COP26 Rock with Ben Rhodes | Crooked Media
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November 10, 2021
What A Day
COP26 Rock with Ben Rhodes

In This Episode

  • The UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, aka COP26, brought together leaders from all over the world to combat climate change, and it wraps up in a few days. Ben Rhodes, the host of Crooked Media’s “Pod Save The World,” is in Glasgow right now with former President Obama. He joins us to break down the biggest takeaways from the summit.
  • And in headlines: Moderna filed an application to patent the technology for its vaccine, there’s an ongoing crisis at the Poland-Belarus border, and Starbucks workers at three more locations in Buffalo, NY, filed for union elections.






Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, November 10th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, reminding people with cardboard boxes of Christmas decorations open on their laps right now to just, you know, take a breath.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. You know, if you feel like the second week of November is your time, I’m not going to say anything, but other people might.


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, Moderna reportedly takes full credit for making its COVID vaccine, despite the federal government helping out. Plus workers at more Starbucks stores in Buffalo, New York want to join the union movement.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow wraps up in a few days. The event brought together leaders from all over the world to make pledges on what their countries would do to combat climate change.


Josie Duffy Rice: And it also brought together hundreds of thousands of environmental activists who said that those leaders weren’t doing enough. So there was a lot to take away on what happened and who’s working to keep the lawmakers accountable.


Priyanka Aribindi: Luckily for us, the host of Crooked Media’s Pod Save The World, Ben Rhodes, is in Glasgow right now. He is touring with former President Obama, and he took a few minutes right now from his hotel room in the Scottish countryside to catch up with us for a dispatch. Ben, welcome back to What A Day.


Ben Rhodes: Thanks, guys.


Priyanka Aribindi: So you have been in Glasgow for a few days now. Tell us a little bit about the atmosphere, you know what you’ve been doing day to day, and what you’ve seen so far?


Ben Rhodes: It’s a very mixed feeling here, right? There’s a lot of work being done. A lot of tired people who have been at it—it’s a two week summit. That’s unusual. It’s a long time, but that’s because, you know, there’s every day, there’s a different theme, you know, there’s a different issue. There’s all these different work streams happening at the same time. At the same time, there’s an enormous amount of activists in civil society here, you know, putting pressure on people to do more.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, Ben, like you said, you were there with President Obama when he was there and he said things like this:


[clip of President Obama] those of us who live in big, wealthy nations, those of us who helped to precipitate the problem, we have an added burden to make sure that we are working with and helping and assisting those who are less responsible and less able, but are more vulnerable, to this oncoming crisis.


Josie Duffy Rice: So far what’s been the international reception to him and the United States making statements like that, especially considering how under former President Trump our country went in a very different direction on making promises and progress to combat the climate crisis?


Ben Rhodes: You know, Obama, people are glad to see him. It’s been a while since he’s been on the world stage. He got a really good reception. And you know, I think he came at a time when the summit needed a bit of a shot in the arm heading into the second week. I think people are really excited that the US is here and back engaged in this process. We kind of built this thing with the Paris Agreement. On the other hand, you know, I think there’s a frustration that the US has not done more, that Trump derailed this process for four years, took his foot off the gas in ways that made it easier for countries like China and Russia, who aren’t even here at the head of state level, to take their foot off the gas—and maybe that’s not the best analogy—take their foot off the gas of an electric vehicle, I should say. And also that the US just, you know, the comment that Obama made was recognizing that we have made pretty good progress in meeting our targets and transitioning our economy, particularly if we get the Build Back Better bill, but the financing, the funding for poorer nations to mitigate the effects of climate change but also to develop clean energy themselves so that we’re not telling the global south, hey, you guys can’t build coal plants like we did. You know, if we’re going to do that, we need to give them financing. We need to give them direct support so that they can develop clean energy. We owe them that.


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. I also want to talk a little bit about, you know, some of the other countries who aren’t there. So we don’t have the participation of a few key countries, China and Russia, at this conference. How much progress do you think can be made without, you know, such key players in attendance and agreeing to these same things?


Ben Rhodes: You know, I think the combination of the absence of the leadership, particularly from China and Xi Jinping, because they’re the world’s biggest emitter, coupled with the absence of a new commitment to accelerate their reduction in CO2 emissions—that’s what’s causing some concern here.


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it.


Ben Rhodes: Everybody’s got to be continually raising their ambition, doing more. That’s the only way this works. It’s the only way we get to a limit of 1.5°C. And absent China doing more—and the U.S., by the way, doing more, it’s not just on China, but all of us—we’re not going to get there.


Priyanka Aribindi: So last week, thousands of climate change activists kind of descended on the conference and, you know, they were protesting the lack of global action. It almost feels like, you know, there are two different things going on. So you interviewed a few of them, like Luisa Neubauer, who helped start the “Fridays for the Future” school strike movement in Germany. Here is a portion of what she said to you.


[clip of Luisa Neubauer] So there is this huge conference hall, those very long floors, the people in the suits doing the very important paperwork, yet also something that feels often very distant to us. And then there is the activist side of things, and that is really in Glasgow that’s special. We see that this climate justice summit happening organized by local citizens, and we see those massive protests. We had just two last week and you would look around and you would really see, you know, indigenous folks leading it, you would see the African voices being so powerful and strong, you would see signs in every single language.


Priyanka Aribindi: I was hoping you could tell us a little more about what you’ve seen from the activists and how they have been influencing the conversations both there and, you know, in coverage of this event.


Ben Rhodes: Well, this is my third COP. They’ve never been this many activists. Not even close. The movement is clearly built, and it clearly is providing political pressure. It’s clearly making people feel—pardon the pun—the heat on this issue. And here’s a key takeaway I’d say Priyanka is that, you know, there’s no accountability in terms of measuring these commitments. They’re made, and it’s kind of like, hey, trust us activists, we just made this commitment to net zero by x year. You know, it’s almost like an ad campaign, you know, “zero by 2030” and I think what the activists kind of won is like, show us why we should trust you.


Josie Duffy Rice: So you said two things that really stand out to me. The first is that even if every country meets their obligations or their promises, it still won’t be enough to fully address climate change. And then you also said that there’s really no accountability process for these countries’ promises. There’s no way to really know if they’re meeting the goals that they have set out. So if those two things are true, what do you think the solution is, or what do you think the next steps are?


Ben Rhodes: I mean, there’s some accountability in the sense that the national government commitments, for instance, there’s a process to measure those and you can kind of tell, you know, who’s meeting their commitments and who’s not. Part of what’s more amorphous is like these private sector commitments, companies saying they’re going to have a net zero target or banks saying they’re going to mobilize all these trillions of dollars. And I think you just need to build in over time, like quite literally like an accounting mechanism. And we need to also shift from pledges to demonstration, right? Like again, what are we doing to protect forests and to compensate communities who, you know, have borne the brunt of this? Again, governments have more reporting requirements under the Paris process, so there’s a little bit more accountability there. But when they’re saying things like by 2050, this will happen—well, maybe you also need to provide more detail about how you’re going to get from here to 2050. You know, just more specificity, I think, would help.


Priyanka Aribindi: I want to ask you what impact you think this is going to have on our domestic policies here in America, and especially as we wait for a vote on Build Back Better. Do you think that you know what’s happening at COP is is affecting that?


Ben Rhodes: Without Build Back Better we’re pretty screwed. That half a trillion is kind of the linchpin of the American commitment and has the potential of really unleashing the renewable energy industry in this country and around the world. And I mean, there were a bunch of members of Congress here, huge Democratic congressional delegation, that definitely hear the message that, you know, if you guys do this, it’s great, if you don’t, that’s a big problem. And what is the Republican Party, you know, like what if they come back? You know what if Donald Trump wins? And even if you do Build Back Better, you know, if Donald Trump is president again in two and a half years, like the world’s really screwed on this issue, you know? So American politics kind of cast a shadow. But on the other hand, I think it gives added incentive for the importance of the climate funding in that bill to the whole planet. You know, the whole planet’s at stake, as well as a lot of American jobs and American environmental sustainability.


Josie Duffy Rice: Ben, finally, after you board your flight back to the U.S., what impression of the conference do you think you will be leaving with?


Ben Rhodes: I’ve almost never interacted with an issue as complicated as this. There’s so many aspects to it. You know, it’s not just the funding from legislation, it’s funding new industries, it’s regulating, it’s financing clean development, it’s helping with the adaptation for countries that are dealing with the effects of climate change. It’s this equation with a million different pieces, you know, and everything is at stake. And to me, you know, you’re at something like this and you’re thinking, like, why isn’t this the most important issue in the world? Like, why don’t we talk more about this in the United States? You know? Like, this is like literally, it’s all on the line here.


Priyanka Aribindi: Ben Rhodes, thank you so much for joining us.


Ben Rhodes: Thanks, guys.


Josie Duffy Rice: And catch Ben with more from the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow on the latest episode of Pod Save the World, out today. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And that’s the latest for now.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday WAD squad, and for today’s Temp check, we are talking about what happens when brands underestimate our desire to post. This week, a company called Plant A Tree Co. promised to plant one tree for every pet picture posted to Instagram, and their promise went hugely viral, with over 4.1 million people participating through a new feature of the app called the Add Yours sticker. Now, simple math will tell us that 4.1 million participants should equal 4.1 million new trees sprouting up as soon as possible. But the issue is that by its own account, Plant a Tree Co. Has planted fewer than 7,000 trees to date. So jumping into the million tree tier would be a huge undertaking, which only someone like Johnny Appleseed or God could possibly succeed at. Plant A Tree Co. Cleared things up In an Instagram post, they said that within 10 minutes of posting their sticker, they became aware of the tree-planting monster that they had created and they deleted it. Unfortunately for them, Instagram only took their name off of the sticker and let it continue to circulate. Plant A Tree Co. is still raising money to plant an indeterminate number of trees. Maybe 10 or 11 is a little more realistic for them. But Josie from your perspective, what is the lesson to be learned from all of this?


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, we have COPD talks happening right now.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: We have all of these world leaders together like trying to figure out climate change. Honestly, the answer is to plant 4.1 million trees all together as a community, as a world.


Priyanka Aribindi: Should they join Plant A Tree Co. and for all of our pet pics, they plant the trees?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I honestly think this is like we’re getting the answer to all of our problems right here. Plant A Tree Co. Has figured it out. Instagram and Plant A Tree Co. together, along with most governments in the world, are going to have to band together.


Priyanka Aribindi: I love that Instagram was like—they tried, they saw what happened. In 10 minutes, they were like, oh shit, we can’t do this. But Instagram is like, nah, we’re just going to keep it up. Like what!?


Josie Duffy Rice: Count on Instagram to like somehow ruin that.


Priyanka Aribindi: This is so funny.


Josie Duffy Rice: It was pretty amazing.


Priyanka Aribindi: Well, anyways, this is what happens when viral things happen. We can enjoy nothing. The pet pictures were cute, but like, you’re accomplishing nothing sustainability-wise, climate change combating-wise when you post them on Instagram. So you also have to do like, now maybe if you posted a pet pic, you have to plant a tree. That’s going to be my take away.


Josie Duffy Rice: You have to plant a tree, maybe your pet has to plant a tree.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, get the pets to do this.


Josie Duffy Rice: Someone has to plant a tree. Something has to plant a tree.


Priyanka Aribindi: Just like that, we have checked our temps. We will be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Priyanka Aribindi:  Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Priyanka Aribindi: Moderna and the federal government are at odds over who gets the credit for creating the company’s coronavirus vaccine. The drug maker collaborated with the National Institutes of Health for four years on the vaccine’s underlying technology, and the government gave it $10 billion in taxpayer money to help develop it. But The New York Times reports that in July, Moderna filed an application to patent that special technology, and it dropped the name of the three NIH scientists it worked with. Obviously, true vaccine heads know the names of everyone on these research teams by heart, but there is a very important practical consequence of whose names make it onto the paper. If that patent is approved without those federal employees, it means that the government will have a limited say in which other companies can make the vaccine and which countries can get access. The NIH has been trying to work out the dispute with Moderna for over a year even before they filed this patent application and if this continues, the government could take the company to court.


Josie Duffy Rice: Meanwhile, in other drug company news, Oklahoma’s Supreme Cour overturned an almost half a billion dollar judgment against Johnson & Johnson yesterday. A lower court found Johnson & Johnson guilty in the nation’s first trial of whether states can hold drug-makers responsible for the country’s opioid epidemic. But the High Court overturned that ruling, saying the company did not violate the state’s public nuisance law for making, marketing, and selling prescription opioids. This lawsuit is one of thousands being tried in courts across the country against the drug industry.


Priyanka Aribindi: There is an ongoing crisis at the Poland-Belarus border, which has left thousands of migrants stranded in brutally cold and life-threatening conditions. Poland, the European Union, and the U.S. State Department have accused Belarus and the country’s far-right populist leader, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating the crisis. They say that he invited in migrants and directed them to Poland’s border, as well as the country’s border with Lithuania, as a form of retaliation against EU sanctions that were placed on Belarus after the country took action to silence or arrest journalists and individuals who called its national elections last year fraudulent. The EU is considering more sanctions as a result of Belarus’s recent actions. Nearly 12,000 Polish troops are currently stationed at the border to stop migrants from crossing. Several people have already died at the border zone, and human rights officials at the U.N. have urged Poland and Russia to stop using refugees as political pawns.


Josie Duffy Rice: Hot solidarity is brewing at Starbucks. You like that one?


Priyanka Aribindi: You love to see it!


Josie Duffy Rice: With workers at three more locations in Buffalo, New York, filing for union elections yesterday. They join workers at three other Starbucks in the city who are seeking to unionize their workplaces. As of now, none of the 9,000 Starbucks locations nationwide have union representation. As we’ve said before, Starbucks seems to be pulling out all the stops to ensure that the pro-union workers don’t succeed, short of feeding them to the actual mermaid. Ballots are supposed to start going out today, but on Monday, Starbucks filed a motion to put that process on hold while it appealed a ruling that would allow the participating cafes to vote in separate elections rather than together in one election. The latter approach actually tends to favor employers. On the other side of the unions seeking to represent the Starbucks employees has filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the company of using threats, intimidation, surveillance, and more, in attempts to interfere with the election. And of help to absolutely no one at all—


Priyanka Aribindi: At all.


Josie Duffy Rice: —were comments, were comments made by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at a tacitly anti-union speech to Buffalo-area workers this weekend. The one-time presidential hopeful invokes the Holocaust and said that Starbucks has always modeled its values after Jewish people who showed courage and compassion while imprisoned in concentration camps.


Priyanka Aribindi: My guy.


Josie Duffy Rice: Are wondering why that means that workers should not join a union, your guess is as good as ours.


Priyanka Aribindi: Dude, you guys are selling coffee. Like, what are you talking about? That is clinically insane.


Josie Duffy Rice: And it’s again, 99 times out of 100, you just should not compare your situation to the Holocaust.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah!


Josie Duffy Rice: Like people always do, and just like, don’t do that. It’s just weird and it’s not appropriate. It’s never appropriate.


Priyanka Aribindi: People are a little quick to make that comparison.


Josie Duffy Rice: They’re really quick to jump to the Holocaust! I just feel like it’s rarely Holocaust-level serious.


Priyanka Aribindi: Shouldn’t be like, that top of mind, everybody. And those are the headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: celebrate two years of What A Day pods breaking down the biggest news of the day with your very own What A Day band tee from the Crooked store. Plus, a portion of every order in the Crooked store is donated to VoteRiders. Shop all Crooked merch at


Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, plant a tree, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are on to reading, and not just government scientists names on patents like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


[together] And be patient with your Christmas decorations.


Priyanka Aribindi: At least the outside right now. You can have it inside your home, no one knows what goes on there, that’s fine. Why you gotta do on the outside?


Josie Duffy Rice: Well, actually, no, you can’t do it anywhere. I say no, anywhere.


Priyanka Aribindi: Josie has a harsher stance than I do.


Josie Duffy Rice: I will be coming to your house to make sure that your Christmas decorations are not up until, you know, after Thanksgiving. That’s a reasonable time.


Priyanka Aribindi: That is, in your post-turkey haze.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Jazzi Marine is our associate producer. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and myself. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.