Episode 5

Episode 5_Beyond Politics Show Notes


Professor Jonathan Gilligan
Check out his website at www.jonathangilligan.org
More about Jonathan’s background: https://www.vanderbilt.edu/ees/people/faculty/JonathanGilligan.php
Find him on Twitter @jg_environ


Professor Michael Vandenbergh
Email him at michael.vandenbergh@law.vanderbilt.edu

Their book: Beyond Politics
Buy It on Amazon
Book Website: www.beyondpoliticsbook.com

Recommended Further Reading: www.beyondpoliticsbook.com/reading/

  • Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind

  • Benjamin Barber.  Cool Cities

  • David G. Victor. Global Warming Gridlock

Habit Change: Sources & Additional Reading


Minute 0:30: Erin & Allyson discuss their strategies for improving your performance at sports with one glass of wine and a future podcast episode taste testing sustainable wines.

Minute 01:30: Allyson tells us about her new natural gum option, Simply Gum.

Minute 3:00: Erin explains some composting complications involving frozen compost and small toddlers, and how she is now OBSESSED with composting!

Minute 5:00:  Our guests today will be speaking about the role of private governance in addressing carbon emission reductions.

Minute 5:30: One example of this is Walmart, who voluntarily committed to reducing carbon emissons by 20 million metric tons in 2010, a goal which they exceeded by 2015 with 28 million metric tons. What’s motivating Walmart to take steps like these?

Minute 6:00: Erin gives some background on our esteemed guests.

Minute 08:30: Prof. Jonathan Gilligan describes his normal workday, mostly centered around his teaching schedule.

Minute 9:30: Prof. Mike Vandenbergh describes how his job is as much fun as Babe Ruth’s…teaching students, pursuing important ideas, and regularly joining an 8 AM meeting with experts from many different fields to brainstorm how to solve these challenging issues.

Minute 12:15: Mike summarizes the two key points of the book:

-          People don’t start with a blank slate, they start with a worldview. And then they use motivated reasoning and confirmation bias to pick and choose among the facts they are presented with. It’s not enough to just provide people with the facts because people may resist that if they think it comes with big government. 66%-75% of the American population think big government is the greatest challenge we face.  They suggest that what matters equally is the solution, not just what the problem is.  The private sector

-          The private sector can’t solve the problem, but they can play a big role by reducing 1 billion tons, an equivalent to one of the largest countries by emissions.

Minute 14:15: Jonathan explains why this problem is urgent, and what one person can do to have an impact. People’s actions around the environment are strongly influenced by whether they think a lot of people are doing something, or no one is doing something.

Minute 15:30: Mike tells us how this is similar to smoking or seatbelts. People are influenced by the behavior of others around them.

Minute 16:00: Climate change: is it real? Is it reversible? What’s our timeline? Jonathan explains it to us.  Basic principles of thermodynamics (heat flow) which hold up across sectors.  When you add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, it will warm, which is consistent with other technologies we use—you can’t carve out an exception for the atmosphere because you don’t like the result. Secondly, models can predict the planet will warm slightly differently, but the models line up nicely with the fact that it’s driven by human activity.

Minute 18:45: Let’s assume your fear of big government means you’re looking for reasons why Jonathan is wrong. Why don’t we set up a private prediction market about the temperature, and you can trade on your beliefs? It’s already happening in the UK and New Zealand.  Let’s see if the market matches Jonathan’s prediction or not. Would you be willing to put money on your bet that it’s not driven by anthropogenic impacts or that it’s not happening at all?

Minute 20:45: The role of individuals and their willingness to implement better behaviors based on their neighbors.  Mike and Jonathan explain what the “behavioral wedge” which represents the consumer portion of carbon emissions.  US households emit as many carbon emissions as all of the countries in South America combined.

Minute 22:00: The private energy consumption in people’s daily lives (heating their homes, driving, etc.) is bigger than any other sector of the US economy. There are many ways to reduce energy use without negatively affecting your life and might even save you money—so what stops people from doing it? People misunderstand energy use. They think the wrong thing to do is the right thing to do.

Minute 23:25: Jonathan explains why idling is bad for your car, wastes gas and money, and is worse for the environment than turning off your car and back on.

Minute 24:10: If efforts to reduce energy use are inconvenient for consumers, how can we get them to implement change? Private sector can play an important role here—Walmart wanted to provide LED lightbulbs in their stores for consumers and asked their suppliers to innovate and compete to develop the best low-cost LED lightbulb, and now sells them for less than $10.  If you change the 5 lightbulbs you use the most, you’d save $70/year. We need to take away the financial and informational barriers that prevent implementation. No government redtape needed.

Minute 26:45: It’s not practical to treat households as a side-issue in trying to reduce emissions because it is such a significant sector.

Minute 27:55: Sometimes market failures lead to energy waste. For example, a renter of an apartment would be interested in reducing their energy use, but weatherizing and installing high-efficiency appliances is up to the landlord, and he won’t necessarily reap the financial benefits of the investment. We should work to bridge the gap between those incentives.

Minute 28:45: Jonathan and Mike partner with sociologists in their research because how people understand and apply these solutions is critical to their success.

Minute 29:00: What is motivating Walmart to take these environmentally friendly steps? Business. They see a competitive market edge. In addition, the people running the company care about these issues.

Minute 30:15: Tech companies are trying to go carbon neutral because recruiting and keeping the best talent requires having a positive environmental image. Other companies are really concerned with their reputation.  The majority of consumers may not be willing to pay more for green goods, but they may not buy from a company at all if that company has a bad environmental reputation, so corporate executives paying attention to these issues signals that they are aware that reputation matters more and more in consumer decisions.

Minute 31:55: Companies have significant potential to reduce energy use even further through educating their employees, who may be aware of more opportunities to reduce energy waste.  Example: Virgin Atlantic started giving fuel information to pilots, and pilots realized they could save millions of dollars a year and significant amounts of fuel.  Virgin found the pilots also had much higher job satisfaction.

Minute 33:35: Walker’s Crisps, largest potato chip company in England, realized that because they were buying potatoes by the pound, farmers were picking potatoes when wet, storing them in humidified warehouses, and then they had to be dried before being turned into potato chips! By changing the pricing structure, Walker’s Crisps was able to save money and reduce a significant source of CO2 in its supply chain. There are lots of these kinds of efficiencies out there, but because climate is urgent, we need to accelerate these innovations from the marketplace to buy time.

Minute 35:15: Private governance is not intended to be the only solution. In 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed and people felt hope that agreement was reached.  Jonathan tells us about the “Paris Gap”, which is the gap between country commitments and the total CO2 reductions needed to keep us below 2 degrees Celsius. There is a strong agreement that as temperatures rise above certain levels, the danger becomes a lot greater. Sort of arbitrarily, policy people have chosen 2 degrees Celsius and said that should be the target. If we keep going as-is, we will blow right past that.  If all the companies met their Paris commitments, we would slow down our rate, but we still have a high probability of crossing that threshold. Over the next 15 years, emissions would be 30-90 billions of CO2 above the threshold, and that gap would get even bigger after 2030. In the short term, what can be done to close the gap down, because once we cross that threshold, all that carbon stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Minute 38:45: We’re still in. When the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement, social scientists would have thought businesses would pull back from their efforts.  Instead, thousands of cities, businesses, and organizations reiterated their commitment.  There are still tons of other market drivers for carbon reductions, so even though the US government can say that they won’t regulate certain kinds of energy, that doesn’t mean anyone will want to buy it.

Minute 40:15: The Southeast states in the US would be the 6th largest country in terms of carbon emissions, but private partnerships are changing that. Facebook and Dominion Power just announced a new data center powered by renewable energy.

Minute 41:00: Hypothetically, if there was government regulation, the pace of change would accelerate, both from the private sector, but more importantly, if carbon was priced.

Minute 43:00: The government can play an important role around clean energy. There’s a revolution going on with wind and solar, but the nuclear renaissance was also promising in contributing to this.  Jesse Jenkins at MIT just published a paper detailing how fracking and cheap natural gas prevented the spread of nuclear. Jonathan thinks we need new development of nuclear as well as wind and solar, which would need big government investment. Bill Gates has also been an advocate for government and private investment in energy infrastructure, possibly through subsidies.

Minute 45:00: Nuclear is complicated, though, because of potential harm to human health from waste or nuclear accidents. Jonathan argues that its all about trade-offs, and the risks to human health from fossil fuels are so much more significant and result in so many more deaths than nuclear ever has (10x every year the number of people that have ever died from nuclear).

Minute 46:00: We are always looking for “solutions” or the “optimal response”—we already know what that is: a price on carbon, but some don’t want to implement that and it’s not currently a reality.  But while we wait for the perfect solution, we are wasting time that we don’t have. We need to look for second best. It’s always important to consider “compared to what.”  You’re not going to solve the answer with the private sector, but you can have a significant impact because compared to the alternative of nothing, it’s pretty effective.


Minute 49:00: There is no silver bullet, no single solution. And it’s not a small government solution to say that the problem is not happening, because the longer we wait, the greater the need for a more intrusive government solution.

Minute 49:50: Sometimes this gets a little scary when we talk about a threshold that we may or may not hit. Mike explains how he stays optimistic—human nature and the ability of markets to find more efficient solutions. The research is identifying win-win solutions that will allow people to implement better systems.  We won’t be able to avoid climate change altogether—it’s already happening and will continue, but we can limit impacts further.

Minute 52:00:  Jonathan’s crazy idea for environmental change – would like to see some marketing and money to go into implementing these solutions and making it easier for the majority of people to do the right thing.  Richard Thaler’s book, “Nudge”, discusses how we can nudge people’s behavior toward the right thing.  Mike mentions a “Legacy Registry”: if you had $100, how much of that would you spend on having a better reputation today versus your reputation after your dead.  The real harms of climate change will continue many generations beyond ours, so the private sector could put together a registry where you can put information in about what you think and what you did to mitigate the effects of climate change, and then they will know who did the right thing, and who didn’t. It might help people feel connected to future generations.  When asking computer scientists how to best preserve it, they say to print it out! One idea on how you could change ideas today—a time capsule.  They have a link on their website where people can submit ideas.

Minute 56:24:

Mike’s book recommendations: The Righteous Mind, Climate Change Gridlock

Jonathan’s book recommendation: Benjamin Barber, Cool Cities

Minute 58:30: Why the way we frame things matters so much: if we take emissions from consumer electricity use and count it toward the “electricity generation” sector, and emissions from consumer motor vehicles and count it toward the “transportation” sector, what’s leftover in the residential sector is only 5% of U.S. carbon emissions. If you attribute consumer behavior to the residential sector, that sector becomes 1/3 of all U.S. carbon emissions.

Minute 1:00:00: Mike explains how changing your handwashing behavior can be a powerful tool for reducing carbon emissions. Mike and Jonathan’s research showed that although people believe hot water = clean hands, what they actually found was that hot water didn’t make hands any cleaner than comfortable water (You should still wash your hands, BTW). We could save about 1 million tons of carbon emissions in the U.S. if buildings supplied comfortable water instead of hot.

Minute 1:01:30: A lot of these things occur because of a lack of understanding about how technology is advancing. Misunderstanding about idling cars has a lot to do with the fact that newer cars don’t need to be “warmed up.”  Same with washing machines—new enzyme-based detergents actually work better with cooler water instead of hot water, which uses less electricity.

Minute 1:02:15: We underestimate by 40% the amount of energy used by a clothes dryer. Research shows 5-15% electricity reduction when you have that information in real-time.  These present opportunities for non-governmental solutions, but nonprofit groups are not focused on the household sector, so this could be a great opportunity for private investment.



Erin DelawallaComment