not of the what, but of the how the how we’re gonna get to that zero. So with delight, and we’re going to bring in Bill and Neela now.
Andy Slavitt 07:41
Neela Banerjee, Bill McKibben, welcome to the bubble.
Bill McKibben 07:43
Good to be with you, Andy.
Neela Banerjee 07:44
Thank you for having us.
Andy Slavitt 07:46
We just had an episode on Monday with John Podesta, who is charged with implementing the climate provisions in the inflation Reduction Act. You know, I think we’re getting almost past the denial stage. And now we’re getting passed into this sort of more complex stage of what we really need to see from various actors in the country. And while policy is one thing, a lot of the work that has to get done has to happen with private sector. And I want to talk about the role that industry plays in getting us to net zero or carbon neutral. And in particular, oil companies, or I should say, as they call themselves now, energy companies, I want to maybe start with you, Bill, what do we need to demand and expect from energy companies? And what do we need to do to get that to work? It will be helpful if you want to, if you could define when we say that zero, you know, what does that mean to us? What does that mean to an energy company?
Bill McKibben 08:44
Well, let’s start first by defining energy. And let’s do not let these guys get away with calling themselves energy companies. for very long time, energy has been synonymous with burning fossil fuel. But, and everything else we’ve called alternative energy. And we’ve thought of it as the kind of, you know Whole Foods to the safe way that is Exxon. But in fact, the cheapest way to produce power on this planet now is to point a sheet of glass at the sun. And that’s been happened some time we’ve crossed that invisible line sometime in the last four or five years, both wind power and solar power are now the cheapest way to generate power on the planet. They’re no longer alternative. They’re the obvious part and put the oil industry what the oil and gas industry is trying to do is prolong its business model as long as it can. It knows that its remit is not going to last forever. They want it to last a few more decades if they can, even though the science is entirely clear that if it last those few more decades will break the back of the climate system. So I think the key thing to understand about energy here is you and either produce it by burning stuff on the planet, which is what Exxon Chevron BP shell want to do, because it’s the only thing they know how to do. Or you can produce it by relying on the fact that the good Lord hung a large ball of burning gas 93 million miles away. And we now have the wit to make use of it, we can capture its rays on photovoltaic panels, we can take advantage of the fact that it differentially heats the earth, thus producing the wind that we capture on turbines, we’ve got the batteries to do all that. Just be clear, this is not what the oil industry is trying to do. They have no particular expertise here, and it doesn’t fit their business model, it doesn’t produce profit at the same level that oil and gas do. And if you think about it for a minute, you’ll figure out why. You know, the, if you have a solar panel on your roof, the sun delivers the energy for free every time it rises above the horizon. If your Exxon who has made your living in a very good living for 100 years by charging people more money every month for another delivery of energy, this is the stupidest business model of all time. So let’s just be clear that their basic role at the moment is doing everything they can to slow down to lay prevent a transition that we desperately need to make.
Andy Slavitt 11:24
That is I’m going to go back and listen to those two minutes, Bill like over and over again and send them to my friends, it’s probably one of the most thoughtful and clear that even takedowns, but just sort of pulling no punches of what is happening. And I’m wondering Neela if you can tell us from your perspective, you know, inside an oil company today, how did they think about a climate change? Be renewables? Are they a threat or an opportunity? And how are they attempting to phase out? Because the role they play is essential to whether or not we get there or not?
Neela Banerjee 12:04
I think most of us probably don’t have the most reliable view into how fossil fuel companies think about these things. Right now, there’s what they say. But then there’s where their investments go. And I think that is the measure of reality, right? So for example, oil and gas companies talk about investments in renewables, a lot of them like to point out that they’re making fuel from say, algae, and that your car could be running on it someday. But one of the things to look at is, you know, what percentage of their actual capital investments go into something like algae, and it’s miniscule, or other renewables. There’s also talk that the, from the European, big oil companies like BP, for example, that they are going to transition away from fossil fuels, and invest more in renewables and become like, in that broad sense, an energy company, but as the price of a barrel of oil goes up, you know, because of the conflict in Ukraine and other things, then they backtrack on that. You know, it’s really interesting. We NPR recently hired a solutions reporter. And she and I were talking. And it led to a segment that was on this past weekend, where she did some table setting like what is a climate solution? And one of the things that somebody said was that if there’s new tech out there that people are talking about, whether it’s algae, or fusion or carbon capture and sequestration, the and these are terms that not just as journalists, we’ve heard, right, we’re regular people here, when they watch commercials, for example, that if you hear these things in commercials, and you think like this is a solution, you have to ask yourself several questions about that. Who is backing the solution? How much money are they putting into it? How transparent? Are they about that kind of money? And is it scalable? Can we use it now because the climate crisis is occurring right now. You know, we’re seeing the way it impacts all of our lives. Right. So I think that is the way that we need to think about solutions, both from the fossil fuel sector but more broadly, as you know, residents of planet Earth as consumers because we’re all getting showered with these ideas right now that there’s key questions we need to ask. Well, this journalist and just regular people Say they’re saying that the top five oil companies in 2022 made $190 billion in profit. And yet we subsidize fossil fuel oil and gas. Does this the US still in about $20 billion a year that includes I think about $4 billion for coal. Why do we do that? Bill why are we subsidizing these companies?
Bill McKibben 17:32
Well, because they have enormous political influence. You know, and that’s what happens in our system, when you have $190 billion dollars to play with. It takes a minuscule percentage of that and your lobbying budget becomes enough to turn Washington around. I mean, look at their biggest recipient of corporate large s in DC over the last few years was Joe Manchin, look at what they got for their money. You know, he took Biden’s build back better bill and stripped out most of the enforcement measures and then cut the whole total size of the thing by, you know, half or two thirds. And for that all they had to pay on was a couple of $100,000. You know, it’s not like we’re talking much money at all from their point of view. So they’ve just I mean, they no longer have an engineering argument for their product. All they have left is a you know, the ability to use the political system to, again, not to stop this transition. Eventually, economics is going to dictate that we’re going to run the planet on what’s much, much cheaper and cleaner energy. 25 4050 years from now, the planet is going to run on sun and wind. But if it takes us 25 or 40 or 50 years to get there, the planet we run on sun and wind is going to be a broken planet. And let’s just say this is not a new game that these guys have just come up with. I mean needless work inside climate news. In 2015, they uncovered what many of us sensitive been going on, but no one had ever really been able to nail down. The big oil companies knew everything there was to know about climate change back in the 1980s. Back when I was writing the first book about this, they were busy compiling their scientists were laying out precisely what was going to happen. Exxon predicted with stunning accuracy, what the temperature was going to be in 2020. And they were believed within the company Exxon started building all its drilling rigs higher to compensate for the rise in sea level that they knew was on the way the only thing they didn’t do was tell the rest of us instead they invested this money. In the month before the Kyoto climate negotiations the CEO of Exxon went to China to the World Petroleum Congress and told them a the planet was cooling And B, it would make no difference at all, whether we addressed climate change now or 25 years from now, two things that a are utterly absurd and B were the exact opposite of what their scientists had been telling them for many years is Neil as team found out, back in 2015. So the level of irresponsibility here I mean, in a rational world, these guys would be facing prosecution for we look on the series of lies that human beings have managed to tell, it’s hard to think of one with more consequence than don’t worry about climate change. They cost us 30 years, that means that we have to cram the response to climate change into a very few years, which is why John Podesta has a hell of a lot harder job than he should have to have.
Andy Slavitt 20:55
Neela, let’s talk about this great work that you’ve done, and the research you’ve done. And what we’ve learned. It’s for people who haven’t been following the story, tell us about what Bill is referring to, in the case of Exxon Mobil, what they knew what they said, and what you’ve discovered?
Neela Banerjee 21:14
We started to think about what did the fossil fuel industry writ large, know about climate change? And when did they know it this is, you know, something that we were discussing, and our publisher was really interested in, and we were looking at, you know, at all sorts of companies, coal companies, European companies, American companies, but by and large, you know, publicly traded companies that you might be able to get information from. And basically, what happened was that there were documents and kind of witnesses to all of this hidden in plain sight. And what we discovered was that Exxon as far back as the late 1970s, understood that climate change, driven by fossil fuel consumption, in other words, by their product, right, was going to affect human society, with often grim consequences. This was not just something that scientists were looking into in some corner of the company, this was something that a scientist took to the leadership of the company in 1977, and told him about we have the documents that show this and that basically, people at Exxon thought this was a grave enough situation that they invested money, not just in climate modeling, but in actually out making equipment that they put on one of their newest tankers to measure carbon dioxide in the ocean, and in the air, as that tanker applied its route from the Caribbean to you know, from a refinery in the Caribbean, to the Persian Gulf and back. And so this was a big deal to them. And, and they and what was interesting was that they worked with leading climate scientists of the day who said that the same qualms or uncertainties that they had about climate change Exxon did to that Exxon was acting in good faith, and that Exxon was acting in good faith, they said so themselves, including people who participated in the studies, because they knew that a policy reaction could come from regulators and legislators, not just in the United States, but anywhere in the world. And they wanted to have a seat at the table. And to do that they needed to do credible work. And our research took us through the 80s until about the mid-80s. And then things changed in the mid to late 80s. Things changed, and other journalists have looked at it to. And it’s that pivot point that remains a black box. But afterwards, when in fact, the global community did start responding to climate change. Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute, led a campaign that really took off to sow uncertainty about the science that they had accepted just a decade ago.
Andy Slavitt 24:00
You know, I think it feels like oil and gas companies are in many ways to learn from there and do it quickly becoming like Purdue pharmaceuticals was an opioids, the cigarette manufacturers, over years when they knew the harms of tobacco smoke, and it feels like this younger generation of people who are growing up aren’t going to have any of it.
Neela Banerjee 24:21
Well, I mean, one of the things I will say because like, whenever we that work, people often ask us is this like tobacco and, and Exxon didn’t hide these things. I found this stuff by looking online and then talking to people. So it wasn’t like it had been hidden away. It was more that I didn’t know like, like, somebody’s asking the right questions hadn’t come across it.
Bill McKibben 24:41
They literally hired the people who used to work for the tobacco industry to go make exactly the true yeah. They even found people who’d worked to smear Rachel Carson back in the 60s. I mean, this is and this just the group of stories that Neela and her team put out, were One of the three or four most important journalistic accomplishments of the climate change era, a story that I’ve followed probably more closely than anybody else. And so I was there at the beginning, I, when I read them, my response was to go out, I was terrified that people weren’t going to pay any attention to them, they’d just be lost in the normal hustle of things. So I went out and chained myself to the nearest Exxon gas pump with a sign that said, this pump is closed, because Exxon lied. And, you know, I got a call later that afternoon from a friend once I was out of jail at Facebook, who said, you know, for an hour, that was the, that video is the top thing on Facebook until it was replaced by a video of Corgi barking at a miniature pumpkin. You know, other people did, you know did their best to and within a few weeks, the Attorney Generals of New York and Massachusetts and things were using the work they did to bring cases against Exxon at all for their perfectly here,
Andy Slavitt 26:03
I was just gonna make the comment that bill next time, you should bring a small, cute animal with you.
Neela Banerjee 26:12
It’s interesting, because I mean, one of the really poignant things about looking at those documents, right was the discussions that people within Exxon had about how, as the world’s biggest company, they sort of owed it to everybody to look into this, that they were worried about catastrophe being visited upon people all over the world, and, you know, in kind of vulnerable situations, and, and that they thought of themselves as an energy company, they were transitioning to do things as an energy company, and, and that all changed. So you know, it was interesting to be to have this view of like, which way history could have gone, and realizing that history went this way. And not that.
Andy Slavitt 26:54
one final break, when we come back. We’re gonna talk about what real solutions might exist. But then I want to get into, I think, the fun part of this conversation where the more fun part of this conversation, which is to do a lightning round on things that oil companies claim and say, and whether or not they’re true or not, we’ll be coming right back. Bill, you said, we know the answer and we have the answer. It’s not a question of boy, we need to invent a new type of energy. It actually exists. It’s all around us. We have to solve some problems like how to transport it, and so forth. Then we need to break down the cost of the batteries and many other secondary things. But the fact is we have it but the other thing we have is we have hundreds of billions of dollars. Sitting on the balance sheet of these companies, that represents oil that’s still in the ground. And one of the best ways to reduce climate change it would be to keep it in the ground. I assume you agree with that. One of the things that they talk about its carbon capture, which when you hear it for the first time, it sounds amazing, it sounds like the key to all of our solution to all of our problems, oh, we can keep emitting carbon, and just capture it and put it in the ground and store it. And indeed, there are companies like Occidental Petroleum, that are creating this carbon capture technology they’re gonna sell to other oil companies so that they can keep producing oil and energy to help us unpack this a little bit bill. First of all, is this technology real? Is it good? Is it beneficial? Or does it have, in fact, the consequence of allowing companies to continue to take oil out of the ground that should remain there.
Bill McKibben 30:59
So think about this, you have a coal fired power plant someplace, or a gas fired power plant, it is possible to capture the carbon as it comes out of the smokestack as it were, and run it through a series of pipes and put it in a coal mine or an old salt mine underground someplace and store it there. Who knows how safely for, for the foreseeable future, it’s possible to do that. But we already know that it’s already cheaper, just straight up to produce your electricity from your wind turbine or your solar panel. Anyway, this is the reason why every single proposal of this kind starts with the premise that the government, ie you and me should pay the large sums of money that it would take to do this. It’s just one more in the endless subsidies that we’ve delivered over the centuries to people who own coal mines, or gas wells, and a way to kind of keep their business of setting things on fire going a little bit longer, there’s not really a business case for it. The only business case, if you think about it, their business case is we can game the political system so effectively, that we’re going to be able to keep burning gas or coal for years to come. Henceforth, therefore, you should pay the money, you should also pay the money to capture the carbon coming out of it, it makes a lot more sense to just build the renewable energy in the first place, and dispense with it.
Andy Slavitt 32:37
What about carbon capture from the air?
Bill McKibben 32:41
That’s a different business in a different technology, I think that the day may come when since we already have far more carbon in the atmosphere than is safe to have were 420 parts per million. When before the Industrial Revolution, we were at about 275 parts per million. And that’s the reason the Arctic is melting, you know, on and on and on. The day may come when they’ve managed to make that process cheap enough that we can actually use it. It’s nowhere near that at the moment. And again, if you think about it, physics is the reason it’s hard work takes a lot of energy to capture something as diffuse as a gas that’s measured in parts per million in the atmosphere, out of the atmosphere. So even if we were going to do that, in the latter part of this century, as it gets cheaper, the best and smartest thing to do would be to dramatically limit the amount of carbon that we actually our children will someday have to capture and clean up because it’s going to be a hard and expensive job. The thing we definitely should not do is use the possibility that 40 years from now, we’ll be able to do this to give ourselves license to just go on spewing carbon into the atmosphere at the moment. But that’s in essence, what the fossil fuel industry would like to do.
Andy Slavitt 34:06
Got it very helpful to delineate between the two types of carbon capture in the cost curve is interesting, because I want to talk a little bit now about the transition. Because increasingly, I hear people talk about, quote unquote, the transition as if it’s becoming more of an accepted fact that we are going to need to transition there we are debating the length of the transition. We’re debating what we have to do during the transition, how much energy is produced, how to actually pull off the transition and of course, in Europe and in the US. People look at it differently in California and Texas. They look at it differently as regulatory body so we’ll get to some of that. But I’m curious if you agree with me that it feels like a good thing. It feels like some progress late for sure, late by decades for sure. But the fact that People are now focusing on the fact that we have to undergo this transition seems to be gaining steam, if you will. Is that what you’re observing?
Neela Banerjee 35:09
I mean, yes and no, there’s definitely a broader understanding of the need to do this. And there is greater momentum on the corporate state city national level. But one of the things that we’ve noticed as journalists is that it’s, you know, calling climate change a hoax, that kind of thing has become kind of passe among a lot of people who are resistant to acting on climate. Instead, the attacks are now on the solutions, right? So if you recall, when the winter storms, you know, beset Texas a couple of years ago, immediately, there was a line out that turned out to be misinformation that it was because of Texas’s reliance on wind, that was not the case. We see that the solar and wind industry have a great deal of difficulty citing their solar plants and turbans in communities, because very often, it’s counties that that sign off on that kind of zoning, and their fears, people have the right to question industrial development in their communities, absolutely, to vote out and so on. But those concerns have been amped up by misinformation about health risks from solar and wind that, you know, scientists will tell you are just not true. So the Heartland Institute is holding its meeting in Florida soon. And the whole discussion is not about whether climate change is real or not. But it’s about solutions and how they’re bogus. So that is, I think, one of the things that that people learn if they’re reporting on climate change you’re working in this space over the last few decades is that even when you think that there is some kind of forward momentum to reducing emissions, there will always be a backlash, and one has to be cognizant of that.
Andy Slavitt 37:03
Right? Where are the battles moving.
Bill McKibben 37:06
And it doesn’t really appear that the energy industry, the big oil, part of the energy industry is very keen on this transition, because they’re continuing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars finding new oil fields. And, you know, we’re doing a third act, a big day of action protests outside, Chase, and Citi and Wells Fargo and Bank of America on March 21. Because these are the guys who keep lending them billions and billions of dollars to go do this kind of expansion work. Finally, in December, HSBC, the biggest bank in Europe, said they would not lend for the purpose of going out and discovering new oil fields that were in 2020. And that was 2022. And that’s the sort of high watermark of where we’ve gotten so far, is pretty sad. Especially since and here’s the key part of the answer to your question, Andy, I think, yeah, as I’ve been saying all along, there’s going to be a transition. Simple economics will force it. But A, if that transition takes very long, then it won’t do us much good in terms of the climate and be alive along the way, the speed of that transition means we’re going to waste huge amounts of money. The real good study in the last year that I wrote a lot about the New Yorker last year, came from a team at Oxford, who studying the learning curves on all these new technologies, and how much cheaper renewable energy gets every single year as we get better at it. And what they figured out was that delaying the transition, even a few years costs the world as a whole trillions upon trillions of dollars, forget the damage from climate change, they’re not even figuring that in because it’s essentially incalculable. This is just the fact that you have to keep on paying for coal and gas and oil. Here’s a statistic just to give you a sense of the magnitude at the moment. 40% of all the ship traffic on planet Earth is just carrying coal and oil and gas back and forth to be burned. So we don’t need it anywhere else. We could be doing this, you know, the sun moves around the planet every day, it delivers that stuff for free if we want it. We just have to break the stranglehold of this industry on our political life.
Neela Banerjee 39:29
But that statistic goes to the vested interests, right. I mean, like the shipping industry is it’s not just the oil and gas industry. You know, the ripple effects are huge, and a lot of people are interested in retaining the status quo.
Andy Slavitt 39:42
The reason it’s the high watermark is because there seemed to be a lot of people. Below that watermark. I want to turn the topic to talk about policy solutions, and then get to this quick, top 10 rapidfire list. As I look at it as a lay person, there seem to be, you know, four types of solutions that people are proposing and They should probably say that, you know, based on the previous part of this conversation, the reason I’m focusing on policy solutions, is because it seems to be that given both their assets, their financial motivation, and everything else that we’ve covered, they’re going to continue to produce fossil fuels until the regulatory climate tells them they can’t. And so, you know, I look over at places like Europe, states, like California, look at their energy policies. And then I look at kind of US policy writ large, you know, and it seems like there’s three types of things that would really help us accelerate the movement from oil companies more quickly, some kind of direct legislation, a carbon tax, a cap and trade, which you see in Europe, or fourth, the direct public subsidization, which is what we saw in the inflation Reduction Act. And it seems like the oil companies are dead set against the first three. But of course, they’re fine with things that are they seem to be in the subsidization business. So of course, why not take a few more subsidies? Bill, you’ve looked at this, you’ve looked at different regulatory schemes across the world? What is the best answer? And I might also ask you what you think the most realistic answer for us to be able to get to might be?
Bill McKibben 41:18
Well, it’s purely intellectual terms, there’s no reason at all that you should be allowed to use the atmosphere as an open sewer for free. We make everybody else pay to throw out their trash except exons. And Chevron’s of the world who just get to toss co2 in the atmosphere for nothing. And so in intellectual terms of some kind of fee on carbon makes a lot of sense. The truth, though, is and you know, our political system as well as anyone handy. I mean, as someone captured Exxon’s chief lobbyist on hidden video camera, about a year ago, explaining that Exxon loved the idea of a carbon tax, they always said they were in favor of it, because they knew there was no chance that would ever pass. So they could use this as their cover forever. And given the ability of the Republican Party, in particular, to demagogue anything that might look like a tax increase. I think that, as usual, Exxon is pretty savvy about how to game the system. So, you know,
Andy Slavitt 42:20
we tell us how carbon tax works, I’m sorry, there might be listed people listening, who have heard Carbon Tax over and over again, but may not know precisely what that means.
Bill McKibben 42:28
There’s many different permutations, the way that generally now people talk about it in a way that would make sense as you are one way that would make sense is you’d put a tax on carbon with border provisions to make sure that you weren’t importing stuff from places that didn’t have to pay it, and so on. And, and then you’d either I mean, you just take the money and put it in general revenues, or more likely, you’d take the money and give everybody in the cut, right, everybody in the country a check every month for their shares that kind of rebate, to make them whole against it. And there have been schemes like that in a number of places. But, you know, in our political system, truthfully, what Joe Biden did this past year is probably the more likely outcome, it’s easier to get politicians to support things where they’re gonna get to go cut ribbon someday, then when their money gotta go have to talk about taxing at all. So now the job and it is a huge policy job, and I’m glad you were talking to Podesta is to take that money that’s in that IRA and use it to provide the sort of push to not just sudden wind, but to that sort of trinity of appliances, the heat pump for your basement, the induction cooktop for your kitchen and the E-V whether it’s a car or a bike for your garage, or your no parking points.
Andy Slavitt 43:56
I love my electric bike, I love my electric. So let’s get to this. Let’s get those. I think this will be fun, or it’s intended to be fun. I’m gonna read your nine statements that I have. We’ve all heard that are what people are saying now instead of saying to your point Neela, that they’re no longer saying there is no climate change. They’re saying some version of these nine things instead. And what I would like to ask you to do, if you would mind is each of you answer each one with either it’s true. It’s partially true. Or it’s a damn lie. You could give that answer and then give me a sentence or two. Okay, number one, we need to keep drilling so that we can have independence from foreign energy. Bill true. partial truth, damn lie and why?
Bill McKibben 44:49
Completely untrue. You may have noticed that the sun shines and the wind blows across our great Republic.
Andy Slavitt 44:57
Okay. Neela truth partial truth or damn lie?
Neela Banerjee 45:00
As a former oil reporter, it is false. Because even if you just assume that we’re going to use fossil fuels, especially oil, that price is a global price. It’s not set by how much we produce here. So false,
Andy Slavitt 45:13
right? So the whole premise of energy independence is false. By the way, I think I would feel even more secure. If we had a completely renewable
Bill McKibben 45:22
very hard for Vladimir Putin to embargo the wind, you know, or to decrease the supply of sunshine.
Andy Slavitt 45:29
100%. Okay. Number two, the transition will be a major job killer. And I think people who say that technology, there will be other jobs created, but would say that the toll, many hardworking people, is just going to be too difficult. And we should therefore, not undertake this transition as aggressively start with you Neela true, partial truth or damn lie.
Neela Banerjee 45:57
I think it’s false. There will be jobs lost in certain sectors, there’ll be new jobs created in other sectors. And also, if you don’t act on climate change, the disasters that are occurring, will continue to decimate local and state economies. So the transition, destroying jobs is not as bad as the climate destroying jobs.
Bill McKibben 46:18
It’s false. Look, fossil energy is super capital intensive, it takes a lot of money to open up a new oil field, but relatively few people. Renewable energy is just the opposite. It’s very labor intensive. And that work is going to be done here. No one’s going to put their house on a boat and ship it to China in order to get it insulated.
Andy Slavitt 46:39
Alright, we got pretty consistent interest so far. Number three, the grid will be unstable without fossil fuels. So there’s plenty of versions of that statement, including reports that come up recently saying that we don’t have enough renewables to we don’t have the right infrastructure, to I think, the very intelligent statements from like Donald Trump like, Well, what happens at night, you can kind of ignore that one. But there’s some version of that some fear that we’re gonna have all kinds of blackouts and brownouts and so forth, Bill?
Bill McKibben 47:12
False. This is a golden oldie. And people have been saying it, beginning when there was like one or 2% of renewables on the grid, the real life experience, and the modeling makes it clear that we’re, you know, at least up to 7080 90% of the electricity supply, we can do just fine with renewables, and we’re getting better at it all the time, the price of batteries, keeps plummeting.
Neela Banerjee 47:39
False with an asterisk, it’s not about the loss of fossil fuels is that we need to build up our grid to take on the greater electrification and the renewables coming on. That’s different from taking fossil fuels off.
Andy Slavitt 47:51
All right, that’s almost a partial truth. But I don’t know, I’ll let you use your own definition number for the transition, at least in the short term, will increase energy costs for low income people Neela.
Neela Banerjee 48:02
Falls, I’m not quite sure where that data is coming from, given how you know how wind and solar prices have fallen, and instead, you’re seeing higher prices, and in places that have been hit. When fossil fuels I think they’re saying
Andy Slavitt 48:17
if we taxing energy or not doing it as much drilling, we’re going to increase the price of oil and gasoline and people aren’t gonna be able to get to work without paying a lot more money That’s what they’re saying, Well, no, you’re awesome. Okay, Bill
Bill McKibben 48:31
FOSS accepted, everything in our society at the moment tends to work to screw low income people. So it’s really good public policy to be thinking about that all the time. And it’s one of the better parts of the IRA act, that it makes real efforts to think about low income communities, and that transition.
Andy Slavitt 48:50
I would also note, I would also note that the people who care the least about low income communities are often the first to use it as an argument. So we’d be great to see the people who say that also support family medical leave, for example. Okay, that’s just my own editorial. ID number five, the what the US does doesn’t really matter. It’s now almost entirely about China, and India, Bill?
Bill McKibben 49:14
Well, first of all, let’s be clear that the US has put more carbon into the atmosphere than anybody else for very long time. So we have an enormous if you have any sense of obligation, we have an enormous and we still put huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in per capita terms. We’re going to be the league champions forever. But let’s also be clear that the money that goes to build new fossil fuel infrastructure in places like India comes from the United States. So this is a global problem, and the US has to because of its position, take the lead in dealing with it.
Neela Banerjee 49:48
False, I agree with Bill on this one, too.
Andy Slavitt 49:50
I also think, to be noted that every investment we make in reducing the cost of distributing renewable energy, the rest of the world it’ll benefit from so will it make things cheaper, cheaper, because in India, it has to be cheap, because cars are cheap and people can’t afford a lot. Number six, because of the geopolitical climate and things like Ukraine and wars, it would be a smart security policy for us to keep drilling. And therefore, you know, it’s okay to lengthen the transition a little bit, because we want to prevent against these kinds of shocks. Neela?
Neela Banerjee 50:25
I think the that is false. It’s basically because of Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels from Russia that, that they are scrambling now to make a transition. So I would say cut the cord.
Andy Slavitt 50:43
Bill McKibben 50:45
Absolutely. This is maybe the false first of all, the reason that Vladimir Putin can do anything is that he has this tap that you can turn on and off. My colleagues. And Ukraine’s lot of Romanenko, above all, we’ve been working together for this past year, just on this issue over and over and over again. And happily, the EU has begun to recognize this and is moving much more aggressively now to go to renewable energy.
Neela Banerjee 51:11
But at the same time, they’re also like going to Africa and trying to get new natural gas sources. So what Andy’s talking about, you know, some people using this as an opportunity to develop more natural gas the US with LNG, that’s, yeah, no question.
Andy Slavitt 51:26
Number seven, Bill, you’ve already addressed this. So we could probably go quickly in this one, we’ll be able to capture all the carbon we emit. So there’s no cost to us to continue to produce oil. I think I know your answer to that.
Bill McKibben 51:39
You know, I mean, if you just think about it for a little while, you know, the number of times in human experience when there’s something you can just never have to worry about. Because, you know, it’s yeah, untrue in this case,
Andy Slavitt 51:58
Number eight, ESG is inconsistent with the fiduciary duties that companies have to their shareholders. And therefore, really, it’s no business of corporations to be making those sorts of compromises that hurt shareholders, and maybe the cost of their product to customers. I think I said that as accurately as I could, Bill.
Bill McKibben 52:20
That’s completely it’s just A, it’s absurd in and of itself, because the track record now is clear that companies that pay attention to ESG actually produce better returns. But even just the whole idea that it would be a good idea to try and make as much money as possible by destroying the planet that the economy is a major part of. It’s just, it’s just absurd on its face.
Neela Banerjee 52:45
It is false, because ESG is not about altruism, or doing good it’s about managing risk, right. So if you feel like your bottom line is exposed to risk from climate, then you need to factor that in, as with any risks. So on both sides on the left and the right thinking of ESG as some kind of do gooder ism is wrong. It’s about managing risk.
Andy Slavitt 53:07
Okay. And here’s the last one. And I think you guys know what I’m going to say here. This goes to the we’re not an oil company, we’re an energy company, we are investing a ton of renewables. Look at our commercials, we’ve got birds flying around, we’re showing the sunshine, look at our new logo, which has a sun and a little wind panel, look at this advertising firm we’ve hired, which is using the language that you want to hear from us. So we’re not really oil and gas companies anymore. Neela, like I
Neela Banerjee 53:33
said, You got to look at the numbers, and you got to look at what people are actually doing as opposed to what’s on television.
Bill McKibben 53:40
Yes, there’s an almost perfect inverse relationship between the number of penguins in your annual report, and the amount of damage that you’re doing on the planet.
Andy Slavitt 53:53
I love it. I love it. Well, thank you both for finishing on that note, I think we went nine for nine, or 18 for 18. Because I think both of your votes are independent. We have 18 damn lies, not even partial truths. I thought you’re gonna get some partial truths out of some of these. But I think a very, very helpful because like, I think all of us hear those types of statements from our friends from TV networks, from someone who’s read about and heard of someone else, and you don’t really know what to say. Because, you know, they all sound quite reasonable. They sound you know, they sound about as reasonable as 20 years ago saying, well, there is no climate change. People are saying these nine things instead, and oftentimes there’s more to it. And I think you really helped us uncover it. So I want to thank you both for being in the bubble. I really enjoyed it. I thought that was a fun and useful way to end and thank you both for the contribution you’re making to a better planet.
Bill McKibben 54:52
Well, thank you for this chance, and many, many thanks to Neela for just crackerjack reporting year after year after year.
Neela Banerjee 54:58
Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me. It’s just fun
Andy Slavitt 55:15
You know, several conversations that have changed me. And that’s one of them that I think, did I feel like my analysis just grew really significantly and meaningfully. And sometimes you talk to people and you feel that just depressed, but inspired and Philomela did that for me. Let me tell you what’s coming up on the show on Friday episode really is triggered by what we are learning is going on behind the scenes at Fox News around that lawsuit discovery for dominion. They’re the voting machine company where we’ve learned that while they publicly been promoting the big lie about the election, we now have private emails where they have said, in fact, that they know that it’s a lie. That’s really important, but it’s not just Fox News triggers a question. There are other news items going around, which may be causing you to think about the question of whether or not journalism has taken and it’s taking a turn that will cause you to question where and how am I getting my news? And so we have Dylan Byers from puck news on what’s really changing about our new sources and about journalism. On Monday, we’re going to do an episode where COVID has done its most disproportional damage. Where do you think that is prisons COVID and prisons, not talked about enough. Very important. And we’re gonna have an upcoming episode for you and on our health and what we can learn about our health from the animal kingdom. And what is true about animals happens to be true about us and it’s some really enlightening things. David ageist flew back on the show to talk about that. Lots of good stuff. Thank you for hanging in there. We’ll be back on Friday.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.