A new “Get Stuff Done” generation of climate fixers emerges.
One hundred and forty years ago, a rapturous crowd of 50,000 New Yorkers welcomed “the greatest feat of masonry since the Pyramids” with 14,000 tons of pyrotechnics.
Built of limestone and granite, thousands of miles of steel cable, and anchored by two giant underwater pneumatic caissons, the Brooklyn Bridge was, for a moment, the greatest piece of human engineering ever.
But unbeknownst to the revelers, the bridge was more than a masonic masterpiece. It was also a bridge to a new industrial era whose carbon effluent was starting to cause the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere to rise consistently for the first time in 10,000 years.
Today, barely a mile away, a new engineering project is underway. Only this time, modern masons and engineers are designing elements of a $60 billion flood barrier to hold back the rising waters their ancestors once sought to cross.
The New York harbor project and others around the world are a small part of a $100 trillion global engineering experiment to see if human civilization can adapt to the warmest atmospheric temperature in 1 million years.
Climate fast track
Across the world, private and public leaders who used to only warn about climate are now acting. The catalyst in America was the narrow passage last year of hundreds of billions of dollars of climate-related funding by the Biden Administration.
Global rules are being rewritten. United Nations diplomats are in deep negotiations over their climate conference in November where the pace of the drawdown of fossil fuels will be decided. The climate equation is also now infinitely more complex as countries now must balance their clean energy goals with a new UN biodiversity agreement that compels every nation to sequester 30 percent of their country to nature by 2030.
“Across the world, private and public leaders who used to only warn about climate are now acting. The catalyst in America was the narrow passage last year of hundreds of billions of dollars of climate-related funding by the Biden Administration.”
Humans are a quarreling lot
But with this great burst of action comes an even greater blast of agitas. There are howls of protest over wind turbines, solar panels and carbon sequestration pipelines. Old fights are in full swing as fossil-fueled Republicans wage a furious fight against climate-friendly investment policies while aging anti-fossil fuel boomers blockade banks that lend to oil and gas companies.
But new fights are also erupting, pitting environmentalists against climate activists over everything from fast-tracking permits for a million miles of power lines to eliminating polluting carcinogenic chemicals inside the electrical components of the “clean” energy economy.
The rise of Gen Z
Key to the solution will be an emerging Gen Z where seven in ten are anxious about climate change. But they also now account for 30 percent of the world’ population and will make up 25 percent of the world’s workforce in two years.
This generation, along with Millennials, like or not, are tasked with getting stuff done, or GSD, on climate.
And that was what was happening this past week as hundreds of well-tailored young executives gathered at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square in New York City. They were here for a global conference organized by CERES, a climate-focused non-profit that facilitates dialogue among some of the world’s largest companies and investors.
For three days, the fresh new faces of climate were in full GSD mode digging into such meaty subjects as “climate strategies for private assets,” “the path forward on biodiversity,” or “structuring sustainable finance deals between banks and borrowers.”
Emma Gatewood, is a young project manager at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and was on a panel exploring the climate action plans of large pension plans and foundations. The task at hand, she said is “complex and challenging” and requires a solid dose of flexibility. “Perfection,” she warned, “is the enemy of the good.”
The art of compromise
Pragmatism, not climate doom ruled discourse. “You cannot have real climate change when half of America is against you,” warned billionaire climate activist, and one time presidential candidate, Tom Steyer.
“Key to the solution will be an emerging Gen Z where seven in ten are anxious about climate change. But they also now account for 30 percent of the world’ population and will make up 25 percent of the world’s workforce in two years.”
Later, veteran political insider John Podesta gave this new generation a master class on how to get things done in Washington, DC. Podesta is Biden’s ‘IRA czar,’ in charge of dispensing $369 billion in climate-related federal spending.
He had barely sat down for a “fireside chat” with David Gelles, a talented Millennial reporter from The New York Times, before Gelles informed Podesta that his generation was not happy about a Biden Administration decision to approve oil and gas drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve.
“I have to tell you the response has been intense,” Gelles said. “There is real consternation and outrage from climate scientists, members of your own party, and envoys on TikTok. I heard it from my own kids!”
Without missing a beat, the rail-thin Podesta grimaces. “David, I thought you’d start there.” ConocoPhillips, he said, had every legal right to drill the site. Even so, the Biden Administration whittled down the amount of oil and gas that can be taken by 60 percent. It added another 13 million acres of protected land and blocked any further offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea.
But most importantly, Podesta said, the amount of carbon to be released by the Willow project was a mere fraction of the total amount of carbon that will not go into the air because of other carbon-busting elements of the administration’s climate plans.
Podesta also acknowledged the bitter Hobbesian necessity of accepting equally objectionable alternatives. The decision, he said, was highly symbolic but it “was the right call.”
Al Gore at peace
Going forward, it will be a rare climate initiative that does not infuriate one side or the other. That is something former Vice-President Al Gore knows a thing or two about.
For years his critics have mocked him for his energetic climate activism. Today, he looks across the packed ballroom under the steely watch of CERES CEO Mindy Lubber.
“Pragmatism, not climate doom ruled discourse. “You cannot have real climate change when half of America is against you,” warned billionaire climate activist, and one time presidential candidate, Tom Steyer.”
Before him is a generation he has worked so hard to inspire since writing and producing “An Inconvenient Truth almost two decades ago. They are the new executive class of climate professionals – investors, technocrats, and business people – a profession that did not even exist in 2006, when he wrote his book.
Almost 75, he has every right to be cynical. So much of what he predicted has come true.
Instead, he seems like a man at peace with himself. “We don’t always stop and appreciate the progress that has been made,” he says. “The IRA was the biggest and best climate law that any nation has passed in all of history. It’s the real thing. And yes, there’s some warts on it and provisions I would have preferred not to be there.”
But, he adds, those warts cannot be avoided. “In a representative democracy, it’s almost always necessary to get a compromise to do something big. And this is a pretty darn good compromise.”
A new generation takes a stand
And for the first time in three days, this very serious, ‘get stuff done’ generation gets on their feet and gives a resounding standing ovation to the only man in American history to be denied the right to be president by the Supreme Court. The rolling ovation was not 14,000 tons of fireworks, but it was as clear a sign of approval that he had done his job to shape a new generation of climate fixers.