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Interview with "Bad Bets" Podcast Co-Host Rebecca Smith; Interview with "Bad Bets" Podcast Co-Host John Emshwiller; Interview with Enapter Co- Founder Vaitea Cowan; Interview with The Earthshot Prize Council Member Christiana Figueres; Interview with New Orleans Chief of Infrastructure Ramsey Green. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 18, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I will never not be a soldier.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Colin Powell dead at 84. The trailblazing four- star general gained accolades leading the first Gulf War and became the public face of the Iraq war. We examine the complicated legacy of this
American military giant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one, including the head of Fortune 500 companies, is above the law.
GOLODRYGA: The FBI calls it the most complex white-collar crime investigation ever, a look at the lessons learned from Enron 20 years after
its stunning fall.
PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE: Huge congratulations. So proud of everyone's achievements and solutions.
GOLODRYGA: Prince William's first ever green carpet award show for environmental activists. I talked to one of the Earthshot winners, Vaitea
Cowan, and former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.
RAMSEY GREEN, NEW ORLEANS CHIEF OF INFRASTRUCTURE: Running cities at this moment is a really consequential time.
GOLODRYGA: Ramsey Green tells Walter Isaacson what being chief resilience officer of New Orleans actually means and how he's protecting his city from
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, who will be back later this week.
Colin Powell, a towering figure in American military and politics for decades, has died. The barrier-breaking four-star general passed away due
to complications from COVID-19. Though fully vaccinated, Powell was battling Parkinson's and multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells
that suppresses the body's immune response.
Powell operated at the highest levels of American power and influence, the first black man to serve as national security adviser, Joint Chiefs
chairman and secretary of state. It was in that last row when he became the public face of the Iraq war, selling a war on faulty intelligence,
something he acknowledged would forever be a blot on his record.
Wolf Blitzer takes a look back at the life of Colin Powell.
POWELL: I will never not be a soldier.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Colin Powell, a soldier-turned- statesman, made history on many fronts, the first African-American and youngest chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, and, later, the first
African-American secretary of state.
POWELL: So, I have always felt strongly that you should try to solve conflicts in this world through negotiations, through diplomacy. Any time
we can solve a problem that way and not use force and satisfy our objectives, let's push for that.
BLITZER: Powell grew up in the Bronx, New York. His parents emigrated from Jamaica. By his own admission, he was not an outstanding student.
POWELL: It's been amusing over the years to have people come up to me and say, well, General Powell, you're chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff.
When did you go -- when did you graduate from West Point?
POWELL: Couldn't have gotten in.
BLITZER: He enrolled in the City College of New York. Geology was his major, but the ROTC became his passion. Powell flourished as a cadet, and,
after graduating, excelled as a soldier.
He served two tours in Vietnam, before earning a prestigious fellowship working for the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon era in
1972. Afterwards, Powell returned to his troops, eventually becoming a general, and went back to the White House in 1987 as President Reagan's
national security adviser.
Then, in 1989, the general became the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military when President George H.W. Bush named him chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of staff, .
POWELL: Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it.
BLITZER: Powell became a household name during the first Gulf War. His policy of overwhelming force against Iraq became known as the Powell
POWELL: I express my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for being here to share my final day in uniform.
BLITZER: After a distinguished 35-year career, Powell retired from the army in 1993. Ten years later, the United States would become involved in
another Gulf War and Powell again played a key role.
POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are
facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.
BLITZER: Then-Secretary of State Powell made a case in front of the U.N. Security Council, arguing that Iraq posed a grave threat to the world
because, he said, they had weapons of mass destruction.
The following month, the U.S. invasion began.
The war lasted more than eight years. No weapons of mass destruction ever turned up.
POWELL: I regret it now because the information was wrong.
BLITZER: After four years as President George W. Bush's secretary of state, Powell returned to private life. He spent his civilian years
empowering you through his projects, America's Promise Alliance and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.we're
POWELL: Going to go and educate the kids who are most in need. And when I heard their stories, I said I got to get -- this is where I belong. I'm
BLITZER: General Colin Powell, a leader and a patriot who devoted a lifetime to service.
GOLODRYGA: And here now with further reflections is someone who knew general Colin Powell well.
Jack Straw was Powell's British counterpart during the Iraq war era. He was the U.K.'s foreign secretary under Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Welcome to the program. Secretary. We really appreciate you joining us.
And, first and foremost, I just want to offer our deepest condolences for the passing of your colleague and your friend. Obviously, 3.5 minutes does
not do General Powell justice for his lifetime and legacy.
And I'm just curious to get your thoughts and reflections on the man.
JACK STRAW, FORMER BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Thank you.
No, it's a very, very sad day for General Powell's, family and friends and everybody who knew him. General Powell was the greatest man I ever worked
with in international diplomacy, or, indeed, domestic diplomacy as well. And I saw a lot of really good people.
But he was absolutely outstanding. And I think the key to why he succeeded was because, above all, he was able to engender trust at a very personal
level. So he was a brilliant negotiator. When you're negotiating, you have got to be very tough, you have got to know what you want, you have got to
know what the other side wants. But you can't get anywhere in negotiations without trust.
And Colin Powell conveyed that he trusted other people, and they trusted him in turn.
GOLODRYGA: And it was that trust that obviously led to that fateful speech in February of 2003 at the United Nations, offering all of the intelligence
that he said backed an invasion of Iraq.
And, behind the scenes, that is something that the two of you really bonded over, in the sense that you were -- you had a lot of reservations about
going into war.
STRAW: We did indeed. And I worked very closely with General Powell when he was successfully persuading, as was Tony Blair seeking to, General
George W. Bush, his boss, to go down what was called the U.N. route, to put Iraq into the Security Council, against the wishes, like they said, of the
vice president, Cheney, or -- and of Secretary for Defense Don Rumsfeld.
And that was successful. And it's just worth recording that the whole of the world, everybody across -- around the table in the Security Council
signed up to a resolution which said that it believed that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security because of its weapons of mass
As for that 5th of February, 2003, presentation, Colin had spent two days at least, hours and hours and hours, in the vaults of Langley, the CIA
headquarters just outside D.C., going through the script. He discarded the original script he was given. He called me two or three times that weekend,
saying it was hopeless.
And he decided to write it himself. So, when he said this is based on very clear intelligence, he was speaking what he thought to be a truth and I,
sitting next to him in the Security Council, also thought to be a truth.
Now, as it turned out, the intelligence which he was using and which we were using was flawed. And that really rankled with him, but I do not
believe that it should or will detract from the verdict of history towards General Powell, which is, here is a great man who beat down incredible
discrimination of which he witnessed as a young man across the U.S. at that time in the Northern states, as well as the South, and rose to the top of
the military and also to the job politics and diplomacy.
GOLODRYGA: A trailblazer, the son of immigrants, Jamaican immigrants to this country.
Grew up on the streets of New York City, spoke a little bit of Yiddish, had friends from across the spectrum, multiple backgrounds and races, and
obviously went on to achieve everything that he had in life.
I'm going to be speaking with journalist Robert Draper right after this conversation with you. And he wrote a piece profiling General Powell just
last year for "The New York Times," and the piece actually begins with you and an exchange that you and General Powell frequently would have.
In fact, your wife called him the other man in her life, because the two of you spoke so frequently leading up to the Iraq invasion. He coined the
phrase and told President Bush, if you break it, you own it.
Can you just give us one last reflection on his personal feelings after, obviously, the war, after the invasion, after it was revealed that Saddam
Hussein at that time did not indeed have weapons of mass destruction?
STRAW: Yes, he said more than that. He said, if you break it, you own it, and said to President Bush on more than -- many more than one occasion,
look, if you invade Iraq and defeat Saddam and destroy the government infrastructure, you, the United States, you, the president, are going to be
responsible for running this country of 22 million people, 18 different provinces, very disparate. Have you thought about that?
Well, President Bush said, yes, yes, he had. As it turned out, because I mean, he, in my view, was a decent man, made the wrong decisions. But he
delegated responsibility for the aftermath to the Department of Defense, excluded the Department of State. It was a disaster.
What did Colin feel about it? He felt considerable anger about it. He spent -- the real difficulties he faced were not when he was secretary of state,
were not with other countries, whether they were potential adversaries or not.
It was with other principals in his own administration, particularly Vice President Cheney and Secretary for Defense Don Rumsfeld and their acolytes.
And he would continually call me and explain how they were seeking to undermine the advice which he, as secretary of state, was giving to George
W. Bush. And I think they were. There's no doubt about that.
There are many examples of that, the worst of which is a decision by Don Rumsfeld to de-Baathify the whole of the Iraqi military in a way that was
never done by the Americans or the Brits in postwar Germany. And so that led to hundreds of thousands of security personnel in Iraq without weapons
of war -- sorry -- without pay, but with weapons.
And it's from that that the chaos arose. Colin Powell...
STRAW: ... and, indeed, Condoleezza Rice were excluded from that decision.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, Don Rumsfeld also recently passed away, the secretary of defense during that era as well.
Let me just conclude with you on something -- more of a positive note and something we don't see much of these days, because you're hearing tributes
from all different political aspects and angles, right, from both sides of the aisle around the world just talking about what an honest, decent,
patriotic, compassionate man General Powell was.
What was it about him that you think, even in this hyperpolarized era, can bring so much positive reflection from different political perspectives?
STRAW: I think, fundamentally, it was where he'd come from.
He had come from an African-American family. He was making his way in a pretty hostile white community environment. So he worked out how to
negotiate his way as a minority. And that led to his extraordinary interpersonal skills.
Combine that with his intelligence, his determination, his total patriotism for the interests of the United States, but also set against a world view,
and you then have a man who would be trusted on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, in individual states of the union, and in capitals around the
It is a most extraordinary achievement by one man.
GOLODRYGA: That it is, indeed.
And we thank him again for his service to his country. And, obviously, our thoughts are with his wife, Alma, and their family.
Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Secretary. We appreciate it.
STRAW: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: And now we turn to Robert Draper, journalist and author of "To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq."
Welcome to the program, Robert.
I don't know if you heard the conversation. But we mentioned your profile and your interview with Secretary Straw. Obviously, a lot of this led to
what was called the Powell Doctrine. And we're going to be hearing more of that throughout the day and the weeks to come as we reflect back on the
life of General Powell.
Can you give us a sense and break down what that doctrine entailed?
ROBERT DRAPER, AUTHOR, "TO START A WAR": Sure.
And I did, by the way, Bianna, listen to what Jack Straw was saying. It was a -- I think a very fitting tribute to Colin Powell.
The doctrine of overwhelming force is essentially to identify a problem, identify a coalition that would solve that problem, and then use
overwhelming force to negate that problem. As Powell succinctly said to an American audience during the Operation Desert Storm, first, we cut it off,
and then we kill it.
And this was a facility that then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Powell had for speaking in comprehensible, blunt language, though, in the
end, Powell was also very, very diplomatic.
And I think these were the two among the many skills that he brought across the boards to political arena.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And some would argue that that doctrine helped to liberate Kuwait, right, and even the invasion there and incursion into Panama, but
not necessarily was the case for the Muslims in Bosnia.
DRAPER: No. No, that's right.
It wasn't applicable to the situation in Bosnia, throughout really the Balkans, where I happen to be right now. And it was instead really a kind
of sort of great powers way of thinking. It's sort of conventional force against conventional force. Also wasn't very applicable ultimately to the
situation America found itself in, in the wake after September 11.
GOLODRYGA: Talk about that the trailblazer that he was. He was the first African-American secretary of state, the first black chairman of the Joint
Chiefs, the first black national security adviser.
At times, in the mid '90s, it was rumored that he would, in fact, run for president as a Republican. And many at the time thought that, if he did, he
would win the nomination and perhaps the presidency itself.
How pivotal, then, years later was his endorsement in 2008 not of John McCain, his friend, longtime friend, and fellow Republican, but of Senator,
then-Senator Barack Obama?
DRAPER: Yes, I mean, it was really important. It occurred in the fall of 2008, when the election was still up for grabs.
And it was a bit of a surprise, I mean, given that, as you reference, Bianna, Senator McCain and Powell had been quite close. But he also
recognized and stated outright the historic nature of the candidacy of what might well be and then ultimately did become America's first African-
Powell understood the stakes because he, as you again alluded to before, had come up in the ranks as a constant first, as the first black national
security adviser, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, and then secretary of state. And he recognized the pressures that would be brought
to bear, the significance, nationally speaking, of such a moment.
And so it's also probably worth mentioning too, Bianna, that I think that Powell had, not to be uncharitable about it, but his own history, his own
legacy in mind when he was endorsing Barack Obama, because his legacy was very much in doubt, if not outright tainted, by his role in the Iraq saga.
GOLODRYGA: And yet he did not use 2008 as a time to leave the party. It was years later, and he spoke out against President Trump even before the
January 6 insurrection.
Yet, after that, I would like to play for you sound that he gave in an interview with Jake Tapper just last year about his relationship with the
Republican Party itself and the fallout from the insurrection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: I can no longer call myself a fellow Republican. I'm not a fellow of anything right now. I'm just a citizen who has voted Republican, voted
Democrat throughout my entire career.
And, right now, I'm just watching my country and not concerned with the parties. We need people who will speak the truth, who remember that they
are here for our fellow citizens. They are here for our country. They are not here simply to be reelected again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And I should note that he had an interview with my other colleague Fareed Zakaria, and not Jake Tapper.
Nonetheless, those were very powerful words, and not words that we heard from many other Republicans, those who had stayed in the party, or those
who had chosen to leave. Why do you think that was so important for him to speak out so publicly about?
DRAPER: Well, two or three things all at once.
I mean, for one thing, he left the Bush administration on a rather ignominious note, and not being brought up for Bush's second term as
secretary of state, instead replaced by Condoleezza Rice. So there was that.
He endorsed Obama, but he also voted for Obama's reelection in 2012. Therefore, he voted, in other words, against two Republicans, McCain and
then Mitt Romney. He found Donald Trump, frankly, to be detestable and found it to be a blight on the Republican Party that he was the party's
nominee, and then that the party fell in with Trump to the degree that it did.
It was around that time that Powell, not unlike a lot of other conventional Republicans looked inside himself and said, the person that I am, who
identified for so long as a Republican, operates in a reality that's parallel to what the Republican Party has become.
And I think that he just felt at that juncture very much induced by Trump, but I do -- or catalyzed by Trump, but I do think that this was a train
coming down the track in his own personal narrative for a while that he could no longer identify as a member of the GOP.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, I know he told you last year that he worried that his obituary would begin with that 2003 U.N. speech.
But I would like to think that it would entail much, much more. In fact, I think about this interview that he gave to "The New York Times" in 2007.
And he analyzed himself and he said: "Powell is a problem solver. He was taught as a soldier to solve problems. So he has views. He's not an
ideologue. He has passion, but he's not a fanatic. He's first and foremost a problem solver."
And, obviously, he was a great patriot to this country.
DRAPER: He was all of those things, yes.
GOLODRYGA: Robert Draper, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
DRAPER: Thank you. My pleasure to be on.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now we take a look at the fall of Enron, a scandal that rocked the business world so hard, the aftershocks are still being felt
Twenty years ago, the Texas energy giant was the seventh largest company in the U.S. with a claimed revenue of over $100 billion. But beneath the
surface, the company was concealing huge losses within a complex web of outside deals.
So what went wrong? And what lessons does the Enron collapse hold for our economy now?
Well, a new "Wall Street Journal" podcast series, "Bad Bets," digs into all of this.
And its host, John Emshwiller and Rebecca Smith, join me now. Welcome both of you.
I have to say I was hooked as soon as I saw this podcast, and I was glad that I listened to it.
John, let me begin with you, because, as somebody who grew up in Houston and knew people who worked at Enron, the company did stand out as a darling
in a city and in a state that had a plethora of energy and oil companies.
What made Enron so special back then?
JOHN EMSHWILLER, CO-HOST, "BAD BETS": Well, Enron certainly seemed to be on the cutting edge of American business in many ways in the 1990s. You
might remember that was the beginning of dot-com era and the first great dot-com bubble in the stock market.
And Enron was this old-line company, a gas transmission company. It moved natural gas around the country. But it seemed to understand the Internet
and grab on to it in ways that other old-line companies hadn't. So it seemed to be this great combination of sort of bricks and mortar and now
And it revolutionized energy trading in the United States and brought in all kinds of bright, ambitious people. So it really was kind of a superstar
for a while in the both Houston firmament and in the greater corporate firmament.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, obviously leading up to its demise, which you helped unravel at "The Wall Street Journal," you and other reporters.
And your investigation into Enron really began with something that didn't seem like it was that stark of a headline. The CEO had resigned. He had
been newly appointed to the job just a few months, Jeffrey Skilling.
But it was an interview that he gave where he said the reason for his resignation was the stock price going down. That's not a typical answer to
somebody leaving the company so quickly.
Enron -- I mean, Jeff Skilling's resignation was really the beginning for us, certainly for me. Rebecca was normally the Enron reporter and covered
it, I thought, very well. But she was off on -- moving into a house with no Internet connection or anything today I was supposed to interview Skilling.
So I got assigned a job.
And I -- in preparation for it, I read this SEC filing, their latest one, and came across these very strange-sounding partnerships called the LJM
partnerships, which were being run and partly owned by their own chief financial officer, Andy Fastow, and doing hundreds of millions of dollars
And that was sort of the prep for the interview I ran across. And then Skilling tells me this stuff about, the stock price, I probably wouldn't
have quit, which went against what they had said just the day before, that he quit entirely for personal reasons.
So, between the -- discovering those partnerships and his comments, Becky and I started on our adventure.
GOLODRYGA: So, Becky, talk about that adventure and what you ended up finding and unearthing, because what many ended up describing is not
something illegal. In fact, it was almost a legal fraud.
REBECCA SMITH, CO-HOST, "BAD BETS": Well, so one of the things we found -- and this is one of the lessons from Enron -- is that it was aided and
abetted by all of the professional services.
We're talking the accountants, the lawyers, and also, to some extent, the Wall Street analysts. I mean, all of these were working -- these
individuals were working for companies that made a lot of fee income off of Enron.
And so they had a stake in its success. So they -- a lot of these, certainly in the case of the accountants, they signed off on these
financial arrangements that Enron entered into. They were ethically wrong, yet they had been approved by the company itself.
So, it really called into question the system of checks and balances we have to protect investors against fraud.
GOLODRYGA: That's right, because you, as journalists, would say, this looks fishy, but, hey, you have so many executives signing off on it. You
have the lawyers signing off on it. You have the accounting firm signing off on it. Clearly, they must be doing something to outsmart everyone, and
that must be aboveboard. It's just something you don't understand.
Good thing that you kept digging. And you ultimately found that they evaded many, many loopholes.
John, can you talk about the consequences in the aftermath of the bankruptcy and obviously the legal ramifications, and Washington stepping
in with new legislations, specifically Sarbanes-Oxley?
EMSHWILLER: Yes, I mean, the collapse of Enron became a national event in many ways.
Congress rushed to investigate. I think there was at one point eight or -- I think eight or nine different committees of Congress were holding
hearings on the Enron scandal. The Justice Department formed a special task force. It was in some ways unique in the history of American criminal --
federal criminal justice.
They had dozens of investigators and attorneys working on it for four years, looking into every nook and cranny. Congress passed the Sarbanes-
Oxley law, which tried to tighten up oversight, some of the stuff Becky was just talking about, making accountants somewhat less accountable to their
corporate clients and more accountable to the public.
After all, they are certified public accountants, and so they're supposed to be giving sort of quasi, at least, independent oversight to the
financial doings of a corporation. So there's lots of ramifications. And, obviously, the federal criminal investigation was perhaps the biggest ever
undertaken of a single corporation.
And a lot of Enron executives went to prison.
And it's something, Becky, that we didn't see happen after the 2008 financial crisis, specifically referencing Wall Street firms and big banks.
I'm curious now looking back 20 years later, was Enron an outlier, or are you as a journalist concerned about what you're seeing out there today?
I mean, you talk about Theranos. There are other legal issues for other companies, and many are questioning if they are going through similar
situations as Enron. But is there something that you are concerned about in particular that maybe we're not talking enough about that you gleaned from
your reporting into Enron?
SMITH: I think the pressures on companies remain the...
GOLODRYGA: I'm sorry. That was for Becky. Sorry.
SMITH: So, Bianna, I think the pressures on companies are the same today as they were 20 years ago.
Wall Street still wants a great story. It still wants to know that a company is going to perform better each quarter than the quarter before.
There still are a lot of companies that are making a lot of money off of a company's success. All of that remains the same.
The egos of the executives are still big. So that's the same. The other thing -- one of the lessons I learned, or one of the lessons I took from
Enron was how corruption works.
We think of it as a static force. It isn't. The corruption at Enron corrupted everything around it. And, in some ways, it was an outlier.
Certainly, its collapse was spectacular. But it took many other companies down with it.
There had been a lot of companies engaged in fraudulent trading, for example, in the electricity market. A lot of these companies were part of
the -- what became the California energy crisis of 2000.
SMITH: So, Enron had a corrupting influence on those around it, and that's why when we see evidence of fraud or corruption, it needs to be stopped
before it radiates outward.
GOLODRYGA: And it robbed many of its shareholders, right, and employees at one point? Up to 30,000 employees at Enron, robbed them of their pensions
and all of their 401(k) and retirements.
Thank you so much, both of you, for all of the work that you have done and I am really excited about hearing more from this podcast.
SMITH: Thank you so much.
EMSHWILLER: Thanks very much for having us.
GOLODRYGA: And now, a red carpet turned green. Recycled fashioned and a performance by Coldplay powered by bicycles. (INAUDIBLE) Earthshot Awards
were held in London this weekend to honor innovative solutions to the world's most pressing environmental problems. Founded by Prince William and
naturalist, David Attenborough, Earthshot awarded a prize of more than $1.3 million to each of its five winners.
Vaitea Cowan was one of them, along with her group for its compact electrolyser which can turn water into green hydrogen. Former U.N. climate
chief, Christiana Figueres, was on the council and they both join me now.
Welcome to both of you.
Vaitea, Congratulations on your win. Tell us more about these electrolysers and how you can bring them to scale for other countries to use around the
VAITEA COWAN, CO-FOUNDER, ENAPTER, WINNER, EARTHSHOT PRIZE: Thank you very much, Bianna, for having me today.
So, the electrolyser is what we are manufacturing. It's called the Anionic Exchange Membrane Electrolyser. And it is a device that uses electricity to
split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Essentially, we're working on driving down the cost of green hydrogen to replace fossil fuels. And our
electrolysers are already running in over 40 different countries. We have 160 customers and it's so inspiring to see these sectors transition out
from fossil fuels and to fly planes, for examples, on green hydrogen and to use -- and to see all of these new used cases now choosing an alternative
fuel because they can.
GOLODRYGA: How will this prize money, at least, help you achieve your ultimate goal?
COWAN: We're absolutely ecstatic on the Earthshot. So, simply the recognition of such a prestigious prize is amazing and it is the vote of
confidence that we are going in the right direction. Ultimately, we are working toward making green hydrogen affordable and accessible for all. And
this is just the right boost towards that goal, and the prize will also help us going into mass production of our AM electrolyser.
GOLODRYGA: Well, your enthusiasm is infectious. And I have to say, we need that now as we're talking about climate change on a daily basis. And a new
headline is showing just how real and consequential it is.
Christiana, we should note that the other winners include Costa Rica, it's your home nation, food hubs in the City of Milan and two brothers from the
Bahamas working to restore coral reefs. What were you specifically were you looking in winners like Vaitea and others?
CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, MEMBER, THE EARTHSHOT PRIZE COUNCIL, FORMER U.N. CLIMATE CHIEF: Well, we were looking for shining examples, Bianna, of
individuals, countries, cities, corporations, NGOs that are already working on breakthrough solutions that have the capacity to scale up quickly,
because the fact is we know that we have run out of time. We know that we have to go from linear to exponential transformation. And so, what we are
looking for is where are those efforts already under way that we can help and put a platform under them because all of these winners, in fact, not
just the five winners, but the 15 finalists, they will all be provided with an accelerator program that will allow them to scale up in concert with
each other. So, that is what we're looking for.
The prize is very much about infectious positivism to realize that we have an urgency that we have never had before. But also, we have an agency that
we have never had before. So, it's about bringing both of those together. The urgency of the threat with the agency of what we can do.
GOLODRYGA: And it is wonderful to hear that Vaitea and other contestants have the urgency and that agency, but I'm going to be a realist here and
talk about what's happening in the next few weeks and that's the COP26 Summit in Glasgow. And I'm wondering if you hear the same urgency coming,
and agency coming from some of the world's most powerful countries that happen to be some of its biggest CO2 emitters as well and greenhouse gas
emitters, especially when you're hearing that President Xi may or may not come, President Putin of Russia may or may not come.
How are you feeling with this just taking place in the next two weeks?
FIGUERES: Well, it's actually very much a mixed bag. You do have some of the countries from the G20, which are the most important because together,
those 20 largest economies of the world, they are basically responsible for 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. So, you do have a sizable
number of those G20 countries that are, at least, at minimum, committed to being at net zero emissions by 2020, which I would say is the minimum.
The more important and urgent is what are they doing over the next five to 10 years? And so, you have the beginnings of a parade of countries
including the United States, E.U., U.K., that are already or have already or will be soon putting on their table, on the table what they will be
doing for 2030.
Now, what is going to be important is where does the sum total, all the collection of efforts, on what trajectory does it put us on? Because we
know that we're coming off a trajectory of going to four, six degrees of temperature rise which would have been completely unsurvivable for the
Now, with the policies on the table, just the policies, we would go shave that temperature increase to more or less 6.2 degrees. But if the policies
get fully implemented, we would actually shave off further to 2.1 degrees centigrade of temperature rise. So, you see that it is actually really
important what countries put on the table as targets and especially, it's very important what they implement. I think the lesson learned that
everyone will have to take from the COP is three things are very clear.
Number one, today, we're definitely doing better than where we were five years ago. That's a plus. Number two, we absolutely have to implement the
policies and the incentives that are on the table, because if they're just paper, they do absolutely no good. And number three, we do need further
ambition, because 2.1 is definitely better than four degrees temperature rise but still not at 1.5, which is what science has told us very clearly
that is necessary.
So, we going to need a combination. We need implementation right away. We need further ambition. And certainly, we need the support, the enthusiasm,
the entrepreneurial spirit of companies like AEM catalyzer and we the push from the financial sector, which is definitely coming.
GOLODRYGA: So, then, let me ask you quickly, if you were able to spend some time with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, right, and tell him why
you believe that he should support a key climate measure in President Biden's build back better plan that's roughly $150 billion clean
electricity performance program which Senator Manchin said that he would not support, what would you say to him? Would you say this is something
that, OK, we can find alternatives, let's try to compromise or would you say that this is an imperative to include?
FIGUERES: I think, sadly, we have run out of time for compromises. I think this is by now an imperative. And there is, of course, still some interest
in coal in the United States, but the fact is that the coal industry is very quickly reaching its date of no validity anymore because we now know
what the health implications, both human and planetary health implications are.
At the same time, we also know that, fortunately, we have so many other alternatives like catalyzers to produce clean hydrogen. We have many other
alternatives that are being developed and are being scaled up. Furthermore, I think we do have to understand that where job growth can come is
precisely in those sectors of 21st century. We cannot continue with jobs that were very important jobs in the 20th century, but how no longer viable
So -- and analysts say also infrastructure in the United States and here in London because I'm here from the Earth prize, infrastructure everywhere
needs to be updated. We cannot continue to send electricity or transport ourselves with old infrastructure that is breaking down. So, from all
perspectives, go forward.
GOLODRYGA: Go forward and we can look forward to that with groundbreaking scientists like Vaitea and all of your other colleagues. Congratulations
once again, Vaitea Cowan, we appreciate your time and, Christian Figueres, thank you.
FIGUERES: Thank you.
COWAN: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: And you can watch the full Earthshot ceremony on this Wednesday on Discovery Plus.
Now, continuing our conversation about tackling the climate crisis, we turn to a city familiar with devastating natural disasters, New Orleans. Ramsey
Green is the city's chief resilience officer tasked with creating sustainable solutions to climate threats facing the city.
Here he is talking with Walter Isaacson about lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina and redefining the way cities respond to extreme weather.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Bianna. And Ramsey Green, welcome to the show.
RAMSEY GREEN, chief of infrastructure, New Orleans: Thank you, Walter.
ISAACSON: You're the chief resilience officer for the city. Tell us what that job title means, how many of this type of jobs are there around the
world and how you would collaborate with others?
GREEN: Yes, I want to say, there's somewhere between 50 and 100 throughout the world we talk fairly regularly. It's been a little harder since COVID.
You know, we would get together in different cities where we have CROs and we talk about the challenges facing cities at this moment in time. And I
think, you know, running cities at this moment is a really consequential time.
We are seeing pressures on cities. My colleague in Miami is seeing sea water come out of their catch basins. My colleague in Charleston, South
Carolina describes the real challenge of keeping historic buildings in the southern part of Charleston safe given the impacts of tidal change and, you
know, the impacts of a coast coming closer to these beautiful historic buildings. They're a huge part of the Charleston economy.
A lot of what my job is, is operational and tactical. Making sure our infrastructure operations work as best they can. And when they don't,
figuring out ways to solve those problems.
ISAACSON: There's been a lot of talk in this era of climate change and COVID of the need for cities to innovate to be more resilient. And there's
probably no city that faced more challenges of resilience and overcome than New Orleans. Tell me what's been done since Katrina, 16 years ago.
GREEN: We acknowledged the anniversary this year with the impact of Hurricane Ida, which was a tremendously strong storm and we really saw the
impact of the measures that this city and this region have put into effect in the 16 years since Katrina. Namely, this country and this state spent
about $15 billion for a levee system that protected our city during a massive storm this year.
Katrina had $135 billion worth of damage in our city and area and $15 billion to protect $125 billion worth of damage in that instance was a
major payoff. That's just one example of a myriad of other incredibly data and science focused measures that we're doing right here in New Orleans
ISAACSON: So, Hurricane Ida hit this summer and the levees held. There was no flooding. The sewer system worked. There was no flooding from the rain.
How did that happen? What made the city so resilient so that the city itself could withstand the force of Ida?
GREEN: You know, we've done a lot to bring our existing infrastructure to a place where it's more durable, it's more resilient, as you say. We've
also done things that were not being done 10 years ago. For example, through storm water mitigation measures, for example, holding water in
green space. We have one project that we finished this past spring where we're holding over 9 million gallons of storm water in a golf course, in
public rights of way using previous concrete and bio soils. We're doing really innovative storm water measures to hold water in parks, in green
space below sidewalks and streets so it doesn't go into people's homes, businesses, or their cars.
And, you know, disasters like this, like flooding and storms that are not things you see every day. So, it's really a testament to our city and to
our residents who put a lot of work and resources into efforts that pay off during the one day when a hurricane occurs. It's not something you see that
pays off every day, but when it does, it makes a huge difference to your community.
ISAACSON: The one thing that didn't work well after Ida is the electricity transmission system, from outside the city. The lines went down. What do we
have to do, what were the lessons from that about how we have to harden things like electricity grids in this country?
GREEN: Yes. What happened in this city was pretty unprecedented when it comes to electrical resilience. We have eight transmission lines that come
into our city and all eight of them broke down. What that means is we really need to look at hardening our transmission that comes into this
city. We need to look at local generation, but we also need to look at the equivalent of, I would say, of what we're doing in storm water, holding
water in parks, on people's individual property and safer areas, but we're looking at microgrids. Smaller power generation capability, batteries, some
of these more innovative ways so we're not tied to a central power generation facility.
Additionally, we've got to look at generators and where we can put those. Where the most add benefit to most vulnerable residents in our city. I'm
not talking, you know, the expensive generators that somebody may have on their large home. I mean, generator capability of pharmacies, at gas
stations, at cooling centers. We've initiated a project like that right after Hurricane Ida where we opened up eight community centers. So, our
residents who had no place to go during 100 heat index days could go cool down in a community center then tied to a generator.
So, it's not necessarily about only renewables. You know, solar panels take a lot of geographic space. But it's about putting power where it is most
needed in the wake of a disaster where there's no power, there's limited resources for people, and putting that power where it should be for the
people who most need it.
ISAACSON: Describe some of the innovative methods that you can use whether it be Houston or New Orleans or other places that get big rainstorms to
hold storm water, to do it in part. So, to do it in people's backwards instead of making the sewer system pump out all of that water.
GREEN: Yes. There's -- I'll give you a couple of examples. From the public infrastructure side, one thing we are aggressively looking at are our
parks. For example, we have, I want to say, it's 1,300 acres or so, one of the largest urban parks in the country is called City Park. And in City
Park, New Orleans, it has a series of lagoons. And those lagoons, you know, heretofore, have been just filled with water, either pumped into it,
rainwater or otherwise.
And this moment, we've got about an $18 million project where we're connecting those lagoons through a series of weirs and then, terracing the
lagoons. So, when a big rainfall happens through a system of subservice lines and pumping, water from the neighborhoods around City Park then goes
into the park, it fills up those lagoons and those terraced areas and then waits there and sits there through the storm and then gradually recedes
back into the drainage system over time.
It's a lot of going back to the original ecology of this city. This city was a place of marshes, of sediment very loose of high-water table and
doing that kind of work both in the public infrastructure and then on your private property, what we've done in this city post, you know, World War II
during the '50s and the suburbanization of this country, is we paved over so much of what precisely allows our city to exist. We paved over our
sediment. And what happens when you pave over that water table is the concrete starts to collapse.
So, what we're really doing is we're putting water back into our water table to make our soil more stable, it keeps water off of our public rights
ways and out of people's homes and we're doing this in a pretty innovative way. And we've had, you know, to a degree, 16 years of post-Katrina
experience learning how to build the city back. And now, it's really paying off to a degree as we're seeing the impact of climate change.
ISAACSON: Let's personalize this a little bit. Take what's in the Biden infrastructure bill or some of the innovative things. How is that going to
affect or how could it affect just a normal person, you know, in their daily lives?
GREEN: So, President Biden came to New Orleans in May. And I had the good fortune of -- with Mayor Cantrell and our chief of the sewage and water
board meeting with President Biden on the sewage and water boards Carrollton Water Plant with the great men and women of the sewage and water
board who keep this city dry no matter the challenge.
And when President Biden walked around, he saw turbines that were installed and built when Woodrow Wilson was president. What does that mean when you
have a steam powered turbine that keeps our city dry? A, we're, you know, keeping those very aging but critical pieces of infrastructure alive and
going, and Hurricane Ida showed that. We were able to largely drain this city rather quickly, our water system, despite some of our neighboring
parishes, required boil water advisories for days into the week period, our water was safe and we were exporting our water to neighboring parishes
throughout our region.
What Biden's bill would do is upgrade that infrastructure, so our gray infrastructure, our pumps that pumps water out of this city, because you
have to remember, we have to pump every drop that lands in our city has to be pumped up and out into Lake Pontchartrain. Upgrading that
infrastructure, upgrading those turbines. And then, making it so we can really trust in a storm that exists in those canals, those drain lines,
those pipes, those pumps, and the power system that powers that.
Additionally, because the Biden administration is so interested in fighting climate change and preparing our planet and -- excuse me, our country for a
very indeterminate future given the impacts of climate change, we're really excited about the mitigation and climate change really created scientific
elements that we can do. For example, turning more of our green space into places that can hold water. Doing something where we can put a 20 percent
discount on elements that, you know, people who are high income earners, they can go and put some hold water on their own properties and then do a
much bigger payback to residents who are lower income earners and hold water on their properties. There's a variety of creative things you can do
with this infrastructure package.
ISAACSON: A lot of the great infrastructure projects done after World War II in the second part of the 20th century impacted badly black
neighborhoods more than white neighborhoods. In an innovative infrastructure future, how can we make sure there's racial and economic
equity in what we build?
GREEN: You know, I think about that one a lot, and I think about in particular, in the City of New Orleans, we have what we call the Claiborne
Overpass, which was a freeway connection that essentially was barreled through a previously really successful thriving African-American business
district. What can we do to ensure that something like that never happens again?
And our mayor is adamant about this. We listen to our residents. We talk to our residents. We hear what their fears are. And we articulate directly to
them what we can do as government and what we think we might be able to do as a community working together with government. It's mostly about
listening and bringing resources in, in a way where we can be effective together.
When government does something to someone, that person doesn't ever feel like they won. Even if there is some positive benefit of what government
just did. We have to communicate really clearly with our residents. And when they tell us we don't like something, we have to come up with a better
plan or figure out a more effective way to work with that community member. That is what we do. It is -- I don't mean to simply say it's about
communication. But it is.
I mean, we have some of our most vociferous advocates for storm water management in our city come right from Treme and these neighbors are making
and painting rain water cisterns and advocating greatly for how to hold water on private property. And I think about Pontchartrain Park, which is a
neighborhood adjacent to the Joe Bartholomew Golf Course, which is a golf course that African-Americans could golf at where they couldn't golf
anywhere else in our region. And that golf course now holds somewhere around a million gallons of storm water during flood periods, and those
neighbors are doing that kind of work on their own properties adjacent to that golf course because they believe in what the government is providing
them and the government is doing it in a really coordinated way with the neighborhood.
ISAACSON: As you talked to chief resilience officers around the country, what good ideas are you hearing from other places, other cities?
GREEN: Some of the best ones that I have seen come from Europe. I've seen in the United Kingdom, really innovative storm water work. In the
Netherlands, particularly, in Amsterdam, in Rotterdam, in parts of the Northern Coastal parts of the Netherlands, you know, where they turn a
parking garage into a storm water bio soil. In England, they made dramatic improvements to their building and fire codes after horrendous fire
occurred at a massive apartment complex that saw a high number of fatalities.
Whatever I see in terms of resilience, the best solutions come from those folks who have lived through or lived through the results of a dramatic
climate-driven or other type of a tragedy. And, you know, I'd like to think that New Orleans is one of the leaders in terms of preparing for
hurricanes. I have seen that. We have lived that. And now, we're seeing the impact of these kinds of storms broadening into other places.
I mean, Hurricane Ida caused a lot of damage and destruction in Louisiana, but it also did in the State of New York, which tells you that these storms
are massive, unpredictable, and can go anywhere.
ISAACSON: Ramsey Green, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
GREEN: Thank you, Walter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: It's so important that our cities continue to adapt to our changing climate.
Well, that is all for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from