Now, in our previous segment together,
Will and I took a deep dive into the science and revealed the giant problems
that were collectively facing as a planet. A planet that's ultimately heading towards a
climate disaster if we don't act, and act fast. Now I think it's really important that, in this segment, we cover some of the action steps that all of us can take in order to hopefully start moving in the right direction. And Will recently wrote an article titled "Can Planting Trees Help us Avoid a Climate Disaster?" And in this article, Will discusses how increasing the carbon sink via trees may be our best hope to offset carbon emissions, and buy us the time that we ultimately need to avoid a climate disaster. Will, I would love it if you could just
explain this article a bit more, and let us know what the research is that you found. Yeah. Always happy to
talk about trees. So, so we have a negative carbon technology right now,
that we know works, and that we know doesn't harm the environment. And that's
planting trees. Trees and grasses like switchgrass and hibiscus and others
that you see out West. They sequester carbon. They sequester carbon in their leaves
and in their soil. So they are literally, all day long; all night long, taking
carbon in through their roots and leaves and sequestering it, and pulling it out
of the atmosphere. So, it sounds simple. And it kind of is in a lot of ways. But I wrote this article analyzing a policy proposal put forward under the Obama Administration –it was also required under the United Nations talks on climate change. We had to put forward our long-term strategy for deep decarbonization in the United States so we put forward our plan under the Paris Agreement, but then we were also required to put forward an idea of what we thought we could do between now and 2050 to get to this number that I mentioned– 80 to 100 percent reductions by that amount. So it's called the United States'
Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization. And it goes into power supply and transportation, but it also goes into land usage and trees. And the thesis of my article– it's a fairly long
article that I worked on for over the last year and finally just published– but
the thesis is basically if we plant 40 to 50 million more acres of trees and
grasses in the United States we can offset 50 percent of carbon emissions by
mid-century, which is pretty incredible. So it's, I think it's likely that we won't be able to reduce as quickly as we need to reduce in energy and in transportation– We've got these large systems, these massive institutional changes that we're trying to make– so by literally planting
a lot of trees we can help we can buy more time. And these are very serious conversations that are happening at the international level. A friend of mine was just in China and he took video driving down the highway outside of Beijing of an army of people planting trees along the highway. I think China literally mobilized parts of its military to plant millions of acres of trees and they did it very quickly. That's part of an international understanding of what countries can do to help mitigate their impacts.
You know, mitigate their, their greenhouse gas impacts. And so, it's called the carbon sink– increasing your carbon sink. Planting more trees and grasses– and it is a real way to reduce
the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. So, you know, 40 to 50 million acres might sound like
a lot– and it is, and it requires a lot of careful management of public land, of state land, of private land, of tribal land out West. But the United States can do it. There is a lot of acreage under land management. There's hundreds of millions of acres under public land management alone by the US Federal Government. So if we create the right policies, you know these innovative farming policies these innovative, new energy production policies– we work with all these different levels of government and private landowners out West– we can, we can hit this goal, while also creating jobs, while also making our agricultural system more resilient and improving soil health, and… improving ecosystems, and,
and get to where we need to be. Yeah, trees are really special and
they're invaluable to us in so many ways. Trees give us oxygen, obviously.
They sequester carbon naturally. But science has proven that they also helps relieve
stress. They help us with our anxiety and our depression. They've even been found
to help people with high blood pressure naturally reduce that. So, it seems like
planting trees would be really good for our health, but there's also a real
problem in the United States where, depending on your socioeconomic status,
there's an unequal access to trees and green spaces. So… planting trees would not
only help our health, but they would also make our planet more equitable.
Make our country more equitable. Since this is such a win-win on so many levels,
why do you think this isn't happening? So… to answer that question, I was just thinking back about our conversation about the worst case scenario. And so, a lot of people know what the worst case scenario looks like. It's skies on fire, and cities are reduced to rubble, and there's zombies roaming around the streets trying to kill everyone. But I don't think people have really visualized what the best-case scenario looks like as well. And this is what this is where I draw my sense of optimism about our climate future. Because if we can do all of these things– and these transitions are happening. We are transitioning to a clean energy economy around the world. We are deploying more renewable energy now in a lot of countries than new fossil fuel energies. We are, you know, most car companies now have plans in place to phase out the internal combustion engine. This is happening. The question is whether or not it's happening fast enough. So, as we transition into this world of clean energy, what does that look like? in this best-case scenario vision of the future, it's incredible. It's clean air, clean water, public transportation that meets the needs of citizens no matter what socioeconomic class they're in. It's trees and green spaces in cities. You know it's, it's… It's the ability for us to live more sustainably within the world which is something that we have never done as human civilization. There has never been a time in human history where we have been living 100% sustainably within the world around us.
And now, if we can transition to that with modern technology, modern medicine, you know. That
will be an incredibly new way of living within the world, and it will reconnect us to the natural world.
A lot of people when you ask, you know, what's the
what's the hold up on getting there? You know, I think just a lot of people don't feel a
connection to the natural world anymore. They don't see the need to plant a lot of trees,
whether or not it's good for climate. You know, "Well, you know, trees can
make money for the timber industry," or "They, they have all these other uses." You know,
"I don't really care whether or not a tree is there." You know people don't– a lot of people– don't have that same connection to nature that they used to have. So I do think this idea of the future, where we're living sustainably within the world, includes a lot more green spaces and includes such a stronger
connection to the natural world than we have now. You know. It's rooftop gardens and all of that. I mean, you know, they did projections for New York City where you live. In New York City alone if you converted the rooftop space to vegetable gardens, you can feed the entire city. You know, you could give them the needs that they have– for vegetable needs– I don't know if you could… you might not be able to feed them on a hundred percent of their daily value of all calories, but you know, you can meet the needs of a lot of the public. So, that vision of the future is something that I like to focus on. And, and it means that all of these species that we love– you know, sharks and bears and spotted owls and, you know,
polar bears and, you know– that they're still there. You know, that we can still enjoy them. Wow. Yeah. I really appreciate you bringing this back to what the best case scenario could potentially look like. You know, it's really easy to get
bogged down by all of the horrible news that we're seeing, but remembering that
there's something potentially much more beautiful that we're working towards
currently… It helps keep me motivated, and I'm sure others motivated, to keep
pushing even harder. There's a real potential now, to do better,
than we even have historically. Well so, you know, I… to use kind of religious scripture here,
we're going from having "dominion over the land," which has fueled public persona
since the Industrial Revolution– probably way before that– to having
"stewardship of the land." To being stewards. You know, we as humans can be
stewards of our natural resources. You know, we… We obviously care what happens to the
natural world and we care what happens to these animals and species all over
the world. But on a long-enough timeframe, you know, the world doesn't care about us. The natural world doesn't care whether or not we blink out of existence because we've changed the climate to the point where we can no longer live within the climate. And so, we're not really talking about all of these changes that we need to make for the earth. You know. I mean it's, it seems
kind of presumptuous to think that the Earth is gonna –you know we're doing this for the Earth. …for the future of the Earth.
We're doing this for the future of us. You know, if we want to stay here on Earth as a species, that's why we need these changes. Yeah. That's a really powerful
and important clarification to make. Thank you. So, one of the things that I wanted to get into now… I have a lot of people that come to me wanting to know how they can do something about this, but they feel frustrated with how slow
things happen in the legal process. And, I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for individual actions that people could take now, in order to start seeing some
positive momentum in the right direction? Yeah, so.
You know, people ask me a lot, you know what, what "Do you have a top 10 list of the things that I can do in my daily life?" So the number one thing that I always tell people is to vote. You know, you have the power to change who's elected in this country. YOU HAVE TO VOTE.
And, you know, 18 to 35 year olds –which we're both in that category.
You know, millennial voters are terrible at consistently voting. And if we, if the
millennial generation voted, on a more consistent basis, we would be able to
change so much in this country. And we have the presidential election coming up
very soon, next year, and we have to elect people who understand science, and who understand the risk that climate change poses to all of us, and we have to beoperating from the same baseline of factual understanding and not just be stuck in this cycle of trying to constantly, you know, debate whether or not it's even happening. That, that is a cycle that is not moving us forward, and it's detrimental to our progress. And so, you know, just get out there and vote. You really can make a difference by voting, and you can help people you can register people to vote. There's a lot of people who haven't even registered, and we can help those communities get registered, and make sure that they vote. You know, aside from that, there's obviously a number of things that you can do in your personal life. I kind of separate policy out into sustainability and climate change policy. And so, on a sustainability aspect, there's reducing
your plastic usage. You know, trying to use as, as few single-use plastic products as possible. Don't ever use a plastic straw. Try not to buy plastic bottles. You know, use reusable water bottles. I mean come on, they're everywhere. You know, try not to use styrofoam or plastic utensils. You know, recycle as much as you can. Go vegan if you think that is a good choice for you. Those are all sustainability issues that will have significant, you know, they'll make significant impact and they are already… You know there's a lot more
choice out there in the supermarket. There's a, there's a conversation happening on sustainable fashion and sustainable agriculture, and that's being driven by consumer choice.
But then there's there's climate change, and there is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and there's there's a lot of overlap between that obviously. You know, land-use for agriculture is very important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well. But, like you said, we really do need those large scale institutional changes in order to really make that significant difference, at the policy level, when it comes to climate change. And a lot of people might not know this, but the United States does not
have a national climate change policy. You know, we have a number of different laws and regulations that the EPA uses. You know, we've got the Clean Air Act. We've got a number of regulations on power plants. We've got fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that have increased miles per gallon over the last few decades. Those are very important policies. We've got a bunch of State policies. You know, State renewable energy portfolios. Some states, like California, are really embracing that and saying they're gonna go a hundred percent renewable by x time. You know, Washington DC has a city renewable energy portfolio. A lot of cities do now. New York City has one as well. But we need to bring all of that together. We need to synthesize all of these efforts into one collective Federal policy that we can manage. And you know, that looks a number of different ways, and we can talk more about that. But what most people agree, you know what most economists agree is the most economically effective way to face climate change, from a policy level, is to implement a carbon tax. You know, if you tax the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, you will provide an incentive for reducing those emissions.
You know, it's basic economics. Yeah, I completely agree. There's a real need for oversight here that ensures that actions are taken to address the issue of carbon pollution, and move us towards renewable energy. But there's also a real need for a public safety net that allows for this transition to be equitable. And I think the only way that we can achieve that is from a policy level. And I think you agree. So I'm wondering if you have any upcoming bills or other legislation
that you can recommend to people? Or other actions that we can take as citizens,
to help move us in the right direction? Yeah, that's a great question. And that's why we, that's one of the reasons why we don't have a carbon tax at the moment. You know, I think there is some significant– even among the people who do understand climate change, and who understand the need for carbon tax– there is a wide range of opinions on exactly what that looks like. How much it is. How fast it ramps up. What you do with the money? You know. So the different ideas are– You know, one idea to the right end of the spectrum is to cut corporate taxes with the money that's generated, so that we're incentivizing industry while at the same time, you know, addressing the climate. You know that's, that's kind of on one side.
The other side is, well, kind of in the middle I guess, is creating a Green Infrastructure Bank using the
proceeds from a carbon tax to address things like infrastructure, and to make sure that we are providing those public transportation needs to all communities. Especially lower income and minority communities, which would address equity in a lot of ways as well. And then, on
another side of the spectrum, is cutting rebate checks to those same lower and minority community–lower income and minority communities that would be impacted by rising electricity costs or rising fuel costs for their vehicles. You know, obviously when you make a lower amount of total income you have a higher percentage of your income that goes towards just basic needs like heating
and cooling, and fuel to get you to work, or to get your kids to school. And so, that is a big concern, that those communities would feel an unfair burden from, you know, a rise from inevitably raising the cost to produce electricity. I don't have an answer to that. You know, there– This is the conversation that's happening now, and there are a lot of really good ideas on all sides. I hope that we can find a path forward on it. You know, this is what policy is. You know, it's about– it's using facts, and researching the communities that these policies would impact. And it's talking to researchers and figuring out what can be done. And it's cutting deals between the different sides of political parties, and trying to come up with something that addresses the needs of Americans, while also addressing a real policy concern, which is climate change in the long run. And that, that is what policy does. You know, with all of our cultural issues, it's addressing the largest issues in society and trying to find something
that works in the public interest. And so that's why I love policy, and that's why I think it's so important. And this is, you know, that– but we need this framework. You know,
we can't just rely on the private sector. We can't just rely on technology
to innovate us out of this process. You know, we need the policies as a framework that kind of everything else can fall under. Will, I really want to thank you for being here,
and for everyone who's tuned in. And I really hope that this conversation leaves people feeling more informed about the problem and also has you motivated to…
take the actions that we need to take right now. And Will, I would love it if you could just let everyone know where they can follow you and follow your work. Well, thank you for having me, again. It's a pleasure.
You know I could go on talking about this all night. But thank you for having me…
So I'm on Instagram @hakman.will I'm on LinkedIn. I'm an open LinkedIn connector;
always happy to connect with people. I'm in the DC region, so if you're in that area and would like to chat about any of this stuff let me know. But, yeah.
That's the easiest way to get ahold of me. Awesome. I'll be sure to link to your article about the importance of planting trees in the description below, and I really look forward to staying in touch. Thanks and bye, everyone. Great, thanks. Appreciate it.