Clash For Climate: Governor Jay Inslee on the Climate Crisis

International Clash Day, Interviews

When we decided we were going to focus International Clash Day 2020 on our climate crisis, it was clear right away that hearing insight from Governor Jay Inslee. As a presidential candidate, Jay built his platform around this important issue, and was paramount in our honoring the spirit of the only band that matters, The Clash.

Listen to DJ John Richards' chat with Governor Inslee or read the transcription below.


John Richards: I'm John Richards. This is KEXP. And I'm here with Jay Inslee, who is an environmentalist, an author, lawyer and has served as the governor of the great state of Washington for many years now, a member of the Democratic Party. He served in the United States House of Representatives for years and was recently a candidate for the president of the United States in the 2020 election. Hello.

Gov. Jay Inslee: Yes. Thanks for having me on your show. Thanks for helping me in my presidential run too. I appreciate it.

It's my pleasure. Someone running on a climate platform was something I was hoping to see in my lifetime.

Well, I hope that our candidate will be one to carry that banner. I think we will have a candidate because obviously it's our last chance. So we've got to get down to it.

Speaking of your last chance and climate change in the world in which we live. When for me, I have two boys, young boys, and they ask me about climate change and about the future that I'm leaving them. To be honest, I feel pretty awful about some of the answers I have to give them. When you're asked this, this problem facing us, what do you tell children or parents about the climate crisis that we're in?

Well, the first thing I ask children is to register to vote when they're 18 and vote every chance they get in a very serious about this. Because when young people vote, good things happen. This is not a debate in the younger generation. There is no debate here. People of that generation are the most scientifically literate generation in American history, and they understand it. So when young people vote, good things happen. We elect people who really move the country forward. So that's the one thing I say.

Second, I think I say, look, talk to your parents, talk to your grandparents. Challenge them a little bit. Look, you get your turkey day dinner. Challenge him on climate change. If somebody starts talking how Donald Trump is the savior of humanity. Ask him why he's selling us down the river then. And I'm actually serious about that, because when you look at the personal leadership in this movement has been really effective. Greta Thunberg, obviously the most obvious example of that. But people can move their families, they can move their classmates, they can move their companies and their churches.

I met a woman named Alexandria Villasenor, who is striking. She went on a park bench in front of the United Nations every Friday. And she's moving people in New York City just 14 years of age. She went and did this, maybe just a week after Greta did. And so the personal leadership counts. And thank God we got young people.

When I watched the last presidential debates, I don't remember climate change being brought up once. And when I watched this year so far [in] the Democratic debates, you were there and they kind of had to bring it up. Do you feel like you've had an impact on the discussion, at least in the presidential race?

Yes. And I think more important that I feel that way, the people who really follow this feel that way. And then the candidates, too, have told me that they've raised their other candidates, that they've raised their ambitions, they've put plans on the table that are more ambitious since I got into the race. Obviously, I was disappointed that I was not winning the race, but I do think it's substantially changed the nature of the debate. It required the other candidates to be more ambitious. And many of them have embraced major parts of my proposal.

Elizabeth Warren, almost lock, stock and barrel, if you will, on my sector based approach. Others have done things as well. Kamala Harris adopted some environmental justice measures that I had proposed. So, yes, I do believe it moves the needle. And yu don't get to do that that often to change the national discussion. Now, we could have used a little help during one of the debates. They didn't ask a single question about climate change when I was no longer on the stage. So, it sure would be helped if the rest of the media pitched in.

Do you think people were scared to see a candidate up there being honest about climate change? I think a lot of humans just want to live in denial.

I don't think in the Democratic family there's that fear at all. I think the Democratic family across the nation understands this is a high priority issue. They understand because we're the optimistic party, we believe we can build an economy based on clean energy, where the people who see that happening today with our kids and our grandkids getting jobs in the clean energy economy. So the Democratic Party, no I don't think we have any fear of that.

Now, what's disappointing, in fact I was just talking to another audience about this is the Republican Party, and fortunately, their elected leaders are driven by fear rather than hope and optimism. They're afraid that we can't use solar cells. They're afraid the electric cars won't work. And that fear has has paralyzed them together with the fact that they're under the thumb of the oil and gas industry and Donald Trump. And as a result, we only have one party who's working on this, which is really unfortunate. The party of Teddy Roosevelt is now driven by climate deniers. And that's most unfortunate. And until that changes, we need to elect Democrats and that's we gotta do.

How do you get the party that can discuss this? How do you get that singular focus? The one thing the Republican Party can do is get one message and follow it and never deviate from it. Good or bad. Right? But the Democratic Party, it seems like there's so much arguing and infighting and can't agree. And we're doing the wrong plan. How do you convince people, even in this party, that this is the issue? And if there's no earth, none of these other issues really matter?

Well, I come back to what I talked about. Each one of us is a leader in our own realm. You're a leader. I'm a leader. Trudy's a leader. We're all leaders in our own realm. And the way you do this is one person at a time, one room at a time, one vote a time, one elected official a time. That's how you do it. Now, it helps when we have a president, right. So when we had President Obama, we had a focus on health care and we made a major advance in health care. And as a result, hundreds of thousands of people in my state when they get cancer now have coverage. And that's a good thing.

So when we get a president, and I hope that we will, we'll be able to refocus not just our party, but our nation on climate change. And I believe that that will happen. It has to happen. This is our last chance. We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last generation that can do something about it. So come November or before, we all got to buckle down and elect the right people.

When you, being the governor of the state, being the city of Seattle, it seems like we're doing our part for climate change. How much can individual cities and states here in America impact it if the federal government is not?

Well, we can do a huge amount. Let me start with the state. About 80 percent of the things that we would like to do we can do and cannot be fettered or slowed down or stopped by Donald Trump. That's really good news. So Trump can talk and tweet all he wants, but he cannot stop the state of Washington from adopting the country's best 100 percent clean energy bill. He could not stop us from adopting the best energy efficiency in buildings law in the United States last year. So we can do a whole bunch. And we are. Now we're not doing enough, though. Look, even in the state of Washington, we have to do more to meet our climate change emissions goals. We have a statutory goal of reducing our emissions and we will fall well short of that if we do not adopt a provision to reduce pollution from our transportation sector.

So that's what I'm pushing this year. And we now have a clean fuel standard that has passed the State House of Representatives and we want the Senate to pass it so that we'll have the ability to reduce emissions from from our transportation sector. This is absolutely necessary.

I think of World War II or when there's been a massive shift in thinking or the country gets behind one collective enemy. What does it take? Because climate change takes, you see the weather is different. You see hurricanes are worse, you see the fires in Australia. Maybe it's the fires in Australia, maybe not. But what? There's not one thing that can mobilize this entire country like a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11. I mean, what? That's just human nature. Is it? Do we have to be patient? Do we have to wait one person at a time? Does that make sense? Is there an issue that can happen that's finally going to wake people up to say....?

I think it is happening on a daily basis. When people see the fires in Australia, when they see the fires in California. I was going down to meet a woman two or three months ago. But the day before I was going to meet her, her house burned down in California. When I was in Iowa, I saw farmers fields inundated by the floods and grain silos knocked down. When I was in Miami, I met people in the, and it was interesting, sad story of the Haitian refugee community had established sort of a community in Miami. They were being displaced because the richer people were having to sell their homes on the water because they're getting inundated by rising sea levels and moving up and displacing the Haitian refugees. So this is happening now across the country, across the nation and across our state.

This morning, I talked to the mayor of Sumas, who had these terrible floods up in Sumas this morning. This is happening all over the nation today. The cumulative impact of those are making a huge difference. The polling is changing. The voting behavior is changing. The ability of politicians to stand up being counted is changing. It changed during the presidential race. When I started, other candidates were at X, now they're X plus 20 percent. So it is going in the right direction and I think it's sort of more like the war on cancer where there hadn't been one singular event. But every time a relative is affected by cancer, we have more and more people willing to invest in a cure. So I think that we're in a race. The good news is we're running faster every year. The bad news is so is the enemy, which is climate change. And so that's kind of race we're in. And what we've got to do is be driven by persistence and diligence and not diminished by despair and frustration.

Can I talk about that for a second? Something that doesn't get discussed often is the impact this doesn't have on our physical health, but our mental health. So you're one of the first people I saw, a politician, at least start talking about hope and that there's hope and that we can do things instead of just throwing in the towel. I think the impact on the mental health of our country or around the world, at least people I've talked to, a lot of my listeners. They're giving up hope. And if they give up hope on the world and that there's not a future, they're giving up hope on their selves. I don't think we even know the impact on mental health, on suicide rates, on depression, which I'm sure are already high in the state we're in right now. Have you thought about that? Have you witnessed that? Have you talked to people that just feel like there's no hope?

Sure. Yeah, you bet. When I went to Dartmouth, I met the president of the Democratic Club there and she told me that she'd been in a couple of conversations the day before with young women who were questioning whether they wanted to have children come into the world in what would be a damaged world. And that really cut to me. I'm a parent and a grandparent. And the fact that people would start to reduce their familial dreams because of this, that just really cut to my heart. So, yes, this is happening to people. So then we ask ourselves what we can do about it. Well, all wisdom comes from young people. And I think it was Greta Thunberg who said something to the effect of, I won't quote her directly, that the greatest wellspring for hope, the place to generate hope is action.

So if you want to become hopeful – act. Right? That's when you're taking action, when you're moving, when you're building, when you're pounding. That's where you get hope. So it's almost like action doesn't follow hope, hope follows action a little bit. And certainly that's how I'm living my life and I hope otherwise other people will get in this game as well in every context. And the one thing about climate change, everyone has a way of participating in this community effort. It might be in politics. It might be in business, starting a business. It might be in education, educating themselves about it. So everyone can participate in some fashion in this mission.

Was there one event for you that this became such a pressing issue? When was it? When did you first talk about it? Was there a moment?

Well, this has been a quarter century for me, when I ran for Congress in 1992. I served in Congress in the Yakima Valley region in the early 90s. And I when I ran for office in 1992, I talked about, in fact, that was in my very first campaign brochure about we need to reduce carbon pollution. So, this has been a long time with me. And at that time, it was more scientific assessment than personal observation. But anybody even then knew it was coming. And now virtually every morning for the last couple decades, I read the science on this. And unfortunately, it's becoming more demanding of us that we have to accelerate our progress because of what's happening in the world.

What do you do with fact deniers? They see a fact. They deny the fact. They talk about that as the truth. I've never seen this before in my lifetime, where, I know denial is very strong, but it is straight up these denying facts. When you say they deny climate change, I think that's kind of letting you off the hook. I mean, to me, this is a fact, right?

It is. And I think that if you have a dialog with a person in that position, facts probably will not win the day. More open dialog to get people to really understand the basis of their denial is more effective. So you could show people, which I've done, you can show people a stack of scientific reports twelve feet high, which literally you can, and that still will not convince them. And the reason is, this is part my theory, but I really believe it's not lack of scientific knowledge. A lot of people deny climate change or scientifically literate folks. It's just that they have walled themself out away from reality because they are afraid and they are afraid that we will not be able to solve this problem and still maintain good lives and that fear is what allows them to shield themselves from the truth here. And it's a psychological defense mechanism for them.

And so to the extent we can help them to get over fear and get into a positive place to look at the great things we're doing to build a clean energy economy. Talk about the solar panel manufacturer in Bellingham that just double their production. The cross laminated timber in Spokane, best largest manufacturer of green building material in the Western Hemisphere. Talk about the carbon fiber manufacturer that goes in electric cars in Moses Lake. The thing that can possibly work is to get them to understand all the good news that is out there that ought to allow us to win this battle. Now, some of the politicians, they're still not going to listen to any of those arguments because, frankly, they're under the heel of the oil and gas industry and Donald Trump. So you know those folks, the only solution is to retire them out of public office and replace them with someone who can get the job done.

Do you think that's the way to go with showing how the economy can be helped? I always thought showing it as a patriotic act. It's something that we should focus more on. We can become self-sufficient. You could have the solar panels and wind panels and all this open land that we could turn into energy generating plants in the middle of nowhere. And then we don't have to rely on anybody else. Would that help convince people if they saw it as an American, like a way to make our country stronger?

Well, yes, in the sense that not just maybe from a strength characteristic, but from harkening back to an American value, which is that we're inventors, we create, we invent, we build. That's what we do. I coauthored a book on this ten years ago was called "Apollo's Fire". It basically said we need to embrace the same innovative talents we had when we went to the moon. So I think tying it to that American character is a good argument to give people inspiration and hope, and we should continue to do that.

Yeah, I was going to mention the book. Again, "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy". I just saw a story on Bill Gates was invested in these solar panels that were just amazing. Like they centered so much energy into one panel and you could store that energy. And I just saw a story maybe today or yesterday on panels that at night can actually collect energy. I wish more people knew about this, because that to me is an exciting takeaway climate change for a second. That's just exciting.

Well, it is. And there's so much research going on. This comes up with not just incremental changes, but whiz bang changes. And I know Bill Gates is a big investor in a host of different technologies that could bear fruit, but not all of them will. The nature of innovation is maybe eight or 10. Eight out of ten don't. But that's the way of progress, right? So we're having substantial improvement in battery technology, which allows the integration of renewable energy into the grid. Electric car technology is coming on like crazy so rapidly. People thought electric cars were some buzz light year invention. Now everybody's driving them. And by the way, I don't know anybody who's ever bought an electric car where the next car they bought was an internal combustion car. Once you have electric, you don't go back.

We had a company in Bellevue made the engine first electric motor for a commercial electric plane, seaplane to fly the other day. So the rate of innovation is very substantial and it has been consistent. And we basically have driven down the cost of clean energy. It's come down 80 percent the last 10 years or 15 years and solar come down 20 percent. And wind turbine, we expect that to continue, maybe not quite at that rate of change. But but every time we increase the scale of these products, the price comes down significantly. So there's a lot of good news out there.

Talking to Governor Jay Inslee. Before you get out here, we haven't talk about music. And I know you've been hanging out with a few musicians. If you don't mind me... You're hanging with Bono. You're hanging with Paul Simon.

The dinner with Bono, who is a poet. I love to listen. He can just talk about the weather. He could be a weather man. And I like to listen. He's such a poet. Brandi Carlile is someone we admire and who's a friend and just a Washington treasure. And I enjoy it, but I can't make it. I was going to have a tremendous music career and it was all charted out. And then in third grade during the Christmas pageant, my teacher said, oh, stop, stop, stop, stop. Said Jay, I just need you to move your lips. Don't make any sounds. So that was the end of my musical career.

Well, you do know the impact music has on our state, Seattle in particular though.

Indeed, we're a music center, part of the fabric of our state. And we're rich state in part because we're so diverse. Our music is diverse here when you think about it. We're not just a one hit wonder. We got all kinds of different music. That's kind of state we are.

And we're a beautiful state. As I mentioned off the air, I grew up in Spokane and I moved here to Seattle. I've been in every corner of this place it feels like and I'm very biased, I'm sure you are too.

Come see my office. I'll show you the pictures of my state with my little phone camera. The fact is, you can't take a bad picture of the state of Washington.

You cannot. My favorite, too, is we have such a good reputation that I run into a lot of listeners outside of Seattle, because we have a ton, and a lot of them are New Yorkers. They say, god I love Seattle. I love Washington. I just love it. Then I say, when were you there? They say, I've never been there. I never stepped foot in that state.

They listen to KEXP. They get the right impression.

See we're an ambassador to everybody else out there.

By the way. Don't make this up. This isn't just you and me, you know, BS-ing here. U.S. News and World Report looked at all the states and they concluded Washington State is the best place to live. Best place to do business. Best place to have a business. Best place to be an employee. And there's a reason for that, because we make really good decisions here to grow our state.

I am an employee here. I have a business here. I raised a family here. And I don't disagree with that. It also said we're the third worst city in traffic. And I know that's true, too.

Yes, we always have work to do.

There's your Yin and Yang. So that means we don't rest. We have to fix that as well. And as I look around at the construction, our light rail is getting better. Right? and we're doing those things.

It is. But we have a challenge. Yes. But we have a challenge in transportation because of the car tab initiative that passed. This is a 4 billion dollar hole in our budgets. We have some work to do.

Well, hopefully you'll get that cleared up for us. We appreciate that. Governor Inslee, before you go, I ask a question of anyone who's in here, musician or otherwise. And that question for us is why does music matter?

Well, I'm not an expert. But I would say because music allows people to listen to themselves. I think music helps people, be in touch with who they are. That's what I think music does.

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