A very Kerry weekend

A brief summary and reaction to CNN's 10-minute interview with John Kerry on Sunday.

Good morning! Fish and I decided to take a bit of a snow day yesterday. We did, however, watch John Kerry’s 10-minute interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about the Biden administration’s recent climate actions. So here’s a brief summary of that.

  • Zakaria asked four questions, and they were pretty good. Considering CNN’s broad audience and the limited interview time, I thought these were pretty pointed. Interested to know what you think, though.

  • Question 1: Many climate scientists believe the current commitments under the Paris agreements are inadequate. Do we have the time to ramp up and do more? Kerry’s response, in a nutshell: It’s true, the goals are inadequate. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is the right goal, but the promises are insufficient to meet that goal. We do have the time.

  • Question 2: Many experts say a price on carbon is “the simplest price signal that will slowly and surely change the economy.” Is that true and can we do it? Kerry’s response, in a nutshell: Basically yes, though he stopped short of saying that was actually what the administration was going to do. Kerry said that he, personally, is of the opinion that a carbon tax is needed. “There are many people who make the point, and I personally accept it, that [a carbon tax] is one of the most significant bold steps you can take to actually have an impact in a rapid way,” he said. Kerry said it needs to be “very progressive to protect people” and “cushion any negative impacts” toward low- and middle-income people. He also said it’s not the only thing needed. “We need to do a great deal more than that.”

  • Question 3: Republicans are going all-in on this being a job-killing agenda. And people are, in fact, losing their jobs. What do you say to them?

    I think Kerry’s response on this came off avoidant. He did not specifically acknowledge any of the job loss from the Keystone XL order, which are real despite not being nearly as economically significant as Republicans are making them out to be. He basically said: We have to deal with COVID to deal with job losses, because that’s the real job-killer. And COVID “offers us the opportunity to build back better.” He said the Biden administration would be “putting major investments into various sectors of the economy” to recover from COVID, “and if those investments are done in a way that are green … [then] people don’t lose their jobs.” He also talked about “remarkable growth” in Texas renewable sector.

  • Question 4: Republicans are also attacking Biden’s climate agenda by hammering on the Green New Deal and subsidies for renewable energy. Do we need Republicans to come along to support this agenda, or can you accomplish it without them? I, of course, love this question—we tackle it frequently in the newsletter. Zakaria made a mistake, however, by making the statement preceding the question, because it allowed Kerry to take up all his remaining time responding to that. Kerry did not answer the question of whether we’d need Republicans to move along.

  • Kerry’s stronger economic talking point: this is exciting, job-creating, and profitable. Right before Zakaria asked question three about job losses in the fossil fuel sector, Kerry was on a roll with the job-creation argument. “It’s a very exciting economic transition. It’s a job-creating transition. There are just going to be millions of jobs created with new products coming online, innovation that takes place, technology advances that will help us do things that we may not be able to do today but it will happen because the demand is there. And that demand is going to have a huge change in the kinds of work that is available to people. Nobody is going to be told they have to go do that. But the marketplace itself is going to work in a way that makes it exciting and profitable—and frankly cleaner and healthier and more secure.”

  • Kerry’s strongest economic talking point: the Republican approach is an economic death sentence. “The private sector in America has already made the decision that there is money to be made here. That’s capitalism,” Kerry said, before hammering the point that the alternative approach—doing nothing—would be catastrophic. “Every economic analysis now shows it is more expensive to do nothing, not to response to the climate crisis, than it is to respond to it. Citizens are going to spend this money. … But there’s a way to do this productively that actually moves our economies further and allows the United States to push the curb of technology, and begin to invent the new products of the future, create the economy of the future, make the air cleaner, life healthier, and make the United States of America more secure.”

    Again, I think this could have been tighter, and it could have more directly hammered Republicans for being economically irresponsible with their arguments. Kerry’s response on this in the White House briefing room a few days ago was better, imo.

  • Takeaway one: Democrats need a more direct, honest response to the GOP’s “job-killing” argument. As HuffPost’s Alex Kaufman noted on Twitter, it’s true that the current drop in drilling and fossil fuel jobs “has more to do with the industry's economics than any federal action. But these concerns can't be shunted aside in bad faith. It's pretty clear the Biden administration needs to go big with targeted aid asap.”

  • Takeaway two: Democrats (and journalists) need a more aggressive approach to oil industry propaganda. Kerry avoided calling out Republicans directly for having an economically disastrous approach, and avoided calling them out directly for spreading bad faith, propagandistic, industry-funded fear-mongering. The latter is going to be particularly important to keep doing as Republicans continue to peddle oil industry talking points as if they are objective truths—and doing so successfully, like they did with last week’s NPR story.

  • Republicans continue the job-killing narrative. Later on Sunday, the Republican National Committee posted a clip of Zakaria saying “There are areas where President Biden’s actions will put people out of work.” They did not include Kerry’s response in the clip.

Fish and I will be back with a full newsletter tomorrow. Have a great Monday.

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