Vox’s David Roberts is one of the nation’s top energy and environmental journalists, and now also a senior fellow with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.
In this episode of Energy Policy Now, Roberts discusses the media’s coverage of the politicized issues of energy and climate and the challenge of being heard in a noisy and splintered media environment. He also talks about what it’s like to live and breathe energy from dawn to dusk (and beyond).
Andy Stone: Good day and welcome to the Energy Policy Now podcast from the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m Andy Stone.
Today we have a very special guest here on Energy Policy Now. One of the top national journalist covering energy and the environment. David Roberts is an energy and environmental writer with Vox, the online news site. And as of this fall, also a senior fellow with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. Today we’re going to talk about media’s coverage of the politicized issues of energy and climate change, and the challenge of being heard in a noisy and splintered media environment. David, it’s great to have you here.
David Roberts: Great to be here.
Stone: So you traveled all the way from your home in Seattle to spend a week here at the Kleinman center in Philadelphia. You’ve had a packed schedule, what have you been up to so far this week?
Roberts: Oh, goodness, I talked to a variety of interesting people. It’s a bit of a blur now, but a whole bunch of interesting people. Talk to some students about how I do my work. I gave a lecture on electrification. I just talked to the city manager of Philadelphia. What else, I had some really good food? That’s my impression thus far.
Stone: Great. So, a lot of research goes in to your stories that you write for Vox. Is there anything in particular you’re researching here at the center and any heads up on future topics that you might be writing about?
Roberts: I’m not specifically researching anything this week. The center is very generously helping me go on a reporting trip that starts on Sunday. I will be going to Barcelona to report on what they call superblocks, which is a sort of grand plan to create walkable urban areas throughout the city in every sort of, so that everyone has access to them and not just wealthy people. And it’s very politically contested thing over there right now. And anyways it’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to it.
Stone: So even in a place like Barcelona, which I’ve never been to, but it’s a very urban walkable city to start with, I would imagine.
Roberts: Yes, well, still somewhat controversial and more controversial now, because they have a new mayor who has completely scrambled the politics over there. And I think has come from outside the court of the traditional party system. So, I mean, I still need to do a lot of research before I head over there. But that’s, that’s sort of what’s been, what’s been on my mind.
Stone: Got it. So, before we go into discussion, specifically on the issues of energy and environmental issues, there’s a question I’d like to ask you. You’re writing often seems to be an exploration of ideas and events as much as an explanation of them. Okay. You recently wrote an article about the role that luck plays in overall life success. It had nothing to do with energy and environment. What is it that motivates you as a writer?
Roberts: Well, that’s a good question, I sort of have come to view it. And this is, you know, and Vox has been, you know, great in allowing me this freedom. So I sort of think of energy as my home base, my island, it’s got solid ground, it’s got facts, statistics. I have some expertise and some history and so I feel comfortable there. So I’ve spent most of my time there and then sort of sally forth this way and that into other topics, you know, sort of as they, as they strike me and I try to sort of, insofar as I go outside of energy, I try to do things that are at least somewhat tapping into this zeitgeist, or the current conversation, but maybe because I don’t have to cover politics on the kind of day to day, what happened, you know, who’s squabbling with who, who’s up, who’s down. I don’t have to do any of that stuff. So I’m free to just sort of come in and take a kind of a 30,000 foot view and talk about ideas and larger sort of intellectual dynamics. And, you know, it’s always, I’m always a little bit nervous doing that out from my home base, but the feedback has always been so great that it sort of encouraged me to take more of those little trips.
Stone: Do you have a specific mandate with Vox?
Roberts: No, I mean, I was hired to cover climate and energy but, I think within that, as long as you know, they think I’m have got a handle on that, I think they’re let me do what I want more or less, as long as you know, as I’m producing and people are reading it, they’re happy.
Stone: So one reality of climate change is that it’s a far ranging and very complex topic. You just rolled your eyes. Alright, and what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. And that makes it easy to put forth some simplistic, distorted views on the issue. Wanted to ask you…what are the misconceptions on climate that you feel are common among people who don’t live and breathe these issues on a daily basis?
Roberts: Right that’s well, I have some answers to that. But honestly, I would like for someone to tell me, because, in a sense, you know, I think any sort of writer journalist will be familiar with this. In a sense, once you get very deep into something, it’s very easy to lose touch with what ordinary people know about it, or how they think about it.
Stone: Take a step back.
Roberts: Yeah, yeah. And it’s hard to unknow things or unsee things in certain ways. So like, for instance, a story I was, who was I talking to, it was like a cab driver or something like that. I don’t want to tell Tom Friedman story. But I was talking to I was talking to some more or less stranger and about what I do and just rattling on about natural gas. And they stopped me and they’re like, is natural gas carbon free? Or is that a fossil fuel? And you know, like, you know…
Stone: Well people talk about it being clean.
Roberts: Yeah, right, exactly. No criticism of this person that just is sort of like illustrative to me, like, right, I gotta back up a few steps. I can’t assume too much. But I mean, this is the obvious answer. But nonetheless, the true answer, the main misconception people have is they don’t get how extreme. They don’t get how bad it is.
They don’t get they don’t get how bad it is and how present it is. Right? They think it’s future, they think it’s far away. They think it’s slow. They think, you know, all the all these things, despite dozens of people pounding the drums otherwise. I think the sense of urgency has not caught on and spread. And that has less to do, I think, with people explaining intellectually, the urgency and more to do with sort of how to put it almost like the aesthetics of urgency, like it doesn’t feel…if you’re just if you’re just come down from Mars and look at American politics, you would not sense any urgency about climate politics, right? And so I think average people don’t sense it.
And so on some level, they don’t really feel it in their gut that that it’s urgent like that, you can you can say it over and over again. But they’re not going to feel it until the leaders that they look to for cues, really start behaving as though it’s urgent. And that’s not an explanation thing. That’s a political, I don’t know what that is, or how to make it happen. But that’s, I mean, that’s the biggest gap, I think in public understanding.
Stone: You use the word urgency a number of times there, you know. If we might boil down energy and climate change, to a couple of issues. Okay. Issues that you would recommend that somebody follows closely to really know what’s going on and what’s most important. What would those issues be?
Roberts: Right, that’s a good question. I mean, I think the one the one thing I want to communicate to people, and I say in all my talks, you know, my writing over and over again is, we…There’s lots of complications in the science. And there’s lots of complications in the modeling and the projections and everything else. But no matter. Like, if you look at the full range of them, they all more or less convey the same message, which is the U.S. has got to decarbonize entirely by mid century.
So that’s clarifying, right? That’s not fiddling around at the margins, it’s not reducing emissions, it’s, if you see something in the U.S. emitting carbon, you know, it has to go eventually, right? I mean, so in a sense, that frame, lets you understand everything else that’s going on, right. So like, where’s the carbon coming from? We got to, and we have to plan, we have to make a plan, not just to cut back on it, and not just to trim it back. But we got to make a plan to eliminate it. That means, you know, alternatives, or behavior changes.
So in a sense, that’s the kind of issue that precedes all other issues. Right, the zero target is the big deal. And as for something more specific, I think the most interesting stuff going on right now. And the place where there’s most activity and ferment and thinking and new models and ideas is around electricity and around the grid itself to clean electricity and not just renewables.
But you know, as I said in my in my talk yesterday, the more renewables you put on the grid, wind and solar, the more you get these sort of fluctuations, they vary with weather. And so you get this dilemma which you need to balance the grid you need, you need flexibility on the grid, and you need. And right now, natural gas is providing that flexibility. But again, if you’re gonna get to zero, you got to eliminate the fossil fuels. So how to provide that balance and stability on the grid, even in the presence of rising levels of renewables is a fascinating issue that pulls in a million other issues, right?
Like there’s a million different ways of going about that. But it’s sort of like it that’s kind of the center of a bunch of things that are happening right now. And it’s my favorite stuff to follow. Because I think it’s not only unlike federal politics or federal policy, it’s happening, something’s happening. So it’s not just fruitless shouting, like, there’s actual development, there’s political movement, there’s technological movement, and there’s, it’s intellectually very interesting.
I studied philosophy in grad school for many years, and I’m a big fan of systems thinking, sort of thinking of things in systemic terms. And the grid is, you know..
Stone: It’s the ultimate system.
Roberts: It’s the ultimate system. And it’s furthermore, it’s a place where, unlike in, say, philosophy class, it’s a place where systems thinking can actually do some good and clarify things and inform policy. So it’s like a place where systems thinkers can be, you know, heroes, today, which doesn’t come up a lot.
So to me, that’s fascinating. This sort of taking the broad systemic view of the grid, and then you can hone in down to any level of fine grain level you want, you know, the closer you look, you find more and more complications and issues and interesting things. But that’s kind of the if there’s one thing I returned to more often than anything else, and that more of my pieces than anything else sort of revolve around or touch on in some way or another. It’s that. It’s the grid.
Stone: But this is actually more concrete, right. I mean, politics are flippy, floppy, all over the place. But the grid, you know, you’ve got a problem, you got to resolve it.
Roberts: It’s a physical machine. Right.
Stone: So getting away from that covering issue of the grid and its real problems. Let’s talk about kind of perception of things for just a moment. You know, you’ve been a journalist for years, right? You were at Grist, covering environment before he came to Vox. How is the national dialogue around environment changed, if at all, during the time that you’ve covered it?
Roberts: Wow, that’s, I mean, a lot. A lot of ways. I started at Grist in late 2004, I think just after the reelection of George W. Bush. And back then, you know, we can get into this late a little bit. But the environment frame and the climate frame are not exactly the same. And part of what’s happened over those years that I’ve been a journalist is that they have somewhat separated, or they become distinct things. They used to be muddled into one, like, back in 2004. Nobody was paying attention to hardly any of this stuff, except for you know, capital E, environmentalists. So it was all sort of the muddle of environment stuff, pollution stuff.
But now, one of the things has happened over time is that it’s become clear that climate overlaps with traditional environmental concerns, but not entirely. It’s a Venn diagram, there’s a lot of overlap. But there’s also issues where sometimes climate pulls against environment and vice versa. So that’s one of the things that’s happened.
Obviously, one of the other things that happened is people have started caring. People talk about it now. It’s an actual live political issue, not as much on the federal level as you’d like, but certainly, among states and cities, like people are genuinely taking this up. I think if I had to pinpoint one pivot point that both illustrated and caused a lot of the changes in this, it would be it would be Obama. And the stimulus Act, which sort of single handedly spurred this incredible explosion of growth in renewables, and an incredible decline in their price and an incredible spread, which then started forcing issues one after the other.
Stone: So the stimulus was really that important.
Roberts: Yeah. Yes, I think it’s poorly understood and poorly appreciated to this day, particularly by climate people. Like, you know, Mike Grunwald makes the point, wrote a whole book about it as a matter of fact, that among other things, the stimulus was the biggest energy bill in American history. Like in terms of the amount of money deployed and the comprehensiveness of it. It was an incredible energy bill, it was just also a bunch of other bills. So that never really got pulled out and isolated.
So my point being like, once renewables started getting cheap, then they started forcing coal plants off the grid, you know, they start spreading into red states and messing with the politics there. They start and also like, this is less tangible, and less hard to pin down. But renewables becoming cheap and popular and spreading, I think gave people a kind of permission to take climate more seriously, in a sense. Like, it’s hard to take climate seriously, if the conclusion is we’re screwed, and there’s no, you know, like, and nothing’s happening, and it’s all just grim. But if but once you see a path out, it almost is like, psychologically easier to take in.
Stone: Does this become an opportunity, in a sense?
Roberts: Well, it can become an opportunity, but also, just like, people don’t want to acknowledge problems that are insoluble. So once the problem is soluble, suddenly, like people come around, like, you know. People do not come by their beliefs in entirely rational ways. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything by that. And so a lot of it is just they pick up, they pick up on it, and I think renewables have given people, they’ve made the climate issue less of a sort of doom and gloom thing and more of a given it more aspects of sort of excitement and future facing and economic development.
You know, there’s technology, there’s, like, exciting aspects of it now. And those are all I write about. Now, I hardly, I mean, I still get called a climate writer, but I haven’t written a post, actually, about climate change. You know, I write like, maybe one or two a year. I hardly write about the science or the actual phenomenon itself, I write about what the heck we’re doing about it. Right. And that’s where things are happening. And there’s tons of exciting developments, tons of stuff to write about.
Stone: You did mention the word belief, though. Sorry to keep bringing up your words here. But I just want to ask you this. Do you believe that your writing or any writing can cross the partisan divide? How do you get people on the other side, in quotes, to pay attention?
Roberts: We don’t have time for me to do my full rant on this subject. So, I’ll give you the abbreviated form. I think people in the climate world are wildly over concerned with an over obsessed with the remaining deniers on the right. They don’t matter. And haven’t mattered for a while. And certainly insofar as they matter, they matter like a mountain you have to climb over, not as an intellectual engagement. Right? There’s no point. There has not been a point in engaging them intellectually in a long time.
Stone: But part of that group elected the president that we have now. I mean, there’s a significant number of those people who…
Roberts: I don’t think that denialism. I think it’s an inch deep on the right. I think we overestimate how, I think most people on the right don’t care particularly and if their leaders shifted the other way, for some reason saw acknowledging climate change as being in their interests. I think that the right wing sort of bubble, you know, they’re all in this bubble together, I think it would swing around behind them like a school of fish.
I don’t think there’s any particular independent commitment on the part of most conservatives to denialism. I think it’s just sort of liberals believe x, so we believe not x like that. I don’t think there’s a lot more to it than that. But I just don’t think there’s any, like, I don’t, the answer to how I reach across the divide is I don’t. And I don’t try anymore. And I don’t think it’s worth trying, I think it’s futile and a waste of time and a waste of energy. And most of the people on the left in the center left who are doing it are mainly doing it to impress other people on the center left with how open minded and broad minded they are. I don’t think they’re reaching anyone on that site anymore. Like that side has become boiled down and concentrated to a hard nut core of immovable people and the job now is political, it’s to overcome them. Right.
There’s no point in persuading them. So I, you know, like people refer to it sort of derisively as preaching to the choir, but our choir is 70% of the country. It’s a pretty damn big choir. And furthermore, just because they are, you know, sort of quote on my side, in a broad sense, doesn’t mean they already know everything they need to know or know what they’re like. They still want to know how to think about things and what the priorities are. And they still want explanations, like just because they’re on your side doesn’t mean you have nothing to say to one another. Right?
Like they, particularly on energy and climate change, people want. It’s very big and complicated, and it’s very new and novel to most people. Most people have not spent a lot of time thinking so there’s a lot of work for people who can sort of conceptually clarify, and politically clarify things for people. So that’s, I think that’s important work. And that’s what I see myself doing.
And like if someone wants to knock themselves out trying to reach the Fox News viewers with scientific arguments about climate change, like it has not worked for 20 to 30 years, but maybe you’ll find just the magic message, you know, like, but I doubt it. Like they’ll change politically, they’ll come around behind climate change, when they are forced politically and not before, it will not be arguments in persuasion that does that work.
Stone: You write about so many different topics? I mean, they’re all within the realm of this energy and environment as well. Right? Climate change. And it’s a broad world, right? I mean, there’s a lot to deal with. And then you go outside of it, as I said earlier, the one about luck. And then you also did something recently related to ‘me too’. What does your day as David Roberts look like and where do you come up with all these ideas?
Roberts: Well, I have lots of opinions.
Stone: It’s essential in your business.
Roberts: That predates my journalism career. And you know, I’m, and I still like philosophy, and I still like thinking about big things, abstract things. And I still, you know, and I think, like I said, Every time I’ve attempted to sort of articulate something that like, well, for instance, this ‘me too’ article I wrote, in one sense, you can view everything I said, is like, duh, it’s obvious, right? The whole point was just like, guys, here’s why women are so upset. You know. Like drr drr, open your eyes, and you’ll see it.
And furthermore, several billion women have already told you this, and you would already know it if you had listened to them. But here, let me ,as a guy say it, maybe you’ll hear me. But so in a sense, I’m saying things that seem obvious, but as I said, like, every time I’ve tried to do that, it’s such positive feedback. Like I get people saying, like you expressed what I was thinking in a way that I was not able to. Like you gave me words, you gave me words in a conceptual structure to express what I already sort of was thinking. And that’s like, the nicest feedback any writer can get about anything. So it’s sort of encouraged me to attempt more of those things. As to what my day looks like, this is not, this should not be in any way construed as advice or counsel to anyone but basically, like, I spend my morning and early afternoon, dealing with email, calling people that I have to call, you know.
Stone: Sources or?
Roberts: Yeah, yeah, just doing all the non writing stuff, basically, except for insofar as Twitter is writing. I do a lot of tweeting, and you know, basically like during the day, I’ve completely lost my ability to lock in and do any sort of concentrated long term work. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, like I, my colleagues at Vox baffling amaze me because they’re cranking out these articles in the middle of the day, which to me now just seems like wildly impossible. So I do all that during the day. And then late afternoon, I walk my dog or do some yoga or some exercise and eat dinner, you know, and then my sort of second shift starts at about 10pm. And from 10 to 2am about, that’s when I do probably 95 plus percent.
Stone: Wow, real night owl.
Roberts: Yeah, night owl, that’s almost all of my writing has been done late at night, for years and years now, just because this sort of torrent of incoming slows a little bit and gives you room to think.
Stone: So let me ask you about that. So where do you get your news? And do you have any advice for listeners who try to manage their way through all the mass of information that’s coming? I find that I’m overwhelmed.
Roberts: Yeah, I mean, I don’t have any great elegant solution. I still spend two hours a day wading through email just like I did in 1998. You know, like, it still feels inefficient.
Stone: Do get your news from Twitter and the big national organizations?
Roberts: Yes, Twitter sometimes yes. I rely on Twitter for the sort of like national political zeitgeist, like what’s on people’s mind, which is rarely my issues. And for my issues for the news, there is mostly email and it’s mostly the sort of digests news roundups that various and summary publications put out so I get like, four of those. So if you read four news roundups on your issue a day you’re going to, one way or another, see everything that is of significance. So it’s just there’s no solution that I found but just time wading through email, which is miserable, but yet, apparently unavoidable.
Stone: What are the conversations? Like when you’re talking with someone opposed to your opinions on whatever? How do those conversations go? And I know you say you’re not trying to convince anybody anymore, but you must run into this right?
Roberts: Well, I don’t have the climate fight anymore. I mean, I just don’t encounter those people. Or insofar as I encounter them, I just roll my eyes and move on. So and this is another thing that’s nice about energy, relative to politics, like in energy, there are disagreements. But like, there’s a disagreement about what percentage of our electricity we can ultimately get from renewables versus having to supplement that with hydro and nuclear and other stuff, like is it 70% is 80%?
Like, that’s a pretty civilized and technical disagreement. And people in the energy world, in my experience, are able to discuss these things in mature ways and disagree and in substantive ways and have arguments about these issues that are substantive and interesting, possibly just because I think they’re somewhat distanced from politics. Because they’re sort of technical and systemic, they’re, it’s an area where there’s lots of disagreements in the energy world, but I don’t, it’s not one of those things where I feel like I’m on a different team than other people. You know, it’s not they’re not teams, there’s people who are, a lot of people who are, genuinely curious and genuinely want to know what’s true and right and are helping one another, find it.
So it’s very refreshing in that way. It’s why I like coming back to it. After I foray out into politics, you know, where it’s all teams, no facts, no one really knows what’s going on, everybody’s BS-ing, and it’s just like, marshmallow. You’re wading around a marshmallow. It’s nice to come back to energy where there’s like, people of goodwill and actual facts to cover.
Stone: Recently, the BBC came out and said that it hasn’t been reporting properly on climate. Okay. What it said essentially was that as reporters have given deniers of climate science, I hate to come back this, I just want to get your opinion on it, have given denies of climate science too much rope and they haven’t challenged them or provide sufficient balance at times. The BBC is further training its reporters to challenge and you know, not just take things at face value. Do we have this issue generally in the press here in U.S.?
Roberts: I think, much like I think people exaggerate the significance and effect of deniers, I think that media critique, the both sides, you know, balance the scientist with random denier guy. That was a problem in U.S. media when I started, especially, but I don’t think it really is anymore. Like, I really don’t think and I think, BBC and everybody else, like the Guardian, you know, made some big grand gesture recently too. They’re committed to climate change, I forget exactly what they did.
But, you know, you see sort of these media outlets being like, we’re throwing this sort of old fashioned objectivity of the wind. And we’re going to like, you know, we believe the climate matters. And we’re going to write from that perspective. I think they’re all going to find that, just because you include a sentence in every story saying, this hurricane is connected to climate change, which is actually happening and not controversial. It’s not going to change anything. Really, I don’t think that’s a problem that is like, substantially impeding things anymore. I think media in the U.S. has actually gotten quite a lot better on it and probably doesn’t get enough credit.
Stone: Well, I want to take this a step further, if I may. Okay. So, there’s a lot of talk generally about the two degree target on global warming. Which is a target that’s looking harder and harder for us Earthlings to actually meet. Okay. There’s also a lot of talk about technologies, carbon capture and storage being the one that most clearly comes to mind, that are in fact expensive, and logistically very challenging to implement, if we ever really do at scale.
Yet both of these issues, it seems to me, are often kind of glossed over as if they are reality and that both are promises that are going to be fulfilled. Is there a disservice in these assumptions? Or am I just imagining that I’m seeing this and reading this.
Roberts: Yeah, I think that is a species of a mistake that a lot of people make when they are too close to an area and of course, I include myself in this because I’m as close as it gets to this area. But I think there’s a tendency to exaggerate the sophistication of the public’s opinions on this, like I suspect if you really dug down and dug down a few levels, you would find that most people in the public don’t really clearly distinguish between climate pollution and air pollution. Don’t really know which are the fossil fuels. Don’t really know what the relationship is between solar and oil, you know, like that gets mixed up all the time. What the relationship is between electricity and energy more broadly.
Like, all these things that are of great interest to those of us who follow this stuff and care about it. I just don’t think those fine distinctions matter much or like sink into the public. Generally, I think the public needs, you know, like, obviously, anyone in the public who wants to know more, should be able to find more. And that’s what I spend my life doing. But like, generally, politically, I think the public just generally needs to be oriented in basically the right direction. And I think it should be to experts to figure out the details.
And I think, you know, that’s, inevitably, if you say that in the U.S. context, there’s this sort of like knee jerk, populism in the U.S. on all sides. Which is gonna sort of accuse you of elitism like, oh, you’re, but I think if you look at the success story, in the U.S., the biggest success story is California. Look at the California model, the California public is generally on board and supportive. But the details are almost aren’t entirely worked out by the California Air Resources Board, which is this sort of Council of Experts that’s distanced a little bit from public opinion and public feedback. And so as far as I’m concerned, like, let CARB, or its equivalent, work that out and just like get the public pointed in the right direction, and don’t worry about like, if they’re grasping the finer distinctions.
Like should it ever come up and be a politically salient issue? That is like matters in some significant way? Obviously, you know, I’d be the first in line to explain why carbon direct air capture is not yet something we can bet on, you know, or something like that. But am I worried about like the public getting too excited or too optimistic? No. Am I worried that the public is passionately in favor of 100% renewables, even though lots of experts think that that’s technologically impossible? No, I’m not particularly worried because the experts will work it out when we get there. So like, we just need the will we need positive sentiment.
Stone: So you have faith that it’ll be worked out. If we can just sit down and focus on it and get it sorted out?
Stone: Okay. Got it. We’ll take that you’re kind of given me a ehhhhh look on your face there.
Roberts: I mean, I yeah, I think we can work that out. And I think like a lot of these, I think a lot of these issues are going to resolve themselves in ways that nobody, including the experts, has any freaking clue about right now. And everybody like, you know, everybody’s more or less guessing. So like, how much will we need carbon capture? How much will we need nuclear? No one really knows.
So like, it’s I think it’s silly to pretend that the like, we should be conveying the expert knowledge to the all the public, when the experts don’t even really know what’s going to happen, like, the market and events will sort those things out over time. And then everybody, all the experts, will look back and revise their stories retrospectively, to make sense of it all, but like, no one knows what’s going to happen.
Stone: A couple more questions for you here. So this stuff is a lot to think about, right? When you are just escaping, and you pick up a book, if you have time to read it. Yeah, I guess from two in the morning to 2:45. What do you what do you read when you’re just having fun?
Roberts: This is a sad, maybe sad admission, but I don’t have time to read books anymore for pleasure, like I used to, you know, because the time I have for recreational reading is so fragmented and such tiny chunks and I’m always you know, like works always on the back of my mind. So, generally, when I read recreationally, it’s graphic novels. I’ve gone back to comic books. I’ve regressed to comic books so talk about escapism, like, I read good graphic novels.
Stone: Got it. Final question for you here. Let’s say in a couple of years, we get a new administration and a Congress that is not going to obstruct attempts to address a lot of energy issues, funding of technologies, up and down the road. Okay. Do you think the country now is at a place, both as its citizenry and its politics, to take that switch in Washington and run with it in the most positive way possible, or are there other roadblocks that might come up?
Roberts: Well, I would just dispute the premise a little bit, I guess. I mean, I think no one wants to say this because of various conventions in journalism and conventions in politics. But if you look around empirically, where does progress happen in the U.S. on these issues? It happens in places that elect overwhelming democratic majorities. That’s what that’s what California, that’s the lesson of California. The reason they’re doing all this stuff is because the Republican Party can’t stop them.
So the chances of Democrats getting a similarly unstoppable majority at the federal level are extremely slim, even in the best case scenarios. So the Republican Party will be able to stop them and will do so. So I just don’t think I don’t think there’s going to be a dramatic switch at the federal level, I think what’s eventually going to happen is that action is going to build and rise from the bottom, from cities and states. To the point that it forces the issue federally. I don’t think federal, I don’t think the federal government is going to lead on this ever really, in the U.S. That’s, that’s my that’s my grim prognosis.
But states are doing, you know, like, amazing things are happening in cities and states. And if you look at sort of, you know, the example I always use is fuel economy standards. You had these sort of moribund federal standards but then California has this waiver is allowed to set its own standards and other states are allowed to join California. So California just vaulted ahead, kept raising standards, and eventually had something like 15 or 16 or 17 other states attached to it. And so finally, the car companies went to the feds and said we can’t do this. We can’t make two sets of cars. So we have to raise federal standards. So it was entirely a bottom up forcing process. If there’s ever federal movement on climate and energy, it will be through something like that route, I think.
Stone: David, thanks for talking.
Roberts: Thanks for having me.
Stone: Today’s guest has been David Roberts Energy and Environmental writer with Vox and a senior fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. Interested in more expert insights into today’s energy and environmental policy issues? If so, visit the Kleinman Center website where our energy policy blogs and digests are all available. Or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, or your favorite podcast outlet. And of course, we’d love your feedback. Our email is kleinmanenergy @upenn.edu. Thanks for listening and have a great day.