Today’s guest is Josh Freed, SVP of the Clean Energy Program at Third Way.
Third Way is a national think tank that champions modern center-left ideas. Their work is grounded in the mainstream American values of opportunity, freedom, and security. As the founder and leader of Third Way’s Clean Energy Program, Josh promotes policies to use every tool possible to combat climate change—including scaled-up innovation, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture technologies in addition to the increased use of renewables and efficient storage.
Since 2009, he has overseen Third Way’s clean energy and climate advocacy efforts, serving as the organization’s chief strategist on these issues. He regularly advises senior federal and state policymakers, philanthropies, academics, and business leaders. Under his leadership, his team’s accomplishments include Third Way’s groundbreaking research on advanced nuclear technology—which transformed federal support for nuclear innovation—and building new alliances to defend federal support for clean energy research and development.
Josh regularly writes and speaks on climate, clean energy, and innovation issues, and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, National Journal, POLITICO, The Los Angeles Times and Wired.
In today’s episode, we cover:
Josh’s history and what led him to Third Way
Third Way founding story
What the climate team looked like when he got there vs today
Their goal to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050
Areas of focus, how they prioritize, and what they do in each area to help drive things forwards
Current political climate and the path forwards
Sober assessment of where we are with climate progress, and what it will take to solve
Josh’s thoughts on GND, carbon tax, and other topics
Josh’s advice for others looking to find their lane in the climate fight
Links to topics discussed in this episode:
2004 US Presidential Election: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_United_States_presidential_election
Advanced nuclear: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_nuclear
Rachel Pritzker: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelpritzker/
Ray Rothrock: https://www.energy.gov/ne/contributors/ray-rothrock
Ross Koningstein: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosskoningstein/
Nuclear Regulatory Commission: https://www.nrc.gov/
Niskanen Center: https://niskanencenter.org/
You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
Enjoy the show!
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests, to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change, and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Jason Jacobs: Today's guest is Josh Freed, senior vice president for the Clean Energy Program at Third Way. Third Way is a national think tank that champions modern and center-left ideas. Their work is ground is mainstream American values of opportunity, freedom, and security. As founder and leader of Third Way's Clean Energy Program, Josh promotes policies to use every tool possible to combat climate change, including skilled up innovation, advanced nuclear and carbon capture technologies in addition to the increased use of renewables and efficient storage.
Jason Jacobs: Josh has been at Third Way since 2009 where he's overseeing their clean energy and climate advocacy efforts serving as the organization's chief strategist on these issues. He regularly advices senior federal and state policymakers, philanthropists, academics and business leaders. We cover a lot in this episode including Josh's history and what led him to Third Way, what the climate and energy teams looked like when he got there versus what they look like today. The Third Way founding story, what the organization stands for, the type of work that it does, how they go about it, and some example of projects.
Jason Jacobs: We have a great discussion about where we are with climate change, where we need to get to, what some of the barriers and head wins are, how advanced nuclear, carbon capture and other technologies can help, where policy fits in, the upcoming 2020 election. I really appreciate Josh's perspective on these issues because this guy knows a lot. I'm excited for you to hear this one, so let's get him on. Josh Freed, welcome to the show.
Josh Freed: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thanks for having me. Technically, I'm a guest in your office, so it's nice to be back.
Josh Freed: Always a pleasure.
Jason Jacobs: You guys are one of the major players in the advocacy world especially in the position you've carved out on the center-left and working on some interesting stuff, and you seem to be everywhere. As I'm kind of making the rounds, if there's something interesting going on, I feel like Third Way is involved. I'm really psyched to share your story with listener, but also just selflessly to spend 45 minutes to an hour together and learn.
Josh Freed: Yeah, absolutely. It's always fun to talk to you about both what you've learned and what you're seeing from others, and also the questions as someone who knows a fair amount about this space, but from a very different perspective brings into it. We're also always learning as well. So, I'm excited to do this with you.
Jason Jacobs: I appreciate that. I wonder though, a bunch of insiders actually listen to the podcast. It's not just outsiders like I thought it would be, but it's kind of a mix. It's insiders maybe focused on one piece, but they want to get a broader perspective across other pieces. Or it's outsiders who are a pretty accomplished group, but not necessarily up to speed on climate stuff and want to be. But I feel like from the insiders, it's almost like I'm like a mascot who's just running around with no information. So, they get out their popcorn, and they're just looking to see what landmines I step on or something.
Josh Freed: Yeah. It's funny though because I think one of the challenges I've seen both myself run into and my team is how insidery climate, climate advocacy, and clean energy can be. I started full-time in the clean energy and climate advocacy space 10 1/2 years ago when I came to Third Way and helped stand up the Clean Energy Program. Prior to that, my experience had been on political campaigns and working either for a couple of members of Congress or on advocacy efforts, in many cases having nothing to do with climate.
Josh Freed: I started in a similar position to you as an outsider who is learning the ropes and had to stop people who used a lot of the jargon. I think any space, but particularly a space that has a lot of engineers and scientists and techno components to it, it can very quickly get very jargony, get very insidery, and it creates a lot of barriers. Barriers to entry from investors from other sectors who want to come in, advocates and particularly as we need to get more of the public or other policy makers and leaders who care about climate, but haven't traditionally been involved in this space more interested in it. The insider or outsider component barriers need to be broken down.
Josh Freed: Having someone like yourself who understands the space but is learning about it, saying, "Stop, let's explore this more." Challenging assumptions, challenging jargon, and having other insiders listen to that becomes really helpful to remind us we need to be accessible because we're not always accessible.
Jason Jacobs: Well, that's good encouragement. Thank you. I'll take it at face value and be encouraged to keep on the path that I'm on, but maybe that's a good transition point. I mean, what was it? Take me back. You're working on more of the legislative side. What led you to switch gears and enter the advocacy world and what led you to choose Third Way and what did it look like at the time?
Josh Freed: Yeah. Taking the way back machine, from 2002 through 2007, I worked on Capitol Hill for a couple of different members of Congress, mostly a Congresswoman Diana DeGette from Colorado. Working for a westerner, you become, as someone who is a native to the D.C. area, much more appreciative of both the environment wilderness, the interaction on a daily basis between people and the environment in which they live.
Josh Freed: I worked as the communication's director and deputy chief of staff for her, so I touched every issue. I was able to see and really learn and feel whether it's just the impact of wild lands, or the bark beetle, which has been accelerating in Colorado and destroying a lot of the native forest there, enhanced by climate change. Just wow, this is a really important issue. Water is a huge issue in Colorado. So, I started to become more interested in environment and climate as an issue.
Josh Freed: Left Capitol Hill to work on the Obama campaign in 2008 for the ad agency that did all of its digital and paid media, and was looking at the end of that campaign in October of 2008 just wondering what I want to do next. I think like anyone who is trying to figure out the next part of their career, I just talked to a lot of people. Third Way kept coming up as an interesting dynamic organization. A friend of mine, Jim Kessler, was one of the founders of Third Way. So, I came over and started talking to him and others here. They made a really compelling pitch, "If you want to have an impact, think creatively, do different things."
Josh Freed: In this position, at the time that the Obama administration was just starting out, they were handing me an opportunity to stand up bigger climate and energy program here, and it just seemed like a really great combination. Engaging in a startup, doing policy and advocacy, but doing it in a different way than going into an in administration working in government. It was a unique opportunity at the right time in life for me.
Jason Jacobs: What's the Third Way founding story? When did it come about, how did it come about?
Josh Freed: Third Way was founded in 2005. We were founded in the wake of John Kerry's loss in the 2004 election to George W. Bush. If you remember at the time, not only did Bush win, but he brought in a number of Republican senators that we were hoping would lose. One of the realizations that the founders of Third Way had was that Democrats were still not arming their candidates and particularly senators with a broader array of center-left policies that they could go onto the campaign trail and talk about and then enact when they got back elected into office.
Josh Freed: We started off with a very modest agenda, which is to provide modern center-left ideas to federal office holders and particularly senators. Happily for us, over the years, the demand for our ideas, for our messaging has just expanded exponentially. We went from being focused in one house of Congress on a relatively narrow set of economic issues to now being a multi-issue think tank that works with all branches of the federal government.
Jason Jacobs: Got it. Think tank, does that mean C3, C4? Do you have an arm at both?
Josh Freed: We're both a C3 and a C4. Translating that for folks who are not in the nonprofit world, it means that we are primarily an organization that focuses on educating the public and policymakers on issues, but we do engage with working with policymakers also to a certain amount on crafting legislation and taking positions on specific legislation. It is not by any means close to the majority of what we do. Most of what we do is just educate people on climate change or on economic issues or on national security issues like cyber security but when key pieces of legislation come up, we can take positions on them.
Jason Jacobs: The climate and energy division, did it exist before you got here?
Josh Freed: We'd done some work on climate and energy prior to my joining in 2008. The decision was made with the start of the Obama administration that there were going to be a lot more opportunities and a lot more interest in climate and energy policy. So, they decided to create a full program and brought me on board to start standing that up.
Jason Jacobs: What does that program look like today in terms of scope and areas of focus? Then how is that different from when you started?
Josh Freed: When I started, to be honest, we were trying to figure out what we were doing. So, it was myself and one other employee. We had to really spend some time thinking about what it meant for Third Way and the center-left at large to take on climate. The issue at the time was also that we were standing up our program as a new Democratic administration was taking office and there were a wide variety of ideas already out in the marketplace. If you remember when President Obama had been sworn in, there was a lot of momentum already there for cap and trade trade. We defined our role early on as looking at really helping find how to improve cap and trade trade and then get moderate centrists to understand it and talk about it in a way that we could move forward with it because the train had already very much left the station.
Josh Freed: Fast forward to 2019, and our program is now focused because we're going to have to recreate climate policy with the next administration on broadly how do we get the United States on the path so that we're at net zero carbon pollution by 2050 at the absolute latest. It means using every and all clean energy technologies and clean fuels that we have and investing a significant amount more in innovation so that we can invent or improve the technologies we still need.
Jason Jacobs: Now when you say net zero carbon, are you talking about new emissions?
Josh Freed: We're talking about net zero on machines across the economy.
Jason Jacobs: One thing that's been coming up in my discussions to-date is that there's a lot of talk about emissions reduction and getting to net zero. But if you look at the carbon that's in the atmosphere already, the new emissions is actually a very small percentage of the overall pie. And because it takes hundreds of years to dissipate, that even if we handle the emissions, which is a beast and we absolutely should, but it's not going to do much to take our head out of a vice in terms of our overall carbon problem. Is that true? Do you agree? How should I be thinking about this?
Josh Freed: Look, I mean the way Third Way thinks about it is we impact U.S. policy. With the challenge that we have in front of us today is across the economy virtually every sector continues to emit a significant amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases. We've got to stop that. If we both look at policy and technology, there are a lot of steps that we still need to take to get there. We also do need to invest in direct air capture so that we can start removing some of the carbon that's in the atmosphere out of the atmosphere. But that is still more of an innovation challenge and a cost challenge to get to the point where that happens, so those are the bytes that we're focused on and that's plenty for us.
Jason Jacobs: When you look at the net zero by 2050 at the latest, within that, you mentioned direct air capture. Is that a well-defined portfolio of solutions that you're focused on bringing to bear?
Josh Freed: Yeah. For us, there is. I think that for any organization and particularly one our side, we're relatively small. We've got seven full-time staff and-
Jason Jacobs: That's it. You guys punch above your weight class.
Josh Freed: We do as much as we can. Climate is an easy issue to be very motivated on. We look at this and say okay, where can Third Way provide value add? Where can we have the most impact? Looking at what our expertise is, where there's demand and where we have passion, our focus is on how do you development the policies and support investment and innovation from the federal government and demand pool that the federal government can create so that we can reduce emissions in the three largest emitting sectors of the economy. So, that's transportation, that's the power sector, and that's industrial emissions.
Josh Freed: One of the challenges, of course, has been that most of the attention, not all of it, but most of it has been on the power sector because in some ways, both in terms of technology and also the policy levers that you can pull, that is the relatively easiest sector. So, it's one that we've also been focused primarily on, and as we've been able to both grow our expertise and capacity, we've started to branch out. It's also we've started to look at these other sectors because several of the solutions that we advocate for have multiple applications.
Jason Jacobs: So, if you look at the solution areas that you mentioned, what is the Third Way role and how do you go about determining how to prioritize where you spend your time if what you're trying to do is help those things get to market faster and at bigger scale?
Josh Freed: Third Way has a couple of roles. We work with a lot of other groups. So, we're part of a community of advocacy organizations that work together to identify what are the smart solutions, how are they going to have impact likely, and that's determined through partners doing modeling, doing other assessments of both with existing technologies. If we pull certain policy levers, where are they going to go? Also, analyzing what the likelihood of success of emerging technologies may be.
Josh Freed: For Third Way, our focus is on working with policymakers in Washington D.C. So that's primarily Democrats in the House and the Senate and when Democrats control the administration across the executive branch. We also work with a number of folks in the Department of Energy and other federal departments regardless of who controls the White House. What's smart policy? How do you implement it? Who else do you need to bring on board from both the advocacy community, other interested parties, business community to both build support for these policies, but also provide input on whether it's the right direction?
Josh Freed: How do you message it? What's the story that you want to tell? How do you talk about it to people outside of the energy and climate community so that it's easily understandable? Then how do you interact with other groups that you need to put together to get this done? Those are the three big areas if you think about it: policymaking, communications, and outreach and correlation engagement. There are other groups that do other things, a lot of other groups that do other parts of it or work with us on different aspects of these components.
Jason Jacobs: So, if you take on a project, does it tend to be the same handful of projects over a sustained period or is that portfolio constantly shifting with start dates and end dates and shuffling the mix all the time?
Josh Freed: We try to stay focused on a slightly longer game. Both on the technology side and on the development of policy side, there are very few quick fixes. In a world dominated by Twitter, and it feels like everything is changing every moment, both in terms of the new cycle and people's focus, we'll look at an issue, and we'll take advanced nuclear as one of the technologies that we advocate for.
Jason Jacobs: Good. I was just going to ask you to talk about a specific example.
Josh Freed: We started on that in earnest in 2014. We looked at it and realized that that's a technology that if we're successful and the innovators are successful and other advocates are successful, it will get commercialized by the middle to end of the next decade, 2025, 2030. So, we set out in 2014 recognizing that this was a solution that we were advocating for that would take as much as 15 years to come to fruition. So, we set six-month, one-year, three-year, five-year milestones to check against to see well are we on the right path, are we getting done what we need to get done? Then ask ourselves what's next?
Josh Freed: So, we always have a balance. What's the long-term goal we're trying to reach and then what are the short and medium term objectives that we can measure ourselves against because we want to make sure that we're either on the right path. If not, where do we need to course-correct to get back on that path.
Jason Jacobs: What would be an example if you take that advanced nuclear over a short-term objective or a medium term objective that you'd measure yourself against?
Josh Freed: When we started, our first objective was to convince people within both the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill that advanced nuclear was a potentially viable solution to climate change and to generating electricity. When we started working on it, there was a lot of skepticism even within the Department of Energy that anyone who's working on advanced nuclear, which we define as any non-light, water reactor technology particularly those that are smaller than the large 1,000 megawatt reactors that are in operation today. So, we had to start from scratch.
Josh Freed: The first thing we did was create a map that showed where are all the projects that are being developed in the United States and in Canada that were supported either by the private sector or in partnership with academic institution to say, "Hey, it's more than one or two people that are on a luck." We found that there were over 40 projects. We vetted them internally, and then we met with folks at the Department of Energy including the Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and said, "This is real, and what we need right now is not a huge amount of federal money, but we need to streamline how innovators get access to the Department of Energy and the national labs so that more research can be done."
Josh Freed: We tested that out. It was very easy to tell whether we were going to succeed or fail with that by whether the people that were in positions to decide whether this was real or not looked at the work we did and said, "This is interesting. We want to check this out, and we want to work with you if it's accurate." Or if they said, "This isn't real. We're not interested," and shut the door. Each time we went and met with people, showed them the maps, brought in people that were working with either from the innovation community, Ross Koningstein, Ray Rothrock who is a venture capitalist, a nuclear engineer from MIT, Rachel Pritzker who supports clean innovation were the earliest supporters of work and thought partners on it, walked with us to a lot of these meetings and presented with us. It captured people's imagination.
Josh Freed: We knew then that we were on the right track, and it unfolded from there to getting support from elected officials, seeing legislation introduced, seeing actions happening. Seeing the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, start to evaluate whether they needed to modernize some of their licensing requirements to adapt to a different type of reactor, design. And see other NGOs join us and groups like Clean Air Task Force and The Breakthrough Institute, which were amongst the original other advocacy groups and nonprofits that worked with us, start to come in and say, "This is really interesting. Yeah, we should support this and work on this."
Jason Jacobs: What was the criteria that led you to green light all of that work for advanced nuclear? In other words, if are evaluating a new area, whether it'd be advanced nuclear or carbon capture and storage or something else, what's the criteria that makes it above the bar to be a Third Way project?
Josh Freed: Yeah. For us, we look at it and say, does it have a potential to have a serious impact on helping reduce emissions, either by displacing fossil fuel or addressing other energy demand that exists within the United States? Are there other groups advocating for it? If there's a lot of other NGOs that are already working on the issue, and particularly if there are and there's not a unique value add because of the customers that we serve or what we believe is our expertise in communications and working with other organizations in outreach and in development of policy, we don't work on it.
Josh Freed: If we look at an issue and say people aren't working on it and has the potential to have a really important impact on climate change, and we can provide these value ads, then we look at it and talk to experts outside of Third Way as well as in Third Way doing our own research to determine is this really real? Is this viable? For example, with advanced nuclear, we talked to a number of academics, a number of innovators within the advanced nuclear field, venture capitalists and others to say, "Is this viable? Could advanced nuclear be developed and turn into a technology that is potentially competitive with other resources that are on the grid and provide carbon free electricity?"
Josh Freed: The answer was, "Yeah it could be, but there's a bunch of steps that need to be taken." Most of the obstacles, to be honest, are not technological from their point at the time. It's much more of, "There's a lot of uncertainty with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Will they provide a path to licensing that's affordable, and will the department of energy engage and open up the national labs in a constructive way so that innovators have access to them?" We said, "Huh, those are things Third Way can help on. Yeah, let's jump in on that."
Jason Jacobs: When you talk about, I forget the exact word that you used, but big impact for climate change, are there specific metrics that would coo you into that or that you look at when evaluating?
Josh Freed: It's not specific metrics as much as we talk to a variety of others outside what's our sense of how big an impact it can be. Look, it's really hard to predict at this point both domestically and internationally what the market for advanced nuclear could be. But if you look at how may existing nuclear plants are going to retire starting in the 2030s or how much natural gas is currently on the grid, how much natural gas is also relied upon for industrial processes, you can see a lot of potential for advanced nuclear to come and provide a significant amount of carbon free electricity industrial heat, et cetera.
Josh Freed: I am being very careful not to provide a specific number because we don't know what that number is. It's frankly part of what's both interesting for us with it, but why it's much more on a case by case basis evaluating and getting a sense of could this have a big impact rather than specific metric, a number of gigawatts, or amount of carbon displaced.
Jason Jacobs: From paying the bills standpoint, is everything through donations or do you have clients as well?
Josh Freed: No. We're a nonprofit. Everything, we get philanthropic support to advocate for solutions to climate change that can get broad support from the center-left.
Jason Jacobs: What type of involvement is there from industry? So, if you take advanced nuclear for example, how much are you actually spending time with the advanced nuclear companies? Then out of those, what does that mix look like between the emerging companies, the startups, and the large incumbents?
Josh Freed: Yeah. I mean, look, we work with and talk to a wide variety of companies. Ultimately, it's going to be the private sector that invents, builds, purchases, and operates these plants. You can apply that to any sector. So if we're talking about vehicles, it's going to be the private sector that invents, builds, sells, maintains, and charges electric vehicles. That's going to purchase a large number of them for fleet vehicle operations. So what we want to do is understand from these companies, big and small, what are your criteria for developing, purchasing, bringing to market, using whatever the technology or whatever the solutions that we're looking at is so that we can understand what from the private sector's perspective is viable or not, what are their considerations.
Josh Freed: It's been interesting. I'll give you one example that has emerged over the last couple of years is there are a number of utilities now that either have committed to or are looking at committing to getting their own generation to net zero or close to net zero. As they've looked at how do you get there by whatever date they commit to, in some cases it's 2050, in some case it's earlier. What we've seen is an increasing openness and interest by those companies in carbon capture, in advanced nuclear because they know they can get to a certain percentage of zero carbon electricity with renewables, with hydro. But once you get beyond that, and it's different for each utility, they see real challenges particularly if long duration energy storage doesn't become more viable and more affordable.
Josh Freed: So, it continues to create more demand for innovation, for different technology options and for more creative thinking frankly, both on the policy side for what are the policies to ensure that we get to 100% clean or net zero and also what are policies to support development of technologies like advanced nuclear, carbon capture, advanced geothermal that can expand the portfolio of options that the private sector has.
Jason Jacobs: I mean, we can spend a whole episode talking about the science and what is the right optimal mix for power and for transport. We can go write down the list of drawn down categories and stuff like that, but from my investigations so far, it seems like the biggest issue in lack of clarity is not a scientific one. It's a political one. Would you agree with that statement?
Josh Freed: It's both. Fortunately for me, my background is more on the political side, so let's stick with that. We have other people on the team that focus on more of the science side of what's the right mix both from a generational perspective or whichever sector you're looking at. But also what's the right mix, the optimal mix, economically because you've got to have a system that is affordable that provides whatever metric of reliability you're measuring depending on the sector and, to your point, is politically viable.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I guess said a different way, I'm not a scientist either, but I trust that there is enough viable solutions that are out there. Maybe not to get us all the way to 100%, but that are not being deployed that if they're deployed would be helpful, right.
Josh Freed: Yes, absolutely.
Jason Jacobs: But from a political landscape, particularly here in the U.S., although obviously it's a global challenge as well, but different in different places, but we just can't get out of our own way.
Josh Freed: Yeah. I think that's the challenge in a lot of places right now. Look, the U.S. is in a unique moment of time, not just on climate change, but on a lot of issues where you've got a Republican Party. I mean, it's a two-party system. You've got a Republican Party where the majority of members, unfortunately, starting at the top with the president are still unwilling to act. It's unfortunately the reality. So, it's going to be very difficult to get the kind of aggressive comprehensive that we need in the window of the next five to 10 years to really build and build momentum to get to net zero in any reasonable amount of time.
Josh Freed: It could be viewed as an extremely partisan statement, but I think it's the challenge we just have the acknowledge when you unfortunately do have a president who continues to deny that climate is even changing and changing because of human activity. You look at the people that he's appointed to positions like the EPA, like his top science advisors and on and on. That's the bad news. The good news is that slowly you're starting to see more individual Republicans, even in office, start to acknowledge that climate change is happening, it is a challenge that needs to be addressed, and they're starting to propose some solutions.
Josh Freed: I think the big thing that I take issue with that I this very concerning is the solutions that they're embracing right now are neither sufficient nor are they broad enough to accomplish where I think we need to on the timeframe we need to. But that is a challenge that is both a Republican Party challenge, and it's a challenge of how do the rest of us in the climate advocacy community communicate about this. It's the point that we started with on insider versus outsider. What's the language we use? How do we bring more people into the fold to say, "We need to act on climate change and here is a way to do it that will be beneficial to the majority, the overall majority of the public."
Jason Jacobs: Given that, would you say that the 2020 presidential election is an important moment in climate work?
Josh Freed: Look, I think the 2020 election is one of the most important elections in the history of the country, and it goes far beyond climate. Climate is certainly one of the top issues. We've seen in polling that Third Way has done and other polling that climate is a top three issue for Democratic voters, and it is an increasingly salient issue for Democratic and independent voters. Certainly, the paths that the United States would take if there's a Donald Trump second term versus a Democrat in the White House on climate would be extraordinarily different. Trump's second term would be devastating for climate. A Democrat done right would very much put us on the right path, but I also want to put to that in context.
Josh Freed: Third Way is a multi-issue think tank. I talk to colleagues across did issue areas, and you just see it in the news and on TV every day. Let's just be real. The Trump administration has a number of enormous huge problems that they've created for the public, and there's a number of reasons why we need to get rid of it. It is a climate issue, but it is not just a climate issue.
Jason Jacobs: Okay. I'd love to talk about that because I agree with you. That guy has got the go, but then you look at, there's kind of two different lenses. There's the well, what is the candidate that's going to best represent my values and put us on the best path and things like that? Then it's like what's the candidate that's going to get it done and give us the best possibility of getting that guy out of office? It seems like the Democrats have a real fork in the road where you've got the establishment, more rings around the tree, more understanding the system, how to work within the system, how to get stuff done across the aisle. Then you've got more of the burn it down crowd.
Josh Freed: Yeah. Look, I mean one of the things that has been really exciting and promising in this, and I can't believe it's, what, July of 2019 and the presidential is already in full swing. I think all of us would rather spend our time focusing on summer vacation or our day-to-day work or what's happening in baseball or whatever your sport or hobby of choice is. But this is the lot we live that the presidential campaign is already happening.
Josh Freed: The good news is that there is a really robust competition for creative ideas on how to address climate. One of the tickets to entry as I think a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination for president is thinking very deeply about climate change and being committed to action. If you look at the field, whether one is the establishment candidate, whether one is taking a path to the nomination from many different perspective, I think almost all of them have really interesting viable plans to address climate change and that has not always been the case.
Jason Jacobs: In order to enact meaningful climate legislation is bipartisan support essential for it to be durable?
Josh Freed: It is in the long term, and I think that one of the steps we need to see to get there is that voters are increasingly including climate as an issue, not the only issues but one of the issues by which they evaluate and vote for candidates. So, I think the more you see candidates win in part because they're campaigning on climate or lose because they're not perceived as having commitment to action on climate, you'll start to see more bipartisanship there.
Josh Freed: I think the other part of it that's important is climate action needs to be inclusive. I think one of the challenges that we face is that there are a variety of people in this country who haven't felt that they were part of the picture of what addressing climate change look like. That not only includes groups that the left is increasingly including like communities of color, which absolutely need to be a bigger part of the solution. But we also need to be very cognizant that in places like Pennsylvania, in Ohio, and the Dakotas, particularly in North Dakota, there are large communities that have had significant benefit from the natural gas revolution.
Josh Freed: These are people that are working really good jobs, that they're able to put food on their table, save for college, everything else because natural gas has become so abundant and affordable in the United States. We can't be in a position where any of those communities feel that we're shaming them or casting aspersions on them because of what they do.
Jason Jacobs: Well, what's the answer? If you could wave your magic wand and put one policy in place that you think would have the biggest impact, what is it and how does it work?
Josh Freed: I think that putting all of our eggs on addressing climate change into one basket is part of the challenge. What we're talking about here is trying to change economic activity across the U.S. and the global economy where how carbon pollution is created in transportation looks very different from how it's created in the power sector. I think it's one policy I'd say is that we don't bet on one policy. That we look at this, and one of my favorite descriptors is you got to put as many shots on goal as possible. We've got to try everything on climate.
Josh Freed: It very well could be a Clean Energy Standard in the electricity sector, and a lower zero carbon fuel standard that's separate in the transportation sector. It could be our price on carbon. We've got to try it all and see as we move forward in 2020, 2021 what emerges as the most likely and durable set of solutions. I think the more important thing right there is that we make sure that it includes all clean energy technology solutions, and it includes a heavy investment in innovation.
Josh Freed: The thing that frankly scares me or concerns me the most on the climate advocacy side is the idea that somehow we can select a handful of the most favored solutions because somehow one technology is pure than another. I get nervous, very nervous, and I don't think it's either viable nor does it emphasize how urgent climate is if we say it's got to be 100% renewables. Or if we say we can't use any natural gas even if carbon capture is on it because natural gas and extracting it is just so bad that we have to shut that all down. I think that when we start rolling out solutions that could power the economy without producing carbon, we make it that much harder to get political support and we make it that much harder to actually address climate change.
Jason Jacobs: If I'm hearing right from you though, it sounds like price on carbon isn't at the top or maybe even not even near the top of your list.
Josh Freed: I think we need to see. You've seen what's happened in Australia, where they had a price in carbon, and it was repealed. When you see what's happening in France, there are real challenges politically right now to see a price on carbon happening in the United States even in 2021. Politics, as we've seen with the election of Donald Trump in 2016, can change very quickly. If the opportunity arises to have one, and it depends on what the prices and what the impact is, that would be great.
Josh Freed: That are other groups that are also doing a lot of great work on how to structure a carbon price, how to build the politics around a carbon price. That's what those groups are working on. We're focused on other parts like the Clean Energy Standard, like investing in innovation, like how do you reduce industrial emissions that we're going to continue to focus on. As other political opportunities pop, we will join and try to take advantage of those and focus on our goal, which is getting to net zero.
Jason Jacobs: One thing I've heard from Republicans, especially Republican is focused on climate, is that Trump doesn't actually reflect conservative ideals and that there are conservative ideals that can bring about meaningful climate policy. In other words, don't judge Republicans by who is in office right now. I'm curious. I mean, you guys are center-left. If you look at maybe some of the center-right stuff and more traditional conservative ideals, what are your thoughts on that as it relates to climate? Is there a common ground there that gives potential for bipartisanship or is it very polarized?
Josh Freed: I think there's a difference between a conservative and a Republican. There are plenty of conservatives in terms of organizations, in terms of thinkers who I think absolutely reflect your statement. That they have got ideas on how to act on climate. They've got serious policy ideas, serious ways to discuss that could have a big impact.
Jason Jacobs: Like who?
Josh Freed: ClearPath is an example. I think what Jerry Taylor who is more of a libertarian and Niskanen is another really excellent example. There's a group called CRES, which works on serious conservative solutions to address clean energy and get more clean energy developed and on the grid is doing a lot of good work in that space. There are a number of others. The challenge is, and you see if there's the head of the party, if that person is the president, sets the agenda for the party. That is going to be the number one obstacle for Republicans as opposed to conservatives acting on climate until and when Donald Trump is no longer the president to the United States. Then we'll see how the Republican Party evolves and adapts, but the president sets the agenda, and the tone for the entire party.
Jason Jacobs: Maybe just like a quick rapid fire session if we can but Green New Deal, should we be leaning into it or what are your thoughts?
Josh Freed: The Green New Deal is a phrase. It's very unclear what is actually in it. I think that what's more important is to see what the Democratic nominee. Then if that person gets elected her or his agenda, and how do they sell it.
Jason Jacobs: So, it's less about the branding and more about the substance.
Josh Freed: It's less about the branding and more about the substance.
Jason Jacobs: That's something I've been pondering is that people bring up the branding as a good thing because it's getting air time and visibility around it and it's like a movement people can rally behind, but it's also making Republicans break out in hives. Then there's the question of whether it's inevitable that they're going to break out in hives no matter what happens on the Democratic side or whether we should be using less inflammatory verbs.
Josh Freed: I think the other thing is we need to see serious real climate action. Addressing climate change is a big enough challenge on its own. So, how do we develop the set of policies that drive clean energy onto the grid, onto our streets and highways and into industry and replace fossil fuels that emit carbon. That's a big challenge. The other issues that some versions of the Green New Deal and proponents of the Green New Deal talk about addressing the economy, healthcare, those things have to be addressed separately. These issues are complicated enough on their own that we don't want to construct a behemoth that is so big that it collapses under its own weight. For me, I'm dedicated to seeing climate action happen, and that's what I'm working on and that's what I want to see happen first. I think we need to craft an agenda that's focused on that.
Jason Jacobs: What about the role of the big hydrocarbon and utilities?
Josh Freed: I think that any entity, any company that is working towards removing carbon from the grid should absolutely be part of the solution. These companies have enormous amounts of capital that they could be deploying towards that. They've got an enormous amount of knowhow, an enormous amount of market pull. The question is how quickly and willingly are they able to do it? That really depends on company by company, but we've seen a lot of progress from some companies, a lot exciting steps in the right direction. We've seen other companies and other trade associations that have really dragged their heels. So, it's hard to either condemn or praise with a broad brush on that, but they have to be part of the solution.
Jason Jacobs: So, the trend of the large institutional funds divesting from fossil fuels is that productive? Should that play out more?
Josh Freed: They're going to make decision on their own front from that. My focus on the policy side. I think that we need to figure out how do we incorporate the price of emitting and how do we reward providing clean energy into our policy because that's going to be hell of a lot more of a priority than it is today. So, that's the part that we can engage on. I think we also need to acknowledge that if companies and their advertising and in what they're saying in public is advocating for climate, they also need to put their lobbying, their trade association engagement and other things in line with that.
Jason Jacobs: If you had a big pot of money, let's say $100 billion, and you could allocate it towards anything as long as it was related to maximize its impact on deep to carbonization, where would you put it? How would you allocate it?
Josh Freed: If I had $100 billion, the first thing I would do would be to buy Tottenham Hotspur and move to London part-time and then give money to other to advocate. Look, I think what we've got to do, this is a challenge that ultimately is in the trillions of dollars realm. What we need to do is figure out how do we smartly reorient policy to encourage and work with companies, labs, others to either develop the technologies we need or incent the right fuels and technologies to get on to our system and remove the ones that aren't. I think it's going to be a big mix. I think if there was a silver bullet, it would already be used, and we'd be further along than we already are. But climate change and energy are big greasily fiery problems, and that's why one single $100 billion investment or one single policy hasn't been found yet that can solve all these things.
Jason Jacobs: That's why it's hard for me. I mean, I'm getting more and more requests from either people looking to transition their career into this area, or people that are looking to allocate their dollars philanthropically, or people that are looking to volunteer outside of work and finding organizations they believe in. But because there's no silver bullet as you described, then it's such a complicated problem. It's hard for me to know exactly where to point them. So, speaking to them for a minute, what advice do you have?
Josh Freed: I think that we all have to wrestle with scarcity of resources that we're dealing with, whether it's time, whether it's money, whether it's passion. I think that what I have learned over the years with Third Way is applicable more broadly, which is where do you have the passion, where do you have the expertise, and where do you have the resources to apply whatever you're looking to apply to this situation, and where is there something missing?
Josh Freed: If you are an investor, and you are looking to provide a modest investment into a technology, where is the technology that's underfunded that you get excited about or passionate about? Or if you've just got time, what's the one thing that really excites you about addressing climate change that you want to dedicate your time to to help out with? There's always a gap that an individual, an investor, an innovator can fill, but they've got to be excited about it and be willing to wake up every morning and say, "Yes, I want to do this." I think you've got to figure out how do you marry those things together.
Jason Jacobs: Every morning, I want to be a podcaster.
Josh Freed: Well, there you go.
Jason Jacobs: Well Josh, we've covered a lot of ground. Anything I didn't ask you that I should have or any parting words for listeners?
Josh Freed: Well, we have covered a huge amount of ground. I think that we've talked a lot about the challenges in this space and the challenges that the politics of 2019 present, but I also think this is an extremely exciting time. Despite President Trump being in office and despite the amounting evidence that not only is climate here, but it's having a bigger toll on the planet earlier than we expected, we are seeing people and states and others respond. We've seen an increasing number of states. It's grown every year in the last several years move to first Renewable Energy Standards and then Clean Energy Standards and then more aggressive Clean Energy Standards. We are seeing more Republicans starting to embrace climate action. We're starting to see more technologies being developed and starting to get uptake.
Josh Freed: So, it is not at all a hopeless battle. There are more people passionate about climate that are stepping out and becoming involved in that. So, that's why it's easy to get up every morning and work on this and come in and be excited to talk to you about this podcast. And go back and work on the issue every day because there's more hope and more engagement to address climate change than I think there was two years ago, three years ago, five years ago.
Jason Jacobs: Someone asked me the other day if I was more or less optimistic about us solving climate change than I was seven months ago before I started this journey. What I said was that I'm more optimistic that there's ample things we can do. That it's like there's levers we can pull. This is under our control. There's a lot more that's within our control than I was anticipating, but it's a lot thornier in terms of getting us out of our own way than I was anticipating.
Josh Freed: Yeah. That's right. I think to your point in all of these questions, let's not kid ourselves. This is a really complicated issue. So, the actual solutions are hard, but we work on the political and policy side and climate was barely talked about in 2016 in the election. There were almost no Republican federal office holders who said, "Yeah, climate change is real, and we need to address it." We're not in that place today. It is being talked about all over the United States, on the campaign trail, in the House of Congress. It's talked about by some Republicans and by a lot more Democrats than had talked about it in the past. There's a lot.
Josh Freed: The electric vehicle sector is you're seeing a lot more cars that are about to come online and get into the marketplace. You're seeing a lot more states move. You're seeing a lot more companies committing to climate action. There's reason to be optimistic, but to not take the focus off much more aggressive action and holding everyone's feet to the fire on this so to speak.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. I think that's a great to end on, and it's like the drum that I want to be constantly beating, which is that take it seriously and be vigilant as hell, but be vigilant as hell. Don't give up. We've got it. We've got it as long as you don't take our eyes off the ball.
Josh Freed: Yeah, I think that's right. If something, to your point, we need more people like you. If you're out there, and you're looking at the climate and clean energy space and saying, "How do I get involved?" It's definitely a space to jump into. There's a lot going on. It's really dynamic, and we need more people in it. So, now is the time to jump in.
Jason Jacobs: Well, there you go. Josh Freed, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Josh Freed: Thanks a lot. This was super fun.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone. Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note that is .co not .com. Someday we'll get to .com, but right now .co. You can also find me on Twitter at @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. Before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The words made me say that. Thank you.