Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 001: THE JOURNEY BEGINS 

JARED BLUMENFELD: This is Jared. Welcome to the very first episode of Podship Earth. I'm really excited to begin this journey with you. This adventure began when I had just completed through hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada and was sitting at home having a really hard time adjusting to life back in the city. When out of the blue I got a call from my cousin David from LA and he said,

 

DAVID KAHN: “Do you want to make a podcast?”

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: That's incredible. I hadn't heard from him for so long and I'd been thinking about it. I didn't really know what he meant, and I was like, well, what do you mean?

 

DAVID KAHN: Well, the truth is that I started to read the newspaper and I would get very scared about the news that I was reading about the environment and I kept thinking, we need this. There's no podcast in this space. There's a void and the only person I knew happened to be my cousin who had worked in the environment and very high up in the EPA and so I wanted to reach out to you and so I was going to email you and then I was scared. I was like, he's probably too busy. Then I finally wrote the email and you emailed me back immediately like, what are you talking about?

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: We're dealing with a full bore attack on the environment, but like David, most people are scared by the news and don't know what the fuck is going on. So, I decided to follow David's advice and create a podcast. It's taken me a long time to figure out exactly how we can best have this conversation. For me, it's important that we inject a little levity and even humor into the discussion, that we highlight the amazingly positive forces that are at play from solar energy to the organic food movement because I really can't take much more doom and gloom. At the same time, I'm not going to sugarcoat the realities of our situation for you. I'm so frigging tired of people preaching at me, so I'll try my very best not to rant. Okay. This does sound a lot like a rant, but I’m nearly done, I promise. I want to hear firsthand from the resistance and from the people who are working to heal our relationship with nature. As the poet Wendell Berry said so eloquently,

 

WEDNELL BERRY: “We have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it and to take good care of it, we have to know it and we have to know how to take care of it.  And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.“

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: I also want the show to give us perspective on Earth and our place in the universe. The show's title, Podship Earth, goes back to the 1800’s when Henry George first described earth as “a well provisioned ship on which we sail through space.” It wasn't until the 1960’s this concept was explicitly connected to nature. Adelaide Stevenson in the heart of the Cold War when no one knew if the planet was going to survive, stood at the United Nations and declared,

 

ADELAIDE STEVENSON: “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserve of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace.  Preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say the love, that we give to our federal craft.”

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: That love is at the very core of Podship Earth’s mission. Podship Earth will examine the dynamic tension between the significance of life on our planet, the uniqueness of our own experience, and the vastness of the universe in which we are just a speck of dust. Each week for 30 minutes, we'll discuss environmental politics, adventure, and where the hell we're going as a civilization.  We will shine a light on polluters, and after clear, actionable conversations with the smartest and most compassionate people in the known universe, we will suggest simple steps to make our planet habitable. I want to make sure that Podship Earth communicates environmental issues in a way that resonates with everyone, not just the eco-elite who are already members of advocacy groups, not just Tesla owners, but everyone, because this mighty battle is going to take all of us. The environment was allowed to become a polarizing political issue. That should never have happened.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: It was Nixon after all, a Republican, who signed into law most of our nation's environmental statutes. Podship Earth will try to work out how we can make the planet a nonpartisan issue once again.  Although I'd like to never talk about Trump again, that's unfortunately not going to be possible. His assault on the environment must be stopped and one of the key ways to do that is to stay informed. Podship Earth also wants to support the folks that continue to hold down the environmental fort within the federal government. We want to be a lifeline for all those working against the odds to protect the air, water, wildlife, and the earth under our feet. After word about our sponsor, Audible, I'll introduce you to Gina McCarthy, who is President Obama's environmental chief.

 

[SPONSOR MESSAGE]

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So why should we even care about the EPA?  What is the EPA. The environmental protection agency was created a long time ago when Republicans still cared about the health of the people and the health of the planet. It was created because of public pressure. There were literally marches every week in the streets with citizens demanding an end to the pollution.

 

NEWSCAST: As Earth Day approached, support for it spreads….

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: People were angry that the air was making them sick. They were scared because the water coming out of their faucets was undrinkable. They were pissed that companies were creating hazardous waste dumps and then neighborhoods. That's why the EPA was created.  To take action for all of us. They helped hold polluters’ accountable. They work to turn brown skies blue. They use science to show us that what we can't see can still hurt us. The Trump administration has taken the side of wealthy polluters who want to destroy the EPA. There's no way we're going to let that happen.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: That's why we're talking to Gina McCarthy in our first episode. We're going to see how Trump's environmental blitzkrieg can be countered by grassroots action. Gina was the last true EPA chief. I say that because she believed and worked tirelessly to implement the agency's mission of protecting human health and the environment.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Gina is going to give us lots of ways we can take action and at the end of the show I'll highlight a few of them. Gina is a compassionate and wise leader. She spent her entire life working to help others and is now at the Harvard Kennedy school teaching others her life lessons. She's also with Pegasus Capital Advisors, helping them invest that billions in clean technologies.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome, Gina.

 

GINA MCCARTHY: It's great to be here. Jared. Thanks for letting me come on the show.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: So it's been a year since you left EPA. How you doing?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: I'm doing okay Jared. It's a transition, as I'm sure you recognize as well. And I miss the 15,000 terrific people we used to work with at the EPA,  and I'll hope they're doing okay, cause times are a little difficult I think for them right now. And as a result, it’s is a little tough for us as well to be watching what's going on in Washington, DC today.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: One of Podship’s goals is to get behind the headlines, but Gina, before we can do that, we need to acknowledge that many people, including me, often don't have the energy to listen to the actual story because the headlines about the environment are just so dire.

 

NEWSCAST: Many severe weather related events that happened in 2017 made it the costliest….

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: People have a visceral and really depressed reaction to this kind of news. Actually I do. The environmental indicators are not pointing in the right direction when it comes to the world climate, oceans, wildlife, you name it. Gina, as someone who's been in the driver's seat for so many years and had such a comprehensive view, give us some context. How much should we be worrying?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: Well, I'm not suggesting you shouldn't be worried, but what I'm suggesting is that you shouldn't be hopeless or else, nothing will happen but what they dictate.  You know, this is the United States of America. They don't get to make all these decisions without public input and we have to raise our voices.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Well, Gina, you do an awesome job of keeping your voice loud, strong and clear. Thank you for that. Also appreciate that your accent remains significantly stronger than mine, which when you were my boss, stops people from asking me “why Jared do you have a British accent?” I don't know if this is true for you Gina, but for me, a lot of my friends actually, me, myself and I, am struggling with frustration, anger and fear. Given the craziness of the times we are in, you seem very sane, very grounded. How the hell do you maintain your equilibrium?

 

GINA MCCARTHY:  I drink a lot of coffee in the morning and I progressively go to other drinks as the night comes. I have to stay positive. You know, can't let yourself get rundown because of the worry. You know? My mother always said, never waste a good worry on something you can't control.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Gina, I'm curious to find out about your routine. I've tried to put in place some boundaries so that I'm not constantly looking at the internet or news or even doing it first thing in the morning because it's just too overwhelming. It's a complete distraction for me. I try not to look at emails until after breakfast. Generally I fail at doing that. How do you structure your days?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: So what I do every morning is I take my first 15 minutes. When I got up in the morning, I listen to my husband's screaming at Msnbc or CNN. I let I let him go for a little while. I read the New York Times and then I tell him, “turn the TV off.” We've got it out of our system now because now we've got to take action. We've got to make our voices heard. The clean energy train's left the station. It's chugging along. We should all be happy about that because it's a brighter future for us and it's a safer future for the planet and it's a cleaner future in terms of public health. Just because the president signs an executive order, it doesn't trump a rule. You actually have to go through a public process and if we remain active and we put our comments in and we go to hearings and we work in our local communities and we congratulate businesses who want to be sustainable and we do business with them and leave the rest behind, then we're going to keep the momentum moving forward. No matter what all the rhetoric says in DC.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: President Trump seems to see every environmental law as an unnecessary burden to industry. It’s like opposite day that my kids had in kindergarten. He's instructed Pruitt at EPA to eliminate  or weaken as many health protections as possible. At the last count, there's included more than 50 backward steps. You know this better than anyone, but isn't it true that most rules protecting the environment can't just be eliminated overnight?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: There's something called an administrative process right, and basically it says that you have to go through a lengthy public process in order to do a rule and you have to go through a lengthy process in order to change or eliminate a rule, and so you can't do it without extensive public input and that includes an opportunity to provide comment. Most times in our rules, it's significant enough that hearings have to be held. There's a record that you gather. And what brings me great confidence at this point is that they have unilaterally tried to have the administer sign something, say that we're going to extend a compliance window and give us time to rethink these rules.  And the courts in all three occasions said, “no, you can't.” You have to take public process. You have to follow the Administrative Procedures Act. So now the same process that we used to get frustrated with because it's so long, is now the process we love.

 

GINA MCCARTHY: So the great thing is that all of these announcements don't amount to anything unless you can articulate a reason why the existing rule is deficient. You can't just have another thought come into your head. It has to have basically done something that is not legally correct under the authority that Congress gave the agency. It has to be fundamentally flawed in some way on the science maybe, or maybe we didn't get the record right. Maybe we didn't gather the data and the fact pattern is wrong. But you have to have something to say that was done wrong in order to get it off the books or the courts will say that you do not have legal justification to rethink. Because they're interested in making sure that there is certainty to the business community we regulate. Why would you want everybody to say, Oh, I'm rethinking because I just really want to. We actually got this right. We followed the law. We followed the science. We actually gathered lots of comment. In the case of the Clean Power plan, four point 3 million, and that’s because we solicited as hard as we could to get everybody's voice into this and we paid attention. When we do a rule, you have to actually do a whole record of what the comments were. How did we consider them and what result did it have in the final? So we did rules right.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Gina, you deserve a lot of credit because we absolutely did the rules right. And you know, without EPA, our environment and public health would look similar to China's - air quality so bad that you have to stay inside, water that makes you sick, and land so polluted nothing can grow. At the end of the day, EPA is the world class organization it is because of staff. But by ignoring civil servants, isn't Pruitt entering into very dangerous territory?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: I think we all know from reading the way that business seems to be conducted in the agency, that the career staff aren’t participating. And I think you and I know that the smartest people in the world are the career staff at EPA because you know, the lawyers have studied the legal cases. They know what's been argued before. They understand what the courts have told them about our authority and how to utilize it. And you've got scientists who actually pay attention to these issues in excruciating detail and think them through. And you've got technical folks helping us write rules in a way that is not just not getting the kind of public health reductions you want to protect yourselves and your family, but they're doing it in a way that continues to allow the economy to grow because they know these industry sectors. They know what they can do, they know how far to push, and they know how fun not to push under the law. And so if you don't have the career staff sitting at the table, and you're not making smart choices, but you're sitting in your own little couple of offices with your own friends who came in there that have no experience in this, you can't possibly get it right.

 

GINA MCCARTHY: You can't possibly understand the intricacies of what you need to do in the options available to you and make the smartest decisions.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: On days like this, iIt feels like we're going back to the future. It's crazy. It's actually ludicrous.

 

GINA MCCARTHY: Can you imagine thinking that the future is what LA used to look like? It just doesn't make any sense.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Just like in China, back in 1970,  LA had 200 days when the air was so bad, residents were told to stay inside. It's insane. There was lead in sulfur and gasoline. Then because of EPA, catalytic converters are put on all new cars.  Transitions to new technologies can be hard for the companies doing business the old way, and as you know, coal has been priced out of the market by solar and wind energy. That's a great thing, but what about the communities that have been left behind?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: But we also know that coal communities need resources. Coal communities need to be reinvested in. They need an economy that works for them and bringing jobs for them. I don't think we should deny the fact that there are portions of this country that feel like they're not as advantaged as you and I, in terms of how the world has reinvigorated itself after the big economic collapse. So this whole rhetoric about bringing them back is just stopping us from really as a country, don't doing what we're responsible to do, which is to invest in those communities in a way that will bring them forward. If it's not coal, what is it? What's the rural economic future and how do we get them there?

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: That's a great point. Gina. Are you worried that America will full behind China and other countries when it comes to environmental innovation?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: We need a lot more transformational technology investment today to be able to get to the levels of reduction beyond 2025 and 2030 that science tells us we need to achieve. We really have to get down to almost Day Zero carbon future. And that means investments today need to be made so that it's not without damage that the federal government is walking away from that responsibility which our country has always valued because it's a way of keeping the economy strong. If we invest in innovation that's coming out of our own country to grab the future opportunities… and that's what we're leaving on the table. Right now, I think it is without question that China is controlling the car market.  You know, they are the ones dictating that electric vehicles are going to win and the internal combustion engine is going by the by. And to not invest in innovation in this country is just unheard of. It's how we have kept our strength and I think that's going to prove to be of the biggest damages of this administration.

Trump: So Obama is talking about all of this with the global warming and a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax. I mean it's a moneymaking industry. Okay. It's a hoax.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Gina, why do you think that President Trump and his henchmen, Scott Pruitt, are focusing so much of their attention on overturning common sense environmental protections and spreading myths about climate change?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: I don’t know. You'll have to ask him and his appointees why the environment is seen as something that no longer has value. Environmental protection. That's just how they seem to characterize it is all. They look at it as a cost to industry and you know, there’s often sort of that rhetoric that we hear with individual regulations moving forward that they're going to prevent jobs and stop the economy. But I think you and I know that we've been actually able to continue to grow the economy and the United States is doing pretty well and it has really the best environmental protection system in the world and the one that everybody looked up to. And I happen to think that people everywhere and not, not just Republicans or Democrats, but everybody kind of wants clean air and clean water. And it really, it seems to be that a lot of the rhetoric is around climate change. And so I have to assume that, that he's doing that for the folks who voted for him. But I think the rest of us would certainly like the president of the United States represent all of our interests. And I think it's in all of our interest to continue to protect public health and the natural resources that we rely on to thrive. And I hope that he rethinks his strategy because it's not good for him and his family and certainly not good for me and my family.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Gina, you worked so hard to get us into the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You worked with every country on the planet who came together in historic fashion. Then Trump decided we should just pull out. Do you think we can meet the reduction targets even without the federal government's involvement?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: We can. I cannot see a legitimate reason to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Much of what the President said was not exactly accurate and fact based. But the biggest frustration is that every country sets their own standard. So if he doesn't like what we committed to do, he has an absolute right to be able to change expectations. You don't have to leave the Paris Agreement to actually change it. And so I think what you see is that we will be able to achieve the reductions that we projected in this country out to 2025 and 20,30 on the basis of changes already happening, both in the energy sector, in the transportation sector, with the real advent of really serious electric vehicles.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: Mary Barra, the CEO of GM agrees with you. She recently said that the future of the car is going to be all electric. With more than 50 percent of the world's population living in cities and producing about 80 percent of the planet's pollution, a lot can and needs to be done locally to solve issues like climate change. So even though the federal government is currently worse than useless, can we still achieve meaningful action at the grassroots level?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: So I feel badly that you don't have leadership at the federal level, but that absolutely means that the outcome of that has to be that we all participate in our process at whatever level where we can add value. And for many of us that will be in our own families, our own communities, our kids' schools, our churches or temples or whatever faith community you belong to, it will be reiterating to EPA and to the government that you care about the quality of the water and the quality of the air and whether or not there’s a superfund site that you're worried about near your home. And they'll  have to start paying attention to the issues of climate change which makes all of those public health protections, puts them all at risk if we do nothing to address climate. So while I can't say I'm a happy camper and I wouldn't prefer a federal government to provide leadership, it's not happening folks. So it’s your job and mine. And we can't simply sit back and get depressed and yell at Msnbc. Take 15 minutes of your time to do that. The rest of the time, you know, do something about it.


JARED BLUMENFELD: I think a lot of people will be energized by working at the grassroots level on environmental issues. So thank you so much for that suggestion. How can people get involved?

 

GINA MCCARTHY: One of my favorite sayings that my father always used to say is he used to say two things. He used to tell me “Jeanie, you got to go fight the good fight. I don't care what you do when you grow up, but you gotta fight the good fight.” Which meant whatever battle you think was worthy, sort of get a mission for yourself, take jobs that you think matter, and then you'll put your whole spirit into it. And then he used to say to me, when I was a kid and I'd come in and whine about this, that, and the other thing. Eventually he'd just look at me and say, “Hey Gina, pull up your big girl pants and do something.” So that's what I'm doing. And I tell everybody else you've got to pull up your big girl, big boy pants or gender neutral pants, and you just got to do something. Take action, control your own life, the best you can. And, and try to do your best for your neighbor and things will just have to work out.

JARED BLUMENFELD: Oh Gina, it's been so great catching up with you. Thank you for your wise counsel on how we can move forward positively by taking meaningful actions locally while resisting nationally. Gina, thank you for being part of Podship Earth.

 

GINA MCCARTHY: Jared, it is great to be with you.

 

JARED BLUMENFELD: I'm grateful that Gina was able to join us. If you get the chance to see Gina speak, you won't want to miss it. What I took away from today's conversation with Gina is that sitting on our hands and being frustrated by the current state of politics will get us nowhere other than depressed. Instead, we need to get engaged locally. Go to hearings about the environment at your city hall, help set up recycling at your school or college, shop at a farmer's market instead of a big chain store, learn to become a solar panel installer. All of these mean being engaged day to day rather than just giving up in front of the TV.

 

It felt good to hear Gina say that many of Pruitt's proposals to take away environmental protections can be defeated if we remain engaged and vigilant. Next week we're going to talk with the visionary deep ecologist systems theorist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy, on how we can only heal the earth once we have expressed and moved through the anger we feel for the destruction of the planet. I'll talk about how I found my true nature by walking alone in the wilderness and we'll share resources for getting outside and exploring nature. Thank you so much for being part of the Podship Earth journey. From the entire Podship crew, editor Rob Speight, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer, David Kahn, and me, Jared Blumenfeld, have an excellent week.