This past weekend, Planet Experts traveled to Dallas for Earth Day Texas 2016. The event is hailed as the largest pro-environmental exhibition in the United States and brings together sustainable businesses and environmental groups from every corner of the country. That undertaking draws in some very heavy hitters on America’s political scene, such as Theodore Roosevelt IV, the great-grandson of 26th President and noted conservationist Theodore Roosevelt.
Ted was a keynote speaker at Earth Day Texas, participating in a lively discussion with former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter during a formal luncheon and then delivering a speech to the Dallas crowds over Fair Park’s esplanade. Ted is often asked to speak at these types of events, and he often accepts the invitation. “I’m somewhat delusional,” he wistfully told Planet Experts. “I think I have a full-time job.”
That full-time job is Managing Director at Barclays Capital Corporation, a multinational bank, but Ted considers his speaking engagements – particularly for environmental issues – an essential aspect of that role. As a “senior ambassador for the firm,” he hopes to prove that not all Wall Street bankers want to exploit the environment for the sake of profit.
“We have to restore our credibility,” said Ted, speaking to America’s current distrust of major banks, “and be seen as an industry that helps America grow and provide jobs.”
Globalization, says Ted, has greatly changed the job landscape in America and beyond. In this rapidly developing world, environmental protection often takes a backseat to economic concerns, but Ted and others at EDTx are adamant that supporting one does not necessitate the toppling of the other. This stance has put the Barclays manager at odds with his fellow Republicans.
America and the Republican Party in the 21st Century
America has changed. From World War II onward, the U.S. effectively ruled the planet – politically, militarily, economically. “American values” and the “American dream” were such palpable phrases in the 1950s that one could almost taste them. True, that taste soured in 1963 (and being in Dallas this past weekend really puts that in perspective), but the rest of the century still belonged, unequivocally, to the United States.
It is no longer 1950, and even 1999 is long gone. In the year 2016, America is one country amongst a set of prominent western nations, and the political and economic equal of China, the uncontested superpower of the East. On the campaign trail, Republican leaders have tried to reinvigorate voters with promises that harken back to Reagan’s popular “It’s morning again in America” ads. Marco Rubio quixotically promised to lead voters into “A New American Century,” whereas Ted Cruz settled on the more opaque “Reigniting the Promise of America.”
Every campaign season, politicians on both sides of the aisle fight to control this national narrative, that America can be great again (while firmly and paradoxically insisting that it is as great as it could ever be). They fight because that narrative hooks deep into Americans’ guts, which insistently feels that “things are not as good/pure/honest/profitable/American as they used to be.” If the nation as a whole were willing to sift through its collective guts, we might start to wonder where exactly that “used to be” is to be found (1980? ’69? ’53? ’45?).
Perhaps the truth is closer to what actor and director John Cassavetes is purported to have said: “Maybe there was no America – maybe there was just Frank Capra.”
America has changed, sure enough. Economically, demographically, politically, in all these key details it is not the country it was in the 20th century. But what of the man who led the country into the 20th century? President Theodore Roosevelt remains one of the most iconic figures in American history, yet his particular brand of Republicanism stands in stark contrast to the Republican party as it (albeit shakily) stands today.
To keep things concise, let’s focus on the environmental aspects of Roosevelt’s presidency. By the time the man left the oval office in 1909, he had cemented his position as arguably the most significant conservationist in the nation’s history. Creator of the U.S. Forest Service, Roosevelt established 51 Federal Bird Reservations, four National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, five National Parks and 18 National Monuments.
In 1910, Roosevelt delivered his “New Nationalism” speech at the dedication of the John Brown Memorial Park in Osawatomie, Kansas, in which he remarked:
“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”
It is an understatement to say that today’s Republican party does not agree with the tenets of this speech.
In the four years of the recent Republican House majority, Republicans voted against environmental legislation 551 times. Republicans have voted to slash NASA’s Earth Science budget, proposed plans to sell America’s national forests and expedited oil and coal mining on Native American land. The party has also refused to accept the near-unanimous warnings of climate scientists that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are altering the climate and causing global warming. According to an analysis from the Center for American Progress, over 56 percent of Congressional Republicans deny or question climate science. In 2015, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters that he felt a “deep responsibility” to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and its plan to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent.
It is this vehemently anti-environmental policy that impels many Republicans to accuse President Roosevelt’s great-grandson of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Like his namesake, Ted Roosevelt is a proud conservationist. Unlike his namesake, Ted has never run for public office. He has, however, proudly served his country, first as an ensign in the Naval Reserve, then as a U.S. Navy officer and Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War. Roosevelt went on to serve in the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer in D.C. and the Upper Volta (now known as Burkina Faso).
Today, Theodore Roosevelt IV, in addition to his work at Barclays, is a member of several environmental and foreign policy organizations, including the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the Alliance for Climate Protection and the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development.
An Interview With Theodore Roosevelt IV
By speaking on behalf of his family’s legacy, Ted hopes that he might help to restore amicability (or at least collaboration) between Democrats and Republicans. As an example of how strained that relationship has become, Ted shared a story about grabbing lunch with a Republican Senator in the Senate dining room. Looking around, Ted realized that they were the only two in the room. He asked his friend if there was a big vote coming up and was “appalled” to learn that was not the case. “We don’t dine together anymore,” the Senator told him.
“That’s wrong,” said Ted. “We’ve got to insist on having a civil discord, even with people we may not agree.”
On Day 1 of EDTx, Ted and I sat down in the Women’s Museum at Fair Park to discuss his hopes for the Republican party and the environmental issues that are closest to his heart. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Planet Experts: I don’t need to explain this to you, but once upon a time the Republican party was really big into conservation. Is there a way to make Republicans (or their constituents) care about the land again?
Ted Roosevelt IV: We need to get the kids out to the national parks. I’d love to see the Student Conservation Association get expanded so it took more urban kids out. And they’re trying to do that, and they’ve got a budget, but instead of that budget being [about $31 million], it should be a billion dollars – so that we get a lot of people out there. That should be something we really want to do, because that’s an investment in our children and it will pay off big time. Because they will see the land that is theirs and say, ‘I want to protect it.’ And many of them will want to go into land conservation. Most of the people who spend a year working for the Student Conservation Association do go into jobs with a land management agency.
PE: As the counselor for the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development, you’re closely acquainted with Chinese views on climate change and renewable initiatives. Considering how visibly pollution affects its citizens, is China more plugged in to environmental developments?
TR: At the most senior levels, when I’ve met with members of the politburo, their knowledge of climate change and the science is deep. They really get it. They see the effects and so they know that they have to do something about it.
PE: Why is that in such contrast to Republicans?
TR: I’ve not to my own satisfaction answered that question. But part of it…there is an element of the Republican party, of people who have been left behind – either by globalization, by technology – they’ve lost their jobs.
You read the story last week of Carrier closing down their plant and relocating to Mexico. What really upsets those people is losing decent blue collar jobs – $19 to $27 an hour per job. They were proud to be Carrier workers, and they knew they made one of the best air conditioners in the world. That’s being taken away from them. And they feel that they’ve been betrayed by their economy. Then, when you start talking about more change yet that may have an impact on the cost of energy – after having seen lots of change coming out of trade, globalization, technology – they don’t want to see any more change. It’s more than they can absorb.
And then you have people like Senator Inhofe, and I don’t really understand what he thinks.
TR: Both Trump and Cruz have said they don’t believe in climate change – virtually, they’re as bad as Inhofe. If one of them represents the Republican party, I think we can be reasonably certain that the party will go down to a resounding defeat.
That’s going to cause people to think, ‘Look, guys, the object is not just to win primaries, the object is to win national elections.’ That means you’ve got to be able to pull in a variety of people – African-Americans, hispanics, the environmental community. But if you’ve wiped those three constituencies off, it’s going to be hard to win.
Right now they’re saying, ‘We’d rather be ideologically right and not care about winning elections.’ That’s not sustainable.
PE: Getting back to what you said about Carrier… At the luncheon, you mentioned that American workers used to be in a position where they were competing with about 800 million Western European workers, and today they’re competing with about three billion workers globally. You’re seeing the jobs leaving, and that’s why it seems Donald Trump has galvanized this section of the populace-–
TR: And he’s been brilliant at that. […] But let’s take a look at what we’ll call the ‘Trump Doctrine.’ He says he’s going to build a wall between us and Mexico. That’s a horrible message, because we’re going to discriminate against one of our most important trading partners. And then he says we’re going to keep out all Muslims [so that] we’re going to lose all of our moral authority in the islamic world. It’s colossally stupid.
What has made the United States great, ever since World War II, was that we were the global leader – unquestioned. And global leading requires the ability to give disinterested advice and do it from a position where people say, that’s good advice, that’s right, and that works for us and it works for the United States. Other countries have to be willing to follow that, and that was true for a long time. Unfortunately, Iraq destroyed that perception of us. Obama has managed to restore some of it, but not completely.
I think Obama, in terms of foreign policy, has been effective because he recognizes the risk of getting involved in military solutions.
PE: I think Obama may also be the first U.S. President to recognize that other powers are rising and America is one country among a planet of countries that have more power than they had before.
TR: That’s right, and he also understands that the exercise of power has to be on a multi-lateral basis, which Bush didn’t get at all. […] And I think he understands well the complexity of the Middle East. But the Middle East…we haven’t developed a doctrine in this country for how to operate with failed states. Iraq is a failed state. Saudi Arabia may become a failed state. I don’t know whether they can last out another 15 years. Because they’ve got a younger generation coming along, oil is likely to be less important. And Saudi Arabia is going to be less important to us in an era of cheap oil and our own energy independence.
PE: So you’re not a fan of Trump. You’ve publicly endorsed Governor John Kasich (R-OH), but I’d like to hear why you think Senator Cruz (R-TX) shouldn’t lead the party.
TR: Cruz has two major problems with him. He is utterly convinced that it’s gotta be his way or no way. And his willingness to shut down the entire government if he can’t get something that’s not very important… An ideological zealot should not be our President. And he has also said things like, ‘We’re going to bomb them until the sand glows.’ That’s just totally irresponsible.
[President Obama] doesn’t have that incredible skill set that Lyndon Johnson developed from a very young age in Congress, of putting his arm around someone and getting his mouth close to their ear. He could persuade anybody. I don’t think Obama has that, and we know Cruz doesn’t have that ability. Cruz, his own party detests him.
PE: Why do you think Kasich is a better pick?
TR: I first got to know [Kasich] when he was chairman of the House Budget and Finance Committee. I went down there representing a coalition of environmental organizations, and we wanted to get $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And he listened to us, and he said, ‘You know, there’s a great organization in Wyoming called the Institute of the Environment and National Resources. Environmentalists need to be more like them.’ I said, ’It’s great, I’m on its board!’
He said, ‘Nine-hundred million, we got it.’ Now, we didn’t get it the next year, but we got it. Kasich understands the federal budget as well as anybody, and he’s been a highly popular governor in a rust belt state where he’s brought jobs back. Trump doesn’t have a clue how to make jobs.
PE: How do we make jobs in this increasingly global market?
TR: One of the things that we’re going to have to do is take a leaf from Germany, to train the American labor force. We want the American labor force to be the best trained, the best-educated in the world, so it’s not competing with blue collar workers in Vietnam or China – that won’t work. We want to produce better-engineered products. The Germans produce cars, and you look at how they export those.
We need to increase the demand for labor in this country. Monetary policy won’t do it. The only way you can do it is fiscal policy by investing in infrastructure. And the private sector isn’t going to invest in bridges or highways. The federal government has to do that.
PE: You are pro-environment, it’s safe to say. But you’re also pro-nuclear power. Does nuclear have a share of the world’s energy portfolio moving forward on par with renewables like solar and wind?
TR: I think [renewable energy] is going to be part of the future, but it’s not going to be 100 percent of the future. It’s going to take time. Barclays now really believes that there is a very compelling argument that there’s going to be a lot of investment made in clean energy [and] green technology over the next 25 years. It’s hard to predict where it’s going to be, but we’re organizing internally to really think this one through.
That does two things: One, we could make a lot of money – which is good, all investment banks want to do that – and two, if we start identifying technology and can bring it and help it scale up faster than it might otherwise, what better area can you be in to start restoring America’s faith in investment banks?
PE: This is your first year at Earth Day Texas. Do you think it can succeed in drawing business and ecologists together?
TR: Having been here, I think you’re already seeing a change. Look at the people who were at lunch today, that was pretty impressive. Trammell [Crow] has done something that is extraordinarily successful, in my opinion. I didn’t know what to expect, but this is really good. We’re having a discussion about two things that are very important.
First, we’ve got to be more sustainable. The rest of the world is getting it – you can’t have 188 countries sign up as they did at Paris and think that this is a conspiracy theory, unless you’re totally paranoid. It’s very hard to take that position. And, there is increasing pressure on both sides, to say, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to learn how to talk to each other.’
Earth Day Texas 2016 Series
- Texting for Climate Action With Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
- How Do You Make Climate Change Relevant to Kids?
- Touring Tiny Houses, Meeting Solar Speedsters
- Even Earth Day Is Bigger in Texas
- El Paso Students Built This Solar Car in 39 Days
- Lessons in Sustainability, or Why I’m Terrified of Hawks
- SlimFast Sea Turtles, Plastic Penguins & Toxic Camel Syndrome
- Dr. Jenni Vanos Explains How Climate Change Affects Our Health