Greenwashing and what to do about it with Tom Osdoba Pt. 1 Ep. 6

Episode 6 November 30, 2022 00:31:23
Greenwashing and what to do about it with Tom Osdoba Pt. 1 Ep. 6
The Recombobulator Lab
Greenwashing and what to do about it with Tom Osdoba Pt. 1 Ep. 6

Nov 30 2022 | 00:31:23


Hosted By

Jason Graham-Nye Chris Dominic

Show Notes

Forest fires, historic droughts, dried-up rivers, and an ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war – certainly, not everything that's out of sight can be out of our minds. As the world conjures up innovative ways to end the global environmental crisis, inventing legislations, bills, carbon footprints, and the like, many of us are left wondering: how much of the shebang translates to actual field work? Do our contributions really matter in the big picture? Are our well-intended investments reaching the right hands? Most importantly, can you even pay your way out of your carbon footprint? Like, REALLY?

Luckily for us, Tom Osdoba has qualified arguments explaining the factors that led to this crisis-laden state of the world. Tom is the Director of NetZeroCities EU and the Senior Advisor at Climate-KIC.

Aside from our varying levels of cynicism the factors in question are as follows:

Chris and Jason invite Tom to The Recombobulator Podcast today to logically explain these factors. Tom's work on sustainability and core ecosystem preservation is laudable, his plans even more so. Tom intends to mobilize 100 cities to be climate-neutral by 2030! (Wait till you hear him get into the practical side of it today.)

Listen in for all the knowledge you must know about the ongoing environmental crisis.

A few important highlights from today’s conversation:

What does capitalism have to do with governance and environmentalism?

Capitalism has flourished in the absence of strong governance of markets and ownership structures. It’s challenging when governments lack the ability to make changes and pass necessary laws (including environmental laws) at the scale, speed, and precision needed.

How do carbon footprints work?

It’s the same as getting tax credits when paying taxes. When you invest in carbon-reducing activities somewhere, you’re allowed to represent your proportionate reduction in the global contribution. In some cases, the resources invested definitely move to places that can make meaningful progress. You'll have to do your research to figure this out.

How does capitalism threaten governance?

Capitalism deflects attention away from our own role in contributing to the systems that we participate in, even elections. The power of democratic capitalism lies in the creativity of the economic cycles.

Tom will be back next week on the podcast to continue today’s discussion, and to talk a bit more about “greenwashing”! So, stay tuned!

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Music hey, good morning. What's up? I don't know if it's morning for Tom. We've got Tom Osdoba here and he's definitely in Europe somewhere, aren't you, Tom? Yeah. It's 915 in the evening. I've got a little glass of wine, just finished dinner. Oh, you're very good. That's so good. And I've got a cup of tea, probably wine, because it's 05:00 A.m. Here in Sydney, Australia. Yeah. And it's noon in Portland. Just a little past. Very good. So we've got our tricontinental routine back. We do. And Tom is a friend of the lab, and if we had to sing music, we'd say that, but we don't need to. I thought about singing it right now, but playtime probably not a good idea. Production values of plummeting. Yeah. In the time that we've talked, which has been a while, it's been like a year, so much is going on and I couldn't help but notice. And I thought about you, Tom, when I saw the third or fourth bridge fall into the raging river or the giant sinkhole sucked an entire city down, or the fact that half of the United States just cooked or got rained on all summer. It's crazy. And listeners, right before we got started, I was talking about the irritating nature of most of the podcasts I've listened to, where there's always some propaganda behind all of these conversations that occur around environmentalism and business and markets and government responsibilities. And we are devoted to spending some time together freely, talking about all of these issues. Aside from special interest groups or super PACs. I had a whole thing to talk about with Super PACs. Yeah, I know. Sorry. They don't even have those in Australia, but I'm working on them. So, Tom, tell us about your last year. What's going on? Have you developed communities? Well, not exactly. I think that the last year has been the complete blur of trying to mobilize 100 cities to be climate neutral by 2030 in the so it's a huge undertaking, it's very ambitious. There's a whole philosophical discussion around missions and moonshots and whether that applies effectively to this context. But I think for me, it's basically every day we got to try to do better, we got to mobilize the right people, doing the right things in the right place, et cetera. I was just in Warsaw the end of last week and talking to a handful of cities there and a few folks from the national government. And as I think most people are quite aware, the energy prices are at crisis level with the whole war with Ukraine. The EU is trying to rapidly transition away from natural gas from Russia. In the best scenario, that would be extraordinarily difficult to do in 20 years, much less do in a crisis mode. And so there's a lot of difficult conversations going on. People are struggling, worried about how they're going to heat their homes in the winter. We're like in the 18th century again in some ways, but we know a lot more about what's going on in the world. It was interesting to see these folks talk about the issues they're facing, though, because I think it does illustrate that there are some ways to do this. It's just going to be really hard, and I think that's part of what we're going to talk about too, which is we have institutional reflexes and norms and cultural norms that hinder our ability to do a better job. And I think that's going to be something I'm going to have to deal with on a daily basis. Right? Yeah. I mean, Europe seriously burned this summer. I mean, watching Europe burn was insane because I felt like I was watching Australia, and it's like we're sort of a news to it in Australia, but there's no water in Italy. It's like, whoa. The system is really the natural system is kind of crumbling. But you just said something, Tom, about the norms that we have. These reflexes we have aren't really serving us. And I feel like those norms are developed within a system, the capitalist system, and we're so used to it. That muscle is so familiar. And then some of them you look at economic policy, not to get geeky for a second, but none of those levers are really working anymore. Right. Like, you've got negative interest, you've got here, have free money, and then suddenly inflation. Like, it just feels like it's so antiquated. We don't know how to run the ship anymore. Yeah, I think that's largely something that we have to think about way too much now because it is right in our face every day. The Luis river dried up. They couldn't ship in Germany on the Rhine River. Forest fires, historic drought, et cetera. It's all going quite terribly. And the conversations going back even three years to the European green deal and the covered response, we're still doing the same things and expecting a different result. And I think that's a real struggle. Covered. I'm curious how much of this is tied to the fact that there isn't really any centralized control about this. Sure, there's organizations like the UN or the G Seven or any of these organizations where you could get a lot of the powers in play and get them to agree to do certain things. But I was just thinking about something you said either the last time or two times ago when we got together. A lot of the problem seems to come from the fact that there isn't a real accountability of the true cost of a lot of what is being done. I mean, capitalism is necessarily going to be kind of consumerist. You're going to go want to get materials and make them and take them out of the environment. And there's a cost to that that doesn't get captured, because there isn't. Anyway, if you could just speak to that. I've always been curious, like, why can't we get that figured out? And then, okay, I'll just throw one other thing on here. The part that I don't really understand at all is people can say they can pay their way out of this by, like, I'll just send money to somebody, and then that will cover my carbon footprint. But, like, who the hell is that and what are they doing? That doesn't sound right. That's two questions. I got a third. No, okay, never mind. Go ahead. What do you think? Well, a couple of things to, I think, pull apart and dig into a little bit. I think starting maybe with your first point about governance and how we collectively make decisions, because what capitalism as we've practiced it, and this is a long esoteric place that we all don't want to go because we'll die before we finish it. But capitalism as we practice it is highly diffuse and has really flourished in the absence of real strong governance, of markets and ownership structures, et cetera. That hasn't always been the case in our history, but for 40 plus years, that has been the unquestioned way things work. And it's a real struggle when, you know, we're getting outcomes that we don't want, but we lack the ability to make the changes necessary at the scale, speed, and precision that we really need. There is no governance. People who maybe in the US. For example, who read about Brexit and how in that rhetoric, the UK really demonized the EU as this big monolithic institution. And the EU has a huge apparatus in Brussels and has a lot of institutions and bureaucracy, et cetera. But the EU itself does not have a lot of power. Imagine as a corollary of the United States government if Congress tried to introduce a bunch of bills, but they were blocked by individual states, not groups of individuals in the House of Representatives or Senators. The member states. The countries in the EU have a huge amount of power. They can veto, effectively veto anything. And so even in the EU, it's quite difficult to move aggressively and at scope. And I think that's one of the big problems. It's not going to be easy to overcome because there isn't an easy workaround there. You got to open the hood and figure out what's wrong and really tackle it. I think people in the US. Know the failure of Congress to do any meaningful policy work over the last almost 20 years now has been quite breathtaking, and not in a good way. And so just to circle back on the Inflation Reduction Act, which the climate hawks and the environmentalists were wavering around as this historic accomplishment, which, to be fair, it was historic we've never passed climate legislation before at Congress. But if you look at it from the perspective not of that, but of what the world needs, it's almost quite literally the least they could do. They couldn't do less and still have a bill, and that'll get your listeners all riled up. Well, that's all right. Jason, are you still awake? I'm just jason let me know that he had the tea instead of the coffee today, and he's kind of looking like a guy who normally drinks coffee, but it's not a tea. It's a rookie, a rookie era. I'm sorry. You can do the thing that Americans do with tobacco. You can put it in your lip, and you can do it with your tea. You can just kind of chew on it, aren't you? Up next, ask a question. Come on. I'm still really for the last answer, like, Jesus, you mean we've got to do more? What? Okay, I'll force the issue then, and I'll give you some time to ask your question. So, Tom, is it BS or not? Can I pay my way out of my carbon footprint? There's two answers to that. Okay. One is technically, just like when you file your taxes, you can figure out how to reduce your income and have tax credits, et cetera, and lower your burden. Same principle applies. You can invest in carbon reducing activities elsewhere that then represent your proportionate reduction in the global contribution. You can do that. Now, I think you're asking a separate question, which is our global carbon offset markets working? And again, I think the answer is mixed in some cases, they definitely are moving resources to places that can make meaningful progress. But that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of examples and even at scale, plenty of collective acts that you would look at and say, this isn't really capturing the spirit of what was envisioned. So when I book that airplane ticket and you check the box at the bottom and say, offset your carbon, is that the estimate? October? Well, I'm going to be that difficult person that's going to say, that's why we have you on. That's why we do it. That's why we probably get big box. That's why we say we were hostile wrong, because it's going to be painful. But if you take it, it depends seriously, and you really inspect what it means. I know we're laughing when I say this, but you really inspect what that means if we're going to do this. Well, it means as individuals or others who are buying offsets, we have to do our homework to understand exactly what that money is being directed toward. And is what that money is being directed towards actually an enduring, legitimate improvement in the struggle against reducing greenhouse gas emissions? And that is, I would argue, at scale, a fool's bet, because individuals are never going to do that work. That was exactly what went through my mind. I thought, okay, the problem is so I'm thinking my energy company says, hey, check this box, and we'll charge you an extra $3, and you can feel better about everything. And I'm sure there's a link to a page that's like, here's what we do to do that. And there's not a lot of motivation to go, look at that. I'm just telling you. So this goes back to look at that. Jason, even if you do look at that, it's not clear there's going to be enough information to allow you to really understand. And if you're depending on where you are in the cynicism spectrum, do you think that's intentional or do you think it's incompetent? Yeah. Can I just say, yeah, I'm going to take that on board. It's the cynicism spectrum. That should be a band or that should be, I don't know, a marketing agency. Actually, to me, it's a qualifying question for anybody when they ask you a particular question where you can ask back to them, well, before I answer, where are you on the cynicism scale? But it's interesting. It's like, what is? Well, I think an idea is about this idea that it's the user. It's on them to go and figure all this crap out. And then you've got these regimes where the FTC or the ACC in Australia or the British regulator, they have this endless impossible job to try and stay ahead of all the BS. You can tell what end of the spectrum of cynicism I'm on, but it's like it's interesting. It's up to the user to dig around. Why is that? Why can't the producer own that? It goes to producer responsibility, but it just seems so cruel and unfair. We tried really hard in the largely fell short of making that stick in a meaningful way, if that would have happened in a serious way. And I remember writing a bill at the state of Minnesota that ultimately got passed about eight years later to make producers responsible for managing electronics at the end of life. Right? There's a clear, obvious set of benefits that come from that, and there's a real logic around making the experts in those products and those materials responsible for what happens to them. But the 90s weren't just in an age of flannel shirts and a shift in pop music. It was also a shift in economic power. And we concentrated economic power in a way we didn't realize was happening at the time, which is almost always the way things go, and lost those political battles. And so governance around these things has become nearly impossible. Right. Because once you go down that path, you don't just incrementally scale back economic power. Right? Even people like Yvonne Shed, who really gave away all his equity in his company in Patagonia, and then directed all of that profit from that equity to climate action, he's a drop in the bucket, and that doesn't scale. And as great as it is and as wonderful a person as he is in recognizing it, he's still a fucking billionaire. And that shouldn't happen. That shouldn't happen. They're going the family rating, it says E for everyone until tom's on. Yeah. And then we have to go out the dock. So we'll have to remind Maria to either beep that or we'll just mark it as an explicit episode just because of Tom explicitly. No, you know what? It was a better way to do it. Okay. So many questions. So in the 90s god, it was a great era. We were all in our 20s. It was so cool. Seattle bands, rock and roll. But when you say economic power, do you mean it? Because I felt like in that era, the businesses and lobbyists kind of then ruled the waves and sort of decimated any regulatory anything. Is that where you're going? Is that what you mean? And then once that's done, trying to claw back, you can see European Union has got a bit of a clawback, but America just it's totally unfettered. The FTC is toothless, and everyone gets away with everything. Is that the right way to think about it? Yeah, I think that's basically right. It followed a decade in which we largely I don't think this counts as explicit, Chris. We largely neutered. Neuter? You can neuter. We largely neutered 50 years of effective market governance and social institutional development during the in the 90s, we saw what happened, and that also corresponded with because things aren't just that straightforward. It also corresponded with China coming into the world economically in a way that blew everybody's minds, quite literally. And so there was so much growth, so much economic activity, that it papered over the problems that were being ceded at the time, which is the large corporations were amassing incredible wealth and then started to use that wealth to dictate in the governing conversation, dictate the outcomes that now prevent us from having better conversations about it. And you can come up with any number of examples of what happened as a result, including Jason getting kicked out of this podcast against his own will. He didn't hit the wrong button or anything. They decided to kick him out. Yeah. So, you know, it's interesting because there's all these things where you think, okay, well, I thought this was what the whole point of a regulated capitalistic marketplace is. Right. The whole reason why we have regs is because we know that if you take capitalism in its prewpa form to its, like, crazy ends, then everything becomes something you can buy and sell. And everybody, for the most part, is like, well, I'm not really comfortable with certain things being things you can buy and sell. Right. I mean, otherwise we're going to make assassins legal or whatever. So is it just that because nobody's got the power to really put the regs in, or is it not that simple? Well, it is simple that the power doesn't exist in any way. That's actionable absolutely. To reregulate, if you will, just and I'll be short, I promise. But a very, very brief jump back in time from the WPA which was the depression caused by the Roaring Twenty s and the excesses of unfettered market regulation at the time. Go back another 30 years into the 1890s in the Gilded Age, which is where John D. Rockefeller became the world's first billionaire. Another period where there was insufficient attention to the regulation of economic power and the social externality, if you will. I need to use economic terms, but we're all big kids here. But the social externalities in the early 20th century, the antitrust movement was born. The progressive movement was born. That pushed against that and changed some of the rules again. But then again, by the 20s, you had a new cycle of activity. And so we've seen this all play out before. I think what's difficult now is I don't see as clearly where the forces are that start to correct a new cycle. It may be we're too close to things. It may be that those cycles were a lot easier to deal with and get to when you only had a couple of billion people on the planet versus more than seven and a half now. And that's something we're loathe to talk about. But I struggle with what's going to be the set of forces that are going to pull us back from this sort of moment of excess of capitalism. Yeah, go ahead, Jason. No, you look across the world and you're in Europe. We're just looking at it. But I feel like of any region, they're the ones that might be doing something interesting. But is that not true? I'm just reading the wrong newspaper? Like, they are trying to do things, aren't they? Or is it just so slow? There are interesting things happening. I would say there are interesting things happening in a lot of places. But the question is, do they reach critical mass and is it operational at a macro level? And I think that's the tricky part. Even Sweden, one of the great successes of the last century from a social democratic perspective, right. Quality of life, freedom, anything blonde and beautiful, whatever it is, they've pretty much hit the jackpot. And what did they do? They just elected a new government that wants to go in the opposite direction. Right. Really? Yeah. Tell me about that. I actually don't know anything about that. Well, it's the same set of dynamics, right, that you have with almost all democratic places right now. You have a coalescing of what would you call it? A coalition of interests that are growing on the right, who are seeking to basically it's the same conversation. They want to pull back freedoms, they want to deny women and minorities the same economic rights, the same democratic rights, et cetera, et cetera. They want to go back to a time in which the white man was the most important thing that ever walked the Earth. Yeah. Part of that before. Yeah. And it's disturbing to see in a place that's been so successful at having a balanced approach, right? They weren't swedes not a socialist country. I mean Americans sort of ignorantly viewed as a socialist country. It's a social democratic country that is invested in a set of institutional moves that are designed to protect people, ensure that everybody has opportunity, education, high quality healthcare. And it worked. And they even learned to invest in innovation and business development and make themselves capable of being entrepreneurial, et cetera, which was a critique in the but they're not immune from this either. And so it's quite stark to see that happen. At the same time, I think maybe it's a bias because of how I spend most of my time. You go to the cities, whether it's here in the US and the cities are doing interesting things, setting aside police force action in the United States cities, but cities remain the place where these conversations are the most dynamic. But cities in Europe also have less power than cities in America, for example. That makes sense because ultimately the states have their own governance here. That makes a lot of sense. Actually, Tom, this is just an ad hoc observation, but it does seem like certainly the media has been focusing a lot on just how bad climate change has affected things. You can't turn the dial without seeing some disaster somewhere and then somebody saying well we did warn you, it's climate change that keeps happening. You would think that that might get through to people at some point and people might vote in a particular direction. But then again, I talk to people sometimes where I remember I was talking to somebody the other week and I said, did you know that lake in Vegas is so low that they're finding bodies at the bottom? And they were like, really? Yeah, it's kind of big news. Like there's no water man and that's kind of a big deal when you're in the desert. I don't know. Do you see any sense that there's because your point was about critical mass. Do you see any sense that there are larger groups of people organizing around this or no, I'm going to say two things about that. I think one is going to start to look visible, that sort of critical mass. It may be that it's more distributed and connected than it is concentrated but I think you're going to start to see more of that. I don't know how that's going to play out, but it's definitely building. And I think the question is how does it take action? And one of the things I hope is that circling back to the beginning of the conversation and Jason's comments, I hope that it goes beyond this sort of well, it's just capitalism. Capitalism is the problem because that othering of capitalism is really a red herring because it deflects attention away from our own role and our own agency in contributing to the systems that we participated. You can say, well, we don't have any choice. Well, we kind of do. I mean, in the US, voting turnout is still obscenely low. We're still tolerant of just absolute terrible people running our government and so on and so forth. I think the other thing I would say is, and this is the part that makes me most nervous, because it's largely undiscussed, which is we have, over the last, what, 40 years, every time there's been a major economic shock, we've bailed out the established industry. And there's an economist called Joseph Schumpeter, I don't know if you've ever heard of Joseph Schumppeter from early 20th century. Jason doesn't read French people. He told me the other day he thought that there's this stereotype about French people being kind of arrogant sometimes, but that he doesn't believe it except most days, and that he also has an incredible French accent. Can you do your thing, Jason? Oh, that's pretty good. That's waiting. That's about it. Sorry. We've changed the world. We have. Okay. It really has. Anyway, he created this term, or coined this term called creative destruction. And that part of the power of democratic capitalism was that the creativity that comes out of the cycles, of the economic cycles. But what we've done is we've taken away the destruction part. We're still creative, but we keep propping up old industry sectors, old business models, oldestablished interests that should be allowed to go away and die. We bailed out the auto industry, we bailed out the airlines, we bailed out the banks multiple times. And that has limited the power of what it is we are good at, which is creating new things. It's inhibited it because they hold on to their power as a result. And that does tend to fuel cynicism in people, because they look at that and go, well, what am I supposed to do? Yeah, that whole notion of too big to fail is terrifying. Right. It just completely belies how systems work and how sometimes dinosaurs, they just go extinct and the new thing comes along. And so it is fascinating. And your point around like there's a resignation from a consumer or user point of view, it's like, what can I do in this big complex system where you're right, the big guys keep getting bailed out. So what are the chances here? It's really tough. So we were going to talk about green washing, but I think we need to push that to episode, the next episode, because we have time expectations. So I think we're going to wrap this one and pick up moments later and talk about that. Boom boom goes to the dynamite. Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Jason. Sounds good. You guys are awesome. Great to see. Talk to you in seconds. Thank you for joining us at the recombulator lab with Chris Dominic and Jason Graham.

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