The GSB (Mock) Interview: Drew Brees; Standing Tall on Climate Change

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record for the most career passing yards in NFL history at a raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome a week ago Monday. The next day, about 300 miles to the east of the Crescent City, Hurricane Michael plowed into Panama City, Florida. 

Brees, who played a crucial role as a high profile ambassador supporting the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit, had to be affected by the devastation wrought by this latest mega-storm. With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Brees to see if he has made the connection between the Katrinas and Michaels — as well as the Harveys, Irmas and Marias of the world and climate change.

OK, we didn’t really talk to Brees — he was too busy preparing for Sunday’s game with the Baltimore Ravens.

So we’re doing the next best thing: Imagining a conversation with Brees about Katrina, Michael and climate change.

To be clear, Brees has not spoken out about climate change, at least as far as I can tell. I have no idea what he thinks on the issue. 

And even though he publicly stated that NFL players should stand for the national anthem, thus aligning himself with President Trump, a climate change denier/skeptic, that does not mean Brees is a denier/skeptic. In fact, he seems to be a thoughtful fellow, one who relies heavily on data to do his job. So, this faux interview posits that he would follow the scientific data on climate change.

This is our second imagined conversation about climate change with a mega sports star. LeBron James was the first back in 2013.

GreenSportsBlog believes that finding über athletes who are willing to engage with their fans on climate change is absolutely crucial to scaling the impact of the Green-Sports movement. That’s why we’re kinda-sorta talking to Brees, a beloved figure in Louisiana and throughout the football world.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Drew, congratulations on breaking the NFL career passing yards record held by a great son of New Orleans, Peyton Manning. In fact, Peyton sent this short congratulatory video to you.

 

 

Drew Brees: Uh, thanks, Peyton…I guess. And thank you, Lew. This is truly a team honor. Or teams. Going back to the 2006 group, my first year with the Saints, when the squad came back to New Orleans after being nomads in 2005, post-Hurricane Katrina…

 

Drew Brees

Drew Brees talks to Lisa Salters of ESPN after breaking the NFL’s career passing yards record (Photo credit: ESPN)

 

GSB: …That’s right, Katrina hit New Orleans in August, 2005, two weeks before the start of the season. So the Saints played their home games in places like Baton Rouge and San Antonio.

Drew: That’s right. The city was severely damaged — on its knees, really — and, coming in as a free agent, I was seen as damaged goods because the then-San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers released me and my surgically repaired right shoulder…

GSB: …And you were seen as too short at 6′ 0″ coming out of Purdue.

Drew: But I got very lucky — the Saints and coach Sean Payton took a chance on me and in 2006, just as the team was ready to return to a rebuilt Superdome. It’s been magical since our first game back in New Orleans, on that Monday night vs. the Atlanta Falcons.

 

 

GSB: You ain’t kidding. The 2005 Saints were 3-13 and there were rumors that the team was going to permanently leave a Katrina-battered New Orleans for San Antonio or elsewhere. But with you at the helm, and kind of taking the team and New Orleans on your back, the Saints had the most successful season in its 40 year existence, going 10-6 and reaching the NFC Championship Game.

Drew: It was incredible, so, when you think of it, the career passing yards record is really born of the spirit of New Orleans post-Katrina. And you’re kind to say I carried the city and the team. It was as much the other way around — the city lifted me. The 2006 team lifted me — guys like Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, the late, great Will Smith, and Steve Gleason, my buddy who blocked that punt vs. the Falcons in our first game back to the Dome and now courageously battling ALS.

GSB: Gleason is indeed a profile in courage. And then, in February 2010 in Super Bowl XLIV, you led the Saints to their first — and to date, only — championship, defeating the aforementioned Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts.

Drew: I know I use this word a lot but it was INCREDIBLE!

GSB: As a Jets fan I hope I get one taste of “incredible” one of these years. But I digress. Let’s talk about Katrina. You arrived in New Orleans a year after the storm and almost immediately got involved in rebuilding efforts.

Drew: My wife Brittany and I chose to come here in large part because we thought we could do something special here. When we arrived in the spring of 2006, it was like a ghost town. There still were boats in the middle of roads, and cars still upside down in people’s living rooms. What was amazing was that we leaned on each other. People were trying to rebuild their homes, rebuild their lives, yet they were still coming to the Dome to cheer on the Saints because it gave them so much energy and enthusiasm…just this feeling that we’re all in this together.

GSB: Well, you put your money where your mouth is. In 2007, your Brees Dream Foundation entered into a partnership with Operation Kids to rebuild city schools, parks, playgrounds, and athletic centers. It also funded after school and mentoring programs.

Drew: It was the least I could do.

 

Drew Brees Siding

Drew Brees installs a piece of siding at a home under construction at the Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village in the 9th Ward in May, 2007, 21 months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

 

GSB: Thankfully, from a New Orleans perspective, there hasn’t been another Katrina. But these once in a hundred year hurricanes are happening with much more frequency than that. Just last year, in a very short period of time, Harvey hit the Houston area, Irma blasted South Florida and Maria obliterated the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And of course last month, Florence devastated the Carolinas and, the day after you broke the record, Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle as a Category IV storm.

Drew: I know. I raffled off one of the game balls from the record-setter with all of the proceeds going to Michael relief. J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans of course did incredible work in that area post-Harvey last year. You still feel kind of helpless, because there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.

 

JJ Watt Houston Business

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans (c) with a $5,000,000 check from his Foundation, raised by donations from thousands of fans post 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. The funds went to Harvey-related relief efforts (Photo credit: Houston Business Journal)

 

GSB: Is that really true? In the short term, governments can build stronger levees, create manmade barrier islands to keep some storm water out of cities, make sure that future urban development takes the environment into account, and more.

Drew: I guess. But those things cost a lot of money.

GSB: Yes, but these storms are costing billions, and that’s not including the human costs. There is a strong case to be made that the investments in levees and the like make financial sense in light of the costs. Just ask the folks in the Netherlands, where those types of investments were made decades ago, and they have largely been successful.

Drew: If what you say is backed up by real data and the benefits of those types investments outweigh the costs then we are foolish not to investigate and make them.

GSB: The data is there in terms of investments to help areas adapt to a changing environment. But these are band-aids, really. The bigger problem is the increased frequency of severe hurricanes. Do you think human-caused climate change is having an impact?

Drew: Well, I’m going to start by saying I’m not a scientist BUT don’t worry, Lew, I’m not going to use that as a dodge.

GSB: Thank YOU!!

Drew: No problem. Because even though I am a man of deep faith I also am a man who appreciates science and data — the two can definitely co-exist in my mind. So when I read that 97 percent of climate scientists say climate change is real and human caused, that gets my attention. If our analytics department told me that the Baltimore Ravens defense, our opponent this Sunday, is going to blitz 97 percent of the time when we lined up a certain way, you bet we will call a play to counteract that blitz. Or if 97 percent of doctors studying the brains of deceased NFL players say that brain trauma from football caused the players to suffer from CTE

GSB: …Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma…

Drew …I would believe that there’s a strong link between football and CTE. That’s why, while I love football and think it’s the greatest game in the world, I think kids should not play tackle football until they’re of high school age so their brains and bodies are more developed. Play flag football until then. But I digress. The data and the science are clear: Climate change is real and it’s human caused and it’s having a disastrous effect now on my city and on coastal cities all over the United States and elsewhere.

GSB: So what should we do about it?

Drew: Great question. I have to admit I need to study the potential remedies. I’m a small government conservative kind of guy but, as with the idea of building levees, if public investment can yield a positive return on climate, I’d be open to it.

GSB: How about a market-based, revenue neutral price on carbon that is being advocated by a group called the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), led by Republican elder statesmen like James Baker and George Shultz? Or a similar plan as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a group with which I volunteer. The gist of both is that a fee would be placed on carbon-based fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) at the mine, well, or border. The money raised from that fee would be returned to U.S. households in the form of a monthly dividend rather than going to the Treasury. Higher prices on gas and other products due to the fee would encourage citizens to find and demand lower carbon options and accelerate the growth of the clean economy.

Drew: Now that’s a playbook I’d like to dive into. After the season, of course.

GSB: I’ll be happy to send you some info. I’ll wait until after February 3, the date of Super Bowl LIII at the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. One more question: Do you guys ever talk about climate change in the locker room? Say after Harvey or Maria hit?

Drew: Maybe a couple of guys mention it here or there but it really didn’t bubble up after those storms. We of course talk about the national anthem — I believe that everyone should stand despite the fact that I also believe that African Americans are often unfairly treated by police — and we talk about healthcare, both for NFL players and everyone else, and other issues. But climate change? Not that much.

GSB: What do you think would change that?

Drew: Truth is, I don’t have a real answer. I hate to say it but it may take a few more Katrinas.

 


 

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Climate Change Fight Is a Marathon Citizens’ Climate Lobby Aims to Win

Please indulge me this rare sports-free post. Green-Sports-themed posts will return next week!

I had the good fortune to spend Monday and Tuesday in Washington D.C. among an amazing group of 1,400 volunteers at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby National Conference. The 10-year old grassroots organization exists “to create the political will for climate solutions by enabling individual breakthroughs in the exercise of personal and political power.”

Though the group is very diverse — volunteers come from all corners of the United States, there are high schoolers and octogenarians, lefties and conservatives (a growing number, in fact) — CCLers have three things in common.

We…  

1. Are passionate about solving the climate crisis,

2. Believe in CCL’s market-based Carbon Fee & Dividend legislative proposal that would place a price on carbon and that would share the dividends equally with every household in the country. This would grow the economy, in particular the lower and middle classes, and clean energy technologies would scale at the pace needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.

3. Know that getting to meaningful climate solutions is a marathon and we are in the race until it is won.

Are we closer to the start or the finish of the climate change marathon? No one really knows. But, Tuesday’s lobby-thon — CCLers met with almost each of the 535 House and Senate offices — showed that Citizens’ Climate Lobby definitely picked up the pace.

 

For those of us engaged in the climate change fight in the United States, it is very easy to get dispirited.

  • We have a climate change denier in the White House.
  • Congress is controlled by the only major political party in the world — at least as far as I know — which casts significant doubt on the veracity of climate change.
  • Daily political discourse is much, much, much more focused on Russia, Stormy Daniels, witch hunts, Robert Mueller, etc., etc., etc.
  • Even the environment, when it gets covered, centers on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s many scandals, rather than the virulently anti-climate policies he, his boss, and their Administration are enacting.

All of this is happening as the climate change news becomes more dire. In Wednesday’s Washington Post, this headline blared: “Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade. If that continues, we are in serious trouble.” If you are reading this, you know there are a legion of such stories out there.

 

Crevasses

Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, a site of significant ice loss.  (Photo credit: Ian Joughin/University of Washington)

 

So it is understandable that many people would rather do something — anything — else other than get and stay involved with climate change activism.

These people need to meet Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers.

 

WHERE MANY SEE DESPAIR, CCL’ERS SEE A TANGIBLE WAY FORWARD…AND THUS, HOPE

Are CCLers naive? Just the opposite.

CCLers know that we humans have put our climate in critical condition and that we need to quickly change the course we are on, energy production- and usage-wise.

We also know that the solutions that exist now (wind, solar, efficiency, storage, etc.) can get us where we need to go in time to avert the worst effects of climate change, if we have the political will.

As far as CCL is concerned, building that political will to critical mass means finding a legislative solution in Congress.

The hopeful news is that CCL has a transformative policy measure — designed to appeal to both sides of the political aisle — that, once signed into law and implemented — will grow the economy, benefit mostly those in the lower and middle income stratas, and will reduce emissions at the scale and pace necessary.

Do the italicized parts sound a bit Kumbaya-ish?

Your skepticism is understandable — I just ask you to put it aside, at least until you’ve read the CCL policy prescription and how its 1,400-member volunteer army, moved it forward this week.

 

THE POLICY: CARBON FEE & DIVIDEND

Carbon fee and dividend sounds like something a gaggle of accountants would get giddy about…but a climate crisis game-changer? Really?

Really.

Here’s the slightly wonkish gist:

CARBON FEE

To account for the many societal costs (climate change, medical costs due to pollution, climate refugees, etc.) of burning fossil fuels, CCL proposes a fee^ — which would escalate yearly —be established on the emissions of fossil fuels. It will be imposed where the fuels are extracted (at the mine or well) or, if we are importing it, at the port of entry.

This fee accounts for the true cost of fossil fuel emissions, creates a level-playing field for all sources of energy, and informs consumers of the true cost comparison of various fuels when making purchase decisions.

THE DIVIDEND

All fees collected minus administrative costs will be returned to households as a monthly energy dividend that is divided evenly per household, based on size. If you have a social security number, you get the dividend.

WHO BENEFITS

You and Me

In year one, about 2/3 of households — the lowest 2/3 on the income scale — will break even or receive more in the dividend than they would pay in higher prices.

Why?

The people who make the least tend to also use the lowest amount of carbon — they likely don’t live lavish, carbon-intense lifestyles. But they’re getting the same dividend as everyone else.

And, since the lower income groups will likely spend most of the dividend, billions will be injected into the economy.

As families see they can do better financially simply by using less carbon, they will likely make smarter choices about their energy usage, meaning their net financial benefit will increase over time. This will spur innovation and build aggregate demand for low-carbon products at the consumer level.

The environment and the economy

In just 20 years, independent studies show that this system could reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels while adding 2.1 million jobs above baseline to the American economy.

If you need a bit more clarity, check out this two minute video about CF&D:

 

 

THE POLITICS: BIPARTISAN APPROACH; SOME GOP MOVEMENT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

There have been a number carbon pricing bills brought forth in Congress over the years but none have passed. Most have been structured as taxes, meaning the revenues go to the federal government for the Congress to disburse, not to the citizenry, as with CF&D. These bills have only garnered support from Democrats.

CCL leadership says they won’t push to introduce Carbon Fee & Dividend as a bill (i.e. to have it considered and voted on) until it has a Republican co-sponsor. They believe that for a carbon pricing law to have staying power, getting there has to be a bipartisan project. Since any number of Democrats in both chambers would likely sponsor CF&D, finding Republicans to co-sponsor is crucial.

But, you may ask, why would any GOP senator or representative sponsor a carbon pricing, given the climate change denial from the President and Congressional leadership and the party’s lockstep opposition to anything that looks like a tax?

It is a valid question, and, so far, not one Republican has stepped up.

But while the climate change fight is a marathon, one that has been run against fierce headwinds since November, 2016, something is impossible until it isn’t.

And there are, largely below the radar, some changes brewing on the GOP side.

  • Most notably, a group of esteemed Republican leaders of yore like George Schultz and James Baker, along with ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, economist Greg Mankiw, the late, great Steven Hawking, and others, formed the Climate Leadership Council (CLC). They published a market-style, dividend-based carbon pricing proposal that is similar to CF&D.
  • And, thanks in good measure to the efforts of CCL volunteers, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus was formed in the House in 2016. Members explore policy options addressing the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. For a Democrat to join, she or he must bring a Republican “dance partner” along. As of this week, the Caucus numbers 78 (39 from each party), representing 18 percent of total House members. Over the past 18 months or so, there have been a few climate/environmentally-related votes in the House in which some Republican Caucus members broke with party leadership.

Now, many Democrats fear that GOPers who join the Caucus do so as a “Greenwash”. This means they’re not interested in doing anything meaningful on climate change, but they want to appear like they do, so they sign up. And that may well be true in some cases. It also must be said, sadly, there have been some votes in which Caucus GOP members voted with the President.

So I’m skeptical.

 

But, I’m much more interested in getting a price on carbon than giving in to my skepticism.

And so I am more than willing to support the market-based, CF&D approach if it can gain Republican support.

What about other issues, you may ask?

From healthcare to immigration to gun safety to income inequality to basic decency to stopping the insanity that began when we woke up on 11/9/16 to [FILL IN THE BLANK], I line up firmly on the Democratic side. Thus I hope a Blue Wave washes ashore in November. And, if that means we have to start in January, 2019 with a smaller Caucus — and a longer marathon to run — so be it.

 

THE CONFERENCE: YOUNG CONSERVATIVES OFFER HOPE

Despite the above, my climate change fighting batteries got recharged, big time, at Monday’s CCL National Conference/lobbying training and Tuesday’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. This was my third conference/lobby day in the past four years.

Monday’s highlight was a terrific talk by Ted Halstead, founder, Chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council (the GOPers eminences grises group I mentioned earlier). His main thrust is that a dividend-based carbon pricing scheme will be a transformational “grand bargain” between right and left. In Halstead’s eyes, the left gets a carbon pricing scheme that benefits the lower 70 percent of families, the right gets regulatory simplification*, and carbon pollution starts to wane.

If you want to really get Halstead’s approach, please watch/listen to his 13 minute Ted Talk.

 

 

 

Halstead then brought on to the stage leaders from Students for Carbon Dividends (SC4D), a new group of college and university organizations — 23 Republican clubs and 6 Democratic clubs so far — that are supporting dividend-based carbon pricing. “This is the first time College Republican groups are publicly supporting a national climate solution,” said Alex Posner of Yale, the President of SC4D. “Young conservatives are very much interested in climate solutions. And liberals on campus are looking for something to move the needle.”

SC4D Vice President Kiera O’Brien of Harvard added, “According to a Pew Research study, 75 percent of young republicans want action on climate but have no outlet. We feel like we’ve been given a false choice: Conservation or the economy. We believe that, a dividend approach will result in conservation, economic growth and less regulation.”

Hopefully, many more young conservatives will follow Alex’ and Kiera’s lead on climate, and FAST!

 

LOBBY DAY: THE MARATHON CONTINUES

Kudos to the CCL staff! They were able to schedule lobbying meetings for 1,400 people with with over 500 congressional offices on Capitol Hill — and those took place on one day!

 

CCL

Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers pause for a photo in front of the U.S. Capitol before heading to over 500 Congressional offices to advocate for its Carbon Fee & Dividend legislative proposal (Photo credit: Citizens Climate Lobby)

 

And, it is my great honor to lobby with my CCL colleagues.

If you want to learn how to run an organized, strategic meeting — lobbying, business or otherwise — join a CCL lobbying meeting. Respectful and meticulously well-planned, they feature open-ended questions that get the member and/or staff talking, fact-based discussions, clear asks and tangible next steps.

I took part in three meetings, two with staff from Democratic House members (José Serrano from the Bronx and Joe Crowley from the Bronx and Queens) and with a staffer for an upstate New York Republican (Tom Reed, Ithaca to Jamestown).

CCL has been calling on these offices for years so much of our pitch isn’t new. Some of the objections and questions raised by staffers were similar to those I heard in 2015-16: “We need to promote conservation without hurting the economy,” “How does the dividend get allocated?”

But the staffers’ body language was more positive, more forward leaning. And their questions showed that some, small bits of progress had been made. There was a deeper understanding of the power of the dividend and interest in a “Grand Bargain.”

Leaving Capitol Hill, I felt energized, looking forward to the next phase of the climate change marathon, but also wondering how fast people like Halstead, Posner and O’Brien can rally their conservative friends to join in.

The marathon continues and I have yet to hit “the wall.”

 

JOINING CCL

The more I do this work with CCL, the more I am convinced that its  bipartisan approach to carbon pricing is ultimately going to be successful. If you would like to be a part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, click here.

 

^ $15/metric ton on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels, escalating by $10/metric ton each year,
* It is important to note Halstead’s/CLC’s plan eliminates carbon-based regulations like the Clean Power Plan in exchange for the carbon fee while CCL’s program does not remove regulations

 


 

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