Aug 25 • 57M

Talking through the Inflation Reduction Act with Don't Look Up director Adam McKay

Addressing some reservations.

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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In this episode, director Adam McKay returns to hash over some of his reservations about the Inflation Reduction Act and the larger political situation in the US. I try to persuade him to be happy about the IRA.

Full transcript of Volts podcast featuring Adam McKay, August 25, 2022

(PDF version)

David Roberts:

Recently, director Adam McKay — familiar to the climate community for his recent movie Don't Look Up, which he came on Volts to discuss — made a series of comments on Twitter critical of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ newly passed tax, health-care, and climate bill.

As is so often the case on Twitter, an extremely heated and unilluminating brouhaha ensued. It turns out that particular platform is not a great place for a good-faith discussion.

Adam McKay
Adam McKay

I reached out to McKay about the bill and we thought it might be fun, just for kicks, to do another pod, to address his various questions and reservations. Volts listeners have heard me and other energy wonks talk about the bill quite a bit, but I thought it might be interesting to hear it hashed over with someone coming at it from a slightly different perspective.

Anyway, if you have appetite for more IRA talk, it was a fun hour and I think you'll enjoy it!

Without further ado, Adam McKay, welcome back to Volts.

Adam McKay:  

Mr. Roberts, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I made the crazy attempt to have a discussion about the IRA bill online. I made the mistake of expressing some skepticism and found myself in a 30-wrestler cage match, with people screaming at me “did you read the bill??” over and over again. And I thought, well, this is a waste of time, maybe I'll just talk to someone who knows what they're talking about and we can have a nuanced conversation. Imagine that.

David Roberts:   

Twitter is a machine built to exacerbate every difficulty of human communication and eliminate the few tools we have to overcome those barriers. 

Adam McKay:  

It eliminates nuance, facial readings – it’s basically like being involved in a traffic anger incident and thinking, “I wish I could always talk to people like this.”

David Roberts:   

There’s a set of people on Twitter who have been following you, who know you to some extent – know your priors, know your background, know the other things you've said – so are having a normal conversation with you. But the doors of Twitter are wide open, so any passing S-hole who doesn’t know you from Adam (pardon the pun) can wander in and be like “nah, he's an asshole, I'm going to take this tweet in the worst possible way.” And you're there simultaneously trying to have conversations with both of those people. It's just dumb. It's not something humans were meant for.

Adam McKay:  

I think we all had times in our lives, usually in our 20s, where you would find the out-of-the-way bar and it would become your bar. We had one on Avenue A and Second Street called Psycho Bongos in the middle of the 90s, this empty old bar that we kind of took over. And every now and then a weird dude – and let's face it, it was usually dudes – would walk in and just blow the entire vibe. Twitter’s like that, only it's 600 people, and they all have Team Blue bumper stickers.

David Roberts:   

I have been podcasting the everloving shit out of this bill. I podded it when it was in the midst of being formed; I podded it when it came out; I've got two new pods going up this week in which me and Jesse Jenkins get deep into the wonky details. So it's on my mind. I know you are a person that had some reservations and questions, probably representative of a lot of other people out there who have objections and questions from the same perspective, so I thought, what the hell, let's keep podding.

Adam McKay:  

I appreciate it. I've heard all the podcasts you've done about the bill, and I feel like you're not a pushover. You have pretty good veteran, skeptical eyes. I've learned a lot from it. 

I did actually slog through reading the bill. I've read a bunch of other analysis on it. And I have a take that is a little different, but not that different, from a lot of what you and other people have been discussing. 

Once again, Twitter tends to take whatever reservations you have and put them on full blast. But the big thing Twitter doesn't have is context. Everyone brings their own context, and I think the IRA is all about the context of this moment that we're living in right now. 

A little situational awareness check-in: We're about three years away from, without exaggeration, democracy as we know it in the US going away. We’ve got that SCOTUS decision hanging over us about giving states the right to overturn elections.

David Roberts:   

Lots of Republicans seeded in those local offices just ready to go.

Adam McKay:  

They've been working that, they've been grinding it, they've been looking at the laws. Whether it's Trump or DeSantis or someone else, there's clearly a movement that is going for our democracy, that is now organizing and getting a little smarter. We know that's happening. That's a major problem.

Then we have a problem above it, the biggest problem we've ever confronted as human beings on this planet – the climate emergency, which is incomprehensibly massive. 

So you have these two problems, a smaller one running next to a giant one. I look at the bill through that lens. 

As far as addressing the first problem, the future of American democracy – which is obviously connected to the climate – I would say the bill is a failure. 

Losing the cap on insulin for people not covered by government insurance was a major blow, because what we need to be doing right now more than anything is showing people that aren’t millionaires that government can work for them, across party lines. That was an opportunity with the insulin cap. That is an issue that cuts right across red and blue, that would have been immediately beneficial to millions of people and saved lives and bank accounts and homes. 

That was a big deal, and that was the part that led me to get really angry at the Democrats, because they rolled over to the parliamentarian, which is one of their favorite little moves – suddenly they get very respectful of the parliamentarian. I thought it was a really damaging charade. 

Now, the stuff about the loopholes for private equity, that wasn't great. But that wasn't stuff that your average person is going to feel immediately. I think as far as what we need to be doing, we need to be passing things that people can feel. 

There's a great story about Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring uprising, where country after country was going like dominoes and the family of Saud just cut a check for everyone in the country. I think it was for $25,000. And it worked. They didn’t have a revolution. Don't get me wrong, the second Covid stimulus bill was pretty darn good, but I think it’s dangerous that we're losing elements of that now, like the child tax credit. 

So under that heading, I would call the bill a straight-up failure. I would be that harsh on it. 

And as you know, the future of our democracy is tied to action on climate, because unfortunately, this Republican Party is going to do zilch when it comes to climate. A lot of them don't even believe it's real. They don't care. We've seen the way they behaved under Covid, where they were telling their own supporters basically to die. 

So it's connected to climate, and that’s where I think it gets a lot more interesting and a lot more nuanced. That’s where I've been listening to you, reading a lot of interesting climate people, and hearing a lot of different opinions. 

There are a lot of really good things in the bill. The tax incentives are pretty simple and straightforward – the immediacy of them, the amount of money behind them. My favorite part, the way that they're paid for, is an incredible model for the future – that stock buyback tax, I love it, doing backflips about it. I think stock buybacks are just the dirtiest, grimiest move you can do. The minimum tax for the corporations, although plenty of them will game it, I still think that was awesome. The stuff with the drug pricing is good, although they delayed the rollout of that, so you don't get that immediate kit for voters across red and blue lines.

David Roberts:   

Let me respond on the context thing, because you're absolutely right. This is true in all of politics – your assessment of any given event or bill is going to be contingent on your assessment of the context around it. 

I've written this on the site a number of times, I have been saying from the second Biden and the Democrats took office in 2020 – we are on a trajectory toward one-party rule in this country. This is not a reversal of that trajectory; this is a brief reprieve from the trajectory where our democracy is falling apart. We are unlikely to see a Democratic trifecta, both houses of Congress and the presidency, again for at least a decade – maybe decades, maybe ever. I'm leery about long-term predictions in politics since everything changes constantly, but at least a decade out.  

My whole frame around this has always been that Democrats have two years here to do what they can to forestall these trends and to try to convince Americans that government can be competent and do things. So in the big picture, I totally agree with you, and specifically on climate I've just been beating the table over and over again, trying to get this through the heads of Democrats and Democratic staffers – this is it. You are going to have one shot at national climate legislation and that's probably going to be it for national climate legislation for a long time. 

What we were looking at a few weeks ago is nothing coming out of this process, no reconciliation bill, at which point Democrats would have pivoted to trying to frame the other stuff they'd done as a success. They would have to, because they're in political races; they have to make the best of what they’ve got. When you say about me not being a pushover, I was perfectly prepared to say, “No, this is total failure. Without this bill, it's total failure on climate.” There's some stuff in the infrastructure bill, but not anything that reduces emissions, especially over the crucial next decade. I was perfectly prepared to call bullshit on Dems if they tried to spin that shit sandwich into a Happy Meal. 

That was the big context. But the more immediate context was, three weeks ago, it really looked like nothing was going to happen, like Manchin was just going to take his toys and go home, and he had total power and total ability to do so. So to me, the fact that anything happened at all is a miracle. This is all to be compared to nothing. This is not to be compared to some other better, fancier bill. It's all to be compared to if nothing had happened, which would have been an unmitigated disaster. 

So we trimmed the disaster back a little bit. That's what Democrats have done. Maybe they won't get epically, historically shellacked in 2022, they might even fight to a draw and only lose one house of Congress. That's great, and it's great that we're going to accelerate clean energy. All of this is compared to nothing. 

I do agree that in terms of arresting the slide to single-party rule, you have to judge what's happened so far – a failure. I agree that the climate parts are not going to galvanize people in the same way that writing them checks or reducing the cost of their drugs would have. But this was our last chance for climate legislation, and it happened.

Adam McKay:  

The comparison I think of is: Back in the 90s, I was head writer at Saturday Night Live. Sometimes we would do a dress rehearsal and it was just abysmal, and we would look at it and go “holy lord, what are we going to do? We’ve got to call the network and tell them to pretend there’s a power outage!” Lorne’s such a steely veteran, he would say, “It's going to be fine.” We would all rally, we would do rewrites, we would cut the scenes that were not saveable. 

This happened a bunch of times in the three years that I was head writer. And what would end up happening is by the time we went to air, it was a respectable show. We’d put the show on, a couple of sketches would get nice laughs, there were a couple that weren't great, and we would all leave the building sky high.

David Roberts:   

Exactly. The audience doesn't know to compare the show to a shitty previous version, but you do.

Adam McKay:

I feel like this is a repeating kind of thing for the Democrats. The ACA – there is some good stuff in the ACA, definitely. You can stay on your parents’ insurance longer, free checkups, there are people getting insurance out of it. But it wasn't the bill that we needed in that moment. Dodd Frank, same kind of thing. 

Well, for this moment – the climate, I don't know if it could be any bigger. I’ve been the guy freaking out about climate for quite a while now, and even I'm stunned by how fast it's moving.

David Roberts:   

One of the big pieces of context that has to inform our assessment of what came out of this process is that the full Democratic agenda, the entire thing, was shoved in that original Build Back Better bill. Almost all of it got whacked, and climate, almost alone, survived that process. That, to me, is a political fact in need of explanation. That's a remarkable thing.

Adam McKay:  

Also, the reality of climate just jumped three notches. I was in Europe when England hit the highest temperature in recorded history. It was insane. And the fires in Spain and Portugal …

David Roberts:   

You could list that type of stuff for an hour. Most of it is just blurring into the background now, but we are in fact living through serial disaster after disaster after disaster. It's hard to even catalog them all.

Adam McKay:  

The Colorado River now is at something like 25 percent capacity. We're really talking about the idea that the Southwest could have no water in three years. That's me guesstimating, but we're in that range. 

That's the other context to drop on the climate part, and that cuts both ways. That cuts the way toward what you just said, which is, it's amazing we got all of these elements in this bill, because man oh man, do we need them as the first few notches in the rock face that we can start to get some sort of momentum to hopefully climb upwards with. 

It also points out the fact that truthfully, this is a bill that probably should have been around 25 years ago. But reality is reality. I understand that. 

If you dig into the bill, the parts that concern me include the methane fines. I think they’re easily gamed. I think the oil companies were laughing at that, that it's contingent on the EPA enforcing. If you're an oil company lobbyist, of which there are plenty, that's like Myles Garrett for the Browns shedding two blockers – you don't even notice that. 

David Roberts:   

I think that's too pessimistic. Biden's EPA can be pushed, methane monitoring is getting a lot better. They're starting to be able to use satellites and drones and not depend on oil company self-reporting. 

I will say, though, that that piece is characteristic of many pieces of the bill, which is that the actual effect it has is going to depend hugely on implementation. Which just goes to say that the fight is not over. 

Adam McKay:  

A lot of what I've been pushing back on is this weird combination where people are freaked out about the loss of our democracy so they want to cheer a victory for the Democrats, and the realities of climate change, the fact that the challenge is so massive, we need to look at it with sober, level eyes. 

None of that can be typified more than the Paul Krugman op-ed a couple of days ago where the headline was literally “Did Democrats just save civilization?”

David Roberts:   

I strongly suspect that he did not write that headline. I can tell you as a veteran of news organizations that the drive to hype headlines is nigh irresistible.

Adam McKay:  

His piece definitely had a pom pom waving, “we need to make this a great moment” quality to it – which once again, I understand. We're in incredibly tricky, delicate times right now. But when it came to this bill, I was really concerned that a lot of people were going to see these headlines and think “oh, we passed the bill.” And there were a lot of headlines out there and a lot of pieces that were written that had that quality to them. 

So your answer to the methane concern is spot on. It's vigilance. We have to stay on all of this, everything in this bill, when it comes to climate. 

David Roberts:   

A lot of it is going to go through states, a lot of it is going to go through utilities, a lot of it is going to go through public utility commissions – all of which could go either way and are subject to public pressure. 

Adam McKay:  

There's a giant network of billions of dollars of lawyers and lobbyists and economists and thinkers and framers and think tanks in DC that swarms over all of this stuff. I just got the feeling that the oil companies were like “you're going to give us five oil drilling projects that had been fought by activists and a yearly guarantee of federal lands – we'll take that, and on the back end, we'll kill the other stuff.” They’re so confident in their ability and the control they have over the government and representatives. 

David Roberts:   

Here is another area where your context shapes how you view the outcome. For me, the context was, you need 50 votes in the Senate, which means every senator has more or less absolute power to veto the bill unless it has what they want. And as we know, there was one asshole willing to exploit that power to the max.

By the end of this process, everybody thought Manchin was going to scrap the whole thing, and basically, Schumer and everybody else were saying to him, “Literally write a bill, tell us what you want, give us anything that's better than nothing and we'll sign off on it.” It was slightly pathetic, but that was the situation they were in. It all came down to Manchin. 

In that context, Manchin could have done anything he wanted to this bill. And relative to the dark places my imagination goes, I think the changes he actually made to the bill are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively small. 

That said, if you're in one of those five communities where the legislature just did an end run around due process to jam fossil fuel projects into your communities that you've been fighting for years, obviously the very big picture can fuck off. You're absolutely right to be infuriated by those. 

The other piece is that to the extent you lease land to wind and solar, you have to make available for lease X amount of land for oil and gas. My take on that is that the amount of federal land relative to private land that oil and gas companies have is relatively small; the amount of federal land that's actually available for lease is relatively small; but the amount that's extra, that's made available for lease in this bill, is relatively tiny and marginal compared to the total amount of federal land they have access to. What's going to determine how much US land gets exploited for fossil fuels is not this bill and is not likely to be any kind of prohibition from the federal government – it’s going to be the economics of oil and gas. 

And as Jesse is fond of emphasizing, according to the modeling, this bill is going to cause total US oil and gas demand to decline for the first time ever in the country's history, and destroying their market is going to do way more to prevent exploitation than anything that could have been put in this bill. 

It's all context. How big of a concession to Manchin is that? It sucks, but he could have done much worse.

Adam McKay:  

Let's face it, the oil lobbyists wrote that stuff for him. Once they said “anything you want,” he called the American Petroleum Institute or he called whatever law firm represents Exxon and said, “All right, guys, what do you want?”

David Roberts:   

I don't even know about that. I feel like they would have demanded more if they'd gotten to write the bill. And I don't think it's accurate at all to say that they like this bill. They don't want a bill that's going to send oil and gas demand down for the first time ever. They would much rather there be no bill. 

Adam McKay:  

The side pipeline deal that Manchin’s going for literally was written by the American Petroleum Institute.

David Roberts:   

That's worth being nervous about, and a fight that still is playing out.

Adam McKay:  

Here's the thing that drives me a little crazy about the Democrats – they ignore a lot of time-tested tools of politicking. Look at what Jon Stewart did with the VA coverage for veterans who were near burn pits. The Republicans used it as a nasty cudgel to smack the Democrats because they didn't like that they were going to get ____. So what did Stewart do? He went out and he worked the bully pulpit of being a charismatic celebrity. He went on Newsmax, he went on programs everywhere, and he shamed the hell out of them. 

You can do that. You can overturn the filibuster, which we know for some reason Democrats get very gray-haired and institutional about even though it's not part of the Constitution. It was something that was added later. I think Aaron Burr added it.

David Roberts:   

I did a whole pod on this. It's an accident.

Adam McKay:  

Yes. So you have the filibuster. You have the parliamentarian, which conveniently the Democrats get very cowering about. You can replace the parliamentarian! You can overrule the parliamentarian! 

There are all these things, but I would say first among them is to hit the talk shows, hit the bully pulpit. Democrats never do it with any passion. Bernie's the one guy who does it a little bit, Elizabeth Warren; the rest get really sleepy and bureaucratic and don't seem to either want to deal with the moment or understand the moment. I have a hard time cruising past that, because we've seen it work so well for years, and we never got to see Manchin hit with that stick.

David Roberts:   

Jon Stewart is, I would say, among a relatively small and shrinking class of public figures in the US who still has some independence, who has not been thoroughly attached in their public image to one side or another, and so can go on Newsmax. Even though he was probably dismissed by 85 percent of the people watching, there is some small percentage of people who he can reach in a way that I just don't think any Democrat could. 

People used to say this about Obama all the time, that he should use the bully pulpit more. If you look at the political science, what you often find is when a president inserts himself in something like this, he has the effect of making it more partisan, basically signaling to the public “this is their side's thing” – which does not have the effect of persuading the other side, it often has blowback. By the end of his presidency, I think Obama was aware of this and quite wisely often stayed back out of things, because that's the only way they could happen. Because once he stepped up and was the face of it, suddenly everybody on the right knew “oh, this is bad. We hate this.” 

I agree that Democrats could communicate much better. I've ranted about this for years. But in terms of people who can talk in a way that is not immediately taken as partisan, Jon Stewart is part of a shrinking handful. I'm not sure who could have really successfully done that.

Adam McKay:  

I don't know if I agree with that. I just haven't seen many examples of them even trying. For me, the big one is minimum wage. There's really no way around the fact that it's $7 and change for a minimum wage, which still applies in more than half the states. 

That's just a win. You go out, you hit the bully pulpit, you talk about the fact that you can't even be poor on that kind of money. At least raise it to $12, even $10. And that's not enough.

David Roberts:   

They did try to do that. That was in the Build Back Better bill. That is part of their agenda.

Adam McKay:  

The parliamentarian took it out, and they were like, “oh, well.”

David Roberts:   

Part of what was so wretched about this dynamic over the last two years is that you need Manchin. You need his vote. You have to get it. I think he's withholding it on some level because he knows that as long as he's withholding that final vote, Dems can't do anything else to piss him off, or he can pull it. 

Doing anything to the filibuster would have pissed him off. Making this hyper-partisan would have pissed him off. Any sort of procedural radicalism – if they’d tried to overcome the parliamentarian, Manchin would have lost his fucking mind, and we would have lost his vote. And he kept that leverage right up until the literal last week.

It's galling, but if you're dealing with this vain dimwit who's perfectly willing to explode your agenda, what's the alternative? They tried to tiptoe around him. A lot of people were saying “pressure him, beat him up.” He's such a vain egotist, I feel like that would have sent him running. He doesn't care if the whole thing dies. He looks better in West Virginia if he kills the whole thing. 

Democrats were constrained by that. Whether you think they should have been or could have found some other way around it, that's, I think, why they were so constrained.

Adam McKay:  

I’ve just seen this game on repeat for a lot of years. If it wasn't Manchin, it was Max Baucus. If it wasn't Max Baucus, it's Joe –

David Roberts:   

There used to be a bunch of more Manchins. Obama was dealing with the Democratic Senate caucus that had 20 Manchins in it.

Adam McKay:  

Why are we electing these people? Isn't it better to not have the Senate, to stop having this neutered power that just makes Democrats look awful and corrupt? Isn't it better to actually be a unified, focused party? 

David Roberts:   

Well, no, it isn't – for a bunch of reasons, but the main one is judges. We've gotten a historic amount of female and judges of color, and we've been funneling dozens and dozens of judges onto the federal bench. You can't do that without the Senate. That alone, even if you can't pass any legislation, having a majority is way better.

Adam McKay:  

Rather than the Democratic Party primarying progressives, what if they primaried corporatists and we swung the party in that direction? I think we're missing a big truth, which is that the Democrats are filthy with pink money.

David Roberts:   

Of course. The whole system is.

Adam McKay:  

Nancy Pelosi said out loud, “Insider trading is a good thing.” Chuck Schumer said, “Hey, bankers are my constituents too.” These are dirty, dirty politicians. 

This game of, “There's always a Max Baucus, a Joe Manchin, oh darn, we tried” – regardless of my opinion, people aren't buying it anymore. The Roe vs. Wade thing, the Dobbs thing – I've never seen that kind of populist anger come out. Friends of mine in the comedy world who never talk about politics were suddenly saying “maybe ‘blue no matter who,’ maybe it does matter who it is.” There was an anger that came from that. 

For this bill, ultimately, I would have rather we tried the idea of “okay, Joe Manchin, you want to screw with this, you are going to be a historic villain. You are going to be the most reviled human being on planet Earth. Kyrsten Sinema, you will not get reelected, you will have to become a lobbyist. Everyone you knew in the past now thinks you're despicable.” That sort of pressure, whether it's through direct action, through politicians, through the narrative in the media – I'm 54, I've never seen that tried. Every time it’s like “well, you have to be nice to Max Baucus. You have be nice.”

David Roberts:   

We return to the structural disadvantages Democrats face in the Senate. If you primary Joe Manchin, you're doomed. No one more liberal than Joe Manchin is going to win in West Virginia. That’s true in a lot of these purple states. Democrats just don't have a lock on enough states to get 50 true blue Democrats.

Adam McKay:  

I've never seen the approach of “let's primary corporatists and put in pro-worker Dems.” Once again, I'm 54, so I basically came of age at the beginning of the right wing / neoliberal push toward corporatism. My entire life the message has always been “don't put a candidate in West Virginia that wants to raise the minimum wage.” Why? Have we ever seen this tried?

David Roberts:   

Another bit of context that I feel is not very well appreciated is that both the House and the Senate are a lot bluer relative to where they were under Obama. The Senate now contains lots of really good Dems, way more than it used to. Proportionally, as everything divides and becomes more partisan and the number of purple states dwindles, more and more, if you're a Democrat, you're going to be a fairly left Democrat. The number of Manchins has definitely shrunk, but correspondingly, the size of the majority has shrunk too.

Adam McKay:  

It all comes back to the filibuster. It has to go. We're never going to have 60 Democrats in the Senate that are cool. 

David Roberts:   

Nope. Now they're talking about “oh, we'll make an exception for the filibuster for the right to choose, we'll do that next time.” They've more or less promised. I believe they’ve also said, “we'll make an exception for the filibuster for voting laws.” It's going to only take one or two of those until everybody's like, dudes, what is the pretense? Now that you can bypass the filibuster any time you want to, it's even more of a hollow, dippy anachronism than it was.

I don't think it's going to last, but all of the political forecasts show that even if Dems keep the Senate in 2022, which is possible but a long shot, 2024 is incredibly inclement circumstances, and every forecast shows that Republicans are going to take the Senate. The Senate is just balanced structurally in favor of Republicans. So you have to worry if you kill the filibuster and then we enter a period of Republicans dominating the Senate for the next two decades.

Adam McKay:  

The Republicans will just create exceptions. They did it with the Supreme Court.

David Roberts:   

They'll kill it for sure.

You're absolutely right that the whole system is awash in money. You're absolutely right that Joe Manchin has oil and gas’s hand up his butt making his mouth move. You're right that there are lots of crappy Dems in the Senate. I would just say, given all that, that highlights what a friggin miracle it is that all 50 of them voted for a relatively big bill. I’m still amazed.

Adam McKay:  

Let me get excited with you. Here’s what I like about it. We have this massive climate leviathan that's about to roll over us, and the trail that this bill hacked through the thick brush could potentially become a lifesaver. It really could save lives, because it's possible in four, five, six years the Colorado River is almost dry, heat events are worse, fires are worse, even Republicans are like “holy crap.” 

The biggest thing I'm excited about, besides the fact that I hope it spurs a whole new economy in the US of green tech and cars, is the rough path they cut through the jungle of tax stock buybacks and negotiation of certain drug prices so the federal government has more money. I love that plan. 

I'm very worried about the one-to-one thing with the federal lands. I hope what you're saying is true.

David Roberts:   

I would bet that in 10 years we'll look back on that and see that very little of that land was leased, very little was exploited, and other things had much more effect on oil and gas than that. That's my guess.

Adam McKay:  

The other thing that worries me is the old deal with the devil we made where we gave the oil companies the right to export oil in exchange for tax incentives for wind and solar, and then those tax incentives expire and the oil companies just drill and drill. But there's nothing you can do about that, because if we're about to have Ron DeSantis as an autocratic ruler, it shakes the Etch A Sketch anyway. So I won't dwell on that too much. But ultimately, with the climate, I do nudge out on the side of positive with a ton of hope.

David Roberts:   

I would say your hope should have two sides. 

Climate’s going to get worse in the next decade and people are going to notice and have to respond, you're absolutely right. But one thing about US politics is that the entire system is built to do nothing. It’s designed to thwart action, so any action is miraculous. You're not going to get this big, revelatory, “finally we get it, we're going to revolutionize everything!” America is not built for that. 

But you’re going to get steps, and every step is going to make the subsequent step easier. Every bit that these technologies come down in cost is going to make the next politician’s decision to prioritize them easier. It’s going to make the EPA’s subsequent decisions easier. It's going to make it easier for states. I was reading on Twitter about somebody who works on energy policy in Montana saying “this bill makes things that we have been thinking of as impossible in this state absolutely possible and next on our agenda.” 

So climate is going to be pressuring from one side, but on the other side, all of this money will be going toward boosting competitors to fossil fuels. Those twin pressures, I think, are going to produce faster action than people are expecting.

Adam McKay:  

You now have a hint of a pathway forward whereas before there was none. At least there's some structures here, so if this thing hits us like a wave right in the face, which it’s going to, there are some moves that have already been laid down. 

What do you think about the CHIPS bill? That had some hidden goodies in it.

David Roberts:   

Yes, around $67 billion that is going to be spent on clean energy research. There's stuff in the infrastructure bill too. If you put together everything that the Democratic Congress has done, there's climate stuff throughout all of it. 

When you're pouring money into research, it’s difficult to model, you can't really predict the outcomes, but I think the CHIPS bill is a huge, long-term driver too. 

This is one of the things I've been most excited about over the last five to 10 years – you remember, you made a whole movie about it. It used to be that if you're a hotshot, privileged, wealthy young kid coming out of college and you want status among your peers, you go make a kajillion dollars at a hedge fund. It is slowly becoming true that if you're a young hotshot out of college and you want to make your impression on the world, lookie here – it’s the biggest problem in the world, there’s money flooding into it, all this technological innovation happening all around you, all these billionaires being minted by people who are finding new technologies and new ways to do this. This is the hot shit now. That's going to be a magnet for a lot of brainpower and a lot of private money to follow this public money.

Adam McKay:  

I feel like you acknowledge the context. I think we both acknowledge that if the Florida governor or Trump become president, it shakes the Etch A Sketch. But everything you're saying, I'm going to go with you on it. Green energy and no more fossil fuels first and foremost, but the fact that we're already at 1.3 degrees Celsius up, we're going to have to have some degree of carbon removal, because the hood is smoking at this point.

David Roberts:   

The wonks have always said it's a two-part strategy. One, dump a bunch of money on the stuff that's on the verge, push it out into mass market. Two, dump a bunch of money into the stuff that we're going to need in a decade or so, like hydrogen and carbon removal. And that is what this bill did. 

The beautiful part of this bill to my wonk’s heart is that it is still at its core the bill that these Capitol Hill staffers, these nerds in their caves down below the Capitol doing the real work and the real research, put together. It’s a really expert, well-researched bill. A lot of those details never come to public light. Nobody ever debates them, Manchin probably doesn't even know about them. But there's a lot of good, wonky thinking embedded in here that survived the whole process. 

My final positive note – this is so weird for me, Adam, if we talk again in a couple of weeks I'll be back to normal – is, if looking back over the US clean energy industry, it was bleak in 2000. Obama did the stimulus bill, put $90 billion toward wind and solar, drove down those prices, expanded that industry, Congress passed the credit extenders several times, boosted those industries, helped those industries grow. Now we're going to dump a bunch more money. 

So the government has done good things, and it has resulted in a vast and rapidly growing clean energy industry in the US. Public life can work. Government can work.

Adam McKay:  

What I like about this bill is, it's 10 years. All those extenders on the tax credit were two years and a lot of the power companies and industries couldn't account for two-year tax breaks. So the biggest thing going for this bill is that it's 10 years.

David Roberts:   

Yes, predictability, that's the runway now. Everybody sees this is the direction we're going. Now it's all about speed, how fast we're going to go, but I don't think there's anybody left with any illusions. This is what we're doing now. This absolutely cements that into place.

Adam McKay:  

Here's how I would end this podcast if it was a film. I’d do us positive and cheery, then I’d smash cut to a steak restaurant where three oil lobbyists are eating crab cakes and listening to this podcast on their phone and just laughing.

David Roberts:   

I don't know about this idea that oil industry lobbyists are these Manichaean figures that are pulling all the strings and know everything. I've met some of those people; they're just dumbasses like everybody else. They don't know what's going to happen, nobody knows. They're scrambling for their bits and pieces, but everybody's winging it.

Adam McKay:  

We're working on a movie right now that's about the whole lobbying, government influence state, so we've been interviewing a lot of people. I came into it like “it's bad” and now we're in the middle of it and I'm like “oh, it's a thousand times worse.”

Some of these men and women are really, really smart. They are uber-geniuses. They're usually not the ones you're going to shake hands with at the steak restaurant or meet at the cocktail party. They're the throat slitters that are way deep in the office, the actuaries and the economists, and they're not playing around.

Still, I'm joking with that ending. I think there is a pathway, for the first time in my life, so I'm going to focus on that. I'm going to take Dave Roberts’ positivity and be thankful for it.

David Roberts:   

Possibly the first time that phrase has ever been uttered aloud in all of human history. Thanks for coming on again.

Adam McKay:  

I really appreciate it. You're one of the voices out there I trust. And thank you, I needed this after being attacked like Bruce Lee by about 20 different people on Twitter.

David Roberts:   

Always remember, never tweet. There's never been a wiser maxim to follow in one's life. 

Adam McKay:  

Such a pleasure, man. 

David Roberts:

Thanks. See you, Adam.