Interview with Julia Pyper, Contributing Editor for Greentech Media
How are Democrats & Republicans coming together to move forward with swift climate action? I recently spoke with Julia Pyper, Contributing Editor for Greentech Media, Host & Producer of Political Climate & Atlantic Council Senior Fellow about this, her bipartisan, climate-focused podcast, how our industry can move forward with greater diversity, equity & inclusion & more. Subscribe for free to listen to Political Climate: https://bit.ly/
Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean Founder and CEO of Dylan Green, and today I have with me the Julia Pyper! Welcome Julia.
Julia: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Catherine: Julia, you have such an impressive background, Masters of Science in Journalism at Columbia, worked for CBS News, a senior editor for Greentech Media, Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, and now you’re starting and hosting your own podcast. What would be the critical factor to your career success and what advice can you give to women looking to follow in your footsteps?
Julia: Thank you for that kind introduction. I always feel like I’m just in the thick of it. I’m like have I done anything with my life? So I feel like that’s the challenge we sometimes have, perhaps as women in the workplace in particular. I think a degree of luck is always helpful but I will say that I put a lot of long hours in. I really made sure of my first job at the outset, I know no one even does this anymore, but I wrote a handwritten note to get in there. I got my first job at E&E News and it honestly paid dividends. I’m actually Canadian, so I got a work visa through that and really just made sure that I did everything I could to try and be good at the job itself. It’s really interesting how doors open up that you don’t expect. Working for a B2B news publication was not what I initially thought I would do. I thought I would work in the mainstream news but it ended up being a fascinating beat. I got to cover issues on Capital Hill. So I think also being open-minded as to where your career trajectory goes is helpful. And accept new opportunities as they come and then here we are! I did not think I would start my own company or podcast about bipartisan climate and energy issues. Everyone’s favorite cuddly topic but here we are doing that. So it’s interesting the twists and turns and the last thing I will say is just being lucky to have other mentors and supporters. And I’m really grateful to other women in particular who help bring other women up and that’s been critical for me, and men too I will say.
Catherine: I couldn’t agree more. I think that sometimes you can have too much of a plan. You kind of need to let life happen and go on the journey that you’re meant to be on. So, I want to talk about your Political Climate podcast. What motivated you to start the podcast, Political. Climate? And what role do you think it fulfills, either within the industry or outside the industry?
Julia: We really did it as an exploratory thing. So, Political Climate is backed with grant money from the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute. It’s been amazing to work with them. They are super supportive but also give us editorial freedom. The conceit was just could you bring together a Democrat, in this case Brandon Hurlbut who served as Chief of Staff at the Department of Energy, and former Paul Ryan energy advisor Shane Skelton, as my Republican co-host. And bring us together and have civilized conversations on climate and energy and really broaden the Overton window. The thesis was there are more people, especially on the right, who care about this issue and have ideas but they don’t really have a place to go where they will be able to share those ideas and be listened to. But it was really an attempt to show that in today’s polarized media landscape that you could have some fun. Even if you do have different political opinions. I do want to stress that we don’t challenge climate science. We do not indulge denialism or things like that but we do hash out the policies in the politics. It’s been honestly and intellectual rollercoaster, figuring out what is possible in today’s world. But I hope that it at least provides a space for people to explore things in a more nuanced way and in a civilized and entertaining way too.
Catherine: Do you find that they change their minds, the people that you’re speaking to? That they may say, actually you know what you’re right that’s a good point?
Julia: Yeah, that does actually happen, where there’s kind of a breakthrough. I never heard it that way, even my two co-hosts, they do consume different news, and so they’re like “I never knew that that was a thing.” Or they’re being framed this way. There was even an op-ed we were chatting about this morning about “could a conservative Supreme Court be good for climate action.” And you’re like whoa, whoa whoa, how could that happen? There’s a lot of lawsuits taking place. But the argument, by in this case Charles Hernick who is a conservative leaning person who runs CRES, a clean energy group, he was making the case that this will force lawmakers to actually pass strong legislation and not just have the justices basically legislating. So lots of discussion to be had around that but that is where we go with this, of exploring those ideas. I think this will be relevant no matter who wins the election, in some ways, because it is not as though Democrats are entirely united. I do not want to sow discord unnecessarily but there’s a lot of different views on what the path forward should look like. So we want to be the home for those kinds of discussions too.
Catherine: Great. Just talking about DEI for a bit. You’ve been outspoken about the disparities in terms of race, gender, and otherwise, in the clean energy industry. You had an article in the Huffington Post to your interview with We Don’t Have Time, you have also done a great job of amplifying diverse voices through your podcast. So what do you think Diversity Equity and Inclusion are critical and what do you think it will take for our industry to overcome these issues?
Julia: It was funny, I wrote this piece for Huffington Post, and it came right as the pandemic was really taking a toll and all the jobless numbers were really coming out. The assignment was really to look at the lack of diversity in the solar industry specifically, which, covering this space I was like I don’t know if this is the top issue right now, everyone is just trying to keep their staff together, but in retrospect, I do feel like it was really an important story. And I am glad the editors really wanted this, and we made it happen because I think as the economy rebuilds this has to be front and center because there hasn’t been a great track record in the past. There have been a lot of efforts, but it is still very much skews white and male in the solar industry where people are trying to hire for diversity inclusion. I think the first thing is also just to challenge assumptions about who’s in the room. One thing I heard a lot of was about is it just big enviros, as one local grassroots African American environmentalist told me in the Chicago area they couldn’t even get a seat at the table during some of the discussion around where jobs would go, where funding would be allocated as part of a state bill there. So that’s the first thing: who’s in the room? And then, hearing more nuanced needs, like what are the job training needs? I think just giving people a voice is step one. Creating structures around that is going to be important too. How do you make sure you’re getting someone in the room? Who organizes that? How do you find that? I’m sure that’s the kind of thing you think a lot about. I pull back the curtain on even people who are trying to solve these issues may have some blind spots so how do we lean into some of those awkward conversations, even if they don’t feel like they’re coming at the best time, but have them so you can be more proactive in the future.
Catherine: It’s just such a learning process, so you’ll never have all the answers. Just admitting that you’re constantly going to be growing and developing and holding your hand up when you don’t know the answer to something I think is critical.
Julia: I will add that the solar industry just came out recently with a letter in Greentech Media, an op-ed that they published there that had four different commitments they were making to diversity and inclusion. So this is the kind of response that you need to see. Industries saying: OK we got a problem, let’s not avoid it, and here’s our 5-step plan or our 4-step plan to tackle it. That’s got to be one. Then, accountability is the next, you got to do the follow through.
Catherine: I want to talk a bit about clean energy jobs and the green economic recovery and your reporting around that. Based on your research, in recent podcast episodes, what do you believe it will take to reboot the clean tech industry in light of the pandemic?
Julia: Everything I’ve learned is that it will require significant stimulus spending at this juncture and time. At this point we know that one candidate, Joe Biden, has a plan for that. It’s not clear what the Trump administration would do, that’s maybe putting it mildly. So things like the Biden proposal to invest $400 billion dollars over the next 10 years in a broad, wide range of clean energy innovation and solutions is key. And the broader climate plan that he has is &2 trillion dollars and includes everything from environmental justice programs to holding polluters accountable and things like that. I think that will be key. The other thing that I’ll just add beyond targeted spending is the broader need for security and stability for the private sector. So, at Political Climate we’re doing a series called Ditched, which is about divestment from fossil fuels and then investment in greener solutions. But the thing that keeps coming up, it’s both encouraging that the private sector is doing this alone and that ESG investing is now a thing, and they’re searching for places to park those dollars, it’s a fascinating space, but there is only so much that can happen there. The world needs to mobilize $1.5 trillion dollars each year to get to net zero emissions by 2050. $1.5 trillion dollars a year, globally, mind you. But we are not even close to that right now, I think the last numbers I saw were around $500-600 billion invested globally in low-carbon solutions. You need the government to have stable policy to allow the private sector to then pour money in, but they need to know that those loans will be repaid, they need to have a consistent policy environment, and that is going to be one of the big things that will then seep into the broader clean energy sector, and will be necessary for bringing jobs back.
Catherine: Well thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it and keep fighting the good fight.
Julia: Absolutely! You too, I really appreciate it. And I think the last thing I will say is it’s got to be 100% for the 100% is the thing that I’ve learned the most this year. And that’s a line from New Energy Nexus, the startup accelerator, so hopefully we will see that realized soon.
Catherine: Yeah, I know, I hope so. Take care.
Julia: Thank you.