Interview with Bob Keefe
Bob Keefe is the executive director of E2 – a nonpartisan organization which aims to provide business perspectives on environmental issues – and oversees their work on a national scale. Keefe primarily focuses his attention on the economic benefits of smart environmental policies; the clean energy economy; jobs and related issues. Prior to beginning his work with E2, Keefe spent more than 20 years working as a political, business and environmental journalist. He has co-authored several business related books and released Climatenomics: Washington, Wall Street and the Economic Battle for our Planet in May. This week, we asked Bob about his work.
How did you end up as the executive director of E2?
I spent about 20 years as a business, technology, and political journalist before joining E2 about a decade or so ago. One of the reasons I was really attracted to this work is because I realized over a lifetime in journalism, and talking to businesspeople, talking to lawmakers, talking to others, just how important and how influential business voices and business leaders can be on impacting policy. When we’re talking about climate and environmental policy, we don’t necessarily always think about business voices and the importance of those voices. There are a few voices that are more influential than businesspeople with lawmakers in Washington and in our state houses. What I really love about E2 is that we’re an organization of more than 10,000 business leaders right now who are using those voices, their voices for good, for the good of the economy and the good of the environment.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues right now, economy or otherwise, that are associated with climate change today?
Well, the most pressing issues are the ones that we’re living through and paying for every day right now. As I focus on in the book Climatenomics the cost of climate change is simply battering our economy right now. Last year, we had $150 billion worth of damage from climate related disasters- wildfires in the west, so many hurricanes in the east, flooding, and drought in our nation’s Heartland and in our farming communities. Now, that’s driving up the cost of everything from corn flakes to chicken. Also, if you look at homeowners’ insurance, homeowners’ insurance is up 40%, in part because insurance companies are seeing record losses from all these natural disasters, drought and flooding from other climate disasters added nearly 30 billion to the cost of crop insurance that every taxpayer pays for. And just look at the heat wave that just impacted the entire country by driving up air conditioning costs, forcing businesses to cut hours or close, and even worse than that in Kansas 2000 cows were killed over dead from heatstroke.
Can you talk a little bit about why you all focus on the intersection between business and government as a necessary way to address climate change? How do you all think about catering to, or talking to both business folks alongside of policy makers?
Well, as I said earlier, business voices are just so important and influential with lawmakers generally. In my time as a journalist and my time working at E2, I can tell you that there’s nothing politicians, like more than kissing babies, going to ribbon cuttings, and talking about jobs and economic growth. They’re not kissing too many babies anymore, but they sure are talking about when jobs come to their towns, or economic growth happens. And it’s businesses that make that happen. But even more broadly, businesses, as I mentioned in the book, are just key to the solution. Right now, every major company in America is moving to clean energy renewables. Why? Well, of course it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also because solar and wind are the cheapest power available. Businesses are also realizing the other side of what I call the Climatenomics coin as well, which is the cost. And those businesses are now relocating away from places that are prone to hurricanes or wildfires or flooding to places that are safer and can, so they can keep their businesses up and running and the profit’s flowing, but unfortunately, they’re running out of places to go. It’s an issue that we really need to address in this country. We need to do something about climate change and the costs that come with it for our economic stake if nothing else.
Can you talk a little bit to our listeners who are likely in communities where they may want to be advocating on this issue? Why is advocacy in this space so important? How do the efforts of individuals or communities really help to push and create change at the local level?
Well, both at the local level, the state level, the federal level, it doesn’t matter. There are a lot of folks out there talking to lawmakers, trying to get what they want, and if you’re not talking to them as well, you’re not going to get what you want. Poll after poll, after poll, after poll in this country has shown that Americans want more clean energy. They want action on climate change, and they want their lawmakers at the federal to state the local level to do more about that. And politicians and elected officials look a lot at polls, but they also listen. If we’re not in there talking to them about the economic cost of climate change, the economic benefits of climate action, along with all the other costs and benefits, whether it’s health or social issues or American competitiveness or national security that is all tied to climate change, then they’re going to be hearing from fossil fuel companies. They’re going to be hearing from others. And you can believe that those types of companies that and incumbent industries that don’t want to change are spending a ton of money and are spending a ton of time with those lawmakers. We’ve got to go out and represent to talk about the other side of this equation.
Can you talk a little bit about what E2 has learned by incorporating this business perspective into the analysis of environmental issues and if there is anything in your time at E2 that sort of surprised you?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise and it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is a little hard to wrap your head around people who have made climate change, the environment, and clean energy a partisan issue. The fact is it’s not a partisan issue and it shouldn’t be when we talk about these disasters. This $150 billion worth of climate disasters that that’s not just happening in, in blue states or red states. It’s not just California on fire. It’s Louisiana underwater from repeated hurricanes. It’s not just New York and blue states getting hit by flooding, it’s Iowa and Indiana, and other places in the Midwest. So, climate change does not know geography, geology, or politics, it’s happening everywhere. On the other side of the coin, what we’ve also found at E2, and one of the things my organization has done for a long time, is look at where clean energy jobs are growing around the country. Every year we put out something called Clean Jobs America. And what we’ve found is that there are almost as many clean energy jobs now in Republican congressional districts as there are in democratic congressional districts and, given the growth we see in things like electric vehicles and battery storage, that sort of thing, and where those companies are going, there’s going to be more jobs in Republican and red states working on electric vehicles and clean energy. Then there are in democratic districts. So, the message is if you, as a lawmaker, want these jobs in your backyards, if you want to do something about the economic damage, that’s being inflicted on your constituents because of climate change, you need to do something about it and you need to pass policies in Washington.
Lastly, what are some of your favorite podcasts or books that you would recommend our listeners to take a listen to?
Well, a book I just finished, and it took me a very long time to finish it, not because it was dull or boring, but because it was very long, which is something called Wilderness Warrior, which is about Teddy Roosevelt. It’s great book by a great author named David Brinkley. One of the things that really struck me and, and kind of resonated with me as I was reading, is first of all, just how much Teddy Roosevelt did in terms of preserving and really shaping what America is, is about. He created 150 national forest, 51 federal bird reserves, five national parks and he did all that by the way despite tremendous, tremendous pressure from timber companies, from oil and gas companies from the opposing political party. Congress wasn’t with him on all these things and business and industry was not with him on preserving these lands. They wanted to cut it down and make a lot of money selling timber, for instance, but President Roosevelt knew that this was the right thing to do for America. He had the courage, he had the courage to do what he thought was the right thing, even in the face of opposition, from business, from the other political party and a Congress that didn’t necessarily agree with them. We need to do that with climate change. We need to do that with climate action. We’re running out of time.
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