From yahoo finance, this is electronomics. I’m rick newman and i’m alexis christoforous, and this week we are talking climate change. It’s, a topic that appears to be on the back burner in this presidential election, but on today’s, electronomics podcast.
We bring it to the front burner with benji backer the 22 year old president and founder of the american conservation coalition benji. It is good to have you here on the podcast: hey it’s great to be here thanks for having me and can’t wait to put this issue on the front burner today that’s.
What we’re trying to do so before we really delve in here. I want to just get your reaction to the last debate: uh, the first and only uh to this date between trump and biden. Climate change was not supposed to be on the agenda, but chris wallace sort of snuck in a question late there in the debate.
What was your reaction to what both candidates had to say? Well, first of all, alexis. I think it was just amazing that it got brought up, because when the topics were released and the six topics didn’t include climate change.
I definitely was frustrated as a young person who cares about climate change and to have both presidential candidates not being asked about. It was something that i thought was just wrong, and so we made a campaign called what about climate to push that issue to be a part of the debate, and we we think we made a difference on that and we were really glad to see chris wallace Put that question forward now, as most of the debate was, it was not necessarily the most fruitful conversation there.
Wasn’t a ton of deep policy conversation because there were attacks being thrown. But honestly, as someone who watched the entire debate, i think that specific part of the conversation had the most meat to the bones.
Out of any part of the conversation which again is a very low bar. But i think it shows that this issue can be something that people come together on so much so that even the best most productive part of the debate between two people, who really couldn’t have a productive part of any debate.
Uh was on this issue, so i thought that uh joe biden’s answer to have a cohesive plan is something that is definitely going to appeal to young voters. To have a cohesive plan of how to move forward on climate change is something that appeals to young voters, regardless of what the plan is when he’s, the only one that has that that’s, an advantage for him now, i Do think it should not be overshadowed that president trump for the first time admitted that climate change could at least be partially caused by humans.
I know that’s, nowhere near enough and it’s, not anywhere near where i would like it to be, but as it is a step that i think a lot of people were a bit surprised by uh. He also talked about the importance of economic, uh success and environmental success, and, to be quite honest, i think it encapsulates the bigger problem on this issue, which is that these two presidential candidates, who are very far off on a lot of issues, seem far off on Climate, but they don & # 39.
T really represent the majority of americans who want action on climate and are willing to have that cross-partisan cross-ideological conversation and that’s. What we’re, seeing is we’re touring the country right now, but it’s, also uh.
What we’re, seeing in the polls, and so i thought the answers were decent. I thought the question was necessary and i was very happy to see that you know joe biden had a cohesive plan and that president trump actually said.
Climate change was caused by humans, at least in some degree, hey benji uh. You helped co-found this group, the american conservation coalition uh, and i’m. My question is: why did you feel there needs to be another group on this issue? Because there are many uh well-organized, well-funded uh groups that have been around a long time? The sierra club league of conservation voters uh many, many others what why did you feel that uh you didn’t want to line up with any of those, and you wanted to start your own group yeah.
Well, look you know i. I grew up as a conservative activist in wisconsin and i was active in politics since the age of 10.. I got active, knocking doors for john mccain before i was even in middle school, so i i grew up as a conservative political activist and really cared about fiscal conservatism.
I grew up with parents that were entrepreneurs, and i also grew up in environmentalists and when i, you know kind of, grew older and got closer to voting age and and went into college as well. I realized that there was this massive divide: uh between the democratic party and the republican party and conservatives and liberals on the issue of the environment, not just climate, but on everything, uh revolving around environmental issues and that there were no organizations focused on bringing 50 percent Of the country back into the environmental conversation that 50 of the country is, conservatives and conservatives do care about the environment.
They do want action on these issues and they don’t want it to be a one-sided issue and no one who cares about the environment should want it to be a one-sided issue, because you don’t, get anything done.
So our stake in this conversation is very different than where most environmental organizations go. While we have many similarities and we work with many of them like audubon and the nature conservancy, who are wonderful partners of ours.
We also have a very distinct difference in the fact that we are focused on re-engaging, an entire sector of this, this country that has been completely left out for the past couple of decades, either by their own politicians or just individually.
They’ve decided to kind of tap out of the conversation, but conservatives care about conservation. They’re, the sportsmen they’re, the the farmers they’re the fishermen times, and they need to have a voice because we need middle america and conservatives to be a part of this conversation.
So we’re, focused on market-based solutions, limited government solutions to solving climate change and other environmental issues, but what that does is it brings in a whole different uh population into this conversation? So let me just ask you: this is a quick follow-up.
Are you a republican in 2020? I don’t, consider myself a republican it’s not meant to be a trick question, but it is because the republican party is so retrograde and so regressive and on this on this topic, honestly, they got nothing yeah rick.
I i totally, i totally hear you on that and i think, as someone who has fought my entire life for conservative politics and republican politics often times it is crazy. If you had told me a few years ago that i’d, be saying that i don’t, consider myself a republican necessarily in 2020 that i wouldn’t have believed you, and – and i guess what frustrates me about This is two things one.
I honestly don’t believe as a young person that the republican and democratic party encapsulates enough of where americans are at there are. These issues are far too complex for two political parties.
In my opinion – and i’m – not saying that that means there needs to be six political parties or that there needs to be this revolution. But in all honesty, the republican party and the democratic party shouldn’t, be something that people walk in lockstep with all the time, because parties change values, change issues, issues, change and that’s, something that i’ve realized.
But then, in addition, the republican party has changed in a major way over the past few years that not necessarily lives up to the fiscal conservative ideals that attracted me on the environment. Specifically, the republican party hasn’t, been a part of this conversation for about the last 20 years, but they have a legacy.
You have teddy roosevelt, you have richard nixon, created the epa and a lot of the other. You know major environmental acts. You had even george h.w bush and george w bush put forward a lot of environmental policies that are still lauded as some of the best of all time by environmental groups.
So there’s. There is a history there and recently it started to switch back because of organizations like ours for the first time ever this year, kevin mccarthy, uh the house minority leader for the republican party came up with his own climate plan.
Republicans and democrats worked together to to fund our national parks this year. So there is a lot of action in the right direction, but the republican party still has a lot of work to do and there’s, no way that we can move forward.
As a movement as somebody who identifies as a conservative there’s no way, we can move forward without the republican party, taking a larger stance and a more proactive stance on climate and environmental issues.
I’m gonna make one digression here and then alexis you can get the conversation back on track. It is okay in terms of party affiliation for everybody, watching it’s. Okay, to be an independent. You don’t.
Have to be a republican or a democrat, i heard about this a lot in my last book. Liberty, for all you can be a conservative independent. You can be a liberal, independent and you think for yourself, you, don’t have to tie yourself to one of these broken political parties.
Okay, my lecture is over. I want to quickly add something there that is so true because, as a young person, i believe in fiscal conservatism for the most part. But i also have some quote: unquote: liberal positions on fiscal issues, and i have some conservative positions on social issues and some liberal positions.
These issues are complex and each one of us is an individual that has our own background with our you know own upbringing, and we all have our own experiences and those shape. The way that we think a political party is so you know siloed and it’s so focused in, like you know, 100 agreement with ted cruz or 100 agreement with bernie sanders, and it’s.
Just not that simple. So if we use you as an example, benji does the gop uh risk alienating young voters during this election because they, you know haven’t done enough on climate change and and also do you know who you’re, going to vote For in a few weeks, yet yes on that first question and i and i always try to put that second question.
Last um. First question uh: you know the republican party definitely risks alienating youth voters by not tackling climate change. President trump, by not having a climate plan or their rnc by not putting climate on their agenda in the 2020 kind of platform, is, is a big mistake.
We have done polling and pew has done polling that basically shows that over 80 percent of young conservatives, not independents or liberals young conservatives want their party to do more on climate.
That is fascinating, and so you’re, not even leaving behind the voters that you need, which often times might identify as independent or liberal you’re. Also, you know leaving your own base of young conservatives behind by not tackling climate, and i think worst of all – and this is this – is a really important point.
The republican party in congress and in state legislatures is doing a lot to move forward on climate change. Uh compared to before, like i said, the house minority leader has his own climate plan. There are over a dozen bipartisan climate bills in congress right now that are co-sponsored by republicans the three most you know.
Influential states in reducing emissions right now are led by republican governors who have worked at their democratic legislature. So there there is a movement here, but it’s not being identified by the national party and it’s, going to have negative ramifications in this election, because young people see the republican party as the anti-climate party, and that is not Good news for the republican party now, but it’s.
Most importantly, not good news for the republican party in the future and even worse, it’s, really bad for the environment, because we actually need both sides of the table to get things done. As for who i’m voting for i honestly don’t know, i feel really dismayed as a young person with the two candidates, and i feel like neither one of them are really living up to the values that young people have And that you know america needs to look forward to, and so i, as a person as an individual and as an organization we are focused – and i am focused on more of these local races at the state and national level that we believe actually make a bigger Difference on an issue like climate, the president kind of sets the tone and he or she can have a plan, but congress is the one that enacts it or state legislatures and we feel like it’s.
You know all those offices and all those elections are overshadowed by the presidential race, so we’re, going to focus on some of those lower lower level. Races, hey guys, let’s, so joe biden does actually have a detailed climate plan.
Um, let’s, just let’s. Just uh address that and talk about what some of the planks of his plan are. So i’m just looking at a summary here: um big, the big goals of the plan. Uh eradicate carbon pollution from the power generation sector by 2035, that’s, a very ambitious goal uh and to have net zero emissions across the economy by 2050.
That’s. Also very ambitious. I’ve, been a little bit critical of biden’s plan and i was very critical of the green new deal because they sort of gloss over what many economists think is the best way to address the problem.
Um and it’s, some of these market-oriented solutions, benji that you referred to earlier. The first is a carbon tax, increasingly raise the cost of carbon, and then let the market figure out um what to do about that cost.
How to deal with that cost most efficiently and then a cap and trade program. These were actually um conservative ideas going back two or three decades and they have generally worked where they’ve been put into place.
So what do you think about that? Yeah, look i mean if you look at the green new deal and joe biden’s plan, you’re. You hit it right on the head when you say they’re totally missing the market mechanism, part of it.
I’m on a 50-day road trip visiting with businesses and local. You know leaders focused on solving these issues and i can tell you firsthand. While congress has stalled, the market has continued to innovate and there are solutions coming from every part of this country.
Geographically, it’s, not just new york, where i happen to be right now. It also happens to be in south dakota or was a few weeks ago or rural minnesota, uh or rhode island. I mean these solutions are coming from all over the country and they’re, coming oftentimes from the marketplace and where innovation uh can really succeed.
So to completely ignore that part of it and to leave that out is really damaging, and i think the flaw of where a lot of environmentalists or elected environmentalists are at is that it’s all about throwing money at the problem.
It’s like who has the bigger you know, bigger plan in terms of dollar amount like oh mine,’s; 3 trillion! Oh well, mine’s; 10 trillion! Well, mine’s, 90 trillion it’s like who cares like what’s, the outcome? Uh, you know throwing money at something: doesn’t just mean it fixes it, and so as a fiscal conservative and somebody who believes that markets play an important role.
Yes, the federal government has a role in this, but it should be focused on incentivizing. The market to move in the right direction and making climate fighting climate change a smart market solution which it’s, already kind of happening on its own.
But the government has completely ignored that, because it’s been either focused on complete denial or like these far out programs that will just inflate the size of government and not do anything for the environment.
So i think there are positives and negatives to joe biden’s plan and as some as a young person who again doesn’t believe the two-party system really represents me. I will work with him and what i agree with him on and we can go ourselves when we disagree and vice versa, with president trump and that’s.
Why, like, regardless of who wins now or in 2024, we should be willing to work with anybody in the white house. Anybody in congress i’m about to meet with senator chris coons. I met with republican um catholic morris rogers a couple weeks ago.
We’re meeting with governor abbott in texas. We’re meeting with democrats and republicans across the country because there is a ton of overlap, and so joe biden’s. Plan is not flawless. There’s, not enough market uh focused action items, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be part of that process and encourage that action.
But you’re exactly right. The environmental movement needs to include market-based mechanisms if it wants to solve these challenges, because that is what works, and it also is what can incentivize the innovation to to fix this problem and to also export those types of innovation across borders so that other countries can Fight this challenge, as well, so just to give our excellent viewers some context here.
Um earl, i think this was earlier this year, a bunch of well-known economists, including former federal reserve, chair ben bernanke, uh 27 nobel laureates in economics. They uh wrote a statement for something called the climate leadership council and i’ll.
Just read the first sentence here: a carbon tax offers the most cost cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. So this this is not my idea. I’m. I’m, just kind of paying attention to the uh to the world’s, uh smartest economists who say this.
This is the way to do it. You know, and so joe biden um, i think he may have mentioned a carbon tax. You know joe biden’s. Economists, we’ve, had them on at yahoo finance they’re. Generally me i mean they are they’re, mainstream economists generally centrist or center left, such as jared bernstein? These are guys who know that a carbon tax would be effective and yet biden has not endorsed the carbon tax, and i’m.
Not sure why i, my guess is that he may just be trying to do what to say do or say, or both um what the progressive wing the bernie sanders wing wants him to do, which is that big spending approach? You mentioned uh benji, but i do wonder that if he actually gets into office if he would propose and um sign this kind of legislation so rick i mean.
I actually think that that problem that you see of of joe biden not embracing the carbon tax, is actually one of the one of the biggest flaws to the carbon tax, which is that both sides are unwilling to get behind a policy like that right now, because The left says it’s, not good enough.
It’s, not big enough. It’s. Not you know ambitious enough, which i would say is probably very false, and then you have the right which it’s. Hard to get the right on board with attacks it’s hard to get the right on board with attacks on something that oftentimes, the leaders are already a little bit.
Skeptical of so as an organization we’ve, said: okay, there are a lot of organizations fighting for the carbon tax on the center left and the center right. They can do what they do best, which is fight for for that or fight.
You know for those who want to fight against it, fight against it. There are solutions that are implementable right now. The biggest problem in american climate politics right now is the fact that there are 15 plus climate bills sitting in the house and senate right now that are bipartisan, that both sides can get behind, and both sides would be willing to vote for and they aren’t moving them because they’re, refusing to give the other side a win.
That is the problem. We need to start moving this issue in the right direction now and regardless of if a carbon tax is necessary or or or needed in the next kind of two or four years is almost irrelevant.
When we can’t even move like 14 or 15 common sense policies that both sides already are getting behind in the house and senate. If you go to climatesolution.eco, we have a list of those bills. They are literally supported by people on both sides.
Enough to get them all passed through the house and the senate, and we’re, holding them up again, because both sides, don’t want to give the other a win, especially during an election year. That is the problem, and so i think the carbon tax is worth.
Can it’s worth talking about it’s worth the organizations who are working on it like the clc, like you talked about having that conversation, economists are behind it, but then you have people on the left and the right saying that It’s, not good, so i think we need to focus on the solutions we can get done right now and i hope that joe biden looks at those policies that are in congress and says, regardless of what my plan is, i can get something Done in the first two weeks with both sides – uh the house and the senate, fighting for and and both sides, republicans and democrats fighting for the same types of reforms, and i’m going to prioritize that first and then move on to you know.
Whatever else he wants to do so, i think that’s, where the power of this conversation can get to, but we actually have to prioritize those bills and prioritize the common sense solutions that both sides can get behind.
I’m just going to make one guess about the politics of a carbon tax, and i i’m sorry to keep harping on this. I just think a carbon tax is really important and it’s kind of a no-brainer uh way to approach this problem, among other things.
But my guess is that because um fracking jobs and energy jobs, i mean carbon jobs, are a big deal in parts of pennsylvania, parts of ohio and certainly in texas and probably some other states. Those you know.
Pennsylvania and ohio are key swing states, and i think biden is not talking about this, but because he doesn’t want to in any way alienate people who might vote on the issue or give trump any ammunition uh against him in those swing states.
On energy and trump is already saying that um biden wants to ban fracking, which is not true. He wants to ban fracking in private land, but not um. He wants to ban fracking on public land, but not on private land, but trump is mischaracterizing that so, if i’m, if my guest is right on this, if biden wins, he might be more receptive of a carbon tax when he no longer has To convince uh energy workers in uh, pennsylvania and ohio to vote for him yeah i mean i think that’s, a good point.
I recently talked to uh epa administrator andrew wheeler, and i asked him about a carbon tax and he flatly rejected it. You know on the part of the trump administration, but i i and i think you have a good point there um.
You know that that biden is a scranton man and he’s done a lot of stumping there and um it’s, a big fracking state and um. It could definitely affect those folks, but i want to talk um to benji about what california did recently right.
The governor there newsom mandated that all new vehicles have to be uh electric powered by the year 2035, and i asked the epa administrator uh. The trump administration’s, take on that and he said that he didn’t, think the american people were ready for it and that that timeline was too aggressive even for a progressive state like california, and he brought up some points.
He said: look it’s too quick to have the auto industry ramp up like that. It’s too quick to have infrastructure put in place and that americans are not going to part with their gas vehicles. That easily does he make some valid points there benji, i think he actually does and the reason i say that is, i’m driving across the country right now and in two electric cars and as someone who has done that from seattle to new York city, so far, it has been really difficult.
It has been really really good. I need to ask which cars uh tesla x and the chevy bull great cars and the only the biggest problem is they’re, wonderful cars. They’re. They’re, a joy to drive. They’re.
They’re, much more fun to drive than a regular car, but the infrastructure – just isn’t there. Yet – and i guess the problem that i see with a governor mandating that instead of having that as a goal and something to work towards – and you know not just a goal where you say it and then don’t do anything about it.
A goal that you actually do have action items for when you start mandating things like that. It really is problematic for a few reasons. One you’re, forcing people in lower income levels to shift to that which is a problem in itself, and i don’t, think i need to go into that.
It’s, pretty obvious, then, on top of that it has ramifications for the rest of the country that aren’t necessarily ready for that um. You know california might be ready by 2035, but that doesn’t mean another state is, and we all know that what california does has ripple effects to the rest of the country in in terms of you know, automakers trying to you know they can’t appease to california as its own like country.
Again it’s like the sixth largest economy in the world. It’s, pretty much its own country in terms of its economy and then also have different cars. For the rest of the country, it’s very difficult, and so it kind of throws all this stuff off.
And so i think, as a major proponent of electric vehicles – and i do think that it’s feasible. To have electric vehicles be the norm in 2035, but i just don’t think it’s necessary to mandate that, especially in a state that can’t keep its power on with with the types of energy that it’s using right now, so i just i’m, not a huge fan of this mandate mentality! Let the market work.
Incentivize the market to move in the right direction. Have goals have action items embrace electric vehicles, work on electric vehicle infrastructure, embrace tesla and the chevy bolt, which again are great vehicles, get better technology for batteries like all this is really exciting, but these mandates that kind of screw over low-income people and the rest of The country i just don’t think are necessary and it is a little bit ambitious to say that we’re ready for 100 electric vehicles by 2035.
. Again, i don’t, think it’s impossible, but to mandate that to me is is not a smart idea, and i spoke to one auto analyst, who said imagine what that’s going to do to the used car Market those prices are going to shoot higher.
So to your point you know it can be tough, especially for the for the lower income folks, but i want your take quick before we wrap up on what trump has said about the wildfires in california. Um saying that it’s, really not a climate issue, it’s more an issue of poor forest management.
So, in simple terms, we need to stop living in our silos and saying it’s, just forest management or just climate change. It is literally both. That is what the science says and to fight it. We need to have a real, comprehensive discussion about how we can manage our forests better and reduce emissions on a national level and on a state and local level, and that’s.
The truth. Well, we certainly haven’t heard the last of you benji backer best of luck with your trip across the country and uh be sure to uh to follow all of us. I’m at alexis tv news on twitter. I’m at rick j newman.
It’s the most harmonious place on the internet and benji. What’s? Yours? I’m uh benji backer on twitter and on instagram, and really appreciate the opportunity to come on here all right, everybody thanks so much for being with us and we’ll, see you next time.