Find Your Sustain Ability: U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich
Join App State Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball and guest U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, of New Mexico, as they discuss issues around the climate crisis — what Heinrich calls “the challenge of our time” — on this new episode of Find Your Sustain Ability. Topics range from the new generation of environmentalists and the parallels between COVID-19 and climate, to the landmark passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which will permanently fund infrastructure and facilities repairs and upgrades on national parks and other federal lands.
Lee Ball: Welcome to the podcast Find Your Sustain Ability, where we discuss active solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems related to climate change, social justice and sustainability. My name is Lee Ball, and I am your host. On the podcast today, I have an old friend, the honorable Senator Heinrich from New Mexico. Senator Heinrich is no stranger to environmental and sustainability issues. An avid conservationist, he has worked for decades on behalf of the environment and the people of his home state of New Mexico. Now, as an acting U.S. senator, he continues this work, and much more, on behalf of our country. Senator Heinrich, welcome to the podcast. It is a real pleasure to speak with you after all these years.
Senator Heinrich: Yeah, it’s great to be with you, Lee.
Lee Ball: So we first met in Albuquerque while I was working on my master’s in environmental education at the University of New Mexico. At the time, I remember being hopeful that we’re slowly, slowly starting to get a handle on the environmental crisis. Fast forward 25 years and the environmental crisis is exponentially worse, coupled with a climate crisis of unimaginable proportions. The majority of the state has warmed at least 1 degree over the last century. There are more fires, droughts, floods, extreme heat, pests, decreased snowpack, changing landscapes and even desertification. As someone who’s spent decades actively working on these problems, what’s really troubling you about these issues in your home state right now?
Senator Heinrich: You know, I think when you and I first met there was a growing awareness of the problem. But I think in our generation, we were more the exception than the rule in choosing to really focus on these issues with our life’s work. And I see that differently today in this rising generation. It seems that the entirety of the generation really sees these challenges very clearly and they expect not just, you know, words, they expect action for changing the myriad of challenges that we face. They expect us to fix the climate crisis. They expect us to do something about biodiversity. And I think the political power in that is really going to open up a flood gate of action. And the reality is that this kind of change does not happen in a linear way. There’s a lot of effort that goes in for a long time before you really get to see anything but incremental change.
Senator Heinrich: And then all of a sudden, the curve bends and things happen quickly. And so, as frustrating as it has been to spend my entire adult chat life fully aware of the changing climate and seeing very little action, now we’re reaching a point of dramatic action, and technology is changing very, very quickly because they’re not on a linear path either. And so I have more hope about doing something right now that I’ve had for most of my life. And I’m hopeful, in part, because you know, when I was in college, we didn’t have all the solutions to these things. We have the technology to fix the climate crisis today. We have the agricultural practices, but what we need is mass implementation. And what we need is to bring down the costs of some of those solutions, but we can see a path and that wasn’t true in the past. And we just need to, you know, across the board, we need action and we need cooperation with the rest of the world. And as we’ve all seen, that’s been a real challenge in the last four years, shall we say.
Lee Ball: I’m glad you shared that perspective. That really takes me back, you know, back when I was really thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I thought that spreading awareness was really important at the time. I did feel like there was, you know, a lot of momentum back in the ’90s. You know, fast forward to today, we don’t spend any time in our work trying to convince people that climate change is real. We’re actually working with these youth that you mentioned, they’re telling us we’re not doing it fast enough. And so that’s a great problem to have. I’m so happy that there’s a ground swelling support that has spread across the globe amongst the youth and others, obviously, and other generations. This does seem like the time for us to take action. We clearly don’t have a lot of time. And I realize that that’s a big part of why this has all emerged at the moment.
Senator Heinrich: I really think, you know, if we don’t act with urgency, this generation is going to push us out of the way and rightfully so.
Lee Ball: I agree. I recently read about how the iconic pinyon pine habitats and chili pepper crops were being affected by climate change in your home state. What are the ramifications of inaction and what are some of the social environmental risks associated with this?
Senator Heinrich: Well, you start messing with the New Mexican’s chili, and you’ll get their attention really fast. You know, this stuff is coming home to roost in a way that really is motivating people because the very foundation and the sense of place of home that is so unique in my state. You know, New Mexico is not “anywhere USA.” It’s not a place where you get dropped into a small town and there’s an Applebee’s on one corner and a Starbucks on the other and a McDonald’s across the street. It is deeply unique in culture and history and things like chili and pinyon are sort of baked into who we are. So, when you start to see things that are foundational to you change and change rapidly and be threatened, it is part of the motivation that has us acting much more urgently than we have in the past.
Senator Heinrich: Our state actually just passed a law, the Energy Transition Act, in the last legislature, to say that we want to be carbon zero in all of our electric generation by 2045. Since then, we’ve actually worked with the state’s largest utility and they’ve committed to do that by 2040. So, all these timelines that people said couldn’t be met in the past are actually getting shorter, and the urgency of losing things that we care so deeply about, or, in my case, you know, when I have free time, I spend it on our public lands and I know the state really intimately. And I know these places that are such a central part of who I am, and I have seen places that are just really near and dear to me change dramatically in the last 20 years. And that is really motivational, because when you are rooted to a place and a sense of place, and then you see that change, it’s very hard not to be motivated to act.
Lee Ball: Yeah. I feel the same, you know, here in Western North Carolina the mountains are unbelievably beautiful and when we see real changes beginning to happen, it just really hits home at a place that is, you know, uniquely different from really anything a lot of us have ever experienced. So farmers are feeling this and the recreation industry is feeling this and, you know, fortunately there’s this broadened awareness and those industries where people are starting to lend a hand. So it’s unfortunate that we’ve had to really tap a wide variety of interest groups. It would be great if we could just solve these problems without engaging them, but now people are literally rising up because it’s just, you know, it’s affecting their livelihoods at a deep level. When I first moved to New Mexico, I taught in the McKinley County Schools System on and off the Navajo or Diné Nation as they like to call themselves. And many of these communities were deeply and desperately struggling back then, in addition to the obvious, most pressing COVID-related needs, what other lifelines do tribal communities need now to help them deal with the accelerating effects of climate change?
Senator Heinrich: You know, I think there’s a lot of parallels between COVID and climate. COVID is very urgent and very quick and right in front of us and climate is slower, but every bit as urgent and even bigger. No one has felt the impacts of COVID harder than tribal communities. I’ve had mentors and friends of mine in tribal communities who have who’ve passed away from COVID. And I think one of the only silver linings is that I’ve been able to get the attention of my colleagues to understand just how urgent these issues are in tribal communities. And I think what tribal communities need more than anything else is the basic infrastructure that the rest of the country takes for granted. And so, my hope is that in 2021, we can shift towards getting serious about infrastructure in particular and make the kind of commitments to building out infrastructure in tribal communities that we made for rural electrification back in the 1930s. We need electricity; we need sanitation; we need water; we need broadband. That’s what tribal communities need to be able to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the country, because they have the human capital and they have these amazing young leaders that I have enormous faith in, but they’re not playing on a level playing field because they don’t have those things. In many cases, you go out to a pueblo and what you’ll see is a bunch of kids around the community center or around the library so that they can get the broadband to do their homework. I just think that if we’re going to address some of the fundamental inequities in our country, we have to address the fact that tribal communities never got the fair shake when it came to basic infrastructure that the rest of the nation just expects as a matter of course.
Lee Ball: I really appreciate your experience and knowledge of the struggles that our nation’s tribal communities really go through because there aren’t many senators that are, you know, as close as you are to these communities and you’re right. I never imagined until I lived in New Mexico and then in Minnesota how much infrastructure, you know, that we had, the typical American has that we take for granted. The failing infrastructure that I witnessed just in my kind of brief exposure to these tribal communities was appalling. I just didn’t really understand all the reasons and the history behind that. So, just thanks for being an advocate. You’re one of the strongest advocates on the Senate. And I know that a lot of people really are cognizant of that and appreciate it.
Senator Heinrich: No, thanks, Lee. And I think we can learn, too, from the solutions to these challenges. And they’re very analogous to the solutions that we have to find all over the world with the differences in income and between North and South. The fact is if we’re going to solve these things, a lot of the solutions we need to bring to bear now also need to be distributed solutions. The centralized solutions of the past, whether we’re talking about energy or other things, I think are really changing and are becoming more distributed. And if you work on a place like the Navajo Nation, there are going to be a lot of homes where it just doesn’t make sense to send a power line, where it’s going to be much, much cheaper to power that home right from its location, rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to extend transmission or distribution lines. I think, in addition to the necessity of meeting these challenges in tribal communities, there’s a lot we can learn that scales to the rest of the world and puts basic things that should be in the hands of all of humanity closer to reality.
Lee Ball: A great example where resiliency strategies and climate action strategies are really go hand in hand when you’re thinking about a distributed system in a very remote place like the Navajo Nation, you know. Because a lot of our climate action solutions, you know, that people have kind of held up as silver bullets are not always distributed. When some people think that this is going to make a really big impact to decarbonize something, you know, it still might marginalize a community somewhere. And so we’re really trying to think deeply about that and understand the ramifications of our actions. Even when we think like, you know, a solar field is going to make sense somewhere, it might not always.
Senator Heinrich: Oh, absolutely. One of the reasons why I think solar has been so successful in bringing down costs is because it is truly a distributed resource and it can be created in such small increments. If you look at the differences between solar and nuclear, for example, the reason why the costs have never been sort of as advertised with nuclear is because they’re such huge, giant projects. And when you can take something like a solar panel and it can be as small as on your phone or as big as a solar field, or it can be the solar panels on your house, it’s been that increment that has allowed us to reduce the cost per watt from like, oh $75 to $80 just a few decades ago down to, you know, pennies today. And that has, you know, that has completely changed the economics of electricity in a way that, ironically, other generation sources just never saw coming because they couldn’t imagine that those declines could be so precipitous. I think that speaks to how we think as humans. We tend to think in straight lines and when we’re dealing with lines that are not straight, that are exponential in nature, humans really struggle with that, but it was completely predictable from the 1970s on that we would reach these really low electricity prices that are going to allow us to, I think, fully decarbonize our grid and then shift other sources of emissions, like transportation, over to clean technologies through electrification.
Lee Ball: Yeah. We’re starting to see a lot of headway in that with electric buses right now, all over the country. We just got a grant for our first electric bus in our community and a charger. We’re super excited about it. I wonder if DC (direct current) technology might play a role here, especially in places where battery storage might have limitations or it might be expensive for households or communities. What are your thoughts on that?
Senator Heinrich: I’m not an expert in DC, but I do think, especially for remote locations that oftentimes we’ve seen that it makes a lot more sense where you’re not necessarily attached to the grid and so you’re not in a net sort of situation.
Lee Ball: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of what made me think of it, where I’ve seen people experimenting with, you know, trying to at least provide lighting and, you know, even refrigeration. So, let’s change gears here just a little bit. So, Senator Heinrich, you’re an engineer. And are you the only engineer on the Senate currently?
Senator Heinrich: I believe that Senator Daines of Montana has an engineering degree as well, maybe chemical.
Lee Ball: OK. Well, you know, I have a feeling that it serves you well with the complex problems that you’re tasked with trying to solve every day and you know, kind of using a systems approach probably is, I would assume, how you’re wired in a lot of ways. One thing that I realized that I did not know that we have in common is that you, when you were at the University of Missouri, you were on the Missouri S&T Solar Car Team, and here at Appalachian State, we have a solar race car team that is called Team Sunergy. How cool is that? I really did not know that about us.
Senator Heinrich: It’s amazing that we didn’t put that together, but that was a really formative part of my youth and of my thinking around all these issues around sustainability.
Lee Ball: Solar car racing, if you look at the old pictures and really even some of the cars today you know, there’s a global solar racing community. I remember, you know, seeing some of the old cars when I was younger and it looked like the Jetsons and their little spaceships and, you know, some of them even look like that still today. But, you know, from my experience, the solar car team is managed under our office, and so I’m deeply involved with this. And I’ve been able to participate in two American Solar Challenge races. And I was invited to be a guest on a Chilean team in the World Solar Challenge, where we race across Australia … from Darwin to Adelaide. And so I’ve had a little experience and I will say that the students that primarily drive these programs and these race teams are just incredible. They’re often a mixture of engineers and communicators and business students, and they take problem-solving to a level that I had never really experienced. A lot of the teams now, especially, you know, and in the late 2000s leading up to today, they’re really focusing on how can our efforts influence some of the world’s most difficult problems in sustainable transportation and solar energy. What was the feeling or the vibe back in the early 1990s when you were on S&T’s team? Where y’all out there thinking you’re going to save the world, too?
Senator Heinrich: You know, I think we really weren’t. I think there was much more of an approach of this is sort of a constrained situation where you have to be really creative. And that was a lot of the point. I think the technology has actually moved a lot further than any of us at that time in the early 1990s could have imagined. And for me at the time, it taught me a couple of things. One, it taught me that renewable energy was real and that it was going to change rapidly and come down in cost and scale and be distributed. But it also taught me how wasteful we were with energy. And I grew up in a household where my dad was a lineman for the utility company. So I’ve been thinking about electricity my entire life. I quickly realized how much energy we were just wasting at the time and how to be efficient in that envelope of the limitations that our solar array created, that a lot of the solutions were about not using energy in the first place.
Senator Heinrich: When you start realizing how incredibly wasteful internal combustion engines are, you realize why we have the climate challenges we do today. We came up with solutions at the time that now are just baked into solutions at scale in the economy. Things like regenerative breaking that made the Prius such a unique car when it first came out, we were doing that to recharge our batteries to, you know, make sure that the brakes put that energy back into the batteries instead of burning it off as heat, using LEDs, which were really not known at the time to do all of our signal lights on the car, using materials like carbon fiber. So much, I think of the solution is finding the places where you don’t need to use that energy in the first place, rather than try to overcompensate in your generation. And then today, I think today’s teams are just light-years ahead of where we were. They realize that the whole point of this racing technology is to drive change and to change what’s possible.
Lee Ball: Yeah, I agree. These students are really amazing and, you know, we’re using physics students and computer programmers and sustainable technology students and business students and communication students. They really do have this this goal that’s greater than just trying to solve a technical problem. So it’s so amazing to hear that you’re one of the pioneers on S&T’s Solar Car Team. We may have competed. I know we competed in a race together with App State’s Team Sunergy in the past. And gosh, I hope that we could find ourselves at a finish line someday in the future as kind of a reunion that would be great.
Senator Heinrich: That would be a lot of fun.
Lee Ball: I would like to talk about the Great American Outdoors Act for a moment. The opportunity to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restore our national parks is exciting for so many reasons. As you know, this will provide funding to infrastructure and repair projects that have been neglected for a really long time. What other long-term impacts will this have on these precious resources and how will this legislation support the communities where these parks are located?
Senator Heinrich: You know, the infrastructure on our public lands, and as much as I love our national parks, one of my roles in that legislation was to broaden the investment in infrastructure to other public plans, to include our national forests and our national wildlife refuges and our Bureau of Land Management lands. And this is in the changing rural economy in America today one of the biggest, fastest-growing driving forces in rural economies is the use of our public lands for outdoor recreation. And whether that’s hunting and fishing or mountain biking or camping, or all the other things that go on on our public lands, they are a huge driver of rural economies today, and a huge source of sustainability within those economies. And so there’s been this giant shift in a century from rural economies being completely dependent on resource extraction or commodities to today’s economy.
Senator Heinrich: And this legislation is really the first time that we’ve made investments that recognize that. And I think it’s an enormous opportunity, and it’s also an opportunity to realize, my goodness like, public lands and wildlife are some of the only things that we’ve been able to come together around in this very divided time in our country’s history. And having gone through, you know, stay-at-home orders and quarantines and all the things associated with COVID. I mean, I know I personally realized how critical time in the outdoors is to my own personal health and mental well-being. And I think a lot of my colleagues came to that same conclusion and that created an opportunity to pass something that wasn’t just incremental change, but was a sort of generational opportunity for investment and created a tool that is really a very, very broad tool, the land and water conservation fund. That’s what we’re going to use to make sure that every kid has a park within walking distance. And yet it’s the same tool that we can use to protect ecosystems and to address the biodiversity crisis and to protect the landscapes. So I really think this legislation, as much as it’s a product of the moment, will be looked back on as one of the greatest conservation accomplishments of this century.
Lee Ball: So I’m fascinated by the dynamic that since COVID, we have seen so many people go to these spaces, to a point where they’re, they’ve been overwhelmed. So, you know, there’s certainly a negative aspect to that, but you know, the positive as a sustainability educator, you know, people are getting into nature, you know, it is so good for their health and well-being. And also, I think, that gives them a stronger connection to these spaces. And I think that they’ll fight for these spaces.
Senator Heinrich: And Lee, I think it’s really important to realize that we can turn that negative into a positive. Because, like we’ve all seen, the people who, frankly, have not been in these spaces historically show up, who don’t have the same, you know, decades of experience and leave no trace ethics. And we need to teach that and we need to use it as a teachable moment, because there are spaces that are being impacted enormously right now by people who don’t have the tools to treat those places with the respect that they deserve. But this is also our moment, as you said, to turn those folks into advocates for those places. And I think that’s the opportunity here.
Lee Ball: Will this fund and support some environmental education to combat those problems?
Senator Heinrich: This legislation does not. And I think, you know, we’ve really been in dialogue with the Outdoor Industry Association and other recreational interests to figure out ways to do that sort of education. I think the overwhelming sort of response to COVID and the use of our public lands really caught all of us by surprise. You know, in New Mexico, I’m pretty used to being out in many of these places by myself, then we just saw that change dramatically. So we’re still coming up with the solutions to that challenge, but a lot of really creative people are at the table. And I do think it’s an opportunity to broaden the constituency for our public lands. And one of the things that we’re, I’m really proud of our state is that, at the state level, we now have an outdoor equity fund that is designed to get communities and kids who have not had the ability to sort of access their public lands tools to be able to do that in communities that are less affluent. And that is something I think we need to learn from at the national level and try to scale to make sure that all of our communities have responsible access to our public lands.
Lee Ball: You mentioned bipartisan success during a time of this very unprecedented divisiveness in our country. In addition to our two North Carolina senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, were co-sponsors on the bill. Can you talk about the importance of finding an opportunity to collaborate together on something within this highly toxic environment?
Senator Heinrich: Success breeds more success, and when you can work together across party lines to get something done, what it does is it builds trust. A lot of that trust used to be baked in to Washington, D.C., because families would come back here and would, you know, play baseball together. And the commuter Congress has really sort of destroyed that. So, you know, when Newt Gingrich really changed the way that the House, in particular, was run and expected all of his members to travel every week, it disrupted the fabric that allowed people to really know each other well. And so for a couple of decades now, we’ve really struggled with a level of partisanship that is indicative of people not knowing and trusting each other. And when you can find ways to work together, you rebuild that. I’m really proud of the fact that when I came to Washington, D.C., as a member of the House of Representatives back in January of 2009, public lands and wildlife were partisan, and there were, you know, what I call faux think tanks here in Washington, D.C., that were really driving an anti-public land, sell off public land narrative that many Republican members of Congress embraced.
Senator Heinrich: You had people like Rob Bishop and others who were making that the dominant narrative in the Republican Party. And that is totally shifted in a period of 10 years. And we’ve realized that these are the places that bring us together. They’re not the antithesis of democracy. They’re actually one of the greatest accomplishments of democracy. And it turns out that, you know, Republicans like to hunt and hike and fish and do all those things just as much as Democrats do. And so that’s brought us together in a way that very few issues have. And it’s departisanized this issue to the point where we’ve been able to get done in one Congress what we couldn’t get done in a decade before. The Great American Outdoors Act is not the only piece of public land and wildlife legislation that we’ve been able to move in this Congress.
Senator Heinrich: We actually passed the John Dingell Act that, you know, in New Mexico, we protected I think 240,000 acres of wilderness in places like the Oregon Mountains- Desert Peaks National Monument, places I’ve been working on for decades. And today we’re getting ready to pass the ACE act, which is a piece of legislation that bundles together a number of different wildlife programs, one of which is my legislation for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act that will help us address the crisis in biodiversity and the fact that many of our wildlife species are imperiled right now. And we’ve been able to do those three bills in one Congress. And I’ve never seen that kind of progress in a single Congress before. So boy, if we could departisanize climate change the way we have public lands and wildlife, we’d be able to solve some of these problems.
Lee Ball: I really appreciate your work on these issues and really reaching across the aisle and finding that common ground because, you know, it’s a great model and hopefully we can do this with climate change. I’m seeing traction here in our state. We take a very similar effort as far as trying to build relationships and trust. It’s just so important. And, you know, my friends that have different backgrounds, it doesn’t really matter as long as we can, you know, agree that a lot of these decisions are going to be extremely good for the state and for our economy and for the people and for the environment — there’s all these mutualisms that we can identify and, you know, politics aside, work together to, you know, to really help, you know, our state or country and the world. So I just really appreciate you just being out there, willing to reach across the aisle and do this work. It means a lot.
Senator Heinrich: Well, and once we build, you know, real job bases in these clean industries and solar is a great example of that, onshore wind is a great example of that in many places, then it does departisanize issue. Because when your neighbor or your cousin works and has a job and is able to put food on the table and really believes in their career, then you know, those communities organize around protecting that. And I’ve seen that with solar in terms of my advocacy at the federal energy, at the FERC — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. I would be testifying next to the Republican governor of South Carolina, for example, who also got that there were jobs associated with this stuff. So, you know, I do think as soon as you can create a really viable job base and many of these jobs are going to be in deep red states. I mean, you look where wind is creating sustainable jobs in my state, and it’s not an Albuquerque. You’re not going to put a wind turbine up in the biggest city in the state. It’s in small communities like Corona, where they haven’t had that level of investment since the railroad showed up. And so, you know, when you start to add seats in classrooms because of that industry and add tax base and be able to invest again in the community. Boy, that just changes everything.
Lee Ball: So let’s expand on this a little bit. You know, the climate crisis is arguably one of the most important issues of our time. You serve on the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, which recently published “The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Economy for the American People.” The report outlines how we can work together to reduce carbon in the atmosphere while also providing lifelines to communities. How do you think climate action at this scale will contribute to building a stronger and more resilient economy in the United States? Just kind of building on what you said, this can be really transformational for us.
Senator Heinrich: Yeah, I think it’s the future foundation of our economy in many ways. I think sustainable energy is going to create electricity that is so much cheaper than we ever could have imagined. We’re still seeing declines in the cost of these distributed generation. That’s going to open up opportunities. I think that, you know, just the distributed nature of many of these solutions means opportunities in places that didn’t have opportunities before. So I really think that if you look at where investment is moving in the economy today, there is a nascent recognition that these are the opportunities for economic well-being and growth. And you’re seeing capital move from traditional solutions that we now know are causing many of the problems we have to solutions that are really focused on being clean from the start. And I think that’s encouraging. You know, we’re going to have to … I think businesses are starting to realize that there is no throwing anything away — not into the atmosphere, not the plastic that we now know …
Senator Heinrich: We all consume every week because we’re throwing away so much plastic that all of these things have to be a closed loop. And even within agriculture, the growing understanding that we’ve got to stop treating our soil like dirt and start treating it like an ecosystem again, that that’s part of the solution to climate change and to sequestering carbon dioxide out of the air and getting that carbon into living matter in our soils, and money and investment are following those ideas. And so, if we have investment, then we can scale those ideas. And that makes me hopeful that maybe my kids will inherit the kind of economy and the kind of planet that they really deserve.
Lee Ball: I would love to spend a whole other podcast talking about circular economies and the difference between soil and dirt. Healthy soil is certainly going to be one of the solutions to our climate crisis. The debate on Tuesday night spent more time on the climate crisis than any previous presidential debate in history. These issues are extremely important to first-time voters, as we’ve talked about. Do you think other generations are starting to feel a similar sense of urgency? I mean, Chris Wallace didn’t even intend to talk about it and he is not a young first-time voter, and, on the fly, he thought it was an important thing to bring up.
Senator Heinrich: Well, I think that’s a good indication, but I will say that I don’t think that Chris Wallace’s generation, or even your and my generation, have the urgency broadly that we need. And it’s no,t once again, that that urgency is not linear. The closer you get, the younger you get, the more passionate people are about demanding change and the speed of that change. We need to really recognize that this is the single most critical issue that we face. And it’s not in front of us the way that COVID is every day, but if we don’t deal with it now, this is one of those challenges that can run away with, to where you can’t get to the solutions fast enough. So I really think that this is the challenge of our time, and we have to rise to meet that. And I hope that you and I both get exposed to young people who I have complete faith in being able to solve these solutions, but our generations also need to solve them now, so that we don’t wait too long. So that those young people can inherit enough runway to get this done.
Lee Ball: Yeah. And that’s part of their frustration because, you know, they, for whatever reason, quickly understood what ecological overshoot means and where so many others don’t really … did not, cannot grasp that. But they’re not necessarily all in positions of power or they’re not, they don’t have jobs where they are decision-makers. They’re looking to us to be able to, you know, work on these issues and integrate these solutions into what we do every day. And I understand their frustration. It’s, you know, it’s difficult from where they sit. They do a good job, you know, being loud and they do a good job, you know, trying to do the best they can to work their way into, you know, these rooms where decisions are being made and I applaud that effort. But, at the end of the day, you know, a lot of the people that have the ability to make these complex solution strategies don’t have the literacy that they do. And and they’re frustrated. I’m frustrated. I spend a lot of time focusing on sustainability leadership among decision-makers. I feel like that’s a good leverage point at the moment. But again, you know, it takes a while and we don’t have a while. And again, I think that’s what fuels a lot of their frustration and anger.
Senator Heinrich: Yeah. And I think the more we can channel that and give them productive outlets where they can see the results of change, to make that generation realize that in their own home, they have likely a parent or two parents that they can work on to become those sustainability leaders. And that immediately they begin to have impact because they don’t have to wait to work on the people around them, to be better about coming up with these solutions. They can educate the people in their own family who have that power right now, and it just builds their capacity to have more and more change as they come up through their education and get into their professional careers.
Lee Ball: So, we’ve made it to the end of our podcast. I’d love to talk to you all day. I know that you, you know, have a pretty big job to do and have a lot on your agenda today. So, really in closing here, in addition to, you know, the youth and all their passion and urgency, what are you really excited about these days? And as you look towards the future, is there anything that encourages you encourages you to think that there might be more bipartisan support for climate action?
Senator Heinrich: Yeah. I think one of the things that gives me hope for the future is that right now the Republican Party is looking for a way to get right on climate. And because they’ve been historically so dependent on financial support from fossil industries, that’s a real struggle for them. And they haven’t quite figured it out, but it’s a big change from the denial that we had just four years ago. And so you see a lot of members right now trying to find ways to find places where they can be for climate change action without endangering their, you know, their very existence in a position of leadership. And that’s a hard place to be for them, but it’s so much healthier than just where they were four years ago. And I think there are a lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who want to get to a place where they can work on these issues much more intensively. And we just need to find those leaders who are willing to stand up and be willing to work with them and create the incentives so that they don’t, you know, don’t lose their job for doing the right thing.
Lee Ball: Yeah. I imagine the money is shifting too. I mean, you know, now that clean energy is starting to, you know, literally make millions of billions of dollars. You know, I doubt they’re entirely supporting Democrats.
Senator Heinrich: No. And in many of the places where those industries work, the political structure is Republican. I mean, many of the places that are producing the enormous amount of wind generation that we see in the United States right now, most of that is in states like Wyoming and Iowa and, you know, the Dakotas. And so it is, you know, we’re seeing that shift from this being an ideological issue to being more of a representation of where the economics are, but it can’t happen quickly enough. And we need more willingness to recognize just how big the changes that we’re going to have to make are, and we’re going to have to get together and work together to make it happen.
Lee Ball: Well, Senator Heinrich, thank you so much for your hard work, dedication and tenacity on behalf of our country’s people in magnificent places. It was really special to have you on the program and to hear all about the great things you’re doing for this country. Take care, be well and stay safe.
Senator Heinrich: Thanks so much for having me, Lee.
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About Sustainability at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s leadership in sustainability is known nationally. The university’s holistic, three-branched approach considers sustainability economically, environmentally and equitably in relationship to the planet’s co-inhabitants. The university is an active steward of the state’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources and challenges students and others think critically and creatively about sustainability and what it means from the smallest individual action to the most broad-based applications. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs that focus on sustainability. In addition, 100 percent of Appalachian’s academic departments offer at least one sustainability course or course that includes sustainability, and all students graduate from programs that have adopted at least one sustainability learning outcome. Learn more at https://appstate.edu/sustainability.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.