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Nearly 150 world leaders gather in Paris today for the much-anticipated U.N. climate change conference. The goal: reach an historic agreement to lower greenhouse gas pollution across the globe. The stakes for the two-week negotiations are high; scientists have predicted catastrophic consequences for the planet unless there is a massive reduction in carbon emissions. And latest projections say 2015 will be the hottest year on record. But global accord faces significant hurdles, complicated by vocal U.S. congressional opposition for president Obama’s climate agenda. Prospects for an international agreement on climate change.
- Joseph Romm Senior fellow, the Center for American Progess; he runs the blog ClimateProgress.org; former acting assistant secretary of Energy under President Clinton
- Amy Harder Reporter covering energy and climate policy, The Wall Street Journal
- Tim Cheung Vice president & research analyst, ClearView Energy Partners
- Eleanor Beardsley Correspondent, NPR News
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Today marks the start of two weeks of global climate negotiations outside Paris. The UN talks could lead to a first of its kind international agreement to combat the effects of climate change. Many hope the recent terror attacks in the host city will unify and motivate negotiators as they come to the table. Others say there's reason to believe the meeting will be as ineffective as some of its predecessors.
MS. DIANE REHMHere with me, Joseph Romm of the Center For American Progress, Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal and Tim Cheung of Clearview Energy Partners. I do invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us your thoughts, your ideas. Call us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for joining us.
MS. AMY HARDERIt's great to be here.
MR. TIM CHEUNGThanks for having us.
MR. JOSEPH ROMMThanks for having me.
REHMJoseph Romm, as author of the book titled "Climate Change: What Everyone Needs To Know," what is it that sets these talks apart from previous ones we've had?
ROMMWell, these are going to be the first talks where pretty much every country in the world has come ahead of time with a serious climate commitment to either reduce carbon pollution or at least to cap it. And in particular, China has agreed to cap carbon pollution by 2030 and that is the first time the big developing country, the biggest emitter in the world, has said, we're going to peak. And that agreement, that decision which was made a year ago with President Obama, really triggered a lot of other commitments from developing countries which, prior to this, had not been making commitments.
REHMAmy Harder, do you see that as the big difference?
HARDERI do. I think one thing that makes this different is how much groundwork has been laid and how much work has been done before the actual climate talks. There's been so much coverage of this conference for two or three years now leading up to these Paris talks and now we are here today finally at the day. And I think a lot of the work that the Obama administration has done with the Chinese announcement and also some other announcements with Brazil and other countries has really done so much groundwork, so much so that a deal is expected and so the expectations have been laid appropriately, which has not been the case in previous conferences.
REHMSo Tim Cheung, what do you see as the realistic goal for these talks?
CHEUNGSo I think the goal here is to get a durable agreement that has review periods to ramp up ambition over time. That's been laid out. Now, the challenge is how do you get durability here and how do you get all these countries to come -- not only agree on one single document, but to agree to do something over time and ramp up in -- I think the goal here is every five years.
REHMI keep hearing that phrase "ramping up." Now, tell me what that means.
CHEUNGThat means, by some estimates, that the goals here put on the table aren't going to get us to reducing warming by 2 degrees Centigrade. And so in order to hit that target, these countries are going to have to increase their ambition, lower their greenhouse gases beyond what they're putting on the table for just 2030.
REHMSo that means, Joe, they're gonna have to come back and come back and come back.
ROMMYeah, absolutely, 'cause ultimately all the nations of the world are going to have to go down to zero total greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas. So these -- Paris was going to take us to commitments through 2030, but we're going to need commitments that are lower in 2040 and then 2050 and then 2060 and ultimately through the end of the century if we want to avoid catastrophic warming.
REHMAmy, do you see countries open to that kind of re and re and renegotiation?
HARDERI think there's a lot of hesitancy among some countries, especially India, for example. India hasn't even agreed to curb its emissions by any certain amount any time soon. They have billion of people they want to get out of poverty and they want to do that by getting cheap energy and they think that coal-fired electricities is one way to get that cheap energy.
HARDERAnd so I think you have a lot of concern with India. And the administration has worked out some agreements with India. There's been some good renewable energy commitments by India. But I think that might be one sticking point. And, of course, there's a lot of political opposition to the efforts here in the U.S. And I think a five-year review period to ratchet up these agreements could face political -- will face political pressure in a lot of these nations, including the U.S. which is facing political pressure from Congressional Republicans this week.
REHMAmy Harder of The Wall Street Journal, Tim Cheung of Clearview Energy Partners and Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress. Joining us now for just a few moments is Eleanor Beardsley, correspondent for NPR News from Paris. Eleanor, give us a sense of what the mood is in Paris today.
MS. ELEANOR BEARDSLEYYes. Hi, Diane. Well, the mood today, it's very quiet. First of all, authorities discouraged people from taking their cars and they said take public transport, which is free today. And bizarrely, I've been out on main roads and there haven't seemed to be very many cars. There's not much traffic. I've been speaking to Parisians, though, and, you know, they say that this conference needs to happen. There was no way that it should've been cancelled, even though they had the terrible attacks here just two weeks ago.
MS. ELEANOR BEARDSLEYPeople say that the city needs it to get back to normal and also it's so important. It's important for the entire planet and I think Parisians are proud that it's actually being held here. Today, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is the president of the conference, he said that terrorism and global warming were the two biggest threats that faced the planet and French President Francois Hollande said he did not want the terrorist attacks to overshadow this important summit for the entire globe.
MS. ELEANOR BEARDSLEYSo that's the bottom line that's where we're coming from. This being said, they had to cancel so many of these very important civil society demonstrations that were to take place, such as yesterday there was supposed to be, you know, a giant march and that had to be cancelled because of public security. And, you know, between 5 and 8,000 people showed anyway and they made a human chain, which would've -- along what would have been the march route. This was sullied at the end by some, you know, activists with hoods on, well, we don't really know who they were, who just, you know, they had to -- they clashed with police and the police had to fire tear gas.
MS. ELEANOR BEARDSLEYBut this really had nothing to do with the people who were, you know, supporting these climate, you know, reducing the global warming. And that was the only, you know, stain on things and that was around the Place de la Republique where a memorial has been in place for all the victims. But out there this morning, people were picking up the flowers and the candles and putting them back because, you know, they have not been forgotten, these people who were killed, yet and everyone wants that to remain like, you know, a shrine.
REHMGive me a sense of the police presence, as you see it, near where these individuals are meeting.
BEARDSLEYWell, exactly, Diane. They're meeting at Le Bourget, which is -- which was the airfield where Charles Lindberg did his first Transatlantic solo flight, landed in Paris in 1927. And they've built a little phantom village out there out of ecological -- some sort of board like plywood, but it's, you know, all ecological. And there's 3,000 police out there guarding the actual site where you have, you know, 147 heads of state out there today for the next couple days. And there's 120,000 security police or soldiers around the country, you know, securing borders and just securing -- the country is on the highest level alert it has ever been on.
BEARDSLEYSo actually, another Parisian said to me today, he said there's nothing to be scared of. It's under such tight security that, you know, we don't think anything could possibly happen.
REHMAnd so you see no indication of further protests this morning?
BEARDSLEYNo. There's no protests. I mean, the people who were supposed to come out yesterday, they were marching for the climate process and there's actually a slogan called March For Me, so they were urging people in other cities around the world, since all kind of demonstrations were banned in Paris, to march for Parisians and, you know, do it anyway. So no, everything is very quiet and I think Parisians and the French are very glad that this conference is going on because they consider it very important.
REHMEleanor Beardsley, NPR correspondent for in Paris. Thank you so much for joining us.
BEARDSLEYYou're welcome, Diane. It's my pleasure.
REHMThank you. And to you, Joe Romm, talk about who the big players are at the table.
ROMMWell, clearly, the big emitters, U.S., China and the European Union. They are the biggest cumulative emitters now and the biggest polluters and they have all put on the table pretty serious commitments. The European Union has committed a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. So those are the big players. Then, you have, as Amy mentioned, India and India has not put on the table a specific cap on emissions, but they have put on the table, as many countries have, big commitments to deploy renewable energy.
ROMMAnd renewable energy is one of the big stories here. We've had a tremendous drop in the price of solar and wind power, really astonishing drops, 99 percent drop in solar power in the last quarter century. So countries like China and India, the EU and us have made huge commitments and we're going to see a lot more of that in the coming years.
REHMJoseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, former acting assistant secretary of energy under President Clinton. Short break here, your calls, your email, I look forward to hearing from you after a short break.
REHMWelcome back as we talk about the talks which began today on climate change taking place with nearly 150 representatives and, certainly, the U.S., China, Russia all represented. Here's our first email from Robert. He says, since the meat industry is a major cause of climate change, what commitments will be required of the meat industry or whether that is even being discussed? Amy Harder.
HARDERYeah. There has been growing concern about the climate impact of the meat industry, both the growing of livestock and the land that the livestock requires and also the methane emissions that come from agriculture. At this conference it really isn't the main conversation, largely because the U.S. and other countries have had such a hard time coming to an agreement on energy fossil fuels, that I think the meat industry is just one more complicated factor that I think could be a bigger issue in the conferences down the line. I think that's in part because people like to eat meat. And people -- some people don't want to have to change their lifestyle to address climate change.
HARDERAnd I think that's one of the starker things that everybody needs to realize, that if we're going to address climate change, we do need -- some people say that we need to change the way that we live our lives.
REHMAnd here's an email from Tom in Fort Worth, Texas, who says, much of what I've read suggests it's already too late for us to do anything about climate change, manmade or otherwise. These changes are irreversible, inevitable and totally catastrophic for the human race. Can you comment, Joe?
ROMMSure. Well, I have a dissection of this in my book on climate change. I think the thing that people need to understand is that the changes we've had so far, those are irreversible. Every bit of warming that goes further will also be irreversible. The question is whether we're going to get so much warming in 30, 40 years that it's truly catastrophic. We are stuck with some dangerous change. The question is, how high are sea levels going to go? How much drought, extreme weather, how much temperature rise will there be? We still have in our control the ability to avoid the worst case.
HARDERI think there's been so much discussion about whether or not we're at a turning point yet, is it too late, should we just give up? I think that's one of the things that the Republicans talk about, how the -- whether or not the science is settled. They're talking about how we really can't change what's already happened, so why should we try anymore? What I think is getting overlooked in this discussion about capping carbon emissions and cutting fossil fuel use is that a lot of the countries need to talk more about adaptation and adapting to the changes that are already baked into the equation, so to speak. And I think that gets into the finance issue and perhaps we'll talk about that in a little bit.
HARDERBut I think that's one of the biggest sticking points in the climate negotiations, is how to divvy up some money to adapt to climate change already...
REHMIndeed. Money is certainly at the heart of it. But what about that email, Tim, from your point of view?
CHEUNGSure. So the science is -- it's tough. It's tricky. But I want to remind your listeners, who probably already know this, that 2009 we went into the talk thinking, this is our last best chance to save the world. And we're hearing a lot of that now. And so this whole idea of having to ramp up over time that we talked about is going to be really important, again, going forward. The longer that we wait to do something, scientists say that the challenges are going to be even harder to reduce our emissions.
REHMWell, let's go back to the money question, Joe. Because I gather that really is at the heart of this.
ROMMYes, absolutely. I mean, I think the big question is, are developing countries like India going to use the same fossil-fuel-intensive development that we used and that China used? Or are they going to leapfrog straight into clean energy? China, for instance, one of the reasons why they have agreed to cut pollution so much is because it's devastated the air and the water around their major cities. So the question is, will the rich countries provide money and technology to the poorer countries to help them do this leapfrog. Because otherwise, burning coal is cheap in the short term, even though it ruins the air quality and the health in your cities.
REHMAnd, Tim, going back to that 2009 conference. You had the developed countries pledging, what, $100 billion to try to aid the -- those coming into the developed world.
CHEUNGYes. That's exactly right, $100 billion by 2020. And by some estimates, that's actually not even enough. But we're having trouble even getting there. The U.S. has pledged $3 billion and we're seeing opposition from Senate Republicans that, saying, look, if you don't submit this deal for us to look at, we're not giving you the money.
HARDERYeah. So the Republicans are probably not going to allow an inclusion of about -- an initial $500 million into this spending bill that Congress must pass in December, which coincides -- happens to coincide with the end of the conference on December 11. And I -- so you saw President Obama committing this $3 billion, but he's not going to be able to achieve that without help from Congress. So I think that's a big sticking point. One way he can get around it, just today he announced this clean energy initiative with Bill Gates.
HARDERAnd so if he can't get money from the federal government, he wants to tap into private investors who have really been stepping up to address the issue. So that's one way that the administration is seeking to go around the opposition in Congress.
REHMSo what happens if the Congress says, we're not getting into this because it's part of President Obama's legacy, and he really wants something to happen here? Joe.
ROMMYeah. Can I just say, it is astonishing, from a real-world perspective, that the leaders of the Republican Party are actually going out of their way to block this big global effort -- really our last chance -- to solve one of the biggest threats and dangers to all Americans. I mean, I consider that to be sort of unprecedented in U.S. history. There's no question that Congress controls the purse strings and they can make it very difficult going forward. But this isn't about Obama's legacy. This is about all of our legacies. I mean, this is about whether Miami goes underwater. This is about whether the Southwest goes into a permanent dust bowl.
ROMMSo I think, ultimately, what will have to happen is this is going to be decided at the ballot box, if, indeed, you know, congressional leaders are going to block efforts to solve this global problem. Because all the other countries of the world, they're getting onboard, in part because we said we would. So this is a very, very big deal.
CHEUNGNo, that's right. It is a very big deal. And so what we tell our clients is that climate and energy issues are becoming more of a wedge issue. And what we mean by that is, it -- what is it going to separate me, the Republican, from you, the Democrat? And I use that generally, not me. But anyhow, so based on our analysis of recent votes, we actually see a preliminary shift in some of the GOP sentiment in that they're actually starting to support some of these measures. You have Republicans like Mark Kirk from Illinois or Susan Collins from Maine that are actually bucking the trend and voting against the Party line on climate change measures.
REHMSo you think there's a good deal of optimism about these talks?
CHEUNGWell, there's certainly a lot of optimism going into these talks. And I think that goes to what we talked about in the beginning, which is how are these talks different from 2009? And like Amy said, like Joe said, there's a lot more realism going into these talks, rather than, hey, let's just go in there with little or less preparation and just hope that things work out well.
HARDERAt these talks, I think the Obama administration and the negotiators they've worked with around the world, in previous talks they've overpromised and under-delivered. Here they're under-promising and delivering. They're not necessarily over-delivering, but they're delivering something. I think there's an assumption, an expectation that there will be a deal here. The devil will be in the details and also in the subsequent reviews.
REHMBut it really is because of all the work that the Obama administration has already done.
HARDERRight. I think President Obama has really made this a second-term priority for him. It has always been a top concern for the president, but for various reasons: the economic recession, opposition in Congress, and his priority on health care, it has all led for climate to be more of a second-term issue. Joe said that this issue will be decided at the ballot box. I think perhaps, even more so, it will be decided at the Supreme Court regarding President Obama's cornerstone climate policy, which is the Clean Power Plan, the EPA regulation that requires a 32 percent cut in utility emissions, carbon emissions, by 2030, based on 2005 emissions. And while Congress has made some symbolic efforts to stop those rules, they won't succeed.
HARDERHowever, legal battles -- there's two dozen, more than two dozen states challenging the rule -- and even the EPA administrator herself, Gina McCarthy, has expected -- has said that she expects it to be decided at the Supreme Court. And when that happens -- not until perhaps 2017 -- that could really go a long ways in shaping the international climate talks.
REHMSo what we might get out of Paris is a so-called hybrid agreement, Joe?
ROMMYes. You know, there has been this issue, is it going to be legally binding? You know, this is not going to be a legally binding agreement. The United States has made clear, we want every country to be able to say -- to come to the table -- this is what we're going to do. And, you know, I don't -- that doesn't bother me because these treaties, these negotiations are never legally binding. It's not like there's some international police force that can stop a country or make a country do anything. So the point is, this is always going to be about the nations of the world realizing that climate change hurts them and it's in their own interests to act.
ROMMThe question is, will every country do what is fair? That's the issue. If everyone is seen as doing something fair, then the political pressure on the countries that don't act becomes enormous.
REHMBut I gather what the administration is supporting are binding rules that would require countries to track and report how they're pursuing their targets.
ROMMYes. I think that's where you get this five-year review. So the five-year review is that the countries report every five years and, at the same time, they ratchet up their targets. The goal is to combine those two.
CHEUNGSo I want to go back to Joe's point about there not being an international police force that would implement this program and that's right. But remember, these pledges are by individual countries and I don't think we have to look too far back with the European Union experiences, when they wanted to externalize their ETS, their Emissions Trading Scheme on international airlines flying into their airports. They've put that on the shelf for now to try to do a global deal. But it wouldn't be too farfetched to assume a scenario where other countries try to externalize their programs onto other countries.
HARDERRight. And I think one of the biggest challenges is making sure that each country lives up to what it said it will do. I think one of the biggest changes here is that previous climate talks have been from a top-down approach, where you have an overall target and countries are required to do X, Y, Z -- do their part to reach that overall target. Whereas, now, this is a bottom up -- everybody's putting on the table what they think they can do. And they're required to show their negotiating partners what they've done and how they're meeting that goal.
HARDERBut it's not a legally binding treaty in terms of what they have to do to the emission cuts themselves. And it's not legally binding, largely because the U.S. Senate would not ratify such a treaty. And that was...
REHMBut it is a legal framework, is it not?
HARDERIt is. But it's not the type -- the technical type that requires a vote in the U.S. Senate. And that's a big political point by the administration. They know they wouldn't be able to get it passed. We all remember that happened with the Kyoto Protocol and that's why the U.S. wasn't part of that. So the administration doesn't want to repeat what happened 20 years ago.
REHMSo key word, ratchet. Joe.
ROMMYes. Absolutely. And there's a new analysis out which shows exactly what kind of ratcheting we need if we're going to avoid this 2-degree centigrade, 3.6-degree Fahrenheit target. You know, ultimately, the world is going to have to peak in total emissions within about 10 to 15 years and then start going down sharply, ultimately to zero. So it's a big series of ratchets over, you know, every five to ten years.
REHMBut realistically, is it possible?
ROMMWell, you know, this is where, today, I don't think the world is at a level of, let's say, desperation, that it will be in 10 or 15 years. My view is, look, the reality of climate change -- the extreme weather, the droughts, the floods, the super storms with their terrible storm surges -- that's becoming more and more obvious. The degree of pain that that reality is causing, causes a certain amount of willingness to act. I, you know, this is going to be the hottest year on record. And next year probably will even be hotter. So I think the motivation is going to rise year by year.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go open the phones. And first to Quincy, Ill. Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISGood morning, Diane.
CHRISYou know, we're not going to save this planet until the public clamors for a solution instead of having it foisted upon us. And that's not going to happen here in this country until we confront the fact that our media is being bought and paid for by the oil, coal and natural gas industries through the auspices of their lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute. It plasters our airwaves, every network news program, every Sunday morning talk show. Even PBS programs like NOVA -- sponsored by Koch Industries, the Koch Foundation -- are telling us that everything is under control. And as this blond woman walks through this wonderland of benevolent innovation, we're lulled into a false sense of complacency.
REHMAll right. Amy.
HARDERYeah, well I think he raises some good points about the impact of the fossil-fuel industry in our debate. There has been an interesting shift -- I would describe it as -- in the last year or so in the oil and gas industry. You saw earlier this year the six major oil and gas companies in Europe signed a letter saying that they support a two-degree limit, a letter they sent to the United Nations. Some people say that's just rhetoric. Well, it's more rhetoric than they've made in the past. And then here in the United States, the oil and gas companies have been much more hesitant to support anything like that.
HARDERBut for the first time that I can remember in covering this issue for several years, since 2009, the American Petroleum Institute -- the organization that the caller pointed out -- held a call on the climate talks themselves. There's a lot of division within the oil and gas industry here in the U.S. about what to do on climate change. And I think it's a debate they're having internally.
REHMWhere does ClearView Energy stand, Tim?
CHEUNGFrom our view, one of the overlooked kind of climate legacies from this administration might not just be a Clean Power Plan or methane rules, but really the vocabulary of climate change talks. Instead of calling it greenhouse gas emissions, it's now carbon pollution. And we need to stop polluting. Instead of global warming, it's a climate crisis. And we need to solve crises. And so this vocabulary may be permeating through the public's fear. And exactly what Chris was talking about, having the public clamor for it. You know, back in 2009, Twitter was a new thing, Facebook was still a new thing. You had a few hundred million users on Facebook. Now it's 1.5 billion users. The way we consume information is totally different.
CHEUNGAnd this is why we think that climate change has become such a big issue. It's a social issue.
REHMTim Cheung, vice president and research analyst at ClearView Energy Partners. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are, of course, talking about the Climate Talks going on currently in Paris. The President has spoken of the absolute need for moving forward. Members of Congress are saying they will not necessarily cooperate. Let's go back to the phones to John in Dearborn, Michigan. You're on the air. Go right ahead.
JOHNAnd guests. I'm interested in what point of view Daesh or ISIS would have of this whole climate change issue. And whether they would want to disrupt this, they would want to see it as something they would the nations of the world to fail at. Or whether they are detached from the whole matter and don't really care about this issue.
HARDERWell, I'm not aware of any official statement that ISIS has made about the climate talks. But I think the attacks on November 13 in Paris has, for better or worse, drawn this sharp portrayal of terror as a global threat and climate change as a global threat. You've seen President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, both of them, over the last several months, have talked about how climate change is the greatest threat facing the country, our generation, and the world at large.
HARDERBut that's not necessarily accurate to say that it's the greatest threat. Terrorism is also a great threat, but they're different kinds of threats. So, it seems like the political debate, especially because of the November 13th attacks, the political debate has set up either one is the greatest threat or the other one is. You see Republicans in Congress talking about how Obama shouldn't be focusing on climate when there's terror attacks in the city where the climate talks are taking place.
HARDERBut I think you're seeing a lot of discussion about that, and you see French officials talking about how both are great threats. So, I think it's really drawn a -- has really driven this debate about what people consider a threat and how you can manage both long term threats and threats that happen very slowly. And then those that can, you know, stun a nation and kill people in Paris.
REHMHere's an email from David, who says call me cynical, but it appears these talks have been quote, pre-engineered to achieve a very modest and in all likelihood, inadequate accord. They will not collapse in failure, but they will not come close to achieving what needs to be done. How optimistic or pessimistic are you, Joe?
ROMMWell, you know, the, that's certainly correct that we have a lot further to go, as I think everyone here has said we need to keep ratcheting up what we need to do. But this is going to be the first time that the world has gotten together and taken us off what is really a catastrophic trajectory of carbon pollution. So, I'm a lot more optimistic now that at least everyone is in the game and we have a shot at avoiding catastrophic warming. Certainly much more so than I was 18 months ago.
REHMAll right. To Scooter in Petoskey, Michigan. You're on the air.
SCOOTERHey, thanks Diane. How are you?
SCOOTERGlad to hear it. Last time we talked, it was about climate change. I love your panel.
SCOOTERAnd besides the politics, besides all these differentiations across the globe, what's the one thing we can do? Should we -- is it voting? Is it a change in our behavior? The listeners to the IPR, NPR, APR stations and WAMU, how can we, as individuals, begin to affect this change? What's the one thing your panelists would do?
ROMMYou know, well, look, I wrote this book, and researching this book "Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. I think everyone now needs to know about climate change. You simply can't let the leadership of the world, believe that the leadership of the world is simply gonna solve this problem and you aren't going to have to make decisions. So, everybody needs to know that, you know, eventually, coastal properties are gonna crash. Everyone needs to know that, you know, what their students are -- what their kids can study in school to prepare for a globally warmed world.
ROMMYou know, if you want to become politically active, I think that's great. If you want to reduce your own carbon pollution by getting a hybrid car or using air travel less or getting an energy audit for your home, that's great. I think the most important thing is become informed on this subject. It's going to affect you and your family over the next 25 years as much as the internet has in the past 25 years.
REHMHere's an email from Peter, who says no amount of reduction of carbon emissions will do the slightest good until we start taking out more than we put in. What is the current concentration of greenhouse gases compared to the start of the industrial age? What level are we aiming at as an absolute maximum that we will not exceed? Joe, can you take a stab at that?
ROMMSure. We were at 280 parts per million of CO2 by volume during the Industrial -- before the Industrial Revolution. We're now at about 400 parts per million
ROMMAnd we're rising about two parts per million per year or more. Now, it is true. CO2 levels are going to keep going up until we keep reducing -- until global emissions are near zero. You know, I think most people would say let's try to keep close as possible to 450 maximum. That's how we stay below two degrees centigrade. It's going to take a very big effort, no question.
CHEUNGSo, the IPCC came out with a study, I think it was in 2011, that said we have a carbon budget of about one trillion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. And International Energy Agency came out with the study that says we need to reduce our fossil fuel consumption by something like down to, what it is currently, 85 percent, to about 70 percent by 2030. And that's just -- that's a serious undertaking. Fossil fuels currently contributing over 80 percent of our total energy needs right now. We're envisioning a future where that needs to go down to zero in order to truly meet this climate change goal.
CHEUNGAnd not to say it's impossible, just stating the facts that it's a serious undertaking that would take a huge amount of investment.
REHMHere's an email from Michael who says, I certainly like the idea of world governments attempting to solve a problem jointly. However, human emissions of carbon dioxide and methane are statistically insignificant compared to all the natural sources of those gases. How do you convince someone whose welfare depends on fossil fuels to sacrifice when there's no guarantee that sacrifice won't be undone by natural sources? Amy.
HARDERI think there's some good points in that, in those comments. I think, you know, the scientific consensus does indicate that humans burning up fossil fuels is a significant contributor to the rising temperature of the Earth. But I think the comment raises some good points about are people really willing to change their way of life to address climate change?
REHMAnd what would they have to do to really change their way of life?
HARDERRight. I think right now, buying an electric car won't save the planet. We talk about how the Industrial Revolution helped double the amount of carbon emissions in the air. As if that's the only thing the Industrial Revolution did. But, in fact, it did a lot of other things too. It has enabled our country to be what we are today. And so, I think, when we look back on the Industrial Revolution as if it was the culprit of this climate crisis, it was also a great thing for our economy.
HARDERSo, I think people need to be a little bit more humble in what we can do to change the way we live. And one part of that, just really quickly, is being willing to pay more for their energy. People talk about how high energy prices can help us address climate change, because it will compel fewer people to use it. But we're seeing low energy prices, and so that's another issue that the negotiators are facing here in Paris.
REHMSo, people are driving more, using automobiles more. Joe.
ROMMWell, there's no question. You know, this is an epic challenge. I think what people need to understand is that we can go a very long way in emissions reductions while continuing to grow the economy. And in fact, every major analysis has showed that even the pathway that avoids catastrophic warming still has roughly the same amount of economic growth. It's really a matter of switching investment in the dirty polluting facilities into the cleaner, more efficient facilities. And that's why money is so much at the root of this.
ROMMIf there is, you know, a trillion dollars a year in new capital available for clean energy technologies, we can definitely avoid the worst. Someone has to come up with that money, for sure.
REHMAll right. To Jim in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hi there.
JIMHi. Thank you very much for taking my call.
JIMDiane, I really respect your intellect and I really appreciate getting on the show. That being said, I'm going to say what none of you want to hear. You know, is this warming trend, is it truly on a cataclysmic path or is it just a trend? We've had trends in the past. I'm a biologist. I'm a sportsman. You know, I watch game, travel, and I've seen changes. I've seen, you know, higher numbers of Canadian geese staying north rather than migrating. I've seen, you know, migration routes change.
JIMBecause yes, there are subtle changes in the weather. But is this something that the world has to change their way of life to prevent or, you know, there's a saying that I love. You cannot turn but the smallest leaf without troubling the most distant star. Everything you do has a consequence, and I get that. But I think the Earth has a tremendous ability to heal itself. Yes, we as humans, we are changing the world. We are polluting the world. And, you know, you want companies, corporations to pay more. You want to pay Zimbabwe carbon credits.
JIMBut yet, we cut down trees in the Amazon at an alarming rate. We put fertilizer on our lawns that is destroying the plankton, which is a major consumer...
REHMAll right, sir. Is it a trend that will simply heal itself? Joe.
ROMMNo. And I think people need to understand the science is really rock solid. And the world's leading scientists, the world's leading governments not only reviewing all the scientific literature and observations, know that most of the warming is due to human causes. The best estimate for how much warming is due to human causes is actually 100 percent. 100 percent of the warming, since 1950, is due to human causes, because most of the things that would otherwise affect the planet, like the sun, actually would be causing cooling otherwise.
ROMMSo, I think it's important for people to understand, we're already at the next stage. And that was one of the points the Pope made in his Encyclical. You know, we're past the issue of whether this is happening and whether we're the cause. It's now at the point where this is the greatest moral challenge the human race faces. If we act in time, we can avert catastrophe. If not, it will be one of the great moral failings of all time.
REHMI love that he wrote, we need to experience a conversion, a change of heart. Amy.
HARDERI think we've seen a slow public opinion change in this debate over the last couple of years, and especially in the last year or so. You've seen the Pope get involved in this debate and you've seen oil and gas companies come to the table. But I think the caller, just a moment ago, he does raise a point that I think is worth discussing. Which is that there's this perception that you either think climate change is catastrophic and it's the thing that's going to destroy the planet or it's nothing at all.
HARDERAnd our political debate over the last several years has really set up this black and white sort of scenario. When really, there's a lot of nuance and gray area in there that I think doesn't get any light of day in the political debate. So yes, there's, you know, of course, the science shows that the Earth is warming because of humans burning up fossil fuels, but I think there needs to be a little bit more in the middle where people can discuss how they can change and how it's not just going to be the end of the world. Because what can people do with that information?
REHMAmy Harder. She covers energy and climate policy for The Wall Street Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to William in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air.
WILLIAMHi. I was wondering if any of your panel had heard about Allan Savory. And his plan to reverse desertification and climate change. He gave a great TED talk on it and it's still viewable online.
REHMAll right. Amy.
HARDERI've seen some of this presentations. It has a lot to do with the agriculture industry and the impact that that industry has on climate change. I think that's one school of thought that's been raised a lot. And one of the issues that doesn't get as much attention, which of course, is land use. And the impact on climate change. Again, I think that's going to be one of the details that maybe won't make the headlines of the Paris Climate Talks, but will nonetheless, be very important for a lot of countries.
REHMSo, what about our political process, the candidates? Where do you see this going on the Republican side should the Republicans take the White House and the Congress? What's going to happen to a discussion of climate change? Amy.
HARDERI haven't seen a lot of the Republican candidates talk about climate change very openly. I've pressed the Trump campaign, Donald Trump's campaign on the issue. He hasn't discussed it too much. I think you're going to see the Republican candidates not talking about it directly, but instead, talk about how they say President Obama sort of going around what the will of the US public wants. And making these deals with countries that he can't follow through on without really getting into the details of climate change.
HARDERWhereas, with the Democratic candidates, who are both putting forth even more aggressive climate and clean energy policies than President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
REHMAnd Martin O'Malley.
HARDERAnd Martin O'Malley, of course, as well. You're going to see them talk about how there needs to be an even more aggressive deal out of Paris.
ROMMYeah, well, I agree with Tim's earlier point. This has become a wedge issue, because an overwhelming majority of the population, you know, three quarters of the country, want action. They know the climate is changing. So, this makes it harder and harder for moderates, of which there are only a few remaining, to, you know, be wishy washy on this issue. And I think it will be incumbent upon the Democratic nominee and the media to make this an issue. Because we're now at a stage, I think, where conservatives and Republicans would just rather not talk about the issue.
REHMTim, last word.
CHEUNGJust to go back to the earlier comment which is, we're seeing a shift in some of the Republican -- some of the Republican Senators voting for climate change and supporting it. And we think this might be one of the last years where Republicans can just say, just say no, and rather, how are we going to do something?
REHMTim Cheung of Clearview Energy Partners, Amy Harder of the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress. Thank you all so much.
HARDERThank you very much.
CHEUNGThank you very much.
ROMMThank you for having us.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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