Carl Pope currently serves as the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development. Former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club, he has served on the Boards of the California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, and National Clean Air Coalition among many others. He is the author of three books. He writes regularly for Bloomberg View and Huffington Post. Find him on Twitter: @CarlPope
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody I’m back! I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you so much for joining me and we’re continuing on the theme of hope and giving you inspiration and I am very fortunate to bring on my next guest, Carl Pope, who is the co-author of a new book, a New York Times bestseller, Climate of Hope. He currently serves as the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development. Former executive developer and chairman of the Sierra Club, he has served on the boards of the California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, and National Clean Air Coalition among many others. He is the author of 3 books and he writes regularly for Bloomberg, View, and Huffington Post. Carl, thank you for joining me today.
Carl Pope: It’s terrific to be with you, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, so these are interesting times and–
Carl Pope: Indeed, indeed.
Caryn Hartglass: And you’ve written about a very hot topic and I’m sure people have abused that pun quite a bit. But climate change is trending quite a bit right now and that’s good for your book I imagine.
Carl Pope: Well, it’s unfortunate, because the reason climate change is trending is because the current occupant of the White House is casting himself in almost a James Bond movie as a global villain by pulling the United States out of the Paris Global Accord that was going to move us forward to a more prosperous and a more sustainable world.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for not mentioning his name.
Carl Pope: I only make puns on his name; I might do that during this program.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, no problem! I just don’t like to say it. Okay. So every day we read the news and there’s something horrible that we discover and it’s very difficult to stay focused and stay inspired, and continue with our activism, whatever activism we are involved with, my particular focus is food, and so this book, thank you, was full of a lot of inspiration and it’s really good to hear positive stories about things that are moving us forward so I appreciate that.
Carl Pope: Well the thing that was very exciting about writing the book Climate of Hope with Mike Bloomberg was, we started out with the notion that we were sure that if you broke the climate problem down into its individual pieces, we would find solutions and they would be affordable. What we never dreamed was they would all turn out to be profitable. We’re now in a situation where instead of saying to people, you know, you ought to pay a little bit more for electricity now because 10 or 15 years from now they’ll be fewer risks from a destabilized climate, but now we’re saying to people, “Would you like to lower your utility bill?” and I have yet to meet anybody who says no. And we’re like, well great, go clean! Because clean is now cheap, that’s the new reality. We’ve crossed a very important marker in human history when the new things that are cleaner and better for us are also cheaper.
Caryn Hartglass: Clean is now cheap! That needs to be a bumper sticker. Now unfortunately the people in power and some of the billionaires aside from Mike Bloomberg want to stay with what’s current and what isn’t really affordable.
Carl Pope: Well, if clean is cheap than the people who sell it to you don’t make as much money. The people who are making money selling you dirty, they want to keep selling you dirty, the Koch brothers want to keep selling you dirty.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! Well don’t they know that they’re not going to make as much money as if they started promoting sustainable energy?
Carl Pope: Well no, actually the Koch brothers will make less money because the Koch brothers have a monopoly position, and if you have a monopoly and you open it up to new better ideas, you don’t make the same kind of profit. The Russians are going to make–let’s be clear, the fact that gasoline is cheaper because more people are driving more efficient cars is good for drivers, it’s good for the American economy, it’s good for the air, it’s not good for the Russians, it’s not good for the Saudis. So there are losers in a transition from a wasteful dirty economy to an efficient clean one. But most of us are winners, that’s the important thing to understand. You and your friends and your family are going to be winners. Vladimir Putin, not so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I want to talk mostly about food but before we get into food I just want to talk very briefly about your Beyond Coal program when you were with the Sierra Club and how successful you were at partnering with businesses to reduce the amount of coal that we’re using.
Carl Pope: Well, we started out with the premise that there had to be, we couldn’t commit ourselves to another 50 years of relying on a dirty rock that was killing tens of thousands of Americans as the primary source for electricity! And there were, when we started out, already evidence that wind and solar could actually provide affordable electricity. In the last 5 years since that program began, and I’m no longer actively involved in that project but I’m still very proud of it, the price of wind and solar has fallen so far that they are now generating the cheapest electricity the world has ever known. It’s so cheap that the Coal Mining Museum in eastern Kentucky changed their electricity supply from coal to solar because it saved so much money that they could keep their doors open.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I loved reading that.
Carl Pope: Wind and solar are so cheap that there are a huge number of coal-fired power plants still operating in this country which, if you shut them down tomorrow, you could pay the utility that owns them all the profits they make and buy brand new contracts to generate wind or solar energy and your utility bill would fall. So we are about to have the cheapest electricity the world has ever known and it’s also going to be the cleanest electricity the world has ever known.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay now this message is not getting everywhere because I just read that in Australia the Carmichael Coal Mine was just greenlighted to create the biggest coal monstrosity the world has ever seen.
Carl Pope: And that coal monstrosity has nobody to buy its coal.
Caryn Hartglass: So why are they doing it! That’s crazy.
Carl Pope: Because the government of Australia is paying them to do it. This is a purely subsidized project, this is a project which makes no economic sense, there’s been a lot of analysis showing it and even with the subsidies the people who build it are probably going to lose money. But that doesn’t stop people, once you’ve spent 500 million dollars on a mistake, it’s also easy to spend another million dollars of somebody else’s money on that mistake. And that’s what we’re doing all over the world. We’re spending other people’s money on yesterday’s mistakes.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay well, back to some of the good news. So some of the things that I enjoyed–now you co-wrote this book with Mike Bloomberg and I live in New York City and it was fun to read about some of the things that I had experienced over the last decade when he was our mayor.
Carl Pope: Like beach chairs on Broadway.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes! I loved when that happened and I love that area now that’s all open and we don’t have cars going through Times Square, that’s fantastic. Now the city bikes is a great program, but I have to admit, I have yet to get on one, I am petrified to ride a bike in the city streets. I’m not doing it! I don’t own a car and it’s scary enough for me to cross the street with the drivers we have. But it’s a great program.
Carl Pope: You know the drivers are much nicer than they used to be, just for the record, because I’m not a New Yorker, so I can compare. But I used to be quite terrified working in New York and I now enjoy it!
Caryn Hartglass: Ah. Well come to Queens where I live. It’s scary. All right, now my favorite subject is food and you have a chapter called “How We Eat” and the first thing you said this was that this was the most difficult chapter to write about and I wanted to know why changing diets gives you a headache.
Carl Pope: Well. Changing my diet doesn’t give me a headache, asking other people to change their diets gives me a headache because I’ve concluded that actually–eating is something you learn from your parents, and once you’ve learned it it’s very hard to learn anything different. I mean it’s not accidental that we have restaurants all over North America that advertise that they sell comfort food. It’s not accidental that people talk about “my grandmother made the only good apple pie that I’ve ever eaten.” It’s not accidental that people from certain parts of the world can’t eat a vegetable unless it has a chili pepper in it. We are brought up and we are imprinted with a certain diet and even if it turns out later on that that diet is not the best for us, or not the best for the world, it’s very hard to get people to change. So you start out with this reality, and it’s a simple reality, if the world first ate less corn-fed beef, and remember corn-fed beef is a cow that’s been given something that makes it sick as its diet. That’s the definition of corn-fed beef. So if the world first ate less corn-fed beef, second, ate only sustainable seafood, and third, ate less meat overall, and fourth, grew crops using natural ingredients rather than artificial chemicals. If we did those things we would all live much longer and we would solve a solid third of the climate problem. Just by doing that one set of things and we would definitely be better off but we wouldn’t necessarily be eating what our parents made for us and it’s very hard to get people to do that! And so I don’t like to lecture people about what they eat. I do like to remind people that actually it’s not all meat that’s the big problem, it’s corn-fed beef, that’s the big problem. Most seafood is great but not farmed shrimp. There are 3 or 4 things we can do that still enable you to eat pretty much what you like to eat, but just in a much healthier and more sustainable way. But then you get into the fact that well, the most ecologically expensive food is the food that no one ever eats, because there’s no benefit. And in many developing economies a third of what’s grown in the field rots before it gets anywhere and in many over-developed economies like the United States a third of what makes it to your refrigerator never gets eaten, it gets thrown away. So very simple things, like I was just asked by People Magazine to give them some possible tips for things you can do at home that are more sustainable and I said, well, go to a restaurant that gives you smaller portions. Because once the restaurant gives you a big portion you will eat more than you need, or more than is good for you, and then you will have to throw the rest away or they will throw the rest away. So very simple things like getting–you know, plates didn’t used to be 14 inches wide. People used to eat on 8-inch plates and they were actually quite healthy people, they were not little tiny midgets, they were quite healthy. Now you buy a 14-inch plate, you will get fat. That’s an absolute iron fact.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with that for the most part but, I’m a vegan, I eat a lot of plants, so I eat giant salads and so they need big plates to have all that fiber.
Carl Pope: I hadn’t thought of that! That’s a good point, you need a big salad, I’ll agree, you need a big salad bowl. You don’t need a big plate for your steak.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, exactly. But when you go to a restaurant and you just order the vegetable and they give you like two stalks of broccoli and I want a pound of broccoli, so when we’re talking about just vegetables and fiber, we need big plates!
Carl Pope: Very good point.
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s fun! You know, I agree with you, we don’t get great results when we lecture about eating. But I do talk a lot about food and what I love about food, and I love making healthy, environmentally-friendly food delicious and fun. The fun thing about eating vegetables is you can eat a lot of them, all day long! Now I want to ask you, so I understand how difficult it is to change a culture, in terms of their tradition and foods, and I agree that we shouldn’t be doing that. But we’ve already done it. So we’ve taken this god-awful standard American diet, lots of animal foods and junk foods and processed foods and lots of sugar and we have exported it. And India and China are eating it up, literally, and as a result not only do they have more chronic diseases but now we are extrapolating what the demand for meat is going to be and the terrible impact that’s going to have on the climate. So we have changed people’s eating habits.
Carl Pope: Well, but we do it by marketing not by lecturing.
Caryn Hartglass: Bingo. Marketing, we need more marketing. For good foods.
Carl Pope: Well we need a different kind of marketing and we also actually–the change in the dietary pattern, certainly I don’t know China well, I know India moderately well. If we didn’t subsidize–globally, the subsidies to grow more corn than the world can possibly eat, or about 200 billion dollars a year. Now for comparison, the amount of money that we’re arguing about when we talk about how we’re going to finance the whole transition away from dirty energy to clean energy is 100 billion dollars a year. And we spend 200 billion dollars a year subsidizing the production of corn. Well nobody can eat that corn and in fact even all the cows in the world can’t eat that corn! So we have to turn most of it into corn syrup, and then once we have all this corn syrup it’s basically free. So people are basically juicing up all kinds of products all over the world–in China, India, Mexico, the United States–with corn syrup! And if we didn’t have agricultural subsidies we would still have corn, but we would have corn that people wanted to eat, not corn that had to be turned into sugar.
Caryn Hartglass: Mm-hmm. And organic corn can be so delicious.
Carl Pope: It can indeed, and corn is a perfectly terrific food product! And corn syrup is the devil’s bargain.
Caryn Hartglass: Is what?
Carl Pope: The devil’s bargain! You know, it’s a very–it feels like the whole ecosystem that surrounds the production of excess corn, you get global warming, you get the dead Gulf of Mexico, you get polluted drinking water supplies in the Midwest, you get lots of diabetes in Mexico…the list of bad things that results from the over-production of corn is really staggeringly long.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned waste before and I want to talk a little bit more about that because I don’t think that people really realize the impact of wasted food and where it comes from. I just got an email yesterday from a friend of mine who sent me this quote: “If food scraps were a nation it would rank third behind the U.S. and China as the largest source of polluting greenhouse gases,” and–
Carl Pope: Now that’s a figure I wish I’d had when we wrote the book. That would’ve been a great figure for Climate of Hope, I hadn’t heard that figure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Well apparently this is from the New York Commissioner of Sanitation on WNYC. Anyway I haven’t checked the numbers to see if that’s exactly correct, but we waste a lot, and can you talk about all the places where food is wasted and how it causes greenhouse gases?
Carl Pope: Well. To begin with I can’t talk about all the places because it’s too complicated, right? I’ll give you some of the big ones. Food rots in the field when farmers in poor countries don’t have the right equipment for harvesting. Food rots on its way from the field to the wholesaler, particularly in warm, moist, tropical climates where people don’t have simple bags to store it in. Food is thrown away in the countries like the United States and Europe and Japan when we make a rule that says, if a banana has a brown scratch on it you can’t sell it, even though that has absolutely no impact whatsoever on its flavor or nutritional qualities. And finally food gets thrown away from your kitchen because the pull dates on fresh food that you buy in American grocery stores are deliberately presented in a way that will confuse you and cause you to throw the food away when it’s still perfectly healthy for your family. And in the United States, we spend about a fifth of a percent of our GDP on humanitarian foreign aid and 0.5 percent of our GDP on throwing food away.
Caryn Hartglass: I was with some dumpster divers a few years ago, people who go around and look through the garbage for food. And some of them don’t call themselves dumpster divers, they call themselves, what do they call themselves, they call themselves “freegans” and what’s behind it is they’re freeing, or liberating, the food that’s been thrown away.
Carl Pope: Perfectly good food.
Caryn Hartglass: Perfectly good. And you know I went out a few times with them and it was stunning in New York City to see packaged, fresh food, clean, perfect, in the garbage and there’s so much of it. We made a lunch, and I think it was CNN or 20/20, somebody did a show on it but it was incredible, how much food we throw away on a daily basis just here in New York City, and it’s true everywhere that we need a better system for that.
Carl Pope: No, well if you actually had a–I mean, somebody’s done the study and tested it, you just need to have a date on the package, not “purchase by”–the date that’s on a package of food you buy is a date that assumes that it’s in your refrigerator for 2 weeks after you buy it. So what you think is the–what we call the pull date, that’s not the date you’re supposed to throw it away by.
Caryn Hartglass: There are some foods that’ll last forever that have dates on them.
Carl Pope: Those are mostly not terrible, yeah, well…the ones that have pull dates mostly are things that you do need to eat relatively promptly after buying them. But you don’t need to eat them in 3 days! And the pull date is the date by which it’s supposed to be purchased because the assumption is you’ll keep it for 2 weeks. But the average household thinks that you’re supposed to throw it away when they hit that date. That’s why there’s all that fresh food in the dumpsters. Unopened packages, people looked at the date and said, “Oh this is not good anymore!” And that’s actually not accidental. The system is based on encouraging waste.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, it’s another one of those economic things, I bet.
Carl Pope: Yes, there are a lot of economic things around and they’re mostly not for your benefit.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so I’m not a big fan of capitalism because I find that when the goal is simply profit, people who have the advantage will exploit whatever they can. I know that Mike Bloomberg is a big believer in capitalism and he’s someone who actually I believe has a good heart and wants to do well, not everyone is like that. Do you think we can get to a friendly sustainable place in a capitalistic society or is capitalism going to have to change a little bit and include some social or sustainable motives?
Carl Pope: Well, I think that’s probably above my pay grade, is that question, where do we end up long-term? But I can tell you this, I’m actually kind of a market fundamentalist! I really believe that markets are very powerful if they follow a few simple rules and the first rule is: you ought to own what you sell! Otherwise it’s not a market, it’s fencing. But in fact about 15% of the world’s climate problem, as we outline in the book, is the result of illegal logging, people going at gunpoint and talking timber they’re not entitled to and selling it on the international market where they’re allowed to sell it. If we made everybody own what they sell, markets would work much better. The second thing is, you ought to pay for what you take! If I walk into 7-11, pick up a bottle of milk, and walk out without paying for it, that’s not a market, that’s theft. Shoplifting. And people who take things from common places, people who destroy forests or pollute waterways, are not paying for what they’re taking. And finally, you ought to choose what you buy! The idea that the government was going to tell you what to buy, that was what communism was all about and theoretically, we’re not in favor of communism, we’re capitalists, right? But the answer is, you don’t choose whether you get polluted water or dirty air or contaminated food or a disrupted climate. Those are not choices that you get to make when you go to the grocery store. Those are choices that other people make for you. That’s not what capitalism was supposed to be about, but too often, that’s what capitalism really is about. So I’m in favor of–first thing we should do is make capitalism live up to its own promises, then we can see if it’s the right system or not. But right now we’re letting people get away with shoplifting, fencing stolen goods, and making you buy stuff you never chose and don’t want and hey, I’m against that! And anybody who’s a capitalist should be. I notice they’re not all, but that’s a different problem.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I’m glad you’re against that; I’m against it too! And I’m definitely for businesses that work towards making the planet better and helping save the planet, as you outline in your book with Mike Bloomberg. So thank you for writing this book Climate of Hope and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.
Carl Pope: I appreciate you taking the time to educate everybody about food, and thank you very much.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you.
Carl Pope: Terrific.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, take care. That was Carl Pope everybody, the co-author of New York Times best-seller Climate of Hope that he wrote with our former New York City mayor, Mike Bloomberg. And I definitely was inspired quite a bit by much of what was in the book, and I was encouraged. So yeah, we have a lot of things to work on, we have to get rid of all that corruption that goes on, because basically we do have a lot of good laws. It’s just when they’re broken that we have some problems, and when they are taken away, like our current administration is doing, taking away some of the regulations that keep things safe, that’s problematic. But I like the idea that capitalism can actually promote doing what’s right and how it can be economic–we talk about that on the show a lot when we talk about reducing meat consumption, where businesses are now jumping on creating plant-based meats and plant-based cheeses and plant-based milks. It’s cheaper. And that’s definitely one way to get it to the masses. Okay! Well, did you enjoy that? I did. Thank you for joining me today on It’s All About Food. I am Caryn Hartglass, you know where to find me, responsibleeatingandliving.com, and I love to get your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please join me next week, we are going to have a fantastic program with David Yeung who joined me in the studio recently from Hong Kong. He has a company called Green Monday and I want you to hear all about it because it’s very inspiring. That’s next week. In the meantime, have a delicious week!
Transcribed Hayley Hinsberger, 6/30/2017