May 13, 2021

Is Biden’s Jobs Plan a ‘Skinny Green New Deal’?

by How to Save a Planet

Background show artwork for How to Save a Planet

The Biden Administration's American Jobs Plan is billed as an "infrastructure" package.  But it's also something else: the most ambitious climate plan a U.S. president has ever proposed. So what's in it? And how can we make sure this plan avoids the fate of the last big climate bill (hint: it didn’t go well)? We talk to an architect of the Green New Deal and one of our favorite energy policy experts — and then Alex and Ayana make a terrifying phone call.

Guests: Leah Stokes, Julian Brave NoiseCat

Take Action: Call your members of Congress!

As Ayana says, this is "a once in a lifetime opportunity to pass comprehensive, ambitious federal climate policy.” And as Dr. Leah Stokes said in our episode, now is the time! So call your members of Congress! If Alex and Ayana can do it, so can you!

Don’t know who your member of Congress is? No problem!

You can find out who your representative is here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative 

This site has information on your senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/senators-contact.htm 

You’ll find phone numbers for members’ D.C. offices on their websites — or just call the Capitol switchboard! They can connect you directly with the office of your representative or senator:  (202) 224-3121

Tips for calling:

  1. Make a plan! Jot down some notes to remember what you want to say.
  2. Introduce yourself and tell them you’re a constituent! Let them know that you’re a voter in their district — and your opinion matters.
  3. Tell them why you’re calling: It’s crucial that Congress take serious action on climate change this year to meet the U.S. target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
  4. Ask for something specific! Maybe: I’m really excited about the American Jobs Plan, and I think it’s really important to pass a strong clean electricity standard to get us on the path to 100% clean power / I love the idea of a Civilian Climate Corps and Congress should fully fund it / It’s really important to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles / Choose your own climate priority! Maybe it’s kelp farming...
  5. Leave your contact information. That’s it! You did it!


Learn More


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Check out our Calls to Action archive for all of the actions we've recommended on the show. Sign up for our newsletter here. And follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

This episode of How to Save a Planet was produced by Rachel Waldholz. The rest of our reporting and producing team includes Kendra Pierre-Louis and Anna Ladd. Our intern is Ayo Oti. Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney. Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard with original music from Emma Munger.







Where to Listen

Transcript

Alex Blumberg: Welcome to How to Save a Planet. I'm Alex Blumberg.


Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And I'm Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. And this is the show where we talk about what we need to do to address climate change, and how to make those things happen.


Alex: All right, Doc.


Ayana: Yeah?


Alex: Earth Day. April 22.


Ayana: Yeah.


Alex: Something kind of big happened.


Ayana: Um, I chatted with Stacey Abrams on Instagram Live?


Alex: You did?


Ayana: [laughs] Yes!


Alex: Holy shit! That's crazy.


Ayana: Yeah, it was pretty big. Also, Pitbull tweeted about our podcast.


Alex: That was—that was huge, too. Neither of those things, surprisingly, are the big thing that I'm talking about, though.


Ayana: Oh. Something else happened on Earth Day?


Alex: Yes.


Ayana: Okay.


Alex: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted dozens of world leaders for a summit to try to ramp up global action on climate change.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kamala Harris: Your excellencies, distinguished leaders and esteemed colleagues from around the world, welcome to this historic leaders' summit on climate.]


Ayana: I will admit this was a bigger deal than either of those things that happened in my little social media life that day, and it was really exciting to see. It felt like America saying, "We're back. We're actually gonna participate in a productive way in international climate negotiations—and maybe even be a leader."


Alex: Yeah. Very big, very exciting. But because of the pandemic, it all took place by video conference. So there were some technical glitches.


Ayana: A little awkward.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Antony Blinken: It's a pleasure now to call upon the Prime Minister of Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Mr. Prime Minister, I'm not sure we're hearing you here.]


Alex: Even prime ministers forget to unmute.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: At one point Vladimir Putin, was left staring in silence for, like, about a minute and a half.


Ayana: That's a long time.


Alex: Because he didn't know he was on screen, and it was his turn to talk


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Antony Blinken: The President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin. Mr. President?]


Alex: So it was just sort of like one of those 90-second-long Zoom pauses. He sat there looking kind of bored.


Ayana: I feel like this is sort of a metaphor for international climate action in general, you know? Like, proceeding in fits and starts, not always exactly functioning as you might wish that it would. But despite those technical difficulties, there was certainly one thing that came through loud and clear.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Joe Biden: ... the United States sets out on the road to cut greenhouse gases in half—in half—by the end of this decade. That's where we're headed as a nation.]


Alex: So that is President Joe Biden announcing the new US climate target under the Paris Agreement, you know, that big UN global climate accord. And despite his understated delivery there, this is a huge deal. He's committing that the US will cut carbon emissions at least 50 percent from their peak—which was in 2005—at least 50 percent in 10 years.


Ayana: And as someone who's been sort of wishing and hoping and watching these international meetings happen for years, these UN climate negotiations, my normal stance is just to feel disappointed ...


Alex: Right.


Ayana: ... by the United States of America's kind of weak commitments and slowing things down. But this was a really big deal. This was a pretty bold commitment.


Alex: For the first time, the US is committing to a goal that's getting close to what science says we need to do to avoid the worst effects of climate change.


Ayana: Thank God.


Alex: Yeah. It now ranks among the most ambitious targets set by the world's big carbon emitters. But it's easy to set targets.


Ayana: It's harder to meet them.


Alex: Yes. And you know, the drill is you make a big public promise like this, but then you need to actually have a plan to make good on that promise.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Alex: And in fact, the Biden administration has a plan to do that. And it's not just any plan. It's the most ambitious climate plan ever proposed by an American president.


Ayana: But you, dear listeners, may not have heard about this plan because climate isn't actually the thing the Biden administration leads with when they talk about this plan. What they talk about is jobs. In fact, the official name of this plan is the American Jobs Plan.


Alex: And President Biden rolled out this plan in a speech in Pittsburgh at the end of March. And we're gonna play a clip of that speech. And for listeners at home, just count the number of times you hear the word climate in this next clip we're gonna play.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Joe Biden: It's not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It's a once-in-a generation investment in America, unlike anything we've seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago. In fact, it's the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. It will grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interests, and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years. It's big, yes. It's bold, yes. And we can get it done.]


Ayana: Okay, Alex, how many climate references did you hear?


Alex: [laughs] Um ...


Ayana: I counted zero.


Alex: [laughs] You are correct. Zero.


Ayana: But "jobs" and "economy" appeared four times.


Alex: And to be fair, President Biden does get around to the word "climate change" about 10 minutes into that speech, but the point is you wouldn't necessarily know from the framing of this plan, that this would actually be the biggest piece of climate legislation the US has ever considered.


Ayana: They buried the lede on that one. So today on the show, what is in this jobs plan that makes it such a huge deal for the climate?


Alex: And what should we make of the fact that our best chance to pass meaningful climate legislation really seems to downplay the whole climate thing?


Ayana: That's all coming up after the break.


[00:06:40.15]***


Ayana: Welcome back. To help us understand what's in this plan, we called up one of our favorite energy policy experts.


Alex: All right. We're all recording. Can you just introduce yourself?


Leah Stokes: Sure. I'm Leah Stokes, I'm an assistant professor at UC-Santa Barbara, where I work on energy and climate policy, and a co-host of the podcast A Matter of Degrees.


Alex: The rival.


Leah Stokes: Yeah, the rival!


Alex: Climate podcast that we're gonna take down.


Ayana: Slash the podcast we collaborate with constantly.


Leah Stokes: [laughs] Yeah.


Alex: Slash the podcast we love.


Ayana: And Leah told us that the way this American Jobs Plan is written actually represents a fundamental change in the way the US is trying to tackle the problem of climate change.


Alex: She says it used to be that the big idea in climate policy was this idea of making it more expensive to emit carbon into the atmosphere. And then if you make carbon more expensive, the market will take care of shifting the economy to basically emit less carbon.


Ayana: Yeah. So that's the theory anyway. But recently, climate policy wonks—a.k.a. my homies, one of my favorite groups of humans—have been pushing a new and very promising approach.


Leah Stokes: In the last two or three years, as ideas like the Green New Deal have been arising and other sorts of solutions, the paradigm has started to shift. The whole idea here is standards, investment and justice. And it's not so much about making things more expensive, it's about saying, let's set the rules. Let's say where do we want to go by when? That's the "standards" piece.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Leah Stokes: It's saying, let's get the federal government to invest, rather than putting the costs of the transition onto everyday folks, low-income folks, communities of color. That's the "investments" piece. And the "justice" piece is about recognizing that our dirty energy system has been overwhelmingly putting the costs onto Black, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans. There's so much research that shows that. And so when we talk about doing clean, it can't just be for wealthy white people, as it has really been in the last decade, as we've been delivering climate policy through things like tax credits that only wealthy people can really easily access. So this standards, investment and justice approach is kind of the new way that I think a lot of policymakers are thinking about climate policy.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Alex: All right. So let's talk about this new way that policymakers are thinking about climate policy. And let's take that standards piece first, because that is potentially the most powerful part of this entire plan when it comes to climate change.


Ayana: That's because the American Jobs Plan includes this sort of superpower section, which by itself could dramatically cut US greenhouse gas emissions. And what that section lays out is something called a "clean electricity standard." Long time listeners will know we've actually had Leah on the show before to talk about just this.


Alex: It's kind of Leah Stokes's baby.


Leah Stokes: Yes, the clean electricity standard is my passion project, so to speak. So it's a requirement to increase your clean electricity by a certain deadline. So the most likely number we're probably going to see in legislation would be 80 percent clean power by 2030. That's a doubling of clean power from today. We're at about 40 percent today, so it means that in a decade we would double our amount of clean power. And that would be transformative. So when we talk about getting to 80 percent, what we're really talking about is building a lot of renewables everywhere. So this is a really exciting idea.


Alex: And essentially that means, like, that standard just says to all the utilities out there, you guys have to just come up to speed, basically. You have to, like, however you want to do it, but you got to get to 80 percent clean energy by 2030. Is that right?


Leah Stokes: Yeah. Not every utility would have to get to 80 percent clean, but what we would want to do is get to an average of 80 percent clean.


Alex: Gotcha.


Leah Stokes: Some utilities, you know, they're starting out in tough spots, and so a policy would likely be designed where you start where you are and you need to make progress every year.


Alex: And so in places where clean electricity is easier, where there's perhaps lots of offshore wind or the sun is shining a lot, then you might—those might move more quickly, whereas other places maybe they don't quite get to 80 percent themselves. But the basic idea is like, here's the deadline, here's the goal, and we're here to help, but you guys got to do it. Basically, right?


Leah Stokes: Yeah. And "we're here to help" means money, right? It means we will provide you with resources, so we make sure that customer bills don't go up, so that we make sure that you have those resources to turn over the dirty plants and build the clean stuff, so that this is affordable for everybody. You know, it's not an unfunded requirement or something like that. It says, "Hey, we're gonna help you out." And that's what the federal government can do that states and cities can't really do as easily, provide resources.


Alex: Got it.


Ayana: Yeah.


Alex: And the one other thing that we've said, and I know you've said before, is that what's exciting about a clean electricity standard is that so much other good climate-helpful stuff flows from that, right? Like, if you have clean electricity, then if you're also transitioning to clean transportation, like electric vehicles and electric buses, then there is now clean electricity to power those electric buses and cars. And so therefore, those sectors are now clean as well.


Leah Stokes: Exactly. So if you run the math, if you take clean electricity and you add electrification—meaning electric vehicles, electric homes, all those sorts of things, you can actually reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent. We're not gonna do that all this decade, right? But that's the pathway. That's how we get to this 50 percent cut. We get clean electricity, and then we use that clean electricity to power homes, cars, parts of heavy industry. That is really the pathway to decarbonization.


Ayana: So the Clean Electricity Standard, that alone would be a huge piece of climate legislation. Leah says that the standard by itself could get us halfway to Biden's target.


Alex: And remember, the framework Leah laid out for how she thinks about this plan: standards, investment and justice. The Clean Electricity Standard? That is the centerpiece of standards.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Alex: The second big piece that she mentioned—investment—that's money.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: And the American Jobs Plan has a lot of money for climate action.


Ayana: The idea is to pour money into new industries and infrastructure to try to jumpstart a clean economy.


Alex: So there's incentives for renewable energy, like wind and solar. There's more than $200-billion to retrofit buildings and build new energy efficient, affordable housing. There's tens of billions of dollars for research and development in clean tech.


Ayana: And maybe my personal favorite: establishing a Civilian Climate Corps, which would put people to work on climate-related projects all over the country, like protecting and restoring ecosystems.


Alex: Right. It hearkens back to the FDR program of the Civilian Conservation Corps.


Ayana: Exactly.


Alex: Which built a lot of our national park infrastructure.


Ayana: Yeah. And planted a lot of trees.


Alex: And Leah says the biggest chunk of funding, though, is focused on transportation, which is a big deal because transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States.


Ayana: So that includes $85-billion to improve public transit, and $174-billion to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.


Leah Stokes: When I looked at the American Jobs Plan, I thought these people really like electric cars!


Ayana: [laughs]


Leah Stokes: You know, there's so much focus on charging cars. When some people from the White House talk about the plan, they just talk about cars and the transportation sector.


Alex: Charging infrastructure is also a big part of this, right? Like, what does that mean, "charging infrastructure?"


Leah Stokes: So I think one of the things that Biden talked the most about on the campaign was 500,000 charging stations across the country. So if you own an electric vehicle right now—I do. I do believe Ayana does as well. Yesterday I was asked, "Is the technology ready?" on TV, and I was like, "There's an EV in my driveway. So, yes." Anyway, for some people, with some kinds of cars, it's pretty easy to drive coast to coast and get charging, but for other kinds of EVs, it's harder. And so we want to make sure—especially as more and more people adopt EVs—that we have enough charging stations across the country, so that people feel confident that they can get from point A to point B in their EV.


Alex: So all that money going into EV charging stations and transit and other green infrastructure, that is the investment part of standards, investment and justice.


Ayana: And the last piece—justice—is addressed in the plan really explicitly. The Biden administration is pledging that 40 percent of the benefits from these climate investments will go to disadvantaged communities.


Leah Stokes: It's saying we want to make sure that throughout this package, that we are not reinforcing the racial wealth gap through our climate policy. We want to make sure that everybody can participate in things like putting solar panels on their roof, buying EVs, retrofitting their homes. And historically, the way we've done some of these policies has not delivered that outcome. So it's really important that the Biden-Harris administration is focused on turning the corner on that issue.


Ayana: So Alex ...


Alex: Yes?


Ayana: This all sounds very promising, but for all of this to actually come true, this plan has to get through Congress.


Alex: Ah! I forgot that step! [laughs]


Ayana: Yeah. Big, big step. Hard step. Important step.


Alex: That's right. I'm remembering back to how a bill becomes a law. Schoolhouse Rock.


Ayana: Oh yeah. So what are the chances of this actually happening? And also, for the purposes of our podcast, what can we do to help make that dream become reality?


Alex: And when we say "we," we mean, literally "we." Me, Ayana, all of you guys listening, what can we do?


Ayana: We, as a podcast.


Alex: As a podcast community.


Ayana: And just a hint: This will involve at least one very awkward phone call. And don't worry, we definitely recorded it.


Alex: So make sure to stick around to the end to hear that.


Ayana: Yep.


Alex: It's all coming up after the break.


[00:17:27.05]***


Ayana: Welcome back. We're talking about the American Jobs Plan, and how to get this potentially transformative piece of climate legislation across the finish line.


Alex: Because history is not exactly encouraging here.


Ayana: Yeah.


Alex: You know, the last time we in the United States tried to pass major climate legislation, it failed miserably.


Ayana: It sure did. This was back in 2009, when the Obama administration tried to pass a bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It was called "cap and trade" or Waxman-Markey, named after its two key sponsors. That bill passed in the House of Representatives, but it never even got a vote in the Senate. So lots of people have spent the entire last decade since that debacle thinking about how we can make sure that doesn't happen the next time we get a chance to put forward robust federal climate policy. And one of those people who's been thinking about this super hard is Julian Brave NoiseCat.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: I'm Julian NoiseCat. I have way too many titles and affiliations, but the relevant ones here are, I'm the Vice President of Policy and Strategy at Data for Progress, which is a think tank and pollster. And I'm also a citizen of the Tsq'escen Nation and a descendant of the Lil'Wat Nation of Mount Currie.


Ayana: Okay. So how do we make this different than last time? Like, how do we actually get this passed? Obviously, cap and trade? Spectacular failure. Heartbreaking.


Alex: So how do we avoid that fate?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Good tweets.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: [laughs]


Ayana: I didn't see that coming.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: No I'm joking.


Ayana: I will brush up on my tweeting.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: I mean, the Waxman-Markey, it passed through the House of Representatives and never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. I think that the Senate is a huge part of this. But, you know, I think also that there was a significant Waxman-Markey post-mortem that basically said that part of what Waxman-Markey did not have was a significant civil society sort of movement. You know, it didn't have a social movement, essentially.


Ayana: Yeah, no grassroots coalition behind it.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Yep. And I think that we have more of that this time, and I think that the question is how does it interface with, and put pressure on and support Congress and the right people in Congress. And they're gonna have to balance the interests of, you know, a party that represents the workers who build fossil fuel pipelines, and the protestors who don't want them to build those pipelines. You know, there's a lot of political balancing acts that are gonna have to be pulled off by a lot of people who might not be remembered, but are doing—in my view—pretty heroic work to try to make this all happen.


Ayana: And what do you think of the politics of kind of like, could be perceived as smuggling climate policy inside an infrastructure bill, so as not to put a bullseye on it by calling it climate policy?


Alex: Right. It's got a trillion dollars of climate investment, but it's called the American Jobs Plan. [laughs] Like, half of it is climate investment.


Ayana: A little bit of a Trojan horse vibe. I'm not against it, but I'm curious about your take on that, like, as a narrative piece, strategically, all that.


Alex: I might be pro-it, but you're the expert. What do you think of it?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: You know, at the end of the day, the Trojan horse worked, right? Like, the Greeks won the war.


Alex: [laughs]


Ayana: It is so valuable to have a student of history on the podcast.


Alex: I did not know that!


Ayana: So when half-assed metaphors are rolled out you're like, "Well, let me tell you how the other—how the story ends."


Julian Brave NoiseCat: I'm just a big nerd. Let's see. So I mean, I think if you look at the polling data, you know, at the end of the day, what people really do care about is, you know, jobs, is the air quality and water quality where they live. You know, and I think that sort of foregrounding those things, when in truth, you know, climate—just even saying the word "climate" is, at this point so charged in our partisan environment, I think it makes a lot of sense. I think it's intuitive. I think it's, you know, the lowest-risk, highest-reward way to play your cards. Is it the thing that would sell a policy to me specifically, you know? No. I'm, like, very deeply steeped in a very particular ideology, and, you know, I'm like a Native guy from Oakland, but I'm also not, like. anywhere near the median voter in this country.


Alex: Right.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: So I think it makes sense.


Ayana: And a lot of this is about how we message it, right? Like, how do we describe this work and the importance of these policies and what's at stake, if we don't pass them. So from the polling that you've been doing with Data for Progress, what have you found are the most important messages or things to lean into, as far as what you would recommend to get the most people behind this?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: So just on a very basic level, in a democracy where people get to vote, it's better to do popular things that people like, than to do things that are unpopular and people do not like.


Ayana: I'm with you so far.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: [laughs]


Ayana: I'm buying this.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: And, you know, I think that this is especially important for the members of Congress who are gonna be those marginal votes, who feel like they might lose their job in the 2022 midterms if they vote for something that's unpopular with their voters in their state or district.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: And so I would say that, broadly speaking, the best ways to talk about the American Jobs Plan and to talk about action on climate change is through the prism of jobs. So talking about the opportunities and work that this will create across the country, talking about infrastructure, the things that we can build, the things that people will see and that will impact their everyday lives. Talking about pollutants beyond just greenhouse gas emissions. So I think here, you know, a lot of the things that environmental justice groups have been emphasizing over the years are very important: clean air, you know, beyond just methane and CO2 emissions, clean water to drink. And one of the big things in the American Jobs Plan is the ambitious goal to replace all of the lead pipes in the country.


Alex: Wow.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Which won't put a dent in emissions, but will certainly improve the quality of life of many people across the country.


Ayana: Yeah. Mm-hmm.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: You know, I think the lead pipe stuff, we literally cannot talk about clean water infrastructure enough, in my opinion. We should just talk about that all day long.


Ayana: Because everyone wants clean drinking water.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Everybody wants that, yeah.


Ayana: No one's like, "I want to drink a bunch of toxic crap."


Julian Brave NoiseCat: It's almost impossible to make clean water infrastructure unpopular, in my opinion. One thing that I think we should be really paying attention to as this package moves through Congress is, you know, the economy's starting to open back up, vaccine shots are getting into arms, people are getting back to work, and one thing that I am sort of wary of is that the appetite to spend something along the order of $2-trillion and to make all these investments, you know, in infrastructure, in jobs and in climate action might dissipate as time goes on, as people feel like, you know, we can't add to the national deficit to do this, that we might be risking, you know, inflation or things like that. So I think that actually, if they want to get this done, they're obviously gonna have to get a lot of politics right, and bounce a lot of things and get the policies correct. But they also might have to move pretty quickly.


Ayana: So there's an urgency here, and the stakes are sky high for getting legislation passed this time. But there's an additional reason we wanted to talk to Julian, and that's because he's one of the folks who shaped the concept of a Green New Deal.


Alex: And we told the story of the Green New Deal on a previous episode. It's this sweeping proposal that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating millions of good jobs. It was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey—Markey of Waxman-Markey fame. He's that Markey.


Ayana: And when you look at the American Jobs Plan that Biden's just proposed, it actually looks kind of similar to this concept of a Green New Deal.


Alex: Right, it does. The Green New Deal and the American Jobs Plan both very much link action on climate change to a better economy for working- and middle-class people.


Ayana: But there are differences as well. The original Green New Deal resolution also called for things that the American Jobs Plan doesn't include, things like universal healthcare. So in some ways, the Green New Deal is much broader of a proposal than the American Jobs Plan.


Alex: Right. And then one other pretty big difference? The names. The Green New Deal has the word "green" right in the title. [laughs]


Ayana: [laughs] It sure does.


Alex: Whereas the American Jobs Plan centers, you know, jobs. So we asked Julian NoiseCat, how much do these two ideas actually have in common?


Ayana: So this is—you describe it as big. Is this the Green New Deal? How close is this to that vision?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: [laughs] Oh, that's a thorny question. So the way I would say this is that, you know, in his campaign plans that very clearly impacted the American Jobs Plan, Biden says that he was influenced by the vision of the Green New Deal. And, you know, of course, Biden is also not calling for some of the things that were in the Green New Deal resolution like Medicare for all or a federal jobs guarantee. But I would say that, broadly speaking, the sort of view that we need to be doing massive public investment, combined with, you know, performance standards for particular sectors, like a clean electricity standard for the power sector, as well as thinking about sort of the justice element of this, justice for workers, justice for the communities on the front lines of poverty and pollution, I would say that all of that is very Green New Deal-y to me. Sort of has the same values and ethos and a very similar political economic vision.


Ayana: You tweeted about this at the time, "It's a leaner version of the Green New Deal than the Green New Deal crowd ..."


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Yes, it's a skinny Green New Deal.


Ayana: Yeah. "... than the Green New Deal crowd wants. But substantively, a lot of it is there, folks." [laughs]


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Yes. Yes.


Ayana: A skinny Green New Deal.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: I would say that. I agree with that. It's a skinny Green New Deal. It's a skinny Green New Deal.


Alex: You stand by your tweet?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: I stand by my tweet. I would say that there's a compelling economic ...


Ayana: I mean, mine don't always age very well, so that's great that you can stand by yours.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Well, that one has only aged a month, so we'll see if it ages like wine or, like, you know, spent milk. My sort of position, which I would say is shared by the congressional progressive caucus and others, is that the Biden American Jobs Plan is big and ambitious and covers a lot of ground, is a great down payment, but that we might actually need something even bigger if we are going to do an FDR-sized thing here.


Ayana: So on a scale of zero to a hundred, how close is the American Jobs Plan to where we need to be on climate policy at the federal level?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Oh, so basically I need to give them a grade?


Alex: Yeah.


Ayana: It's nota zero, it's not at a hundred.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Oh, that's so tough. I mean, grading on a curve, you'd ...


Ayana: Why would we do that? What are we, America?


Alex: [laughs]


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Grading on a curve, I think Biden would get an A compared to the history of climate policy proposals. Grading on—I don't know, a non-curve?


Ayana: What is actually needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change?


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Yeah. I would say it's like a—I would give it like a B. So what's that, like a 85? Somewhere between 80-85. I don't know.


Ayana: I mean, that's a passing grade.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Yeah. I think it's a passing grade.


Ayana: You're probably not gonna get grounded when you bring home that report card. That's pretty good.


Julian Brave NoiseCat: Yeah, that's pretty good.


Ayana: And it's up to us to get Joe Biden from a B to, like, at least an A-minus so your parents are proud, you know?


Alex: [laughs] So ...


Ayana: So ...


Alex: How do we get Joe Biden to at least an A-minus?


Ayana: [laughs] Well, I feel like that's doable. And we asked essentially this question to Leah.


Alex: What can our listeners do? How can they engage with this piece of legislation? What's the best thing for listeners to do?


Ayana: How can we help get it passed?


Alex: Yeah.


Leah Stokes: A lot of your listeners might be members of an environmental group already. And I would say, reach out to that group and say that you're really interested in the American Jobs Plan passing, how can you help? Of course, if you don't even want to do that, call your member of Congress or call your Senator. Write to them. Say, "Climate change is really important. I'm very excited about the Clean Electricity Standard. You know what else I'm into? Building electrification."


Ayana: [laughs]


Leah Stokes: "We really gotta get some rebates for induction stoves and electric heat pumps." You know, these aren't hard things to say. You can use my exact language if that helps you out.


Ayana: We will transcribe this and put it in a copy-paste scenario for you folks.


Leah Stokes: Exactly. You know, Congress doesn't hear from people that much, and if they hear from you, it makes a really big difference in terms of how they think about this issue. So now's the moment to get engaged, whether through an organization or just on your own, and reach out and say you really support the American Jobs Plan, and you want Congress to lead on this.


Ayana: I love that you remind us of the importance of joining or working with an organization, because I think it's really hard to do this alone. People are often feeling like, "Ah, what do I do?" And it's like, join a team that's already figuring that out and contribute to that strategy. I think that's such an important reminder. So thank you for that.


Alex: Um ...


Ayana: Alex?


Alex: Yes. We've been doing the podcast now for a while. We have—at the end of the podcast, we do these calls to action. And we haven't really—a call to action has not been sort of explicitly like, call your congressperson, right?


Leah Stokes: [laughs] Are you uncomfortable?


Ayana: Making Alex uncomfortable is, like, 50 percent of my job.


Leah: [laughs]


Alex: But I think if there was ever a time to do that, this would be the time, right?


Leah: Now!


Alex: This is the time. There is a huge, sort of like epoch-shaping piece of legislation.


Ayana: Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pass comprehensive, ambitious federal climate policy.


Alex: Exactly. So, now—if you were ever gonna call your congressperson, now is the time.

And Ayana?


Ayana: Yeah.


Alex: I think we need to model for our listeners how simple—and dare I say fun—this might be.


Ayana: You know this is, like, my least favorite thing to do. I get crazy stage fright when calling my political officials. And in fact, I sometimes negotiate with myself. Like, well, if I do these 10 other things, then I don't have to call.


Alex: [laughs]


Leah Stokes: Well, I think that's true, right? Like, it can feel nerve-wracking, but I feel like it's still worth doing it, you know?


Ayana: Of course it is.


Leah Stokes: Because you feel really powerful when you hang up that phone call, or when you close out that meeting.


Alex: Ayana, listen to your friend Leah Stokes giving you a gentle pep talk. Are you gonna, like—are you gonna turn ...


Ayana: That's what friends are for.


Alex: So we—I think we owe it to ourselves and our listeners and the world ...


Leah Stokes: [laughs]


Alex: ... to get over this fear and sort of put in a call. So I think we should do that.


Ayana: All right.


Alex: I think we should do that. So let's—after this, we're gonna make some phone calls.



Ayana: All right. If you're in, I'm in.


Alex: So Ayana, there's been probably some sort of musical interlude since we heard—since we came up with a plan to call our congresspeople. It's a couple of days after that interview with Leah Stokes, and here we are, 10:00 a.m. on a Friday morning.


Ayana: TGIF. Call your member of Congress.


Alex: And so I, for one, actually don't even know how to even begin, I'm sort of afraid to admit this, but maybe there's other people out there like me, so I will. How do I find out who my congressperson is? [laughs]


Ayana: Oh, Alex. You Google it. You Google "Find my congressperson," and there's a website.


Alex: Find my congressperson. FindYourRepresentative.house.gov Enter your zip code. 11217. Here we go. Enter your street address.


Ayana: Don't doxx yourself.


Alex: All right. Yvette D, Clark, Democrat. All right, I found my congressperson.


Ayana: So you've got Yvette Clark. I've got Hakeem Jeffries.


Alex: And our Senator is Chuck Schumer from New York. And Kristen Gillibrand.


Ayana: Mm-hmm.


Alex: And Chuck Schumer is, like, a pretty powerful guy in the Senate.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: So probably worth—probably worth calling him. [laughs] He can get some stuff done.


Ayana: He could get some stuff done.


Alex: Let's—I think for the purposes of this exercise, let's start at the top. Should we call Chuck Schumer?


Ayana: I mean, in my head, I have, like, "Started at the bottom, now we're here," like, looping in my head, that, like, rap song. [laughs] But fine, start at the top.


Ayana: There's also an option to just email Chuck. Is that not allowed?


Alex: You're trying to weasel out of getting on the phone!


Ayana: [laughs] Just saying.


Alex: All right, Ayana. Are you ready?


Ayana: No.


Alex: All right. [laughs]


Ayana: Hoo boy!


Alex: Chuck Schumer, here we come, my friend. Dialing now.


[VOICEMAIL: You have reached the office of the United States Senator Chuck Schumer.]


Alex: D'oh!


Ayana: Does leaving a voicemail count?


[VOICEMAIL: Our office is following the advice of the CDC, the office of the attending physician and local and state health departments by practicing social distancing through telework. Please leave your name, number, comment or a brief message after the tone. Thank you.]


Ayana: We can do this, Alex.


Alex: Okay. Hi, I'm Alex Blumberg.


Ayana: And I'm Ayana Johnson.


Alex: And we're both constituents of Senator Schumer's in Brooklyn. And we're calling—and we're calling to ask Senator Schumer to support strong climate legislation. Also, we host a climate podcast and we're recording this call. [laughs]


Ayana: [laughs] Oh, Lord!


Alex: And we're really nervous.


Ayana: We're really nervous about this.


Alex: Because calling your congressperson is scary, somehow.


Ayana: But we're really excited about the American Jobs Plan, and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass strong, comprehensive federal climate legislation. So making sure the clean energy standard is included to get us on the path to 100 percent clean power, and fully funding a robust Civilian Climate Corps are things that we're particularly hoping the Senator will ensure make it into the final bill.


Alex: And also grid modernization, expanded public transport and electrification of everything. So we're asking Senator Schumer to make this a priority and pass the American Jobs Plan with strong action on climate change.


[VOICEMAIL: There's 10 seconds of recording time left.]


Alex: Oh crap. And here's our phone number. (XXX) XXX-XXXX. Thank you so much.


Ayana: Thank you!


Alex: Whew!


Ayana: This is on par with your Chris Sacca episode of, like, awkward... dammit!


Alex: [laughs]


Ayana: Yikes. So practice makes perfect, right? [laughs] We'll do better next time.


Alex: But if we can do it, so can you.


Ayana: And you could probably do it, you know, more elegantly.


Alex: Exactly.


Ayana: So the bar is low. They have to listen to you even if you're nervous and stumble around a bit.


Alex: We will put some tips and resources in our newsletter, which you can subscribe to at howtosaveaplanet.show.


Ayana: Not only can you subscribe, but you should.


Alex: Exactly.


Ayana: And if it wasn't totally clear, our call to action this week is: call your members of Congress. Tell them you want federal climate policy ASAP.


Alex: And when you do it, let us know how it went.


Ayana: Yeah.


Alex: You know, maybe do it with the group. Maybe do it by yourself. Maybe find a friend like we did.


Ayana: Was it fun? Was it addictive? Are you gonna do it again?


Alex: So tell us how it goes for you. You can contact us through our listener mail form, which is at howtosaveaplanet.show/contact. You can also share it on social media, @how2saveaplanet—with a 2—on Twitter or Instagram. We really want to hear how it goes.


Ayana: And then when this happens, when this comes to be, you'll get to take, like, a very, very small percentage of the credit for making it happen.


Alex: [laughs]


Ayana: Which, you know, is a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling.


Alex: Exactly. Should we do the credits?


Ayana: Okay. That's it for this week. How to Save a Planet is a Spotify original podcast and a Gimlet production. It's hosted by me, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.


Alex: And me, Alex Blumberg. This episode was produced by Rachel Waldholz. Our reporters and producers are Kendra Pierre-Louis and Anna Ladd. Our intern is Ayo Oti.


Ayana: Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney.


Alex: Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard, with original music by Emma Munger, Catherine Anderson and Peter Leonard.


Ayana: Our fact checker this episode is James Gaines.


Alex: Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week!