Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
During the presidential debates, energy and environment issues got very little attention. But many voters— particularly millennial voters—care deeply about climate change and the environment. These issues highlight some of the starkest differences between the candidates. Donald Trump has tweeted that climate change is a hoax. He says he will “cancel” the Paris agreement on global warming and bring back the coal industry. Hillary Clinton has called climate change an urgent threat. She proposes spending billions on renewable energy. For this month’s Environmental Outlook: Diane and a panel of guests discuss where the presidential candidates stand on climate, energy and other environmental policies.
- Amy Harder Reporter covering energy and climate policy, The Wall Street Journal
- Chris Mooney Energy and environment reporter, Washington Post
- Cary Funk Associate director of research on science and society, Pew Research Center
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Less than one week before the election, we take a close look at how the presidential candidates differ on climate and energy policy. With me for this month's environmental outlook, Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Mooney of The Washington Post and Cary Funk with the Pew Research Center.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for being here.
MS. AMY HARDERIt's great to be here.
MS. CARY FUNKGreat to be here.
MR. CHRIS MOONEYGood to be here.
REHMAmy, I'll start with you. Clinton and Trump certainly have very different visions on both climate change and energy. Give us their take on climate change.
HARDERRight. Well, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could not be further away from each other on what they think about climate change and what they think, if anything, the federal government should do about it. So climate change has really come up very, very little in this presidential election. I think it was the second or first presidential debate where Donald Trump denied saying that he ever said that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese.
HARDERHe denied that he said that, when, in fact, he actually tweeted about it, I think, as far back as 2012. So Mr. Trump, essentially, thinks that climate change is hoax, according to what he has said. And Hillary Clinton, basically, has a similar position, as President Obama has. She acknowledges the scientific consensus of climate change and said that she would double down and go even further than President Obama on policies to address climate change.
HARDERShe hasn't gone to in depth about what exactly those would be, whether that means new EPA regulations or attempting some sort of big climate bill in Congress, which would seem quite unlikely. But nonetheless, whether -- I mean, basically, that Mrs. Clinton thinks that, yes, climate change is a problem and the government needs to do something about it, whereas Trump would spend most of his time as president undoing the eight years of President Obama's climate agenda.
REHMAnd Chris, what about energy policy?
MOONEYYes. Well, and they're closely related. So Clinton's energy policies focus very heavily on trying to promote a clean energy transition and so in other words, she's actually said she wants to install half a billion solar panels. She wants to get more and more U.S. homes powered by renewable energy. She wants to sort of ease the pain in the coal communities by, you know, having a $30 billion initiative to sort of help them out.
MOONEYTrump is in a very different place, much more pro-fossil fuels. What he's said is that he wants to try to help bring coal back. He's also been promoting other fossil fuels, oil, natural gas. And some critics have pointed out there's sort of a contradiction here because what seems to be the biggest threat to coal is natural gas, but Trump is promoting both of them. So it's not quite clear how that would play out if he was elected president.
REHMAnd Cary Funk, as being involved in research for the Pew Research Center, especially on science and society, what do the polls tell us thus far?
FUNKRight. You know, Pew Research Surveys have seen wide political divides over climate issues for more than a decade and other public polls have as well. What we did in this most recent survey is really take a fresh look at public attitudes about climate issues, energy issues and the environment more broadly. And we see there as well just really striking differences between party and ideology groups on kind of every issue that is related to climate matters, from what they think the causes are, what they think the cures are to climate change and the role of climate scientists and their findings.
FUNKSo that's very consistent. And we see those kinds of partisan divides mapped pretty well onto Clinton supporters and Trump supporters. So we see big differences between voters who are supporting either Clinton or Trump in how much they care about the issue of climate change.
REHMUm-hum. So does it break down into age groups?
FUNKWe -- it's been a common question of how much is there a difference across the generations. I think not as much as you think. There are really -- there's a lot of common ground across the generations in terms of the degree to which they care about climate change and their beliefs about it.
REHMAll right. And Donald Trump did lay out his views on energy and the environment in a speech last May at an oil conference. Let's hear what he had to say.
MR. DONALD TRUMPWe're going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas. We're going to revoke policies that oppose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies. These technologies create millions of jobs with a smaller footprint than ever before. We're going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop -- unbelievable. And stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to UN global warming programs.
REHMHe got lots of applause, Amy, on cancelling the Paris Accord. Review what's in that agreement and what it would mean if it were cancelled.
HARDERWell, the Paris agreement was a landmark agreement. About 200 nations agreed to last December in Paris to agree to cut carbon emissions. Now, each country agreed to do what they can to cut emissions, but the deal is actually not legally binding to those cuts so therefore, the deal does not require Senate ratification in the U.S. Congress, which is important because it allows President Obama to go around a Congress that would likely not ratify it from a legal treaty perspective.
HARDERSo that deal commits countries to try their best at these reductions, but it does not get the reductions down to the two degree limit that many scientists say that we need to get to. And so, you know, next Monday, most people will be focusing on the election the next day, but actually, Monday is the first day of the next United Nations climate meeting since Paris and I'll be travelling there a week after and trying to see, you know, what kind of meat will be put to the bones of the Paris deal.
HARDERMr. Trump said that he would cancel the Paris deal. Now, he does not have any ability to altogether cancel it. What he would be able to do, I think there is a couple of different things that he could so and I imagine a Trump administration would try multiple avenues at the same time. So he would have to wait three years to even begin the process of getting out of the Paris deal and then even after that, he has to wait one year before he can begin the process of getting out of the Paris deal.
REHMSo as president, he could not simply say, not doing that.
HARDERWell, I mean, I think the legal process would take years to unfold, but at the same time, he would be challenging all of President Obama's climate policies. He would be trying to undo the clean power plan, which is President Obama's cornerstone climate plan. And so he would be trying on all of these fronts. It would take years, but the uncertainty, I think, would be a big impact. Even if it takes years, the uncertainty would have a huge impact.
HARDERIn fact, the people I talked to who are going to be in Morocco in the next two weeks, which is where the climate talks are, they say that if Mr. Trump wins, that will be all anybody talks about.
REHMInteresting. And Chris, what does the current science tell us about climate change?
MOONEYWell, it's looking more and more serious, it seems, every year. We are -- 2014 was the hottest year on record, but that was then followed by 2015, the hottest year on record. And while 2016 isn't out, scientists have already looked at the extreme heat and said, looks like we have another hottest year on record. So scientists are looking at the system and they're sort of -- their jaws are, you know, agape because they're realizing that it's really starting to change and really starting to see some dramatic change.
REHMWhat about those in the political system who say there is no such thing as climate change?
MOONEYWell, that would be incorrect. They're wrong. That flies in the face of everything that we know from the scientific community on the matter.
REHMBut who is the scientific community?
MOONEYThe scientific community are basically a group of atmospheric scientists, geo scientists, globally, who come together in a variety and venues and published peer-reviewed journals and they have increasingly upped their degree of certainty or confidence in the conclusion that the warming of the planet is caused by humans. I would add that what we're seeing now, what's been really striking in the last couple years, is you're starting to see some changes that open eyes.
MOONEYSo we've seen these dramatic coral bleaching events, key parts of the Great Barrier Reef died because of really warm ocean temperatures. Everyone was -- we're not -- we didn't know we were going to be seeing something like that this early in climate change, per se. You're seeing concerns that West Antarctica, the West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to retreat in areas that ultimately, if that were to continue, could contribute many feet of sea level rise. So it's starting to look like it's really afoot.
REHMAnd what about those who say that there is a large group of scientists who say this is not happening?
MOONEYI mean, there's definitely scientists who dissent. There are some, but again and again, the science has been gone over in traditional scientific for peer-reviewed journals and getting together experts to produce consensus documents and they keep coming to the same conclusion.
REHMChris Mooney, he's a reporter covering energy and the environment for The Washington Post. Amy Harder is a reporter covering energy and climate policy for The Wall Street Journal. Cary Funk is associate director of research on science and society at the Pew Research Center. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about issues within the campaign relating to climate change and energy policy, the stances each of the two candidates have taken, and Cary, I'm just wondering what the polls tell us in terms of how Republicans see climate change, how Democrats see climate change and their reactions to the Paris Accord.
FUNKSure, there are just such wide differences, particularly between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, across all of these issues. And one is their beliefs about what policies will make a difference. So we asked about -- I think about six different policy areas, including an international agreement, to limit carbon emissions, and you see most liberal Democrats thinking that kind of agreement will make a big difference in addressing climate change, and conservative Republicans much less likely, think it will either be a small change or no change at all.
REHMAnd what about politicians here in Washington? What are they saying, Amy?
HARDERAbout the Paris climate deal?
HARDERWell they're saying a lot. You know, it's really become a proxy for President Obama's climate agenda, and Republicans feel like he has gone around them, and in fact he has gone around them and made this deal. The U.S. has been integral in getting countries on board, especially China, the bilateral negotiations, those two countries, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. And so they have really been at the forefront of this.
HARDERAnd so you see Democrats in Congress supporting President Obama's efforts. Hillary Clinton also said that she would support it and continue down a similar path, and you have, you know, Donald Trump again saying that he would cancel it and Republicans saying that it's not something that President Obama can do without consent of Congress.
HARDERNow it does seem to be something that he can do given it doesn't require any legally binding issues, but in terms of the impact, you know, it doesn't -- it only slows the growth of carbon emissions. It doesn't actually reduce the overall amount of carbon emissions. And so I think bigger than the substantive impact is the symbolism that it carries. You see companies in the fossil fuel industry even becoming -- around to the realization that there's going to be some sort of regulations on climate change around the world, and we have to get on board, whether they want to or not.
MOONEYIt's precisely because the current Paris pledges by the different countries do not add up to limiting warming to two degrees, which is actually still too much according to scientists now, but anyway, the pledges are not enough. that's why it matters so much what the next president's role is in the Paris process because in the next four years what they're -- what countries are going to try to do is up their ambition. In other words we're going to make plans to cut even more so that we can actually, you know, land the planet safely on a runway while it's moving very fast.
MOONEYAnd so if the U.S. does withdraw from that process, it's not clear what happens, but every year adds, you know, tens of billions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and there's only so many tens of billions of tons that you can put in if you want to stay under two degrees of warming. So that's sort of what's at stake in terms of the Paris process.
REHMYou know, Cary, I asked you earlier about age differences, and I find myself wondering about the millennials because they're going to be around seeing what's happening. How are they polling?
FUNKYou know, they -- you know, climate change has been in the public domain for, you know, 15 or more years, right, so -- and it's always been such a tough issue because it seemed like it was going to be happening far away in time. It seemed like it was going to be happening far away in place. And it was such a global issue that it seems more abstract. So that's always been one of the challenges.
MOONEYThat's changing now as we see more geographic pockets who are experiencing environmental issues differently, and I think you did -- you asked about younger voters, and they are also, of course, experiencing things differently. But it depends on where they're living and their perspectives.
REHMYes, and let's hear Secretary Clinton campaigning with Al Gore in Florida after Hurricane Matthew.
MS. HILLARY CLINTONNow some will say, you know, we've always had hurricanes, they've always been destructive, and that's true. But Hurricane Matthew was likely more destructive because of climate change. Right now the ocean is at or near record high temperatures, and that contributed to the torrential rainfall and the flash flooding that we saw in the Carolinas. Sea levels have already risen about a foot, one foot, in much of the Southeast, which means that Matthew's storm surge was higher, and the flooding was more severe.
MS. HILLARY CLINTONPlus as you know, the impact of climate change goes beyond extreme events like hurricanes. It's become a daily reality here in Miami. You have streets in Miami Beach and in Shorecrest that are flooding at high tide.
MOONEYWell, it's really interesting. It's been said that climate change hasn't come up much in this election. That's not something that necessarily Hillary Clinton wanted to have happen. I mean, she has campaigned on the issue and certain moments she's talked about it a lot and especially in Florida with Al Gore. She clearly saw a strategic ability to go to a place, which is the most vulnerable state in the U.S. in many ways, to climate change because of its exposure to rising seas and see if that works as a political strategy.
MOONEYAnd it's -- I don't know what we'll think after the election, how Florida goes and whether climate change made an impact or not. But there's a lot of consciousness in Miami in particular and the surrounding towns...
REHMI would certainly think so.
MOONEYBecause they are right by the rising ocean, and when Clinton says that seas have risen, seas have risen even since the last time Florida had a major hurricane, a really major hurricane strike, Hurricane Andrew. Seas are a little bit higher even since then, so...
HARDERI think something that some of the polling that Cary has done, I'm sure what they show is that when asked about what issues are the most concerning for voters, climate change remains near the bottom, below economic and national security concerns. And so, you know, we talk about voters in Florida and, you know, being at the forefront of climate change. I think what's more important for climate action, depending on whoever wins next week, is not necessarily the public's perception of the issue, but it's where the industry is out.
HARDERThere's two quick examples I'd like to give to talk about how the lack of industry opposition is what really fuels progress. You saw earlier this year Congress passed a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. toxic chemicals regulation. The Congress was able to do that because the chemical industry, after not being on board for decades, finally decided that we are going to participate I this reform process.
HARDERAnd then again just a couple weeks -- a couple weeks ago, the administration was in Rwanda to make a big deal on the HFCs, it's a potent greenhouse gas that are found in refrigerators and other appliances. Now the Montreal Protocol, they were able to amend part of that to phase down the uses of those HFCs. Again that was able because the industry, the appliance industry, was on board with it.
HARDERAnd so likening that to this, the climate deal, the oil and gas and coal industries are slowly beginning to realize that they are facing regulations. And so I think that more than public perception is a big concern.
REHMAll right, and coal is huge. Coal has come up many, many times during this election. Let's hear what Donald Trump had to say in August of this year to the Detroit Economic Club.
TRUMPAs a result of recent Obama EPA actions, coal-fired plants across Michigan have either shut down entirely or undergone expensive conversions, making them non-competitive in many cases. The Obama-Clinton war on coal has cost Michigan over 50,000 jobs. Hillary Clinton says her plan will put a lot of coal companies and coalminers out of business. We will put our coalminers and our steelworkers back to work.
REHMI think that's an interesting point. How can he say that, Chris? Is he simply saying we'll find other jobs, or is he saying we're going to bring coal back, we're going to bring the manufacturing of steel back?
MOONEYI think the logic is that because Obama regulations have hurt coal, all we have to do is reverse the regulations and help coal. I don't think that that's what the people who are analyzing the coal industry would agree with because it seems like there's a lot of market forces that don't have anything to do with -- there are some Obama regulations that definitely have made things more difficult, actually -- or at least regulations that went into effect under Obama.
MOONEYBut the biggest thing has been the really cheap price of natural gas, and that's brought on by the profusion of the new technology an innovative new technology called fracking, which allowed for a profusion of natural gas resources in the U.S. and drove down the price and made it competitive with coal. So it isn't -- Trump hasn't spoken to that. I don't know how that really fits into his energy picture.
MOONEYOne other thing that he does talk about, and it -- again, I'm not sure where this leads, but he talks about there's such a thing as clean coal. He says that a lot. And this is actually something that could potentially help the coal industry in the long term, this idea that if we had carbon capture and storage technology then you could have coal plants that are not emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide because you're catching it, and you're storing it underground somewhere.
MOONEYAnd then you wouldn't have all the environmental complaints, at least the climate change complaints. But we -- that technology has been very slow to come about. Now there are a couple of plants that are, you know, just right on the verge of getting there, but it's still expensive, and there's an irony here, which is that what CCS, carbon capture and storage, probably needs is a price on carbon, carbon tax or something, to make it competitive. So then would Trump have to support that? That would be strange.
HARDERWell CCS and I would say in that mix also nuclear power are two zero-emitting or very low-emitting technologies that most scientists are essential to getting to the reductions that people -- are discussed in Paris and will be discussing in Morocco in two weeks. So the availability of CCS is essential in that regard.
HARDERCoal, generally speaking, has played such an important role in this. To the extent that energy and climate has played a role in this election, coal has been an important. Ken Bone, of course you remember him, the questioner from the -- from one of the presidential debates. He had worked in the coal industry, and he asked a question about energy policy. You know, the demise of coal is caused by a whole host of issues.
HARDERI would say that what EPA regulations are doing is making sure not that -- is making sure coal cannot kind of get back to where it was. Natural gas has knocked it down for the last decade or so, and EPA is making sure it can't get back up. But let's not forget that even, we're talking about this war on coal, coal still accounts for about 30 to 35 percent of the electricity in the U.S. and is actually set to grow, globally speaking.
REHMAll right, and let's hear what Hillary Clinton had to say on coal and clean energy during the second presidential debate in October.
CLINTONI support moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can because I think we can be the 21st-century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses. But I also want to be sure that we don't leave people behind. That's why I'm the only candidate from the very beginning of this campaign who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country because those coalminers and their fathers and their grandfathers, they dug that coal out, a lot of them lost their lives, they were injured, but they turned the lights on, and they powered our factories. I don't want to walk away from them. So we've got to do something for them.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Cary, what do the polls tell us about coal?
FUNKYeah, it's very interesting. Voters' views about fossil fuels pretty much are in line with candidates' positions here. I think we asked about six different energy issues, and the widest difference between Trump supporters and Clinton supporters was over coalmining. Must Trump supporters are in favor of expanding coalmining.
REHMInteresting, and is there then, without going back to regulations and simply throwing them out, is there a way to go back and expand the coal industry, Chris?
MOONEYAgain, I think it looks -- it looks like a challenge because you have surging natural gas just in the market. You also have surging renewables, where solar and wind are getting cheaper, and they're coming on quite strong, and coal does face some regulations and does face all this competition. I think that -- I'll go back to the point of the future of coal under -- in a world of climate change is going to be, and this is, you know, many scientists have said, is going to need some way of capturing the emissions. And so that's really one of the key challenges.
MOONEYAnd it's important to underscore that this is one of the reasons that the Paris agreement is not necessarily firing on all cylinders. We really see wind and solar just taking off all over the globe. We do not see the other pieces of the puzzle that people have said are going to be acquired, nuclear and carbon capture and storage, taking off at the same pace. The key reason, economics and people who study this say, is that there is no price on emitting carbon, and so these very expensive plants, you have to spend billions to create one, can't compete in an environment where their rivals, their competitors, natural gas or coal or what have you, are not being charged in some way for the emissions.
MOONEYSo that's -- that's still a tension in the sort of global picture.
REHMWhat about fracking, Amy?
HARDERWell fracking is certainly an interesting topic and perhaps one of the most controversial ones in the energy and environment space. I think we might discuss this later, but Hillary Clinton and Trump have both made some interesting comments on fracking that have shown that it's probably one of the more surprising issues that we'll see how the next president handles fracking.
HARDERIt really has been the main for coal's decline in states like West Virginia, which actually sits atop some of the Marcellus Shale. You've seen a lot in that state. You've seen a shift from coal to natural gas, and you're actually seeing, you know, the political muscle of coal declining because natural gas is rising.
HARDERNow whether or not you consider natural gas and fracking clean or cleaner sources of energy is a quite contentious debate. Natural gas does emit 50 percent fewer carbon emissions than coal, but then there's the concern about methane emissions, which is a quite potent natural gas, and inadvertent leaks of that. But the data does show that the increased use of natural gas over coal has lowered U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade.
REHMWhat about concerns regarding earthquakes specifically in Oklahoma?
HARDERRight, the data shows a large increase in earthquakes in that state around what are called injection wells. So that's the way companies handle the water after doing things like fracking. Fracking has become a proxy for all oil and gas development writ large, but it really is just one part of the process, where you inject large amounts of sand and water underground to unlock the oil and natural gas.
REHMAmy Harder, she's a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. We've got lots of callers. When we come back, we'll open the phones, take your calls, read your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. First question posted on our website. "What are the candidates' positions on renewable fuels? Specifically, the renewable fuel standard under the EPA and corn ethanol?" Chris?
MOONEYSo this has not gotten much discussion at all. It did come up when the Republican primary was going on in Iowa. I would expect that both candidates -- and I haven't actually looked into this one. I don't think we would see a ton of change in the Renewable Fuel Standard. I don't know. Amy, would you agree with that?
HARDERYeah, I mean, the RFS is one of those rare issues that actually Clinton and Trump are not that far apart on. You saw Trump really courting the corn industry Iowa during the primaries. He's -- he kind of went back and forth about -- to what extent he supports it. The way the law is now, it's basically in place until or unless Congress repeals. And that's something that seems very unlikely to happen, given the big, big divisions in Congress over corn and ethanol.
HARDERSo I think you would see mostly the status quo over that issue. I talked to people in the administration -- in the Obama administration and everybody finds this ethanol mandate so very difficult to administer. In part, because of the oil boom and the other changes in the U.S. economy over the last decade. So I think you'll actually see this stay the course.
HARDERI think they both support corn ethanol. Perhaps somewhat reluctantly because they don't want to have to be pandering to one certain issue. But it is a powerful constituency. Hillary Clinton does support non-corn biofuels more so than Trump. But non-corn biofuels are struggling very much right now with low oil prices.
MOONEYLet's remember why this one matters in the big picture. Essentially, we have a situation where, because of natural gas, wind, solar, U.S. electricity is actually putting less carbon in the air. But U.S. transportation, all the vehicles, is going to be the next challenge. Because that problem is relatively less solved. And if it's not gonna be biofuels, and there's been a real struggle getting the Renewable Fuel Standard to -- up to speed in the way -- then people are not thinking it's gonna be electric vehicles. But until it's one of those, that whole sector has not been fixed.
REHMAll right. To Don, in Olive Hill, Ky. You're on the air.
DONI want to tell you first off, Diane, I love you. You're one of the greatest talk show hosts that's ever been.
REHMThanks so much.
DONMy dad, when I was growing up, always told me to read a liberal newspaper, read a conservative newspaper, listen to a radio liberal forum, which you've been mine for years and a conservative. And on this conversation right now -- I've got a degree in political science. I've got a masters in history. And I travel a lot. I've been in 36 different states during this election. I was actually up in Williams, W. Va., when Hillary wasn't supposed to be there. I was in Cincinnati at Donald Trump's rally, like, a couple a weeks ago.
REHMOkay. But now tell us your thoughts.
DONOn this right here, the speaker a minute ago was talking about the -- that all Donald Trump was thought he could do was change regulations and bring coal back. That's gonna be an impossibility. It's an absolute impossibility because about five weeks ago I was in Louisa, Ky., where the American Electric Power Plant was and watched them blow up the tower to where they can't burn coal in that facility anymore. Which right in the heart, absolute heart of the coal country. And just laying it out there, that -- and saying bringing back the coal industry at this stage would be a virtual impossibility because the facilities to burn it won't be there.
HARDERThe caller makes a great point. And I think most people in the coal industry would, sometimes publicly, but most of the time privately admit that. Bob Murray, who's the CEO of a big privately-owned coal mining company called Murray Energy, who's actually a supporter of Donald Trump, he has been quoted saying that he can't really bring back the coal industry. So I think it's an easy political talking point.
HARDERBut it is going to be very difficult to bring it back for the very reason that the caller said, which is that these utility companies are making infrastructure and investment decisions that will guide their decisions for the next generation. And they're making it based upon the status-quo right now, which is cheap natural gas and these regulations, which more likely than not, are not going anywhere.
HARDEREven if Trump wins.
REHMTo Punta Gorda, Fla. Dennis, you're on the air.
DENNISYes. Hi, Diane Rehm. I enjoy your show.
DENNISI listen to it each week. I retired as an elementary school teacher and couple of years ago and took an extreme interest simply because I didn't know anything about it. And I learned about it in school. It was never discussed. And in studying it for the last two years, I'm very concerned for our country. Because I think it's more an issue than most people realize.
DENNISIn that respect, I have one comment and one question. The comment was from a test on Christian Science Monitor, in which they were referring to the fact that half of the increase in carbon, greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere has occurred in 1970. We were at 280 parts per million around 1800. We went to about 340 in -- about 1970. And since then it's gone to 400. And what I noticed is that correlates with the time when there was a tremendous increase electrical production through coal consumption. And that seems to tie those together. So if I've got my facts right, that shows you what's happened from burning coal to produce electricity if we continue down that road.
REHMOkay. And your question please?
DENNISMy question, why is there such Republican opposition to climate change? Is it related to Al Gore's position that we heard many years ago?
REHMCary Funk, is there any clear understanding that there is a Republican resistance? And if so, is it related to Al Gore?
FUNKThat's a good question. I mean, we have seen political divides over climate issues since before Al Gore. Certainly some scholars say that they may have widened around the time Al Gore was so vocal about it. But of course, there were lots of issues where we've seen a widening political polarization. And this is -- certainly climate change is not the only issue where we see wide political divides.
HARDERI think one interesting trend to point out is that in the 2008 presidential election, both John McCain and Barack Obama had plans to address climate change. Back then it wasn't nearly as partisan. And when President Obama won, climate change all of a sudden became an Obama issue. So like so many other things, Republicans oppose X-policy because Obama supports it. I've long thought that the climate movement might have been better off under a John McCain president, because it perhaps would not have been so attached to the Democratic Party.
REHMInteresting. And to Deb, in Pageland, S.C. You're on the air.
DEBHi, Diane. Thank you so much. I've actually been waiting years to speak out. Climate change to me is the most overwhelmingly important issue of this election. I am 70 years old. I have 10 grandkids. And I have researched. OpenSecrets.org says that the fossil fuel industries have pumped millions into Republicans and a little bit into Hillary to hedge their bets. World Wildlife Fund says that two-thirds of all wildlife will be gone by 2020 and we're already down to half.
DEBAnd me and my grandkids, we talk about this. There aren't the birds that we used to see. I mean, it just makes me cry. There's -- we just came out. They go there's one hawk I usually see on the line. And the day I don't see him I'm afraid he's gone forever. We need to address this. Hillary needs a vision to rebuild green overpasses, like in Seattle on I-90, high-speed rail. Put the coal miners back to work. Beat plows, beat swords into plowshares and let's clean up our climate for our kids.
REHMThanks for calling, Deb. Any comment, Chris?
MOONEYYeah, I would just point out that the -- there was a recent report about wildlife losses. And it did present some pretty big numbers. The two-thirds number, if I remember correctly, was not just between now and 2020. It's accumulative thing that's been going on for a long period of time. And it's important to note that that's not something that researchers are attributing to climate change, as I understand.
MOONEYThat actually climate change is the -- sort of the future threat to species and may be starting. But the big threat has been agriculture, hunting, expansion of human cities into wilderness areas. So it's humans all right, but it's not necessarily actually us changing the temperature. Although, that is also a threat that's starting to manifest.
REHMWe surely have lots of calls from Florida today. To North Port, Fla., Tony, you're on the air.
TONYYeah, yeah, hello. Yeah, I'm talking about the negotiation with that contract. And the way I understand it is China does not have to do a large amount of anything until 2030, which is beyond those dates. And so the one person that said it's a symbolism, is what it is. And he accomplished really nothing with that accord, except to make more regulations for us. That's it.
REHMWhat do you think, Amy?
HARDERWell, the caller is correct that under the bi-lateral announcement and agreement between China and the U.S., which of course became part of the Paris Agreement, is that China doesn't have to start limiting its carbon emissions until 2030. Now, some people and Republicans in Congress and others have criticized that. Basically saying that the U.S. gave China a free pass for almost 15 years. You could look at it that way.
HARDERYou can also look at it as China coming to the table and saying at some point it will take substantive action on this. I think the next big debate is what India is going to do. Because India has made no commitment like that at all. And their potential carbon emissions could be even greater out into the future.
MOONEYWell, I think it's important to acknowledge that China is a huge, huge investor in clean energy. And they clearly are trying to not have to burn as much coal. They're also -- they're trying everything. They're installing incredibly enormous dams to get enormous volumes of hydropower. And installing -- they're also leading the new wave of nuclear energy installations. In terms of what they have to do, if I remember correctly, what they have to do in 2030 is achieve a peak in their emissions, so that they would then come down.
MOONEYAnd they would -- and they were gonna try to achieve the peak sooner. In other words, they're still growing. And they're trying to get the growth under control and start to bring it down.
REHMTo Kende in Clearwater, Fla. You're on the air.
KENDEOh, thank you very much for taking my call. I am just in awe. You know, I wish we got to hear more about this during the three debates. It's unfortunate that we ended up talking tapes and emails. You know, I'm, you know, if Trump wasn't stuck in his gold-plated tower or in his plane or in his helicopter, he would really be able to see what's going on on planet Earth. You know, in 2015 he made a comment about the flood -- the -- not flooding, but the drought in his speech in Fresno, Calif., that, if I'm correct, he was saying that the -- I can't remember specifically.
KENDEBut I know he was saying that there was something going on, that the government was holding the water or there was some laws that they could have passed so there could be water. But really, it just doesn't make any sense. Like, in -- with the last few days left, is there any opportunity where the talking issue could become climate change versus emails or the hot-mic tape?
REHMI doubt it very seriously. It has not been discussed very much, as we've said several times. It has not been discussed very much during the campaign. And certainly in these closing days with emails, with all kinds of charges flying back and forth. I would doubt that it will. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Tampa, Fla. You're on the air, David.
DAVIDHi, Diane. And I love your show.
DAVIDI just have a comment to make. I don't think either of the candidates are going to have an impact on climate change and renewable energy. Economics will. I work in the industry. And you're seeing the cost of solar panels cut in half from five years ago. You're seeing utilities change their strategic plan on how they implement resources. These two candidates, they're not gonna have much of an impact. The laws on the books are already creating the big issues, the coal-fired power plants.
REHMAll right. Cary Funk?
FUNKYeah, that's so interesting. I think one of the things we saw in the most recent Pew Research survey was majorities across the political spectrum favoring expanding wind solar -- wind farms, as well as solar panel farms. And you also see more common ground when you're talking about environmental issues at home. You mention solar panels for the home. It's only a small portion of the public that says they already have a solar panel, but many more say they've been seriously considering it, particularly in the Western Region. And those, you know, that includes a sizable share of both Republicans and Democrats. And why are they doing it? They say because they want to save money on utility bills and also to help the environment.
REHMIt comes down to economics. Chris?
MOONEYYeah, I think it's a really astute comment. Let's remember that if the Clean Power Plan does come into effect, and if Donald Trump either isn't president and isn't able to cancel it or for some reason Clinton's president. That's 2022. All right. But in the meantime we already see emissions going down. And I -- and everything looks like they're gonna continue to go down before the Clean Power Plan even takes effect.
MOONEYAnd that's because of these trends that are market driven to a substantial extent. So it's quite possible that Donald Trump could be elected and take stances against the Paris Agreement, against the Clean Power Plan, and in 2020 the U.S. emissions could be lower than they are in 2016. I think that's very possible.
HARDERI certainly think economics play a large role. But I wouldn't discount government policy. For example, at the end of last year Congress passed a budget bill that included a five-year extension of both the wind and solar tax credits. I talked to people in the industry and they tell me that those are essential to their industries and to getting carbon reduction down to a level that President Obama has talked about. So I do think government policy is important. And the extension of those in the next five years will be something at the next president has a big say over.
REHMBut how far are we from the idea that so many people have heard, and that is clean coal? How far war we from that?
MOONEYBasically there are some, some few projects that are getting off the ground. But it is -- there's -- the number of clean coal plants versus the number of coal plants is a very, very small, small percentage.
REHMBut the research is going on?
MOONEYSure. And the U.S. Department of Energy is invested heavily in this. Many other countries have invested heavily in this. And we -- for a lot of scientific reasons, it's very important that this continues because we have to find -- for instance, if we over shoot how much we warm the planet, we have to find good workable ways of sequestering some of the carbon that's in the atmosphere. So the sequestration part of the technology is essential. If there's too much in the atmosphere, we're gonna have to get it out somehow. So we need that technology in some form.
REHMChris Mooney of The Washington Post, Amy Harder of The Wall Street Journal, Cary Funk at The Pew Research Center, well, even if the candidates haven't been talking about it, we have. And I thank you all so much for being here. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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