Erik Solheim is a Norwegian politician for the Socialist Left Party. He is currently Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
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I noticed an interview I did recently was on the front page. It was about the US losing jobs if it pulls out of the Paris Agreement. I hope I can answer any questions you have about that and anything else!
I've been leading UN Environment for a little less than a year now, but I've been working on environment and development much longer than that. I was Minister of Environment and International Development in Norway, and most recently headed the OECD's Development Assistance Committee - the largest body of aid donors in the world. Before that, I was a peace negotiator, and led the peace process in Sri Lanka.
I'll be back about 10 am Eastern time, and 4 pm Central European time to respond!
Hoping you can answer a few! Thanks for doing this.
> 1. About how many jobs is the US expected to lose? Any predictions on a number amount?
2. Do you expect Pres. Trump will follow through on his campaign promise and cancel US involvement with the Paris agreement?
3. Is coal really that dead? Would we really expect to see much greater job creation if we invested more in green energy areas?
4. What's the status on nuclear energy - are we still developing nuclear technology to use on a large scale? Would investment in that be more efficient than in wind, solar, or hydro?
5. What can average people do in their lives to reduce pollution? Is recycling helpful enough?
Any insights would be great because my knowledge on energy in the US could use a bit of refreshing. :)
1 - It's hard to give numbers. But for sure if the US was to stop the transition to renewables, the jobs will go to China, India and other places. Already there are 400,000 jobs in solar vs. 70,000 in coal in the US. That gives you an idea of the scale of the issue.
2 - We very much hope that President Trump will keep the US in the Paris Agreement. We are ready to work closely with the Administration to help them achieve the job growth that they promised during the election. Where to find these jobs? The green sectors.
3 - It's not dead yet, but it's headed that way. The coal museum in Kentucky recently decided to get its power from solar energy, which is cheaper than coal there. I think that's symbolic.
4 - In UN Environment, we prioritize the renewables revolution, which can provide huge numbers of jobs in wind, solar and others - and provide the environmental solutions we need. If nations want to invest in nuclear, it's important they take the strictest precautions and optimize waste management.
5 - The trick is to think about the changes you can make not only on an individual scale, but on a big scale using your voice. Drive less, buy green products, recycle - for sure! But also - vote for environmentally friendly politicians. Join groups working for the environment.
Hi Erik, thank you for partaking. With the current US president, the current leader of Russia and the biggest Media mogul all being athropological affected climate change deniers. How does the UN look to work with these individuals to progress the battle with climate change?
We will clearly set out the science, which has close to unanimous support from climate scientists from all over the world - including the US. I would also say that I've never heard President Putin deny climate change. That said, we need to work with everyone in any way that can advance the fight. So if President Trump wants to combat air pollution or focus on job creation in solar and wind, for example, that's where we have common ground we can work on.
For someone who is very keen in Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living and wants to actively participate/work for the cause, where and how do you think should they start ?
There are many ways! Lots of NGOs working for the environment need talented people to volunteer and work. Green companies like solar wind firms need employees. You can put pressure on business with your money and governments with your vote to act. Be active on social media and in your local community advocating for these issues.
Hi Erik, thanks for all of the good work. I'm a PhD student studying climate change and find it difficult to motivate myself when bombarded with constant 'alternative facts' from the media (seeing climate deniers rolled out again and again on news channels in the interest of 'debate'), lack of action from governments, a reluctance to meet targets which will result in massive fines from the EU. I suppose I'm wondering if you stay positive and how you stay that way.
Also - with the lack of energy devoted to the topic globally I'm worried about employment when I finish my PhD - any advice?
I'm at heart an optimist. There's no need for a debate about whether we can or cannot go into space or cure diseases. Let's be confident that we have that we have the ability to solve the problems we face. I think it's silly to believe NASA can send a person to Mars, but their climate science is a hoax. So we have the ability to solve the problems, and in my view it's a matter of time until we do.
What is your favorite dinosaur?
I was in Montana last year - you could pick up fossils of dinosaurs off the ground. It was really amazing! But I'd say it's hard not to be impressed by the big carnivores - the T rexes and so on.
How much damage can Trump do globally in one term as president in a worst case scenario? I realize we are a large contributor but it is not a problem that started yesterday. I worry more about momentum with global unity on the issue. Thank you for taking questions.
US action is not just about what happens in DC. The climate momentum in the US is largely driven by companies and states. Tesla - electric cars. Apple, Google - approaching 100% renewables if not there already. Berkeley Group in Kentucky is a coal company that is building a solar farm on top of a coal mine. Then you have states like California, which is one of the largest economies in the world! They are setting strict emissions limits. All of the non-DC action gives me confidence that the US won't fall far behind.
What is the most interesting or funny thing that has happened to you in a diplomatic meeting you have attended?
I don't know if it's the most interesting, but my son thinks this might be the funniest. https://imgur.com/a/oqIMy
It was at the launch of the first Norway-Sweden national park. Seated in the front row there are the King of Sweden, the Crown Prince of Norway and the Swedish Minister of Environment. That's me in the Christmas sweater. They told us to dress informally... I obviously had a different interpretation of what that meant.
Would you rather fight 1 horse-size duck, or 100 duck-size horses?
As a former peace negotiator, I would try to find a peaceful settlement that would mean I wouldn't have to.
Why are there so many misconceptions about both how expensive solar energy is and how efficient it is at powering cities?
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing areas of technological development, and the constant innovation has pushed efficiency up and prices down. What was true a few years ago is no longer the case. Take a look at places like Cochin airport in southern India -- they installed a solar farm because the electricity bills from the power company were too high.
Hei Erik. You have what seems to be an extremely important, interesting, and probably quite frustrating job. Luckily for you, you are now given the hypothetical opportunity to write down one global law for the whole earth to abide. What would that law be, and why?
Tough question! The most exciting law work I've ever been involved in was Norway's Nature Diversity Act. Basically, it said that when you destroy nature by building a housing complex or new road or whatever it may be, you should always look into the potential harm to nature - and whether there are alternative ways to do what you're trying to do. Can the housing complex be moved somewhere where it doesn't hurt the butterflies? Can there be bypasses on the road for elk and animals to pass? I think if we apply rules like this to the whole world that would be a good thing.
How do you think climate changed deniers can be convinced? Can they ever be?
We can't wait for them to change their minds in order to act. Some people will always believe NASA never landed on the moon and some minds can't be changed, regardless of the weight of evidence.
Good morning erik, i just wanted to know, if we continue this way of living, internationally, how many years is the earth expected to hang on?
Stephen Hawking said recently we only have 100 years left. I think that we have much much more than that. We can provide energy by solar and wind - it is a matter of rolling it out on a massive scale. We can provide prosperity for the world not by destroying nature but by protecting it. It's basically a matter of political will.