In this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Zach Shahan sits down with Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc. and CleanTechnica contributor, to talk about a number of hot topics, including universal basic income, clean energy policy, and renewable energy promises for the future. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summarization of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.
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Mike has been a global technology strategist and architect for major global technology companies, and is considered an expert on many topics within the clean technology field. He has worked in almost every sector, including health care, automation, freight transportation and finance. Mike attributes this breadth of expertise to being a bit of a nerd, or “just a generally interested guy.” In the one-hour podcast, Zach and Mike covered universal basic income, Andrew Yang, the Green New Deal, Tesla, and more.
They start off by launching into universal basic income (UBI), which is the focus of Mike’s current work. Mike and Zach explore the ways in which UBI overlaps with social services and public health programs, and the ways in which groups on different sides of the political spectrum rationalize UBI in their policy preferences. Through his research, Mike found that people from different political backgrounds like UBI for different reasons. Mike suggests that, while the socialist perspective protects people from change and focuses on providing basic support for people to choose their own path, the libertarian perspective drives people to become more entrepreneurial with the extra money they accrue and does considerably less to boost the social safety net. We’ll get back to that in a moment. Zach describes the democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as a techno-optimist, whose political platform revolves around UBI as a means to mitigate future challenges that will develop alongside artificial intelligence.
There are challenges, however, to current UBI proposals. Mike notes that Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend neglects many of the 55 million people in the United States in 2018 who were unbanked or underbanked, meaning they either had limited access to bank services or no bank accounts at all. One major challenge is to reach people who do not even have the street address to get an actual bank account, explained Mike.
Ultimately, both Mike and Zach agree that UBI would be dramatically different based on who is implementing the policy. Will UBI replace or add to social safety nets? How does UBI find its way to the most needy? What is the motivation behind the proposed UBI? How long does it take for UBI to deliver value? These are just a few of the questions that could determine the impact UBI would have.
Mike then transitions into a discussion of a number of Andrew Yang’s other political platform points. He explores Yang’s climate action plan, geoengineering, and the Green New Deal.
One of Mike’s biggest critiques of Yang’s climate policy is the investment in thorium, a radioactive metal that many interested in nuclear energy have proposed as the silver bullet for energy generation. Many proponents of thorium say the radioactive metal, which is more common than uranium, is not weaponizable. However, Mike disagrees with most pro-thorium arguments. Thorium is costly due to layers of security needed to protect the waste and the potential for a trillion-dollar accident should something go wrong with a plant. Mike asks: why would we invest in a potential future with thorium when wind and solar technology have proven to be cheap and reliable?
For Mike, thorium represents a 20-year-from-now pipe dream compared to current innovation in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Both Zach and Mike were shocked Yang was roped into the “thorium bandwagon.” In fact the two note that a lot can be learned from other countries, like Germany, where big advances in clean energy have been made. Or, closer to home, Texas has been investing in renewable energy, which has brought innovation to the grid, transforming Texas’ grid reliability from last place in the United States to 34th. Zach noted that greater penetration of renewables has increased grid stability and reliability without substantial cost. In fact, he explained that focusing on renewables can bring solutions for grid reliability and responsiveness.
Stay tuned for potential future episodes with Mike and Zach on more political analyses, geoengineering, and carbon capture, but for now, to hear more on these topics, listen to the show!