Exclusive Earth Week Interview With John Podesta, Center for American Progress

Photo: CBS News

John is an original Friend of the Planet, and the Founder of the Center for American Progress, a member of its Board of Directors, and a law professor at Georgetown University’s Law School.  Not to mention a hero of ours!

ODP:  Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  What will it take to recreate that kind of political will to deal with the climate crisis in the fall, through the election, and beyond? 
JP:  Since the start of the presidential campaign, Democratic leaders have followed the people, particularly young people, not the other way around. Now this activist passion to build an equitable and just future needs to be aimed at voting and convincing friends, neighbors, parents, and grandparents, by zoom or otherwise, that the planet needs their vote. 
ODP:  You helped to organize the 1990 20th Anniversary events — millions of people participated in thousands of events around the U.S.  What was the key to your success?

JP:  Great cause, great talent (Ziggy Marley, 10,000 Maniacs, Billy Bragg, Indigo Girls, Michael Stipe, Bruce Hornsby and the Range et al), great political leaders (Al Gore and John Kerry) and great T-shirt design, the sales of which paid for the event. 

ODP:  How do events like Earth Day help to advance the movement and fundamental environmental protections?   Do they build political will?
JP: In 1970, the vision of Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes helped organize the first Earth Day and spark America’s modern environmental movement. In 1990 Earth Day helped pave the way to the Rio Summit.  In 2020, young activists will be critical to getting rid of the worst President ever and saving the planet. 
ODP:  If there is a change in administration next year, given the delay in the IPCC meeting, can the United States quickly regain its status as a trusted global partner on climate action?
JP:  To restore global leadership, our new President will have to do two things—commit the US to an ambitious 2030 target that puts us on the path to a net-zero economy by mid-century, and take the necessary steps, hopefully through legislation, but at least through administrative action, that demonstrate the means and the will to meet that target. 
ODP:  Thinking ahead to Earth Day in 50 more years, are you optimistic about the future in 2070?
JP:  2070 will be determined in the next 10 years; will the world choose a path of global solidarity like we saw in 2015 with the embrace of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement or will we devolve into division, hate and nationalistic authoritarianism?  Because I am an optimist, I would like to think the enormous pain and suffering of responding to COVID-19 might actually increase the chances of the former.
Thank you, John, for sharing your wisdom with our readers.  We will keep working to make the next ten years the best ever for the environmental movement! 

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