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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Putin's Power Plays At Home And Abroad; Biden Declares Massacre Of Armenian In WWII A Genocide; Biden Convenes The World On Climate; India's Out-Of-Control COVID-19 Crisis. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired April 25, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.
ZAKARIA: Today on show, President Putin issues an ominous warning, don't cross Russia's red lines. Any nation that messes with Moscow, he said, will deeply regret it. What to make of the threat as Russia's relations with the West seem to worsen by the week. I will talk to Poland's former Foreign minister Radek Sikorski.
Also President Biden announces an ambitious plan in the fight against climate change.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting.
ZAKARIA: He intends to cut carbon emissions by 2030 by half. But is it just, well, blowing smoke if the developing world doesn't follow suit?
BIDEN: No nation can't solve this crisis on their own.
ZAKARIA: I'll talk to the head of Conservation International, M. Sanjayan.
Plus too few hospital beds, not enough bottled oxygen, a shortage of COVID medicine and vaccines, overcrowding at cemeteries and long lines at crematoriums. This is the COVID crisis devastating India right now. We'll get a report from the ground on why it's gotten so bad.
ZAKARIA: But first, here is my take. This pandemic has brought out the crazy in all of us. We've all been selective about the science we take seriously and the stuff we disregard. We've often been more moved by vivid anecdotes than by scholarly studies but I really start to worry when even the experts seem irrational.
Consider the decision from the CDC and the FDA to recommend pausing distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After six cases of severe blood clots were reported in the U.S. a small number of additional cases have been reported since. The pause is now over and the vaccine back in use but the damage is done, fueling fears about vaccine safety and confirming conspiracy theories.
Let's do the math. Some seven million Americans have already safely received the vaccine. That is 0.0002 percent of a chance of a blood clot. Meanwhile, 1.5 percent of COVID patients still die from the virus. In other words, even if all the blood clots prove fatal and most have not been, the virus would still be thousands of times more dangerous than the vaccine.
The agency's decision came after similar rare reports of blood clotting led European nations to temporarily suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine in March. That vaccine uses technology similar to Johnson & Johnson's and again its benefits far outweigh the potential dangers.
We have wasted precious time at a moment when the crucial imperative is to get people vaccinated and fast. Many developing nations are counting on these two vaccines because they're cheaper than the MRNA ones and easier so store. Now even people in those places are scared to get them.
There is a pattern to the problem. Politicians and governments are much too worried about the chance of something bad happening on their watch, no matter how unlikely. For example, there has been a reluctance to send children back to school even though numerous studies have found the risk to be quite low if precautions are taken, and while the dangers are exaggerated, few people think about the massive benefits to society, to children, to parents, to the economy as a whole if schools would reopen fast.
Sometimes this obsession with risk turns into what the Atlantic's Derek Thompson calls hygiene theater. It has been apparent for a while that the virus overwhelmingly spreads by breathing, not by touching surfaces.
Yet businesses have made a great show of sanitizing everything, as if activities like indoor dining are somehow safe if only the tables are cleaned. Thompson is reminded of this security theater at airports after 9/11. An elaborate set of measures was put into place to make people feel safe, much of it useless.
More importantly the obsession with the dangers of terrorism, which even after 9/11 were actually quite low, led us to build a massive new Homeland Security industrial complex, launch major military interventions across the globe, and curtail civil liberties at home just to try to reduce the incidents of terrorism to as close to zero as possible. For example, we denied hundreds of thousands of people visas into the U.S. just because we wanted to be sure that no one let in someone who turned out to be a terrorist.
In government, the incentive is always to take every precaution and spend as much money as necessary to ensure that something bad doesn't happen. That's the kind of event that makes you lose your job or get you pilloried by the press or hauled in front of a congressional committee. If you make lots of good things happen by contrast, you'll be lucky if you get a pat on the back.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the U.S. government kept worrying far too much about all the problems that could emerge from rapid mass testing and neglected to consider the huge benefits of it because it would return people to normal life.
Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mena argued that we should have authorized all kinds of tests in home pregnancy style ones for example that would have offered constant information on who was safe and unsafe. Getting tests to be 100 percent accurate was far less important than catching most cases before they spread.
The truth is we live with risks all of the time. 40,000 Americans die every year in car accidents. Would we agree to make the speed limit say 25 miles per hour if it would save half of those deaths? Even now hundreds of Americans are dying from COVID every day compared to the handful who got blood clots. We need to think more closely, carefully and rationally about risk, and to remember to balance it with that other half of the equation, reward.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
On Wednesday Russia's President Putin offered an ominous warning to the West. Don't cross Russia's red lines and if you do, be prepared to face dire consequences. Those Western nations he was threatening have been increasingly worried in recent weeks about why Putin was massing troops on his border with Ukraine and also about Russia's treatment of its political opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
My guest Radek Sikorski negotiated with Vladimir Putin when Radek was Foreign minister of Poland, a country that also borders Russia. He is currently a member of the European parliament.
Welcome, Radek. Let me ask you first, what do you think Putin has achieved by this extraordinary display of force in Ukraine? At one point I think it was 100,000 troops massed an Ukraine's border.
RADEK SIKORSKI, FORMER POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, he's put the Ukrainian president off balance and he's shown us all that he has military options. I think this was a dress rehearsal, such as the ones before the invasion of Georgia and such as the ones that I call Zapat exercises which simulate invasion of the Baltic states.
Putin remember has failed in Ukraine. He wanted to integrate the whole country into his Euro Asiatic union and when that failed, he occupies now 7 percent of Ukraine. But 93 percent of Ukraine is integrating with the West.
ZAKARIA: And do you think that when you say it's a dress rehearsal, there is an actual plan in his mind that he might try to take more of Ukraine?
SIKORSKI: Oh, I have no doubt about that. But you know, all militaries have contingency plans for every eventuality. Remember that back in 2014, the Russians were very close to carrying out Operation Novorossiya which would have been taking over half of Ukraine and cutting it off of the Black Sea. And I think those plans are still being considered.
ZAKARIA: Yes, that was Odessa and of course I think he realized that the people in Odessa, the Russian speaking, were not particularly pro- Russian.
Let me ask you about --
SIKORSKI: That was his mistake, you see, to assume that if you speak Russian in Ukraine that means you are a Russian and you want to live in Russia and that turned out to be wrong.
ZAKARIA: I've got so much to get to with you. What about the protests? The Alexei Navalny arrest and mistreatment seems to have triggered something big but will it, as Russian protest have, will it be successfully repressed? Is Putin destined to rule for as long as he wants?
SIKORSKI: Well, Russian Security Services surveil and intimidate the entire population. It takes real courage to demonstrate the way that the Russians or the (INAUDIBLE) Russians do now. And remember these are regimes that murdered their opponents both at home and abroad.
ZAKARIA: But does it -- is Putin's hold on his people, you know, is the basic bargain that he made with them, which is, you know, I give you stability and I give you reasonable economic conditions, and you back me? Is that still holding?
SIKORSKI: I think the basic deal until five years ago, I give you rising standard of living and stability and you don't mind my thieving and my autocracy. But standards of living in Russia have been dropping for five years. So the new deal is your standards of living are sagging but I give you glory, successes. Georgia, Crimea, Syria, and perhaps in future Belarus, Ukraine or the Baltic states.
ZAKARIA: Is Biden handling Putin correctly? He's been fairly tough on him, even agreeing to call him or that the characterization of Putin as a killer is accurate?
SIKORSKI: Well, look, and Putin has responded by wanting to talk to him. Interesting, isn't it? Every previous U.S. administration since the end of the Cold War tried to have a re-set with Russia and they never worked. Democrats, of course, have a score to settle with Putin for the interference in your elections. So there is no longer any illusions about the nature of that regime. And I think this is working rather well.
ZAKARIA: Putin in his statement on Wednesday said that we must all remember that Russia is morally superior to the West. Do you think that kind of thing resonates?
SIKORSKI: Well, come on. This is a former colonel in the KGB, one of the most corrupt men in the world, who kills his opponents lecturing us about morality.
ZAKARIA: But what do you think he meant by it? Because he does evoke this idea of Russia as, you know, kind of a third realm, still maintaining, you know, the values of Christianity and such.
SIKORSKI: Oh, yes, well, he means that we don't tolerate LGBT people. That's really it. The Russian propaganda, you can see it on the Internet, is if you go the Western liberal way, all your sons will be gay and all your daughters will be lesbian. And he has found some countries where this resonates, including in central Europe. But I would question whether that's a sign of moral superiority.
ZAKARIA: Radek, always a pleasure to talk to you. You shared a lot of light on this matter. Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, words matter and the word "genocide" has been used a whole lot as of late. Is it the right word for the Armenian massacre in World War I or for China's treatment of the Uyghurs today? I will talk to one of the world's leading experts on that term when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Yesterday in a statement commemorating the mass killing of Armenians during World War I, President Biden broke with decades of presidential precedent. For the first time an American commander-in- chief declared the event a genocide. As expected, Turkish-U.S. relations were instantly inflamed.
The word also inflames relations between some world capital and Beijing. It happened this week when the British parliament declared that China's treatment of the Uyghur in Xinjiang is a genocide. Secretaries of State Pompeo and Blinken agreed that it's a genocide. Human Rights Watch among others disagree.
So is it genocide and is it the right word?
Joining me now is Philippe Sands, he's an international lawyer and professor at University College London. He's the author of "East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity."
Welcome, Professor. First, what is your reaction to Joe Biden's declaration?
PHILIPPE SANDS, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Well, it has been trailed and my overall reaction I suppose is it's a political move, nothing much is actually going to turn on it. The difference between the U.S. and Turkey has not been the facts that large numbers of Armenians were killed around 1915.
But what to call that act of killing, and for many decades Turkey has objected to the use of the G-word, genocide, it's a very motive word and their point is very simple, that the word genocide was only invented in 1945 by Polish-Jewish called Raphael Lemkin and it's therefore inappropriate to use it for something that occurred three decades earlier.
ZAKARIA: Explain to us why in your view the word does evoke so much of a sense of kind of horror? Is it the holocaust? Because, you know, the term that people otherwise use for something like what the Chinese are doing in Xinjiang is crimes against humanity. Why is it that genocide is seen as so much worse than crimes against humanity?
SANDS: A very fine question, Fareed. You've got to go to back to 1945. Before 1945 that was no such thing as genocide or crimes against humanity. The two concepts were invented at the same moment. They were first spoken for the first time on the 20th of November, 1945, in the Nuremburg courtroom.
Genocide is about the protection of groups, crimes against humanity is about protection of individuals, and over time genocide has come to be seen wrongly in my view as the crime of crimes. Somehow the killing of groups is seen as worse than the killing of hundreds of thousands of individuals. After the Nuremburg trial, the United Nations created a convention and that set the standard very high to prove a genocide.
In law, you have to show there was an intention to destroy a group in whole or in part and it's that bar, that threshold, which has I think contributed, along with the sort of the magic of the word invented by Raphael Lemkin, a particular emotive power.
ZAKARIA: That's fascinating. So in a sense, what you're saying is that Bashar al-Assad may have killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians, but that isn't considered genocide, you know, or many would argue isn't -- doesn't fit the term because there wasn't an intent to destroy one particular group, just kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
SANDS: Exactly. I mean, I could illustrate this very, very simply. I sit on the Holocaust Advisory Group in the United Kingdom and that group commemorates annually in January each year not only the holocaust of the Jews but other analogist acts, and for reasons best known to it they've identified other acts which are characterized by an international court as a genocide. For example, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men at Srebrenica.
But they don't commemorate the killing, for example, of four million individuals, a crime against humanity or a war crime, in the Democratic Republic of Congo around the same time. And the question arises, why is the killing of 8,000 somehow worse because it's called a genocide than the killing of three million which is only in parenthesis a crime against humanity? So we've rather lost our ability to see the wood from the trees I think on these issues.
ZAKARIA: And the Chinese case is peculiar because when people say genocide, it does evoke the killing of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, yet that is not what China is being accused of in the case of the Uyghurs. As far as I know, there is no documented mass killing. It is instead something different. So explain whether that -- does that qualify as genocide?
SANDS: Sure. It's really interesting, Fareed, I mean, if President Biden had characterized the killing of the Armenians as a crime against humanity, we wouldn't be talking today, it won't be the newspapers.
But the moment an American president calls something a genocide, it's on page one of the newspapers. And that's exactly what's happened with the Uyghurs. Now we don't know exactly what's going on. The jury is out on the evidence.
From what I know, certainly a crime against humanity is being perpetrated. But is it a genocide? And you've put your finger right on the knob of the issue. Is Chinese intending to destroy a group in whole or in part? I don't know the answer to that question.
I don't think anyone at this stage really does know the answer to that question. But the move by the British parliament, by the Pompeo -- Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Blinken, in part it is politically motivated. One has to recognize that. It's a way -- a cheap way in a sense of attacking a particular country.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you very quickly in the end, since we're talking about history, in your professional opinion, would the United States government's treatment of Native Americans historically qualify as genocide?
SANDS: Well, one of the things you might ask me is, what would really have surprised me or excited me? And that would be for President Biden to have characterized the killing of American Indians as a genocide or the lynching of blacks in the Southern states as a crime against humanity.
That would be a big thing. You may recall two, three years ago President Macron of France characterized colonialisms -- he was thinking of Algeria -- as a crime against humanity and he got himself into very deep water. So words really do matter and history matters on these issues.
ZAKARIA: Philippe Sands, pleasure to have you on, sir.
SANDS: Lovely to be with you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, if China and India and others keeps burning coal with abandon, does it even matter how many pledges the West make to cut carbon emissions? Is there a solution? Find out in a moment.
ZAKARIA: This week President Biden convened an international climate summit and announced an ambitious pledge to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030 compared to the 2005 peak. But many developing countries are dragging their feet.
China for example says it will keep rising -- its emissions will keep rising and won't hit its peak until 2030. Brazil, meanwhile, says it will not stop cutting down the Amazon rainforests unless it gets paid handsomely to do so.
So what should the world do?
Joining me is M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International.
Welcome, sir. First, give me your reaction to Biden's pledge about U.S. emissions?
M. SANJAYAN, CEO, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL: Hi, Fareed. I was honestly startled -- for real. You know, you -- I tend to be an optimist, but there are days that I wake up with, sort of, this deep pit of fear in my stomach.
And I was really overcome, over the last couple of days, to watch the commitment, how far-reaching and how early in the administration this commitment comes, to get us over that 50 percent mark, which I think is a high bar but a very reachable bar.
ZAKARIA: What about China?
China says that it will, you know, as I say, the emissions will keep rising, will peak at 2030, and they will get to -- you know, to their goal in 2060, which reminds one of the -- you know, the line of John Maynard Keynes, "In the long run, we'll all be dead," which might literally be true with climate change.
Are the Chinese being serious?
SANJAYAN: I think they are. You know, President Xi made this commitment to get to carbon neutrality by 2016 before this summit, so I don't think it was just political theater.
I think that, you know, you heard him say on stage right there in front of us, which I think was what was brilliant about this virtual summit, we could all watch these leaders come up there one at a time and they have to say something; they have to put their cards on the table. And he promised to "green" the Belt and Road initiative. I mean, that was a step there.
So I think the Chinese are serious. India is a little bit more challenging, obviously. There's an election going on and how it plays to the election is there.
But if you're looking for fairness, you're going to be disappointed in the long run. This should not be framed as what is fair. Without a doubt, the United States is the highest per capita emitter in terms of greenhouse gases. And, cumulatively, we put more up in the atmosphere than the two other nations combined.
So clearly, we have to do our share and more than our share. But fairness is not the way to frame it. The way to frame it is a competition to the top, a race to the top.
What China and India don't want to do, and Brazil, I would say, is get left behind. And by setting this bar the way he set it, the Biden- Harris administration really puts a challenge out there for others to race to the top.
ZAKARIA: So let's take a look at just the scale of the problem. So if you look at a chart of global CO2 emissions, the projections, what you see is, you know, the United States and the E.U. are coming down. But, depending on what projection you look at, China and India, it's still pretty high, and it's -- you know, it's getting higher and higher still.
What is the deal one can offer, particularly to the poorer countries?
You know, you heard the -- you know about Bolsonaro's...
SANJAYAN: Of course.
ZAKARIA: ... what is essentially blackmail. What's going to work? Is it sticks? Is it carrots? How would you -- how would you make a deal?
SANJAYAN: I think it's mostly competition, and it's that race to the top that I think we should focus on.
However, right now, the way it's framed, it's far more carrots than sticks. I think there is a role for the stick, but it happens later on, you know, in the -- in the dialogue.
So the most important thing that nations have to understand is that obviously everyone wants the best for their citizens. People want to have the opportunity to live better lives. And it isn't right for us to say, "Well, we have this, now you have to stay somewhere else."
We understand that. I understand that. However, you don't have to follow the same path of development to get to where the United States is or where, you know, Europe is. You know, this country was built on a legacy of slavery. We're not advocating that others have to follow that as well.
We were built on landline phones, copper wires that quite physically connected you and I. We don't have to do that. This country was built partly on coal and coal energy. This is a not last century, you know, two centuries ago technology that we're still relying on.
So leap from technology, foreign aid, preferential treatment and that sense that this is the new world and you better get on it if you want to be successful in the new world.
I would also say, for poorer countries, for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia to some extent, the effects of climate change are going to be far worse in those countries, and their chance to adapt much less. So there is an incentive for them to do their part as well.
And I think you saw that to some extent when you had the prime minister of Seychelles make a commitment. It made a difference. It sent a signal.
ZAKARIA: Briefly, let me ask you one final question, which is, if the United States and China continue to have as conflictual a relationship as they have had in the last few months, even in the Biden administration, the Anchorage summit, does it doom the prospects for serious work on climate change?
Because these are the two most important countries that need to make a deal.
SANJAYAN: It certainly makes it harder. I don't think it completely dooms it. Because I think it is in both self-interests of both countries to get ahead of this revolution in how we provide energy to the planet.
And the one thing that I would say is that, when you look at the poorer nations of the world, the one thing they do have is carbon- intensive trees, your recoverable carbon. The ability for us to give aid and to protect forests, standing forests, around the world is a huge part of getting us to that 1.5 degrees Celsius that we need to get to.
ZAKARIA: Mr. Sanjayan, pleasure to have you on. Thanks so much.
SANJAYAN: Of course.
ZAKARIA: In a moment, we will take you to India, where Prime Minister Modi today said COVID-19 was a storm that has shaken the nation. There are too few hospital beds, too little oxygen and way too much demand for cemeteries and crematoriums. We will go inside what some have called "COVID hell," when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Recently here on "GPS", we told you that much of the developing world, including India, was faring relatively well against COVID-19. Well, what a difference a few weeks makes. India now finds itself in a grave battle against the pandemic.
For each of the past four days, it has set a new world record for infections, and the numbers keep climbing.
Hannah Ellis-Petersen describes the alarming story this week in The Guardian. She is the paper's South Asia correspondent and she joins us from Delhi.
Hannah, welcome. Let me first ask you, you have COVID yourself. How are you doing?
Hannah, can you hear me?
All right. We're -- we're going to try to get that fixed. We will go to break. We will be right back with you.
]ZAKARIA: Thanks for bearing with us. We are now back on "GPS" with The Guardian's Hannah Ellis-Petersen, talking about India's COVID hell. She joins us from Delhi.
Hannah, welcome. I -- I want to ask you first how you are doing, because you have COVID?
ELLIS-PETERSEN: I do have COVID, yeah. But, thankfully, I'm at the end of what was actually quite a rough ride. But now I'm absolutely fine, thank you for asking, yeah.
ZAKARIA: So if you look at the charts, I mean, the -- you know, whether you look at cases or deaths, what you see is this second wave has been much more dramatic than the first one -- I mean, three times higher in some ways. Describe what's going on, on the ground?
ELLIS-PETERSEN: Well, it's hard, really, to, sort of, convey the horror of what India and Delhi feels like right now. You know, people are dying outside hospitals. They can't get oxygen. They can't get drugs. They can't get the care that they need.
You know, doctors are on their knees in hospitals because they're unable to admit the patients that need care. And so, you know, outside hospitals, doctors are giving some patients oxygen outside. But a lot of hospitals don't even have enough oxygen for the patients inside, let alone outside.
You know, the trauma that India is going through right now, I think, will be felt for years to come. It's -- you know, it's really, really hard to, sort of, put into words. And there's barely anyone I know that hasn't been affected by it.
You know, last night I lost a really dear colleague to mine to COVID. You know, every single person I know is going through some kind of loss and trauma because of what -- because of this second wave.
ZAKARIA: The first wave was handled by the Modi government very seriously. They did an almost draconian lockdown. And then, you know, it did seem like -- cases dropped dramatically -- things were done. Did they then get complacent?
What happened? Why did this second wave take off with such stunning ferocity?
ELLIS-PETERSEN: Well, yeah, so on the first wave, there was this big lockdown that was introduced before India's cases really got very bad. And, you know, even though the lockdown had a pretty, kind of, severe humanitarian impact on India's daily wage workers.
A lot of people in poverty, you know, really suffered as a result of lockdown. It did have, you know, the impact of, kind of, tempering the virus. And by, sort of, November time, the cases had dropped to extraordinary low levels.
I mean, one of the great mysteries here is actually how it -- how, you know, the virus burned out the first time in India. And, you know, the reasons that were put forward for that were things like herd immunity, some sort of, you know, mythological, you know, natural immunity that Indians had because of exposure to other viruses.
And so it created this idea of, sort of, Indian exceptionalism, that somehow the virus just wouldn't come back in India and that there wasn't anything to be afraid of. And that complacency was something that was felt was, kind of, echoed across the board, you know, from the top levels of government to health officials to state governments. And everything got opened up and people lost their fear of the virus. And, you know, it enabled, then, to everything to feel like normal again.
And so when the virus began to, you know, surge, it just -- there was nothing in its way. And, you know, you then had to throw into the mix some other variants that appeared to be more contagious and more virulent. And what you got then is a, sort of, terrible combination of what's happening now.
ZAKARIA: And -- and the Modi government at that point, sort of, seemed to not care at all. It was engaging in massive electioneering, huge election rallies, and of course this -- this religious festival, the Kumbh Mela, which is a gathering of an estimated 10 million people.
You can't imagine something like that in terms of the dangers to COVID, just how dangerous is might be, right?
ELLIS-PETERSEN: Yeah, I mean, the complacency from the government was completely irresponsible. And it filtered down, so everyone felt like everything was fine.
I mean, this is the thing, is that everyone always wants COVID to be over, and the government, kind of, really believed that it was. And so it did -- you know, and it was politically very advantageous to them for, you know, for the pandemic to be over, for them to be able to lift restrictions.
You know, it enabled them to go out and do this campaigning to try and win some states -- some state elections, particularly the state election of West Bengal, which the BJP, Modi's ruling party, are hoping to win.
You know, the Kumbh Mela is a huge Hindu festival, and so it's very difficult for Modi as a, sort of, Hindu nationalist leader to step in and stop that, politically difficult. But, you know, on a sort of humanitarian level, we can now see what a devastating error it was to allow it to go ahead.
You know, over 5,000 people have tested positive as a result of that festival. Hundreds people have died. I mean, I don't think we'll ever know the impact of what that festival was. You know, they allowed a cricket match to happen in the newly
inaugurate Narendra Modi stadium -- you know, the sort of hubris allowing 50,000 people to gather in order to inaugurate a stadium in the name of the prime minister, you know, in the midst of a pandemic.
You know, in hindsight, we look at all these things and it seems almost unfathomable that they were allowed to go ahead, but the narrative was that -- that India didn't have anything to be fearful of, of COVID any more.
ZAKARIA: Hannah, thank you very much, and -- and get better. I will just leave us with two thoughts about this, which is India cannot do another lockdown because they don't have -- I mean, as you said, the humanitarian cost was massive. And they don't have the money to do the kind of COVID relief that rich countries are able to do.
And secondly, the cases continue to climb, and some of that climb appears exponential. So we might be back to talk about this again soon. Thank you, Hannah.
ELLIS-PETERSEN: Thank you for having me.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, I have a way that President Biden can actually achieve the carbon emission goals he has put out -- a real, simple, proven technology, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Now for the last look. Earlier on the show we discussed this week's climate summit, where President Biden announced an ambitious new pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
But his goal will be virtually impossible to achieve without the use of a proven technology that produces huge amounts of energy with zero emissions, nuclear power. And right now America is going in the wrong direction on that.
According to recent estimates from the Rhodium group, the country is on track to shut down so many nuclear plants over the next decade that nuclear will drop from supplying 21 percent of the grid's electricity to just 7 percent.
I know you've heard about the amazing rise of wind and solar farms. It's all true. But those renewables have an Achilles' heel. The wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. An electric utility has to have some power sources that run at all times. When nuclear plants are shuttered, that role has typically been filled by fossil fuels.
Look at what happened in Germany, which began rapidly retiring reactors after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. That fed Germany's addiction to coal. In the U.S. states like California and New York have begun taking reactors offline and then turning to natural gas. Now, coal is the worst option, the dirtiest source of energy and one that produces massive amounts of CO2. Natural gas is better than coal, but it doesn't hold a candle to nuclear, which has essentially zero emissions.
Two things are driving nuclear's decline in the U.S. The first is economics. Natural gas, which is more versatile and less heavily regulated, is beating nuclear on cost. The second is public opinion. Rare accidents throughout history have been seared into people's memories, and environmentalists have long worried about radioactive waste.
But the dangers of nuclear are massively overstated. Americans may fear a repeat of Three Mile Island, but do they know that not one person died from that accident or even got sick?
By contrast, more than 100 Americans are killed in the production of fossil fuels every year. And hundreds of thousands more die from the pollution.
Meanwhile, climate change is a much bigger environmental threat than radioactive waste. If you piled up all the spent nuclear fuel the United States has ever generated, it would cover a single football field without reaching the height of the field goals. This is a vast country. We can easily store that safely.
In any case, nuclear skeptics can take comfort from the new technologies on the horizon. One promising approach will create a walk-away safe reactor that, in the event of a problem, simply shuts down automatically, with no danger of the kind of meltdowns we saw at Chernobyl or Fukushima.
Another design could run on spent fuel from the old reactors, making the electricity doubly clean.
If we fund research, streamline the regulatory process and provide the right financial incentives, we can build a new generation of clean nuclear reactors that helps America actually slash its emissions. And that could also spawn a new export industry, because the whole world will need nuclear to bring emissions down.
I began the show by explaining how Americans seem to have lost the ability to think seriously about risks and rewards. Nuclear energy is one more example of the problem, and one that is crucial to overcome. Because it could light a path to a greener future.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.