PETER SCHWARTZ: Right. We’re ready to start the next session. Welcome back, all of you. We have a few people who’ve left and few people who’ve joined us. But this next session is a very provocative session. We began with foresight, and that’s not so provocative. That’s mostly about imagination. But this one is about avoiding failure. And if we think about the last, oh, 20 or 30 years of foreign policy and global affairs, we have many examples to choose among for failures. And painfully, I’ve had the privilege of observing one or two of these up close. And I just want to share with you a few thoughts about what I have seen in that respect.
You know, I think it is very obvious – I think everybody in this room – that it is – part of the issue is that virtually every political institution, with very few exceptions, and the United States is not very different form most countries in this respect, have a very short-term orientation. That short term can be days and weeks. If you’re luck, it’s a quarter or two. And if it’s extreme, it’s maybe a year or so into the future. That is, that the orientation to thought is really shaped by the news that hits the stands today and tomorrow, the concerns and issues that are overwhelming the agenda.
And what there isn’t is a place in the institutional fabric of most of our government agencies – and, by the way, I would say this is also true for many companies. I work in the private sector. I work in the high-tech industry. And we don’t really have a long-term perspective. You know, we’re looking at the next product release, the next product. And very few people even in that industry that are reshaping the future really think long term. But if you think about the political system, there are very, very few institutional mechanisms that force long-term thinking.
I happen to work very closely with the governor of California, Jerry Brown. He’s a natural long-term thinker. There’s no institutions that actually enable him to do that. In fact, he has to overcome his own bureaucracy and his own legislature to get them to think a bit longer term. But that’s his orientation. But he’s very rare in that respect. So there’s no place where this reflection happens naturally.
And what is really at the essence of thinking about avoiding failure is the failure to anticipate discontinuities, those major discontinuities that are going to be – change the game in some important way. I mean, and you think about many things that have happened in recent years. There’s a kind of denial of disruption, if you will. I work at a highly disruptive company called Salesforce that invented cloud computing, disrupted the cloud – the computer industry, right?
How do you think about those kinds of disruptions, because most of the time people don’t want to know? They don’t want to know, because if you actually take it seriously then you have to do something about it, right? And if you take a major disruption that you can see coming – either a political or economic or a technological disruption – then you actually have a real problem. What do you do to get other people on board? What do you do to do something about it? How do you act in anticipation of the consequences of a major disruption?
And you know, I’m going to be fairly candid here. You think about 9/11, four different groups that I’m aware of saw it coming. Everybody said, who could have seen it happen? Who could have imagined? Well, actually, a number of people imagined. I worked on the Hart-Rudman Commission report. And it was much discussed there. In fact, somebody – one of the staff members wrong actually a scenario of bin Laden sending aircraft into the World Trade Center.
Why did they do that? Well, let’s see. He attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, tried to blow it up then. And in 1997 he said: I will send a storm of aircraft into your towers. Hmm. What might that mean? What could that – did he mean radio towers? Did he mean to the Eiffel Tower? No. He meant the World Trade Center, obviously. It was not hard to figure out. This was easily anticipatable.
When General Shinseki testified before Congress that if you invade Iraq we’re gong to need a few hundred thousand troops to hold the ground, what happened to Shinseki? He got fired for saying essentially, you know, there’s a downside risk here. There’s something that could go wrong in a very big way and we better be prepared for the consequences of being wrong, because it could be a fatal error.
The lesson was very clear to the rest of the military. Let’s see, you stand up and you say, maybe we got this wrong, or if we do it there’s some risks we haven’t thought about, what’s the consequence? You get – the verb became you got Shinseki-ed after that. And so that – you wanted to avoid getting Shinseki-ed. And that was telling the truth in the face of a conventional wisdom and a view of policy that actually said, no, there can’t be a failure here. We will be greeted like liberators in the streets of Baghdad. And of course, that isn’t what happened.
See, the challenge in thinking about avoiding failure is right now we would rather have the failure than actually anticipate the failure and actually think about it in a consequential way. Now, how do you get people on board? Well, we’re going to have a couple of interesting conversations momentarily about that.
One, about climate change, where we have an imminent failure happening, i.e., the failure to respond in a timely way to the greatest threat facing humankind, in my view, and where at least a significant hunk of the political system is in denial about the reality of it, because they don’t want to face the consequences of actually cleaning up our act on hydrocarbons and the like. So they say, no, it isn’t actually happening. We’re in denial about that. And indeed, how you think about it is actually very interesting. And one of the best ways to think about it may be in the realms of fiction. So we’re going to have a journalist author talk about that.
And then I’ll just share one little incident that I think sets this up. As I said, I help write movies. My last one was a film called “Minority Report.” And shortly after that came out, I was asked by the film director Roland Emmerich, because he asked Spielberg who helped you on “Minority Report,” and he said, oh yeah, I went to Schwartz. So Emmerich calls me up and says: I’m about to make a movie on climate change. And the movie – a movie called “The Day After Tomorrow.” And it’s a world about an instant Ice Age, basically, over a weekend an Ice Age hits America, basically what happened in the movie.
And I said, oh, that’s bad science. I don’t think I want to be part of this movie. And I said, Mr. Emmerich, feel free to make your science fiction film, but this is bad science. I just can’t be associated with this. Well, I was wrong and he was right, because the people were smart enough to figure out that this wasn’t the way it would happen. And it actually triggered a great debate about climate change and motivated a lot of people to discuss it. They didn’t take the movie too seriously. They didn’t say, oh yeah, this is what’s going to happen. They said, there’s something big happening out there and maybe we ought to think about it.
So he was right and I was wrong. You know, the science doesn’t have to be perfect. The facts don’t have to be perfect. If it triggers a good conversation in the world of fiction, then it actually could have a very highly – a very positive effect on people’s ability to actually begin to think the unthinkable. And that’s really the essence of it, can you think the unthinkable? And it goes back to Herman Kahn’s original phrase in thinking about, “On Thermonuclear War,” the subtitle was “Thinking the Unthinkable.” And to really anticipate failure, that’s what you have to do, is think the unthinkable. Roland Emmerich did it and I didn’t. And he got a better debate than I did as a result of that.
But now we’re going to talk about climate change and climate change policy and how that represents thinking the unthinkable. Heather, the floor is yours.
HEATHER ZICHAL: Great, thank you. (Applause.)
So it was August of 2009. And I found myself, like many people, on a beach. But unlike most of the beaches you’re at in August, it was freezing cold – and for an Iowa girl, like, freezing cold is legitimately cold – and blowing snow straight into my face. I found myself in a remote Alaskan village with some government colleagues. We’d all gone on a trip to the North Slope of Alaska, to a small community named Shishmaref to try and understand how the changing impacts of climate change are impacting local communities and what we should be doing at the federal government to prepare for it, to bring resources to bear and to try and make sure that, you know, we are living up to our responsibilities at the government level.
So even the converted on climate change can sort of argue theoretically, you know, if we have really rapid sea level rise, we can just move the people. Or if we know we’re going to be dealing with extreme heat, we’ll just give people – more people air conditioners. And because it’s all – we’re having this theoretical conversation. None of us are really dealing with the impacts of climate change on a day-to-day basis, like the people in Shishmaref.
I remember we landed on this little tiny airstrip. And the first thing I saw was this little shack on the edge of the coastline. And again, Shishmaref is a barrier island about three-quarters of a mile wide and three miles long. You’ve got the Chukchi Sea pounding away at the – at all edges of the island. And you know, you literally watch the island falling into the sea. And so the first thing you see is this little shed that’s kind of halfway on the edge and halfway in the water. And you kind of know something is not right.
And you walk into the town and you see all these buildings that are sort of dilapidated and in various states of disrepair. And we went to meet with many of the village elders. This is a community of about 600 people. And the stories that they had to tell us were mind boggling. And you know, again, all I could think of the entire time I was there was I can’t believe this is happening in America and not everybody – like, everybody needs to know about this, because we were dealing with, you know, individuals who were telling us stories.
I mean, I remember one high school student who said: You know, and just a few years ago my entire family had to evacuate out so that we could move our house further up the hill because it was about to fall into the ocean. And this is a high school student who – this same high school student, actually, later came to Congress to testify. And in her testimony she said, you know, I wonder how long it’s going to take until my village gets wiped off the map. And her quote was, “It seems unfair to be giving up my home and my culture for a problem that I don’t have the power to solve by myself. But that’s why I’m here and why we’re asking for your help – to address the issue of climate change at a national level.”
So the stories we heard go on and on. We had hunters that had died because they were falling through the ice. We heard about the disappearing beach that no longer supported the subsistence clams. And again, like, this is a subsistence community. Houses had to be put on skids so that they could be moved periodically to safer, higher ground. You know, warm weather was spoiling food. We went into – you know, they don’t really have electricity or running water. So most of what they store food-wise is in permafrost. But the permafrost is – in underground permafrost freezers, if you will. But because the permafrost is warming, the food is spoiling and they have no way to keep it. They have more and more problems because with the lack of sea ice these waves and more intense weather are just beating this tiny little barrier island to a pulp.
So what should they do? I mean, barriers are only going to last so long and you can only move houses from the edge of the water on an island that’s three miles long for so many times. So in 2002, the village actually voted and said we need to – we need to find a new place. We need to pack up and move. Which I mean, as you can appreciate, is probably a pretty difficult conversation to have among your neighbors and your village elders. But they decided. You know, it was a tough decision.
So let’s do it. And you know, then they started the process of, like, OK, we have this village that’s washing away. It’s no longer safe to stay here. We have to move. But we have no roads. We have to make sure we have access to fresh water. We rely on the sea for all of our food, so if we kill a seal how are we going to get it four miles inland if that’s what we need to do?
So all these questions that, I mean, certainly I’d never contemplated when you – I mean, I read about Shishmaref. We read about the situation in Alaska many, many times and how difficult, you know, it was and what they were dealing with. But to be there and to see that and to really think about, like, all right, so there’s this one village and a half-dozen or more along the coast of Alaska that are dealing with these issues. I came back to Washington and I was like, you know, we’re worried about efficiency standards for washing machines and we’ve got, like, major, major problems with Arctic villages falling into the ocean.
So there was this huge disconnect for me personally. And it really – it just – it stuck with me because, you know, I think, one, it forced me to really think about what is it – what does success for a climate agenda look like? What does it look like in the U.S. and what goes it look like globally? So we got to work obviously. And in a main – you know, this administration has – and the president has tried to come at climate change from a number of different angles.
You all know the history. And unfortunately the political history on climate change is to the point where it’s a pretty depressing conversation. I mean, what was once and issue that could unite Democrats and Republicans has sort of become holy grail for the Republican Party. So the president is doing what he can to act with his regulatory tools to the furthest extent possible. And when I think about the climate agenda, I really think it falls into two primary buckets. The first is climate mitigation – what we going to do to drive down greenhouse gas emissions both here and at home? And I think that, you know, it’s a really hard issue. I mean, it’s easy for us to talk about, like, OK, well, the solution to climate change is to drive down greenhouse gas emissions so let’s get right to it. But I think it’s hard for five reasons.
Policy makers are reactionary by nature. I mean, if you want to take two major energy issues that this administration has dealt with, it took a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico for us to actually put strong regulations in place for drilling offshore. It took a huge fire and terrible accident in Canada with crude by rail for the United States and Canada to try and figure out a way to put in place more regulations to protect communities. And in fact, we’re almost two years later and those regulations still aren’t even quite done. So that’s the first issue.
The second is that there is no silver bullet solution when it comes to mitigating climate, right? I mean, you have to do a bunch of things. You have to do energy efficiency, you have to, you know, double down on renewables as much as you can, you have to, you know, put together an infrastructure that will support all of these renewables, you have to continue to innovate and find new technologies to help tackle these challenges. And against all of that, you still have a lot of cheap coal in the world, which creates challenges as we think about globally how are we going to repower the world.
The third area of complexity that I see when it comes to mitigation is just the complexity of science. There’s these endlessly complex interactions of small environmental events that constantly lead to a shifting story when it comes to climate science. And that creates an opening for skeptics and for more deniers. And it also frankly I think makes it tough to know whether or not you’re doing the right thing as a policy maker, because it seems like you’re constantly getting new information, and are we doing this right, is this best? I mean, there’s all this conversation about 2 degrees C. If we don’t meet this target of 2 degrees Celsius, what then? Is it even worth pursuing? So I think that certainly makes this – the mitigation agenda more difficult.
Fourth is something Schwartz alluded to, which is just the partisan nature of this issue right now. You know, you can’t have a real conversation about climate change in Washington. You can’t have a discussion about solutions. It’s very much, you know, these people are for ending jobs and driving up energy costs and we are – we want to save coal jobs and keep the status quo. So in the midst of that it makes it really hard to find solutions in Washington that are going to help get you across the finish line and get us to a place where we are significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in line with what science tells us we need to be doing.
And fifth is just the global nature of the challenge, right? I mean, no country alone can solve climate change. We can do as much as we wanted here in the United States, but if we don’t have China, India and other emerging economies working in concert with us, you know, we’re a little – we’re in big trouble.
I think – you know, I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, so I do think – you know, certainly there are some bright spots as I think about the mitigation agenda. And we’ve seen a lot of progress in terms of costs around renewables. We’ve seen a lot of progress in the international community. And I think at the end of the year when Paris and the conference of parties are meeting to talk about global solutions, we are more set up to have a real and relevant conversation with some real emissions targets and transparency, deliverables on the table, more so than we’ve ever had before.
But again, like, these are – these are tough negotiations. You know, there’s no international court to monitor our greenhouse gas emissions if you aren’t meeting your commitments. So you’ve got this big sort of mash of challenges, just on the mitigation side alone. But as I think back to Shishmaref and the lessons that I learned there, and having had this perch as an energy and climate policy person for the last three presidential races in the White House and in the House and Senate, I think that we are really missing a huge opportunity on climate, and a huge challenge.
When we talk about the preparedness agenda and risk mitigation, there’s, like, barely a conversation happening on a domestic or global level. And that’s where we need to go with the discussion. And I understand, you know, why if I worked – or if I was an environmental – working in an environmental NGO, I understand the perils of starting a conversation about preparedness, because if you just are leading to the assumption that you can fix these problems through better city planning and making sure you’re, you know, taking risk evaluation into decisions that you’re making at a local and state level, you might – you take the pressure off of needing to move on mitigation, which we know we need to do.
But you have – I mean, we already know we’ve baked-in some climate change here. So the question then is, what are we going to do about it? And how do we give – how should the federal government think about that? I mean, we barely, barely scratched the surface. When – I was in the White House for five years. And I mean, we would start to have conversations about, well, what’s the role of FEMA if we know that we have sea-level rise, and how should we even start thinking about that? And then you’d talk to the Department of Transportation an they’d say, well, we’re giving states all this money to invest in infrastructure, but some of those roadways along those coastlines probably aren’t going to be there anymore. Like, should we worry about that? And there’s barely the beginning of a conversation in the federal level.
At the state level, it’s the same thing. I mean, I think post-Sandy was an interesting time because you had a lot of local officials – governors, state senators – that sort of for the first time were like, OK, we accept that climate change is real but, like, how do we – what do we need to do? Like, how should we start thinking about this? And I don’t think anybody in this room or – has all the answers. But the point, from my perspective, is that the preparedness agenda is hugely lacking in terms of just defining the issue. It’s hugely lacking in terms of thinking through what are the policy tools we should be using and thinking about at the federal and state level.
And I think it is probably one of the most – it is – it’s probably the biggest blind spot in the entire global climate agenda. And you know, I think if there’s one thing that I could do to change – to change that, it would be to try and elevate this issue in the national and international dialogue because, you know, I have been thinking about policies and – you know, climate and energy policies from a domestic perspective my entire career. But if we don’t have it together in the United States, I’m fairly certain there are other countries that had the same problem.
So we need to raise the issue. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we need to start a dialogue on these issues and try to – you know, start thinking about where we want this policy to go because, again, we can have a long debate about how many inches sea level will rise or how hot it’s going to get in Arizona, but these things are going to happen and we need to make sure that we’re ready.
And you know, I think – you know, I don’t want to – I hate leaving with a total Debbie downer message, but the thing that I find really compelling and interesting about risk mitigation and the preparedness agenda, is that unlike mitigation, I actually think this is an area where you can bring Democrats and Republicans and people from a lot of different perspectives together around a conversation because part of – you know, it’s – this is never going to become part of the national dialogue if we can’t find a way to talk to one another about these issues.
And I do believe firmly that there’s a lot of opportunity here to bring, you know, a lot of different kinds of stakeholders to the table around preparedness and risk mitigation. And I do think it’s a safe opening for both Democrats and Republicans. And I think from my perspective, you know, certainly Shishmaref and the people there deserve that conversation, but the rest of the world does too. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thanks, Heather. You know, like you, I share this great concern. Now, of course, you have the pope on your side, right? But we have – The Heartland Institute had arrived at the Vatican to convince the pope that his boss, God, doesn’t have – doesn’t care about climate change, because it isn’t happening. So even there, we have a bit of an issue.
Next speaker, August Cole, is going to talk to us a bit about fiction and its ability to help us prepare the mind to see the future and to see these discontinuities. Some of you will have read one or two of my books. The bestselling book I’ve ever written sold about a million and a half copies over 20 years. The movie “WarGames” that I helped write and the movie “Minority Report,” 2 billion people have seen those movies, and they’ve motivated change and so on. So a much more potent view of what can actually change people’s mind.
And so with that, August, the floor is yours. (Applause.)
AUGUST COLE: Thank you. It’s an honor to be here. I’m August Cole. I direct the Art of Future Warfare project here at the council as a senior fellow. And to talking about systemic failure in Washington, I think there are a lot of people who can relate to that on different levels. Many of you – I’ll give you this great example. You get off the red line, you get off the beltway, you have all the data in the world, and it’s the same bad commute every day. Your phone tells you it’s going to be bad. The radio tells you it’s going to be bad. And yet it constantly, constantly thwarts our best intentions and best interests.
When we think about that kind of a – when we think about that kind of a systemic failure, we often have this deep impulse, get me out of here. Some of you might have even thought, I’m going to quit. I’m going to go to Charlottesville. I’m going to write a novel. (Laughter.) I won’t say don’t write a novel, but I’ll especially say don’t quit. The reason is, I would rather have you take that creativity and pour it back into your jobs. You know, we are at a moment right now in the national security community where I think there is a hunger and an appetite and, of course, a need for creative voices that haven’t been heard, or at least heard from in the right ways in recent years.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2011 told a West Point commencement that the U.S. in fact does have a perfect record in predicting future warfare – we never get it right. We never get the location right, we never get the time right, we never get the adversaries right. But I think that actually can change. I think to this point about opportunity being right, we have new voices that are being heard here in Washington in large part, through communities like the Atlantic Council and others, bringing folks who are futurists in the video game community, we have novelists, we have others who are keenly interested in making a difference to how we prepare for address this really difficult problem that Dan Chiu has alluded to many times today – the way we think about our current priorities and the way the world actually is. It’s moving faster. It’s more unpredictable. The stakes are higher. As Jamie pointed out, critical developments in human biology and science are happening at a level that we literally can’t keep pace with.
There are a lot of different tools to use to approach that. As someone who spent his career rooted in facts, as a writer I gravitated towards novels. So now I make stuff up. What I’ve done is taken on one of the bigger questions that I don’t think has gotten the kind of airtime that it should in Washington – conflict with China. What’s the future of the Pacific, the future of the Communist Party? Where is our national narrative taking us, how we see success and failure at a strategic level, but also at a commercial and economic level. Are we ready to cede our role in the world, as has been talked about today, or are we willing to stand up for it?
Now, fiction is an unusual way to do this, but I feel that it is a way to take a debate that can often be professionally perilous for those in uniform to talk about, as we’ve seen. It can take an issue and a subject that has a lot of ramifications if you talk about it in the wrong circles for trade, for commercial reasons. Fiction gives you a sort of a neutral ground. You might hate a movie, but you’re talking about it. As Peter pointed out, that you can get the science wrong even in a critical issue like climate change, but if you allow people to engage in shared experience and use that to take a conversation in a better direction, you’ve had some success.
And so with this book project I’m working with a gentleman named Peter Singer, who’s also a futurist and far smarter than me, thankfully. And we decided to team up. And the reason why we teamed up, we felt it was time to use some (unorthodox ?) methods in general. And I think that’s something that many of you can take back to the organizations that work with as well. When you step back and think about addressing the ways that our current systems don’t actually answer the needs of the world as it is today, don’t be conventional. Think about voices that you haven’t heard before. Think about new alliances.
Writing a novel with another person is, in fact, novel. It doesn’t happen a whole lot, unless you count Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising,” which was co-written. So we have some precedent there for dealing with big war books. The point being, I think it is imperative that we all try to reframe the – a sense of alliances and urgency that we approach those sorts of teaming agreements in a world that is throwing so many dynamics and change at us that we can’t actually keep up with it.
The other thing I would say too is that when you think about the message you’re giving itself, that finding a way to reinforce its veracity, to reinforce its ability to have credibility in audiences that are outside your current realm. You know, one of the big challenges with the Art of Future Warfare project is how do you make a think tank interesting to the gaming community? How do you make it relevant in the sci-fi world? How do you make it relevant inside the E-Ring and the Pentagon too? There are a lot of different ways to do that, but you constantly have to be thinking about the way you’re reinforcing what you’re doing.
In my case, in the fiction world, we used footnotes in a novel. I spent one of the worst weeks in my life in the Pacific Northwest in a closed room, right next to a beautiful beach on one of the sunniest stretches probably in the month of August I’d seen in a long time in the Puget Sound, doing that. But that was for good reason. We had an actual mission in mind, which was to make a book that was appealing to an audience at a military academy as much as it would be to someone who works on the Hill, as it would be to those who are trying to learn more about Pacific strategic issues in a fact-based way, and having fun doing it.
When you think about what you will be doing in the next year, you have a pretty good sense. When you think about what you’ll be doing in two years at your job, it gets a little more difficult to understand, in five years and then so on. But usually we don’t think too much in Washington beyond 10 to 15 years. People like Matt Burrows have thought farther and done wonderful work. And Matt, by the way, is an excellent advocate for the power of fiction and narrative, as he’s tweeted already today, but also in his support of the Art of Future Warfare project and his own work as well.
And one of the points that Matt made was that stories make policy makers pay attention. And I think that’s true. And I think that’s something that anyone can take when they start to think about how do I address some of the issues that we have in making our own systems work better in an environment that is far outstripping our capacity to react, respond and plan.
One of the – one of the other aspects of this notion of planning and preparing that is also a part of what the creative community does is really think about vision. And artistic vision can often be downplayed as something that is esoteric, that isn’t rooted in reality. But it’s really a sort of different way of thinking about strategy. If you want to call it creative strategy, fine. I think that’s something as well that can be applied in a lot of the environments that we’re working in here in Washington today in the defense world.
And I want to open this up to the Q&A, so I will speed up, being mindful of the time that we have. But I would like to leave you with another anecdote that Robert Gates had given at a West Point commencement in 2009 that I was at and that I saw. And he really advocated that the cadets there who were graduating push back. That’s an unusual bit of advice from a secretary of defense. That’s an unusual bit of advice from somebody like that. But it was great advice.
And what that means, I think, for a lot of us in trying to figure out our next steps is we figure – as we understand where our voices of authority are telling us to plan and prepare for the future, but aren’t necessarily giving us the tools how, one of the things I think that might be useful is to make way for people who don’t belong. And by that, I mean when you next plan a strategic exercise, a war game, when you’re having budget meetings, invite somebody who doesn’t belong. They don’t necessarily have to be an artist, but it should be someone with an outside point of view to help further that creativity, because as I think when we think about systemic failure, one of the worst kinds of failures is a failure of imagination. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. SCHWARTZ: Keep that. Thank you. So we clearly need a bit of imagination this afternoon.
In theater, there’s a great term called the suspension of disbelief. And it’s what great theater does, great films, great novels. You suddenly can be in another world. You know, I remember the first play I ever saw that I can remember, which was Camelot, when I was a kid was still playing on Broadway, and you know, great acting, music, sets. And suddenly I was transported to a magical world 600 years ago in the world of King Arthur. And did I really believe I was? Of course not. Of course not. But I felt it. I felt it kind of viscerally in a way that good fiction can create. It creates that suspension of disbelief.
But we’re interested in not sort of the magic of Camelot, but the kind of failures, I think, Heather, you were talking about, what you can think about as fatal errors, errors that a civilization or a society can make. I visited Angkor Wat a few years ago. And there was a civilization that made several fatal errors and died. It actually failed to respond to climate change about 700 years ago. You’ve worked in the political system where you have lots of people who get to play in that, where the language becomes important.
We had Charlie Crist the mayor – the governor of Florida tell his staff, no, you can’t even use the words climate change, right? We’re going to take those out of the vocabulary, right? So you can’t even talk about it, right? Now, that is a pretty extreme denial, it seems to me, when you actually take the language out. So I’m interested from both of you – you know, you who are creating the language to anticipate the future, you who’ve had to wrestle with a political system that doesn’t even want to recognize the very words that you want to talk about.
How do you get a bureaucracy, a system like the U.S. system, including the states and cities and counties and the federal government to engage in that conversation that avoids the kind of fatal error that the Cambodian civilization made 600 years go? Why don’t you go first?
MR. COLE: Great. I think that’s a great question. I think one of the really effective things that fiction can accomplish is to highlight failure before it’s actually happened. Nobody likes bad news. And the higher up you go in an organization, the less you tend to like it because, as you said, he have to fix it. And I think that’s something that fiction can do well, to address issues like cyber vulnerability, to your point about preparedness. The sea level change, so what are you going to do about it in the Northeastern seaboard?
So to me, I think that’s part of the start to that solution, is looking to stories that can create common ground that often allow us to talk about issues in a way that is maybe defused from the political – you know, politically charged aspects that really, I think, binds us in a lot of our more difficult issues, like climate change, like defense.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Heather.
MS. ZICHAL: Well, it’s interesting. You know, right now the Environmental Protection Agency, for the first time, is working to finalize rules on existing coal plants, a rule that would set a standard for greenhouse gas emissions reductions – never been done before. The way the proposed rule was structured actually requires the states to come up with their own plan to meet these emissions reduction targets.
And the reason I bring this up is because that proposed rule has, for the first time ever, started a conversation at the state level that includes elected officials, that includes the Environmental Protection Agency, and includes utilities and other key stakeholders. So despite the fact that inside the beltway we’re having this conversation about whether or not climate change is really a problem, there are a whole lot of people – and I’m not going to say it’s, like, a very perfect conversation and everybody’s singing “Kumbaya” in all these states, but I think the fact that there is a conversation that has been sparked by the regulatory actions of this administration is really important progress.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thank you.
So we’re going to throw it open, but I’m also going to warn one of our participants who showed up this afternoon, Bob Hormats, that I’m actually going to ask you a question in a minute Bob. So I’m going to come to you – so be warned, I’m going to be asking you a question in a moment.
Q: Sure. I just wanted to make use of the two of you who have such deep expertise in your areas, while we’re here talking about the ways to prevent failure. I also just wanted to get your sense of, well, what are the failures that you see coming or, even more broadly, you know, where do – Heather, where do you think we’re headed on climate change if current trends continue? Can you just spin it out for us? And then what would be the triggering events as things continue to cascade that would actually all of a sudden cause, you know, action – besides the town in Alaska doing what you said it did.
And then, August, you’ve spent so many months and hours – and I really feel bad for you not being able to get to the beach – thinking about the future of warfare. Can you give us a glimpse of sort of what you see that future being like, in addition to buying your book?
MS. ZICHAL: So, you know, I think that this is going to be a very important year on the climate agenda, both domestically and internationally. Domestically because of the finalization of the greenhouse gas rules, I just mentioned. But also from a global perspective, you know, we have a real opportunity to do something we’ve never done before through the conference of parties at the Paris meeting at the end of the year.
The million-dollar question is, OK, you’ve got all these countries making these commitments around emissions reductions and transparency and global green funds, but I’ve a few concerns. Like, one, we don’t today know what all those targets are going to actually add up to from a climate perspective, just leading up – leading into Paris. And then coming out, we still need to, like, be able to put all those pieces of the puzzle together and understand what that – what that gets us from a climate perspective. You know, so that’s thing one.
Thing two is, you know, the scientific community has said 2 degrees C is what you need to – you need to work towards. But, I mean, I’d love to be able to tell you we were going to hit it, but we aren’t. And so, then the question becomes, well, like, what’s beyond 2 degree C?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Five hundred, unfortunately.
MS. ZICHAL: Right. So in that world, what are we – what are we dealing with? I mean, we kind of are doing as much as the country can through existing regulations and authorities to drive down emissions reductions. But again, you know, in the range of 30 percent by 2030 in the U.S., even if we were able to achieve that, is great but it’s going to require so many things.
I mean, it requires, like, a president – the next president believing in and continuing to put rules in place that drive emissions reduction down. It’s going to require states to step up to the table and actually, you know, put teeth in the renewables mandates, double down on energy efficiency, you know, make sure that they’re not – their utilities aren’t at war with the solar industry. So there are, like, a lot, a lot, a lot of hurdles.
But I also think, again, that there’s great opportunity in these things. I mean, we – you’ve seen China move really quickly to try and capture as much of the manufacturing base on solar as they can. You’ve seen, you know, Germany doing – you know, using different policy tools and feed-in tariffs to try and drive their emissions reductions down – setting the nuclear issue aside for a moment. But I think that there are bright spots.
And I think – you know, to your point earlier – I mean, we can’t get wrapped around the axle about whether or not we are – like, where are we on the 450 ppm scale. We just have to get in the mindset that any progress is good progress, because right now the whole discussion is so toxic and so tough. But like I said, there are these bright spots and we need to find a way to shine a light on them and we need to – you know, we need to engage. And I think the United States is a very strong position to show and lead the way for other states through the regulatory opportunities.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, and if you look at what California has done, you know, as far as I can see we have 250,000 jobs in solar, our economy is growing incredibly fast, unemployment is falling, and we’re the most aggressive of any place in the world on climate change. So, you know, the arguments against it I think have been pretty weak from an economic point of view. The objective fact is the most aggressive is actually doing the best in the country on it.
MS. ZICHAL: Right.
MR. SCHWARTZ: So, August, future of war.
MR. COLE: Yeah, to your question about the future of war, I mean, the answer is: We don’t know, but there are certain trends that we see taking shape around technology, and particularly our reliance on it. The military is obviously reliant on wonderful technologies like GPS and real-time communications and visibility.
Future conflicts will, I think, hinge upon the ability to deny or preserve some of those – some of those systems. The larger kind of questions of what technologies themselves will be introduced soon – lasers and rail guns are – which, a rail gun shoots and inert thing much faster than a conventional powder cannon could – those are – those are almost here. So that’s going to have a big impact on things like naval warfare.
But I also think in the context of systemic failure, many of the institutions we rely on to preserve and provide for our national defense may not work in wartime as well as we think. And I think that also gives rise to actors within our own country to step up in a positive way to take some of that role. That may be Silicon Valley. It might be groups within the military community itself that wants to act in a way that speeds things like, you know, buying and procuring weapons.
The cyber domain, of course, is something that we talk about, and we see already with Estonia and with Russia today, as being something that will be more pronounced when we get the internet of things and the conveniences that we as civilians start to enjoy in the next five to 10 years. You know, the home front is a fascinating question that does not get thought about very much. My book gets into that of course, because it’s really worth understanding. What would a wartime San Francisco be like? You know, that’s a Navy town. What would it be like –
MR. SCHWARTZ: It was a Navy town.
MR. COLE: Correct. The fleet may not be there, but the – but in the context of a Pacific conflict, what would it be like in San Francisco? So I think there are ways you can relate to these questions that are meaningful for our national defense today.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I had the privilege of working with Admiral Mullen when he was CNO, before he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And to his credit, he was willing to think about these things. So the number one and two priorities in the maritime strategy were, first of all, avoiding war with China and, second, dealing with the consequences of climate change – the humanitarian consequences. So, you know, there are occasionally leaders who are really quite far-sighted in that respect.
And when I think about the future of warfare, one of the things we didn’t get into in the drones discussion this morning is we’ve unleashed drones on the world. When do they start coming home? If it’s that easy, as I think they are, to build drones, then, you know, it may not be long before we start seeing bad-guy drones show up on the White House lawn, not inadvertent drunk workers showing up.
Bob Hormats – so I’m going to put you on the spot. You’re almost as old as I am. And so for those of you who don’t know Bob, he was in the Reagan administration in the Treasury, right – Department of Treasury?
Q: Nixon – I started in Nixon.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Oh, you’re even older than I am. Nixon. So he started with Nixon.
Q: I was young at the time –
MR. SCHWARTZ: I remember you from the Reagan administration.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Then you were at Goldman Sachs. Then you joined the White House under President Obama in the Department of State. You have seen many successes and failures along the way. We have seen remarkable international agreements on trade and on arms control, and we have seen many failures. You’ve seen several financial crises – ’87, ’97, 2008. What did you learn from all that about our ability to actually anticipate and prevent failure?
Q: Well, I think the point has been made very well that we tend to be very reactive and we’re very poor at anticipating discontinuities or disruptions. This system – and in fact, it’s structured in a way that moves people to deal in a reactive way, as opposed to a pre-emptive or anticipatory way. And let me just give one example of what we do now, as opposed to what was done decades ago.
In the early part of the Cold War, there was a lot of time spent, under President Eisenhower in particular, in what he called the solarium group, where he got groups of people – not just military people, not just political people, academics, people who had a sense of vision – and had three different competing groups anticipating how to deal with the Soviet Union.
And particularly how to deal with the threat of nuclear war – what we needed to do to anticipate the risks and mitigate the risks and contain the Soviet Union, contain their ability to move into Western Europe, but also to deal with the nuclear threat. These were thoughtful groups of people looking to the future. It wasn’t what they were going to do today, or tomorrow or the next day. It was one year, three years, five years, 10 years down the road.
Today, it is entirely different. The National Security Council is a group of people scurrying around to see if they can get on the next trip that the president takes on Air Force One. They are – well, you’ve been to the White House, am I wrong?
MS. ZICHAL: No. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, that’s what I’ve seen, people who really want to be right there where the action is today. It’s like kiddie soccer, where instead of positioning yourself around the field, you want to be right where the ball is.
So I think people – and the word that encapsulates it all is “deliverables.” What can we do when the president’s going somewhere or he’s going to give a speech? What can be done today? There is very little second and third order analysis of if you do – like the Iraq issue. If you go into Iraq, what do you do if it doesn’t work? What’s plan A, plan B, plan C? What are the long-term implications of this? And this is really one of the problems that I see today.
The financial crisis, in a way, was the same thing. We just never anticipated this. Now there’s a lot of work as a result of this crisis being done to try to avoid another crisis. But it took a major crisis in order to galvanize support. And I think what we don’t do today is to develop systems – institutional systems within our government or among governments that look at systemic issues, that look at systemic vulnerabilities, and try to at least anticipate what they might be and how you’d react.
Churchill once said: Planning – plans are absurd. Planning is essential. And he – what he meant by that was you couldn’t figure out what was going to happen at every turn of the road, but you needed to have a process of trying to anticipate. And I don’t think we do that today. And we don’t do it in policy planning at State. We don’t do it in the National Security Council. Everyone is in the immediate mode and getting – and being sure that they could get in on the next meeting to deal with the next issue, not thinking ahead.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, but part of it, Bob, I think also goes to the sense of, how shall we say, a greater sense of controllability. You and I were part of a process at the Council on Foreign Relations, after the ’97 financial crisis, on how the Fed should anticipate crises and deal with them. And it came out with a report on the need for the Federal Reserve to think about future crises. And I remember Alan Greenspan’s reaction to it.
He said: We don’t need such an institution because there are no more future crises that are going to happen – this was in 2000 – because we now control the economy in such a way that we can prevent any crises before it happens because we now are in such level of control. And it was a level of confidence which, frankly, in hindsight he has gone back and said, well, I got it wrong – to his credit. Unfortunately, he took down the world economy as a result of that.
Q: Right. Correct. That’s part of the problem, that complacency is what breeds crises. If you’re complacent and you think you’ve got something under control with technology changing, financial markets changing and many other things changing, you do not have control. And as a result, you have to build in a measure of resiliency assuming that you don’t have control and something that you have not anticipated is going to happen.
Just to give three interesting examples on three parts of the economy where people should have – people have tons of information about it, and they all – virtually all go it wrong. How many economists anticipated that the price of oil today would be between $40 and $50 a barrel, even a year ago when they had huge amounts of information?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, should have seen it coming, easy.
Q: It wasn’t lack of information; it was lack of anticipatory judgment. Second, the dollar – how many people anticipated this dramatic strengthening of the dollar? It went down a little today, but this dramatic strengthening of the dollar? How many people called that? And a lot of companies that missed it now are paying for it in their earnings, as we’re seeing.
The third is the interest rate on the 10-year note. Virtually every economist – every economist predicted it would be considerably higher today than it is. These are not minute issues. These are not details of one or two percentage points. These are 50 percent, 60 percent. 70 percent off of what – of what happened. So the huge amount of information doesn’t lead to a huge amount of wisdom. In fact, people just sort of took things and anticipating continuity rather than and dramatic change. This tells you how little control we really have in these areas and how vulnerable to very, very sharp discontinuities.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And all three – those are great examples. In all three of them the signals were there before they happened.
Q: The signals were there and everyone got it wrong.
MR. SCHWARTZ: So, Heather, you wanted to respond and, August, you wanted to respond.
MS. ZICHAL: Well, I was actually just wondering if you could hypothesize on sort of why you think the government has gotten away from long-term strategic planning. I mean, is it just something that happened in the last eight year? Has this been going –
MS. ZICHAL: So I’d love to hear your inputs.
Q: Totally nonpartisan. Both Republicans and – I think it’s because the system that was built after World War II to look ahead – policy planning at State. The one – I will give you one agency that actually does it well in a minute, but National Security Council does not really do this. They’re a staff to the president for immediate issues, what’s coming up tomorrow, policy planning same thing. OSD at the Defense Department actually does some very good planning.
MR. SCHWARTZ: But he retired.
Q: Oh, that one guy? (Laughter.) Yeah, he was on the NSC before, that’s right.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Andy Marshall retired.
Q: Andy Marshall retired, but they – but they have a mechanism for doing it. I think it’s because there’s so much craving to be right in on the action today, to be in on the issues that are being dealt with at the moment, as opposed to anticipating down the road.
And the other is the point I think Peter made, and that is when you anticipate the unexpected you have to – you can’t go to the president and say, this could happen, Mr. President. You have to – people – I remember Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying: Don’t tell me about problems, give me answers. Well, if you anticipate something bad is going to happen, you better come up with a strategy for avoiding it. And lot of people – there’s really no system for doing that. And a lot of people simply don’t spend the intellectual brain power to do it.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Good answer.
MR. COLE: Well, I think –
MR. SCHWARTZ: And then it’s open to you.
MR. COLE: You know, there is – there is that level of foresight and thinking going on, but it’s not in Washington. It’s in Hollywood. It’s in the videogame industry. It’s in the, you know, dark morning hours where novelists and working. And I think the moment that we have is to open up to some of those visions. That’s some of what we’re obviously doing at the Art of Future Warfare project. We have a recent contest that just concluded envisioning space or interstellar conflict in the 2090s. It was won by a 20-year old college student who wrote a very fine piece of short fiction that met the standard of not only myself and another judge, but also David Brin, who’ll be here in a couple weeks – the point being that that’s a voice that doesn’t have a presence in Washington, but he will when he comes on May 18th to sit on a stage just like this.
Q: That’s correct.
MR. SCHWARTZ: David’s really great. You ought to hear you.
Q: I think that’s true.
MR. SCHWARTZ: OK, the floor, there. Please identify yourself.
Q: Sure. I’m Steve Grundman. I’m the Lund Fellow here at the Council.
I have a softball question for August and a curveball for Rachel (sic; Heather), I think. I think it’s a softball question because he and I worked on this together. The softball question is: What is the power of maybe simple utility of narrative – a term I know you employ a lot – to strategic thinking? And then I think that – I think your answer, because I think I know it, will set up the question I want to ask Rachel (sic; Heather), which is what’s wrong – what’s wrong or incoherent or somehow broken about the story that’s framing our understanding of climate change, because it must be wrong.
It’s not – in other words, almost regardless of where you stand on the issue, the way the story of climate change frames the issue is failing, and maybe setting us up for a failure mode. But I want to – I want to let August, if he could, kind of set up the power of narrative and why I then offer the supposition I do to Rachel (sic; Heather), which is our narrative is wrong somehow on climate change.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Great question.
MR. COLE: I’ve got my big softball mitt right here. So the – you know, the power of narrative is to take really complex issues and make them relatable at a – at a human level – at an emotional level, even. I think that is something that is overlooked, particularly around extremely charged issues.
And there are ways that we relate to storytelling that are just different than the way we relate to PowerPoint and to 30-page research reports. And I think this – the fact that we don’t have PowerPoint screens behind us today is a great thing because it allows us to focus on the narrative, to some extent, of what we’re talking about. So I think that will set you up as well for your response, on one of the most challenging narratives probably around right now.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah. It’s a great hard question.
MS. ZICHAL: Right. So I think – a couple things. First is just the vast majority of what we’re talking about are things that are down the road, right? Like how many times in a conversation about climate change are you talking about what’s going to be happening in 2050 or 2025? And, like, Americans just don’t think that way. They’re like, what’s happening in my backyard? How am I going to, like, get my kid to school? I mean, it’s really a function of being able to have something tangible to understand and to see, like, why should I even be worried about climate change? I have to work about, you know, terrorism. I have to worry about the economy. Like, this seems like something that’s down the road. So I think that’s challenge one.
I think the second challenge, frankly, is, you know, there are hundreds of millions of dollars beating people over the head about how coal’s great and how jobs are important. And then you’ve got, you know, the power of the NGOs and whatever funding – small, paltry funding they have to try and tell the story about, well, actually, it’s going to be OK if we drive down emissions reductions. We’ve already had successes doing this. Here’s the story of solar. Here’s the story of energy efficiency. So I think part of the message has been disrupted by corporate special interests. And that makes it harder to get the narrative out there in way that’s – you know, that is actually based in fact and reality.
MR. COLE: I mean, you could have conflict of narratives, right? I mean, narratives compete all the time in international crises. And I think that’s one of the – to your point about – your question about future warfare, controlling narrative and defining it and understanding the tools that allow us to do that today, so that we’re ready when those sorts of stakes are highest, is one of the abiding challenges.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Right – we’ll take that one and that one in that order. And you – what was that, a 10 minute warning? Thank you.
Q: (Off mic.)
I just kind of want to follow up on the temporal aspect of the narrative. Is there a sweet spot? When you talk about space in 2090, I say, so, I’m not going to be here. My kids may not be here. And maybe to your point, you know, gee, a lot of this climate change seems like it’s five years away, 10 years away. Is it more effective to tell us what is going to have an impact a year from now, two years from now, instead of going far out in the future?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Great question. Time frame?
MR. COLE: I think I would probably say 10 years past however you think is far enough. I mean, I think there is an impulse to suit temporal frameworks organizations’ really more immediate needs and just to interpret them through a different calendar. I think, though, the way that we are having nonlinear advances in technology may allow us to experience 2090 in 2030. So the act of thinking about what we would maybe construe as linear moves in technological development – space, travel, you know, the weaponry advances – I think that at least in the act of preparing of 2090 you may be better prepared for the next two decades or three decades.
MS. ZICHAL: And on the climate front, I’d just say, you know, as much as you can localize the message, the better off you are. I mean, nobody in Iowa’s worried about polar bears not – well, maybe a few people – but about a polar bear habitat. But if – when it comes to growing seasons, extreme drought, extreme floods – I mean, that is something that is on everybody’s radar. So the more you can put the pieces of the puzzle together in a local – with a localized narrative, the more successful you’ll be.
MR. SCHWARTZ: So I’m a director of a foundation called The Long Now Foundation. And our time frame is 10,000 years. Why? Human civilization is roughly 10,000 years. So we wanted a civilization time frame. And I’m amazed at how many people have actually gravitated to that idea of civilizational time. You know, we’re building a clock that Jeff Bezos is funding the desert, a 10,000-year clock. We’ll see if we can actually pull it off. But it has actually had a remarkable effect on people’s thinking to say, all right, suppose you think at a civilizational level. And I’m surprised at how much traction we’ve gotten.
Yes, please. Microphone up here, and if you could identify yourself.
Q: I’m Tom Bradley (sp).
And speaking of stories with near-term effect, you said stories make policymakers pay attention. There are three elected federal officials from Alaska in Washington today. Do any of them believe there’s anything unusual going on in Alaska?
MS. ZICHAL: Well –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Painful question.
MS. ZICHAL: And, you know, look, I think Alaska’s a tough state. If you look at the comments of Senator Murkowski, who’s the chair of the Energy Committee, you know, it’s sad when success is, well, she at least acknowledges that climate change is a problem. Her response is more in the, like, let’s continue to study it mode. But in my mind, I’m like, OK, well, that’s one less person we have to fight with to actually help them understand what a big challenge we have facing us.
So and you know, ironically enough in Shishmaref former Congressman Stevens ended up getting a bunch of federal money for the town, because this was back when we still had earmarks. And they took the money and built barriers and tried to help protect some of the community. And ironically, you know, he went to the mat because he was making the case these communities in Alaska – and he’s a starch – like, staunch Republican member – but he was making the case that we needed to support these Alaskan native communities.
So you know, there are – they try and find ways to talk about it without acknowledging it, because the vast majority of their economy is oil and gas. And it’s just a scary proposition for them to have to – to have to dive into the weeds on anything climate related.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Over here, and then I’m going to take three quick questions in a row to wrap up.
Q: Right, great. Thank you. So my name is Peter Engelke. I’m a senior fellow in the Strategic Foresight Initiative. I work with Matt and Barry and our team here at the Atlantic Council. Thank you both for the rich conversation.
And I’m going to try to ask two related questions that actually marry both of your –
MR. SCHWARTZ: But keep them brief.
Q: I will keep them brief – marry both of your agendas.
The first question is, how valuable is it to securitize the conversation about climate change? And what I mean by that is that, you know, we often hear that, you know, climate change is sort of slow-motion nuclear war, right, and that the consequence is that, you know, beyond the 2 C limit will have in some scenarios existential consequences for the United States. The reverse side of that is that we don’t want everything to be securitized. So I’d really like to get your thoughts on the pros and cons of having a conversation about climate change that’s really parsed through a national security lens, number one.
Secondly, I think it’s important to recall from our own history that when the United States government decides to act with vigor, that it has done so very successfully on a number of occasions. Often those are in crisis situations, for example, after Pearl Harbor or during the Cold War. But nonetheless, in both of those instances the United States government was the only actor that could actually bring together all elements of society in a – in a comprehensive effort that resulted in dramatic and transformative change. So if there a triggering scenario that would be comparable to say, organizing around the level that we did during the second world war, or even something perhaps a little bit smaller than that would be equivalent to say Eisenhower building the interstate system?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Heather then August.
MS. ZICHAL: So I’ll quickly answer the first. I mean, I’m a little bit biased because I am very worried about climate change, but I think the short answer is as many environments and new stakeholders and new storytellers that we can bring to the table, the better for the issue. It’s been a challenge to – frankly, to move this outside of the environmental NGO realm, which I think has not served the issue well. But I think that’s a challenge for us all to work together on.
MR. COLE: So I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about this question of what would we do were there a second Pearl Harbor. This is the fictional expression, to some extent, of my book. And I think it will be more difficult than it was in 1941. I think that there are different forces at work. I think optimistically I believe that America can rally its population, industry, groups that are super empowered technologically. But I think it is going to be a lot harder than it was ever before, and that that makes our chances of success in that kind of an endeavor a lot, potentially, lower.
MR. SCHWARTZ: So we’ve got three more quick comments. And I’m going to ask each of them to be very quick. Oh, four. OK. You can go first.
Q: Great. Scott Beale from Atlas Corps.
A very concise, perhaps, defense of the National Security Council and even economists, I don’t think it’s fair to say we just need better talent in the National Security Council or we need better economists that can see signals coming that, of course, gas prices were going to be low. I actually think it’s a much bigger systemic problem that we have, that it’s more difficult to create political change, it’s more difficult to predict even the near future, and it’s more difficult to respond to these things before they’re actually a crisis.
So I have probably a longer, complex defense of it, but I just didn’t want to let those comments stand, that it’s merely a matter of people in the NSC want to be on trips. Like there’s – there are a lot of really talented people there who are trying – and I don’t work at the NSC – (laughter) – but that it’s not just a matter of talent, it’s a systemic problem that we need to address.
Q: I didn’t say it was talent. I said it was the system.
MR. SCHWARTZ: He – it’s the system and the culture of that environment that creates it.
Q: It’s not the people. The people are very good. It’s the way they’re organized.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And would you please identify yourself.
Q: Sure. I’m Naadiya Moosajee. I’m from South Africa. I’m a fellow on the Millennium Program.
My question is to you, Heather. You said that regarding climate that if America can’t get it right how can you expect anybody else to? I’m going to throw that back at your and say in South Africa we’ve already done long-term adaptation strategies scenarios. China’s doing a lot of stuff. So the failure is that everybody else is doing stuff on climate, why isn’t America and why are you flip-flopping on climate?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Painful question, but let’s get the others and then you can. Carmen?
Q: The reason why the narrative – I think a reason why the narrative does not work on climate change is because there’s a long-standing meme in American culture that we are independent from the rest of the world and we escaped. We created our selves to escape alliances and messing around with the rest of the world. Second, there was a really good article after Germanwings’ horrible disaster that as we know more and create better systems, that actually creates the potential for bigger and bigger failures. In other words, the better we get, the more susceptible we are to a truly horrific thing that we did not anticipate.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And over here, the last comment.
Q: Sure. Daryl Sng from Deloitte Consulting, but formerly of the Singapore government.
And when I was in Singapore, I was involved in work thinking about how the melting of the Himalayan glacial ice will affect conflict and instability in Asia. And on the point of securitizing the discussion, I think that was actually a really helpful discussion because it brought in the security agencies into the interagency process on climate change.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Unfortunately – as you know I’ve worked very closely with your government – and you’re the exception that proves the rule. You have the best mechanisms, a lot of talent and a leadership that actually pays attention to long-term issues. You’re a very rare sort of creature. I wish the rest of the world could learn from you. But sadly, I think you guys are the exception.
OK, final comments in light on what you’ve just heard.
MS. ZICHAL: So, look, I totally accept and acknowledge all the work that’s going on in the international community to put real emissions targets and real climate plans together across the globe. My – I think when it comes to United States I would also say, you know, look this president has tried 15 different ways to work with Congress on these issues. He has no other choice but to use his existing regulatory authorities. And there isn’t a single one that he’s not using – if it’s, you know, fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, energy efficiency standards even though I made fun of them in the beginning, the greenhouse gas regs that they’re working on, methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. I mean, they have left no stone unturned.
So I do think, you know, for the first time we actually have cobbled together a climate plan that is going to allow us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but put us in a very different place as we move to Paris and further engage others. I mean, the work to bring China to the table and the INDC from Mexico – I mean, all of that – all of those things are historic in nature and are only going to, you know, underscore the art of the possible, which is good for the rest of the world, but also it’s good for the naysayers in the United States to see.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, the China agreement was a really big deal. That was absolutely fundamental.
MS. ZICHAL: Yeah, huge.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah. August, you get the last word.
MR. COLE: I mean, I think your own presentation that underscored the power of narrative. You started with a personal anecdote, an experience that you had and related this very complex, highly charged political issue to the audience. And I think that’s something you’re going to see hopefully a lot more of if the work at the Atlantic Council continues in this way of showing that narrative is, in fact, a very effective tool for policymakers to get things done.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Let me say thank you. Hopefully we are a little closer to avoiding failure as a result of the conversation this afternoon. Thank you all and we’ll see you tomorrow. (Applause.)
DANIEL Y. CHIU: So thank you very much. Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Heather. Thanks, August. Thanks very much to Peter for shepherding us through the day and to all of our speakers. Thank you all for staying with us through the afternoon. You can’t tell because we conveniently blacked out all the windows, but it is a beautiful day out there. So we really appreciate you sticking with us here in the room and online. And as you think about leaving, just take a look before you go. We have a wonderful reception outside for you to stay a little bit longer on this nice day and talk about what you heard today.
And more importantly, think about coming back early tomorrow because we have some great sessions tomorrow. The first thing we’re going to do is actually, again, something a little different for the usual Washington conference. We’re actually going to have a formal debate. We have Xenia Wickett from Chatham House and Chris Preble from Cato Institute, who are going to come in here and debate America’s role in the world, in particular whether America is still the indispensable nation, or not, in the world. It’s going to be a moderated debate. We’re going to poll the audience before the debate. We’re going to poll you after the debate, because we want to see if the debate actually had any effect or impact on you all.
So we think that’s going to be interesting. The two of them are really excited about this. A little bit competitive, so I think it’ll be really kind of interesting and fun to watch. And then, of course, we have our wrap-up session for this discussion which Peter will be back for, on imagining solutions. You’ve heard about change. You’ve heard about the potentials for failure. Now let’s start to imagine what kinds of solutions there are there, and try and go for something that’s not and we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing as we go forward. And of course, we’ll have a final wrap up with our own Fred Kempe at that point, to kind of pull some thoughts from that. And we’ll also have Ashlee Godwin from the Millennium Fellows joining us then as well, to give us the Millennium Fellows’ perspective on this.
So thank you all, again. Please join us at the reception and hope to see you back here bright and early tomorrow morning. The debate itself begins at 8:30. We’ve got a bit of a breakfast for thanking you for coming in early at 8:00. Thanks very much. Good night. See you tomorrow.