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July 22nd, 2008
Burning Season
Aaron Brown Interview: Tom Vilsack

WIDE ANGLE host Aaron Brown sits down with former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to discuss the politics of climate change.

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AARON BROWN:
Governor, it’s nice to see you. Welcome to WIDE ANGLE.

TOM VILSACK:
It’s great to be here. Thank you.

AARON BROWN:
What’d you think of the film?

TOM VILSACK:
Well, I really appreciated the opportunity to see it. In fact, I asked for a copy of it so I could send it to my son. It’s quite good for many reasons. First, it shows the difficulties of this issue in terms of change. You’ve got farmers who are used a certain way of doing business, and now someone from the government comes in and says, “You can’t do that anymore, because of climate change, and we’re going to try to do things differently.” And you see the human challenge that creates with people who want to put bread on the table and—

AARON BROWN:
Send the kid to school.

TOM VILSACK:
–Send the kid to school. And the visionaries who understand that if you stick with us on this, things are going to be much better for your family, much better for the world. You see the never-say-die attitude of an entrepreneur who, despite being told frequently “no, no, no, no,” he just keeps at it, keeps at it, keeps at it.

And you see the stress of that entrepreneur. When 170, 180 countries bring leaders to Bali and the fate of his whole concept and idea is up in the air and you’ve got the United States being the major stumbling block. And then you see the relief and the excitement that occurs when the deal is struck.

And I think what it does is it understands how interconnected we all are. If this isn’t done right by everyone then all of us will be hurt. So it was great.

AARON BROWN:
There were a couple things in it that I found especially interesting. Number one, it spoke to the need to innovate and how if we’re creative—

TOM VILSACK:
Right.

AARON BROWN:
This doesn’t have to be the drag that it’s often presented as.

TOM VILSACK:
It’s not going to be the drag. In my view, it’s a great opportunity for the world and particularly the United States. We have a contracting, shrinking middle class because we no longer build, construct anything, we no longer build things, we no longer make things. This is an opportunity for us to once again innovate and construct and make.

I was over in Europe several months ago talking to EU officials and British officials about the whole climate change issue. And I’ll never forget one of the British officials saying to me, “Well, you know, we’re not going to be able to innovate over here. We’re expecting the United States to be innovative, to come up with the new ways to sequester carbon from coal, to figure out how to do nuclear more efficiently, to create new ways to rehab buildings, old structures so they’re more energy efficient. We’re expecting the United States to be innovative.”

And that got me thinking about the potential for the United States. If, indeed, we are the creator and innovator of new technologies, how many jobs could we create? How many opportunities could we develop? And then how many of those could we export to the rest of the world, and in doing so, develop a different relationship than we have today with the rest of the world?

AARON BROWN:
Let’s talk about that. Because one of the most disquieting moments in the film is an American negotiator who—

TOM VILSACK:
Yes.

AARON BROWN:
Now, I think Americans, to some extent, are used to being slapped around a little bit in that kind of way just because we are the superpower. However, there was and there is a sense that America is not leading here and, in fact, is an obstacle here. Is that overstated?

TOM VILSACK:
No, not at all. When we’re the only industrialized nation not to have signed onto the Kyoto Protocols, whether those protocols were a good idea or bad idea, whether, in fact, folks have followed through with them or not, point was, as a superpower, America should never have walked away from the bargaining table. We should have stayed there until we figured it out.

I think the Bush administration over eight years has learned that, which is why at the end of that piece the American negotiators acknowledge the need to be with the international community, not against it. I don’t think Americans fully appreciate generally how much respect we’ve lost. And it’s not just Iraq– although that’s a significant part of it. It is, indeed, our reaction to international agreements. Walking away from Kyoto, not being involved in a number of other international agreements has sent a clear message to the rest of the world that we think we don’t need the rest of the world.

Well, on climate change, we do need the rest of the world. And they need us. We’re not going to deal with this by ourselves. And it’s pretty apparent that we can’t do what we need to do without China, India, and other developing nations to be involved as well.

AARON BROWN:
Let’s look at that piece of the puzzle because that has been central to the administration’s argument on Kyoto and walking away from Kyoto– some validity to the argument.

TOM VILSACK:
Absolutely. When China is producing as many coal fire plants as they are– when both China and India are going to expand rapidly the number of vehicles in the world fleet, there’s no question that they have a responsibility to step up. At the same time, they, China and India, have a legitimate argument. “We didn’t cause the pollution that’s in the atmosphere today. The developed nations caused it, and they need to deal with it.”

So what we have to have is a creative structure in which the United States and developed nations clearly state their intent to reduce greenhouse gases and adopt fairly significant comprehensive policies at home to send the message that we’re serious. And then, simultaneous and parallel with that, we need to say to developing nations, “What do we need to provide? How do we need to structure this so that you too will focus not so much on targets or percentages but on specific programs and policies that will lead to reductions?”

So, for example, can we set up demonstration projects in America and in China to sequester carbon from coal fired plants? Can we figure out new and creative ways with batteries, with flexible fuel cars, and so forth to make sure that the vehicles that you add to the world fleet are better than the ones we’ve added to the world fleet over the last twenty, thirty years?

Can we provide mechanisms like the Clean Development Mechanism and improve it under the Kyoto protocols, improve it so that you’re actually receiving resources to do the right thing that will actually have an impact on the environment? There’s a lot of work to be done. And America has to lead this effort.

And I think the next administration has an enormous opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for America. It’s an opportunity, as I said earlier, to rebuild the middle class, to create good-paying jobs where we’re making, constructing, manufacturing new technologies, where we can be the innovator and at the same time we can be a leader, reclaim world leadership on this issue, which we’ve I think lost in the last eight years.

AARON BROWN:
You would see, I would say almost certainly whoever wins in November, Senator McCain or Senator Obama, is going to be better, if that’s, you know, I’m not crazy about that word but let’s use it at least for now– better on this issue than the administration has been, taking a more leadership role– is there much different between the two candidates on this as we sit here today?

TOM VILSACK:
I think there is. I think, first and foremost, I think Senator Obama has a better understanding and handle on the fact that this is an economic driver, that this is a job creator. And he talks about five million green-collar jobs. That is the main focus of his message. And I think it’s an important one in terms of being able to sell what changes and steps we have to take as Americans in order to embrace this.

I think Senator McCain’s suggestion that all we need to do is to drill in other locations offshore in the Arctic Wildlife suggests that he’s still wedded to the notion that it’s about more oil, not less oil. So I think that’s a fundamental difference. Senator McCain recognizes that nuclear is going to play a role in this. He’s pretty aggressive– forty-five new facilities.

But we haven’t seen the detail in terms of how we create not just a regulatory system to make that happen but here’s the most important point, we don’t have workers to build these facilities. If you talk to energy officials, what they’ll tell you is the high cost of building one of these facilities is a result of the failure of our economy to create the workers, the welders, the machinists, the tool and die people that actually can build these facilities. I will never forget how surprised I was when a major energy leader told me I said, “Well, it’s gotta be the regulations, right?”

He goes, “No, no.” He said, “We made a decision not to proceed because we couldn’t get a firm contract bid. And the reason we couldn’t was because the contractor couldn’t assure the price for labor because there are very few welders. We just don’t have welders in this country.” So when folks talk about four-year college degrees and making college more affordable, that’s really important. But community colleges, trades, it’s again why our middle class has contracted.

So there’s tremendous opportunity here to restructure the American economy, to reduce the trade deficit, to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, to do the right thing in terms of the environment, and more importantly, to build a much stronger economy. And that’s why the next administration has to recognize the significant opportunity this presents.

And the President or Vice-president, whoever he or she may be, has got to focus on this. It just can’t be one of the domestic issues. It can’t be next to healthcare. It can’t be part of the budget deficit. This has to be the critical issue that the administration focuses on. And there are tremendous foreign policy considerations that also allow us to improve our standing in the world.

AARON BROWN:
Well, let’s talk policies for a second because I’ll concede for the sake of discussion that you’re right, it has to be the paramount issue. I don’t see how that happens given the nature of it. We’re still debating–politically debating–whether, in fact, climate change is real or a hoax, whether humans contribute to it or don’t contribute to it. The rest of the world, in many ways, moved beyond this whole discussion that dominates talk radio and to some extent the Congress of the United States.

Down in Oklahoma, Senator Inhofe rarely misses an opportunity to make light of the whole problem. So is the American political system in any sense ready to take this on as a, let alone “the,” a paramount issue?

TOM VILSACK:
Pressures are building that will require it. Let me give you several examples. First of all, the Bali roadmap and the commitment of the United States now to move forward. The major economies– efforts that the Bush administration started, which I think will ultimately transform into a major emitters effort where there will be specific guarantees, specific commitments. Domestically, you’ve got states in the Northeast starting a cap-and-trade system in September.

You’ve got the California experiments. You’ve got the Western Governors’ Protocols. You’ve got Midwestern governors committed to renewable mandates. So the states are moving. 800 cities in the United States have signed on to Kyoto Protocol. They’re taking steps. At a regulatory level, the EPA has faced some very difficult challenges in terms of the Supreme Court’s direction in the EPA versus Massachusetts case. All of that building pressure.

And then you have this shrinking middle class. You’ve got trade deficits. You’ve got our foreign policy in serious trouble, in part because we’ve walked way from an international agreement. So my view is, whether the next administration knows it or not, whether they think it or not, this is going to be the issue. And the point I would make to people who say, “Well, I’m not sure the science is there,” are you willing to take the risk?

If we do nothing and we continue on the current trend, most reputable folks say that the world’s temperature could rise by ten degrees. Good example, if your child’s temperature rises by ten degrees, your child is in a serious problem. Your child well may die. Well, the globe’s no different. So why take the risk? And if there is economic opportunity attached to it and a benefit of it, to me it’s very clear this needs to be done and the time is now.

AARON BROWN:
You’re an American politician. You were governor and you were a candidate for President, albeit– not for long. You were in it. What does it tell you that this issue seems to be bubbling from the ground up rather than from Washington on down?

TOM VILSACK:
Well, as is true in most major movements, it is almost never the political leaders that lead. Political leaders are usually the followers. When you think about civil rights movement for example, was it the politicians who led that effort? No. It was people on bridges and cafeterias, people in buses who basically said, you know, things have to change.

Change happens in either a consensus or in a crisis situation. And what is recognized, I think, by ordinary folks out there, which is not appreciated by politicians, is that we are approaching a crisis circumstance in the globe, ordinary people understand it, they appreciate that, they know that. They see the severity of the storms. They see the Arctic melting. They are concerned about Greenland. They see temperatures rising. They see weather patterns changing.

They see drought in some areas prolonged, floods in other areas prolonged. We just experienced here in Iowa a 500-year flood. The only problem was it was the second 500-year flood we’ve had in 15 years. So people see this and they appreciate it and understand it. And as you said earlier, the rest of the world has already come to these conclusions.

Here’s the risk that we run in ignoring this. Not just that climate change risk not just an environment risk. We risk a financial, serious financial risk because as the international community establishes cap-and-trade systems and financial mechanisms to price carbon, someone’s going to profit from that system. And I believe the Europeans are hopeful that the center of that financial system is in the EU. From my perspective, I hope it’s in America. But it won’t be in America unless we establish a cap-and trade-system, unless we move beyond voluntary credits to a system where our system can interface with the international system and develop a global financial system.

It could be a $2 trillion system, the largest of its kind in the history of mankind. I would certainly want to be at the center of that from an economic standpoint. So I think what’s going to move political leaders isn’t so much I don’t think a concern for the environment. That’s what’s moving the folks sort of at the grass roots. What’s going to move political leaders is the economic imperative of action.

AARON BROWN:
Is it a voting issue today, do you think?

TOM VILSACK:
Not necessarily unless you couch it in terms of job creation and expanded economic opportunity.

AARON BROWN:
Because, you know if I look at the environmental movement over time, to some extent it has– whether it’s actually played out that way is a different question– but it’s always been seen by opponents certainly as an issue of sacrifice. You’re going to have to live with less, whether it’s less oil, less if we were talking about water pollution. Whatever it was, do you really want to give up something? And what you’re talking about is actually presenting it in an entirely opposite way, which is this is an opportunity to, in fact, have more.

TOM VILSACK:
Right.

AARON BROWN:
More better but more.

TOM VILSACK:
Right. And I think that, from a political standpoint, Americans are not particularly sensitive to the notion that we’re going to do with less. Our whole country’s been built on the proposition we can do more or we can do better, we can do different, we can do something that’s never been done before, right? So I don’t think it’s a particularly compelling notion to go out to the man on the street and say, because of climate change and the concern that we have for folks all over the globe, you’re going to have to do A, B, and C. And it’s going to change the way you do things.

I think it’s much more persuasive to say, “Look, are you concerned about this economy? ‘Cause I am. And don’t you believe that we ought to have a strong middle class? Don’t you think that’s really the bedrock of this country, the democracy?” How did we get there?

Well, we got there because we made things, we built things, we constructed things. We’ve got to get back to that. How do we create jobs that can’t be outsourced? How do we create new and innovative things where America can lead? And by the way, are you satisfied with America’s position in the world? Do you think we’re liked? Do you think we’re respected? Do you think we’re looked up to?

I think that kind of message is a much more politically sellable message. And it’s a correct message. And it gets you in the right frame of mind to do the kinds of things that have to be done. This is not going to be easy. I’m not going to suggest to you that this is the simplest thing in the world. This is very difficult thing. And it will require change.

And there will be winners and there will be losers. And as we structure this, we have to take that in consideration. What industries are going to change? What industries are going to go out of business? What industries will be created? And what are the skills for those industries? But it’s an enormous opportunity that we ought to be seizing. And the country, the nation, the people that seize this notion I think are going to have a very successful 21st century.

AARON BROWN:
One of the things I find especially interesting about this as a political issue is that the consequences of inaction is not something you’re going to see tomorrow or a week from Thursday. It’s something we talk about– 30 years from now, 40 years from now. If I’m trying to pay the bills today, put my kid through school tomorrow, I’m inherently, I’d like to say I’m not, but 2050 seems like a long way off.

TOM VILSACK:
Yeah.

AARON BROWN:
How do you get both the political system, which has never been particularly good at this kind of thing, and individuals to say, “You know what? My grandchild or my child’s world matters. And if I fail to do today, their world will be horrific.”

TOM VILSACK:
Well, I’d say there are two things. First, the notion that we in America face a generational decision that every generation in America has faced in the past, which is are you going to leave this country in better shape than you found it. And for the first time I think in our history the answer to that question is in doubt. And talking to Americans my age and a little bit younger and a little bit older, we are uncomfortable. People in my generation are uncomfortable with leaving America in worse shape, in not as good shape as the one we received from our parents.

We think there’s sort of a responsibility, a moral calling, if you will, to do that. So I think the notion that you’re going to leave the world in better shape for your kids is an important one. You know, it’s sort of like what we did with the cigarette smoking and cancer. You know, if you told someone, “If you start smoking today, you could have cancer 30 years from now,” it’s the same kind of circumstance.

“Well, I won’t see the consequences of this thing for 30 years, so I think I’ll light up.” I think we have done such a good job of convincing people that there’s danger associated with that habit that many, many people have stopped. And many, many more people have never started.

AARON BROWN:
Yes, but it helped a lot that their uncle or their grandmother or someone in their life, someone literally they knew developed the disease that we were warning them against. And in this case, you know, unless you can draw that–

TOM VILSACK:
Well–

AARON BROWN:
Your flood analogy is not a bad one here.

TOM VILSACK:
Right.

AARON BROWN:
But you have to draw, don’t you, a very tight correlation between the floods, the fires, the droughts, the hurricanes, the this and the that to the issue.

TOM VILSACK:
You do, and it requires a sophisticated understanding of what happens when the Arctic icecap melts and sea levels rise and things get warmer and how that impacts and affects weather patterns. But people are beginning to see it. In 15 years, two 500-year floods. Significant increase in a number of level four, level five hurricanes. Drought that has extended for years even in our own country, the western part of our country, now deeply concerned even with– this year’s rains, deeply concerned about the sustainability of their water resources.

I think we do see signs. I think Mother Nature, I think the globe is showing us the signs of the uncle dying of cancer or the relative having cancer. I think that’s what we’re seeing. We just have to get more sensitive to recognizing and appreciating it and understanding there’s something we can do about it. We can do something about this.

And if we do it right, we create opportunity for our children. We create opportunity for ourselves. The notion that we can create jobs that will pay people $75,000, $80,000, $90,000 without a four-year college degree, without the debt associated with a four-year college, I think we ought to be excited about that opportunity.

And we ought to be able to say to people working with your hands is once again a noble endeavor in this country and can actually lead to a significantly stronger and better America. Will maybe prevent our kids from having to go halfway around the world in Army uniforms and put themselves at risk, and protect the environment at the same time. I mean, to me, it’s a winning combination if it’s framed properly.

And so far it hasn’t been framed as well as it could be. And I think over the course of this general election I think you’re going to see candidates gravitate towards that because what we’re faced with today in America is a series of bad news headlines. You’re familiar with the notion headlines in newspaper, headlines aren’t good. And there’s a creeping pessimism that could make it more difficult for America to do what it needs to do. And this is an opportunity to say, you know, here’s how we respond to challenging times. We’ll figure out to do something that nobody’s ever done before.

AARON BROWN:
We’ve talked about how the political system either does or doesn’t. I actually believe, in some respects, the tipping point on this issue is going to be when American business and industry gets in the game and you’re starting to see that. Maybe not grandly yet, but you see Wal-Mart over here or GE over there. It’s not unlike, in some ways, healthcare when industry sees where its interests are, its voice becomes more nuanced and, in some respects, more powerful. Are you seeing signs that American business and industry are starting to pressure the political system to get to work?

TOM VILSACK:
I am. I mean, the fact that we at least had debates on Warner-Lieberman in the Senate was an indication that there’s a growing recognition that there’s a political consequence and an economic consequence, particularly since we’re in a global economy and our businesses have to compete with other businesses. And other businesses are taking steps to make themselves more efficient. The capacity to reduce your need for fuel and your need for energy is a money saver in this tight economic circumstance condition, we’ve got to figure out ways to be more competitive.

So we need to figure out how to do with less. And that involves retrofitting buildings and it involves a long-range plan. Businesses, big businesses in particular, have to be sensitive to that. I think what’s missing is a matrix, if you will, or a decision tree for local and state officials that would enable them to understand how they could enact policies, how they could look at their regulatory structures, how they could look at their economic development incentives to accelerate businesses’ interest in this.

What we did in Iowa, we substantially accelerated the development of renewable energy and fuel, particularly wind energy, by a series of very creative ways of using the tax structure. There are ample opportunities for us to redirect resources that we currently are spending in the economy. It’s not about new money. It’s about directing and redirecting resources we have today.

Business is understanding that. This law firm we’re in today, there are a lot of steps that are taking place. We’re no longer using Styrofoam that was sort of a mainstay here at the kitchen. It’s gone.

AARON BROWN:
Did you have to have a partners meeting on that? Or—

TOM VILSACK:
Well, I suppose they did.

AARON BROWN:
Yeah.

TOM VILSACK:
There was an edict that came down that said we’re going green! And so there was recycled paper and more electronic. We got a notation from the Legislative Service Bureau here in the state of Iowa. No more paper for the administrative rules. I don’t know how many trees we chopped down in the course of the last 30 years since we’ve had administrative code. But it would be many, many forests, I’m sure.

Well, no more. So I think there is a growing recognition and that’s a good thing. But, government has a role. And state and local governments have understood that. They are pressuring the national government. We can’t have 50 different sets of rules. We can’t have California doing its own thing and the Northeastern states doing their own thing and Midwestern states doing something different and Western states doing a little something different and Southern states coming on board.

That’s not the way it’s going to operate best and most efficiently. We need states to be the catalysts, the laboratories, and then the national government to say, “Okay, we now know what works, doesn’t work. We’re going to develop a national plan.”

AARON BROWN:
Would you rather have a President with a strong clear voice leading here or a chamber of commerce supporting the kinds of things you’ve been talking about? Which would you get us to where you want to be more quickly?

TOM VILSACK:
You know, I’d answer both. (LAUGHTER) The President using the power of the presidency from a messaging standpoint is extraordinarily important. I think there needs to be focus by the next administration. I don’t know if it has to be a presidential focus because the President’s going to have a lot on his plate.

But the Vice-president, charged with the responsibility of making this happen, making this vision happen in America and spending 24/7, 365 days a year on this I think could have a profound impact. So I want my political leadership to focus on this issue because I think there are enormous benefits to the country.

AARON BROWN:
I’m not interested in this conversation or the program being seen necessarily as Bush bashing. I don’t think it gets us anywhere. But, taking what you’ve just said the leadership matters here, the clear voice matters here, that action matters here this administration has been disappointing, has it not?

TOM VILSACK:
You’re kind. There are arguments can be made that this administration has been, up until very recently, got its head in the sand, has damaged America’s relationship with the rest of the world by taking the position that “we know best,” that we’re not necessarily need to work with the rest of the world community on this issue. I think it has adopted the philosophy of more oil, not less oil.

And if we’re going to be a sustainable society in the future, it cannot be based on the notion that we can drill and find more oil. Fifteen of the 23 oil-producing countries in the world today have peaked in their production or will in the very near future peak. The world demand for energy resources is going to expand dramatically as many of these developing nations create middle classes and people’s lifestyles change.

India and China doubling the world’s fleet of automobiles in the next 30 years, there’s going to be a tremendous demand for a more scarce product. And it seems to me that the right thing to do, the logical thing to do is to say we’re not going to move towards that energy source. And we’re not going to make a greater commitment to that energy source. We’re going to try to figure out new energy sources.

And if, by chance, you’re not persuaded, if, by chance, you say, you know, it’s about more oil, then my response would be let’s not talk about politically charged issues like drilling. Let’s figure out the technology that would allow us to go back to the oil wells that we capped long ago and efficiently extract what’s left in those oil wells, which would be, by the way, a much better carbon footprint than additional drilling.

AARON BROWN:
I want to go back to something we talked about.

TOM VILSACK:
Okay.

AARON BROWN:
There is in the film– there’s this moment where we’re in Bali. And we are looking at the two Americans who are there the lead American negotiator says we’re not ready to sign on at this point. And the room, in a dignified way, if booing can be dignified, boos the American negotiator, the American position. How should we see that? Is that just America bashing and, oh, that happens in the world? Or is there something more fundamental?

TOM VILSACK:
I think there’s something more fundamental in that. I think it’s similar to what happened in the UN when Chavez came up and folks in the UN clapped when he was basically being critical of the United States. I think it’s an indication that the United States has lost, in the eyes of the rest of the world, its moral bearings.

This is a moral issue. This is not just an economic issue, it’s not just an environmental issue. It is a moral issue for many, many around the globe. And the failure of the United States to repeatedly join the international community and to, as the international community has been pleading us to do, to lead this effort, I think their reaction was a human one, was “you’re not stepping out when you need to. We recognize we can’t do this without the United States’ leadership.” Terribly disappointing.

And then the reaction in the film when the United States finally capitulates, genuine relief. I there was one man in particular who was– he put his hand in his in his face, you know, and it was like, finally. We finally have what we need.

We have a long way to go– a long way. And Bali was great, but there is a substantial amount of work that has to be done and it’s going to be difficult. Only the United States can lead that effort in my view, and you can’t lead it unless you have an administration that’s committed to it.

AARON BROWN:
And is it overstated to say that to this point the United States has, not led, but quite the reverse, has been withhold, really to even get in the game, to take it seriously, I think that’s what happened and that’s what’s uncomfortable?

TOM VILSACK:
There’s no question the United States has missed eight years of opportunity to embrace this issue, because I think our leaders looked at it as a drag and looked at it as something that was negative, looked at it as something was going to change fundamentally the way America lived. I think their frame was wrong.

I think they need to understand and appreciate this is enormous opportunity for once again the United States to be the innovator and think about when we have been successful as a nation. It has been when we’ve been on the cutting edge of new technologies. This is tailor made for the United States. It plays to all of our strengths, our ability to innovate, our ability to create, our ability to make, and to construct, and build.

I think if the frame had been different and if the administration had understood that frame, they might have been more receptive. There are foreign policy considerations here. For example, Russia, which we have been walking on eggshells with recently, sees itself, understandably, as an engine of economic possibility because of its natural gas and oil reserves.

It’s using those tools to compel some of its neighbors to do or not do certain things. And it has allowed itself to reemerge as a power. China has developed relationships with countries all over the world by investing in infrastructure, not for the benefit of South American or African countries, but to make sure that they’ll be able to transport the natural resources that China will need to expand its economy. But it’s developed friendships as a result of those investments.

We are mired in Iraq while other nations are developing relationships or are using the resources that they have to fundamentally change the balance in the world. So to me, it’s about America reclaiming moral leadership. It’s about America recognizing that those folks we want to keep an eye on, Russia, China, and other nations, they’re using this as a tool and we haven’t.

We’ve allowed them, we’ve created a void, a vacuum, and they have moved into it. And we have to recognize the next administration this is not just a domestic issue. It’s not just an environmental issue. It’s not just energy security. It is about foreign policy.

AARON BROWN:
Three more things: I want to circle back to the question of Kyoto again. Kyoto essentially handed the administration a political issue because it did not force the Chinese, did not force the Indians, two emerging super economies, to do what was being asked of the developed world.

TOM VILSACK:
Right.

AARON BROWN:
How do we respond to that? How should Americans see that in America’s relationship to a rapidly changing world?

TOM VILSACK:
Well, I would say two things. Number one, I think we have to recognize that they have a legitimate point when they say “we didn’t cause the current pollution issue” or current pollution problems. That is a result in industrial age that developing nations have been responsible for. And you have to bear, you developed nations have to bear, United States and Europe– a greater responsibility.

So I think we have to recognize the legitimacy of their argument. We also have to suggest to them that we understand and appreciate that they want to be players on the world scene. They want to be major players on the world scene. In order for them to have legitimacy as a major player in the world scene, they have to step up. So, first and foremost, it’s if you want to be a player, you actually have to play.

Secondly, we need to look at this as an economic opportunity. If we say to China and India, for example, we want to help you do the right thing because it’s in our best interests, we’re going to innovate, we’re going to create new technologies, we’re going to create new ways to retrofit buildings so that they become less of an energy user and more efficient. We’re going to create new ways of– of lighting systems. We’re going to create building codes that will allow you in new construction and old construction that’s being approved to understand how to go about this.

We’re going to create new materials with materials science. We’re going to create lighter, stronger materials so cars can be even more energy efficient. We’re going to develop new engines systems, new combustion systems. We’re going to create new ways to do just about everything. And we’re going to provide resources, but the expectation is that you’re going to be a consumer.

I mean, we’re going to reverse the situation here. Instead of us buying your consumer goods, the less expensive easily reproduced goods, we’re going to change that dynamic. We’re going to provide you assistance. But the assistance is going to be tied to the notion that you’re going to need our technologies. And we’re going to create jobs here in America building those new technologies, creating new ways to do things, new products, new materials. And then we’re going to provide them to you.

AARON BROWN:
In the summer of 2008, as we sit here talking, do we actually have any idea what that worker in Des Moines gets up and does to create this new and wonderful and cleaner and sustainable world?

TOM VILSACK:
Well, I think we do. I think you can go to one of our community colleges and you could see people being trained in the maintenance of windmills. You can see companies creating new designs for windmills that are more efficient and require less wind. You can talk to folks at Iowa State University and a number of other locations where they are working on how you can, in essence, store wind power using the aquifer and compressed air. There are entrepreneurs everywhere in this state and across the country that are that are looking at a multitude of ways to create new business opportunities based on clean technology.

So the opportunity is enormous. This state right here is a great example– the state of Iowa. We embraced wind. We embraced ethanol obviously. And there are issues involved with ethanol that have to be addressed, but the bottom line is we added manufacturing jobs. You read about plant closings. Net increase of manufacturing jobs the last four years, while other states are faced with budget deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars, in part because of what we’ve done, this state has seen a 20 percent pay increase in state revenue in the last 18 months.

So I think Iowa is an example of the possibilities of embracing climate change. But there is so much more that could be done. The Clinton Foundation together with the City of New York, they are looking at retrofitting public buildings with new energy efficient techniques. And they are going to do it by borrowing money. And they’re going to say to the banks, “The way we’re paying you back is by the fact that our energy bills will be less. We’ll have contractors that will guarantee those savings.”

This is work that has to obviously be done in New York City, has to be done by people in the United States. And we will, over a period of time, make our buildings more efficient. We’ll create jobs. And we’ll pay that debt back by energy savings and you say– Energy companies must not be too excited about the notion that they aren’t going to have as much profit.

But energy companies are sensitive to the fact that energy needs are expanding. And if they can get by without having to build an additional plant and make their rent payers incur that cost, they are going to be more profitable. And that then leads to a whole conversation, well, how could we possibly set up a pricing system for electricity that could, say, instead of rewarding you for more, we’re going to reward you financially for less?

There are just enormous opportunities here. And as your piece showed, entrepreneurs are excited about this. They are excited about it. I just don’t want those entrepreneurs to be everywhere but in America. And that’s the fear that I have, the eight years that we’ve lost during the Bush administration have to be reclaimed fairly quickly.

AARON BROWN:
A half a dozen times in our conversation the term “cap-and-trade” has come up. And sometimes we talk about this stuff like everybody understands what we’re talking around. People know the term. I’m not sure they know the meaning. Can you give me a quick one?

TOM VILSACK:
Sure. In order for this to work, you actually have to put a price on carbon. You have to make it a commodity. You have to make it something that people will buy and sell, something that people can put a price on. So when you do that, there are many ways you can do it. You can tax it. But that’s politically non-acceptable.

So you create a mechanism in which you basically say, “Aaron, we’re going to give you permission to emit so many tons of carbon into the atmosphere. If your business is successful and you can actually emit less than the permission we give you, we’re going to let you take that difference and we’re going to let you sell it to someone like myself who isn’t as efficient or isn’t an industry that’s, frankly, just can’t get more efficient quickly. And the permission we’ve been given isn’t enough permission and we need more permission. So we’ll have to purchase.”

So there’ll be an economic incentive for me to become more efficient so I spend less money. There’s an economic incentive for you to be more efficient so that you can make more money. You have to have a system, financial mechanism to allow those credits to be traded. And that’s what cap-and-trade basically does.

AARON BROWN:
What if we do nothing? What is the world that you see 40 years from now, you know, if we do nothing?

TOM VILSACK:
It’s not a pretty picture. Globally, I think we see rising sea levels which jeopardize 60 percent of the world’s population that live in coastal areas. We see significant migration from island communities, from communities that are right now on the edge millions of people moving and creating immigration issues far beyond what we’re dealing with today in America.

More frequent severe storms. Companies have not adapted, have not strengthened buildings so more lives being lost. More severe drought, more flooding. Agricultural production disrupted. Planting seasons and growing seasons changing. The Midwest no longer necessarily the bread basket. Maybe it moves to Canada.

Disease, which fosters and festers in humid and hot climates, allowed to get stronger more severe strains, jeopardizing livestock and ultimately humankind. An economy where the world now has to react in an emergency circumstance and situation where the costs are dramatically higher than they would have otherwise been if we had done it properly over a period of time.

I have the greatest fear for America. The middle class continues to shrink. We don’t seize the opportunity to embrace the financial markets that this could create. And it may gravitate to someplace else and profit and economic opportunity gravitates away from America. Our industries aren’t competitive. We continue to see trade deficits soar.

We aren’t able to meet the energy needs of the growing population. We have a continued– erosion of the middle class, which means that there are haves and have-nots and fewer haves and a lot more have-nots and creates political instability, which you will always have when you have that that kind of circumstance. And I don’t see America as the superpower that it is today. And it risks, if it continues down that road, becoming a shadow of its former self.

AARON BROWN:
The stakes are high.

TOM VILSACK:
The stakes are high, but opportunity is endless.

AARON BROWN:
Thank you for being with us on Wide Angle. It’s great to see you. Thank you.

TOM VILSACK:
Well, thank you very much.

* * *END OF AUDIO* * *
* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

  • Geary Scott Beeman

    just two one world scum bags that want to put America under U.N. control. they of course will be living high on the hog themselves the hypocrites.

  • Kim Mcintosh

    THANK YOU WIDE ANGLE, for showing what is never shown in the media; the reality that we, the US, have been and still are the leaders of the world in creating global warming; then showing the reluctance of the US representatives at the Bali conference to commit to merely JOINING the rest of the world in leading it OUT of the mess we (the US) started! So encouraging to see the truth.

    Sincerely,
    Kim McIntosh
    Texax

  • Kurt Hurner

    I thought that the interview was well done. Governor Vilsack is taking the leadership to address an issue that so many in our government today are not brave enough to address,the environment. I think that Governor Vilsack would make a great secretary of energy for the next government. Thank you again for bringing this to the forefront.

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