Interview: Lester Brown

  • Lester Brown founded the Earth Policy Institute in 2001. (Photo courtesy of the Earth Policy Institute)

One environmental leader says if
we keep doing what we’re doing,
the world will continue on a path
toward economic decline and eventual
collapse. Lester Brown heads up the
Earth Policy Institute. He’s written
a series of books on changes that need
to be made. The most recent book is
‘Plan B 4.0.’ Lester Graham
talked with him about the complexities
involved in a few commodities we take
for granted:

Transcript

One environmental leader says if
we keep doing what we’re doing,
the world will continue on a path
toward economic decline and eventual
collapse. Lester Brown heads up the
Earth Policy Institute. He’s written
a series of books on changes that need
to be made. The most recent book is
‘Plan B 4.0.’ Lester Graham
talked with him about the complexities
involved in a few commodities we take
for granted:

[text of the interview will be posted shortly]

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A New Climate Conference

  • President Barack Obama meeting with former Vice President Al Gore in the Oval Office on December 7, 2009 regarding Copenhagen. (Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of the White House)

With no legally-binding agreement in
Copenhagen, there’s now talk of another global
warming conference next summer in Mexico
City. Lester Graham has more on that:

Transcript

With no legally-binding agreement in
Copenhagen, there’s now talk of another global
warming conference next summer in Mexico
City. Lester Graham has more on that:

When the U.S. House passed a climate bill this summer, the Senate was expected to pick it up and vote on it by the end of the year—maybe before the U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen.

That didn’t happen.

In Copenhagen last week, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore looked ahead to another conference next year.

“I believe that we are capable of resolving the remaining issues to the point we can meet in Mexico City this July in the aftermath of a successful action by the United States Senate in April and conclude a binding international treaty.”

Al Gore wants the Senate to pass the legislation by April 22 to be exact – Earth Day. With business concerned about coming greenhouse gas regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Senate might feel more pressure to by then.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Interview: Pew Center President

  • Eileen Claussen is the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. (Photo courtesy of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change)

Beginning December 7,
world leaders – including President
Obama – will gather in Copenhagen,
Denmark to talk about cutting the
greenhouse gas emissions causing
climate change. Eileen Claussen is
the President of the non-profit Pew
Center on Global Climate Change.
Lester Graham talked with her about
what will be accomplished at Copenhagen:

Transcript

Beginning December 7,
world leaders – including President
Obama – will gather in Copenhagen,
Denmark to talk about cutting the
greenhouse gas emissions causing
climate change. Eileen Claussen is
the President of the non-profit Pew
Center on Global Climate Change.
Lester Graham talked with her about
what will be accomplished at Copenhagen:

Lester Graham: We’ve been hearing about this United Nations summit in Copenhagen in the news for months now, but it’s not really clear what the world’s nations will accomplish there. It’s been downgraded from a conference to hammer out a treaty to a conference to come up with some kind of a framework for a treaty. So what can we really expect from Copenhagen?

Eileen Claussen: I think there are three things that are likely to be agreed in Copenhagen. All the developed countries in the world will make political commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by significant amounts, I think, across the board. I also think the major emitting developing countries will pledge to reduce their emissions from where they would otherwise go. And I think we will see some amount of money – maybe 5 to 10 billion dollars – collected from the developed countries to help developing countries adapt to climate change and build up their capacity to actually reduce their emissions.

Graham: And perhaps preserve some of the forests that store CO2.

Claussen: Absolutely. I think forestry is something where you actually might see some real progress.

Graham: President Obama is expected to tell the gathering that the US intends to cut greenhouse gas emissions to about 17% below the levels we emitted in 2005. And cut them by 83% by the year 2050. But, as it stands right now, there’s no legislation to accomplish that. It’s not clear that there’s enough support in Congress to pass climate change legislation that would accomplish that. Is the president making offers not within his power to give?

Claussen: Well, I think there’s no question that absent action in the Senate and a conference that merges the bill that passed in the House this summer, he can’t deliver on the 17%. There are many things he can do. And, in fact, he’s actually tried to do many of them. To increase the efficiency of automobiles which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to put stimulus money into clean energy projects; to get the EPA geared up to start regulating under the Clean Air Act. But I think none of those add up to the 17%. So we will need legislation that establishes a cap on emissions.

Graham: This Copenhagen agreement is supposed to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. The US did not ratify that treaty. But, of the nations that did, many of them failed to meet their obligations to reduce emissions. So will a treaty really mean anything?

Claussen: Well, I’m not sure that I agree that most countries or many countries have failed to reduce their emissions sufficiently. There are some countries that are not on track at the moment to get to their objectives, but others are. And I think it is still possible that most of those countries – not all – but most of them will actually get to where they said they would go.

Graham: Well, we’ll cal l that the optimistic view. I think in Canada they’re probably not going to make it.

Claussen: Well, Canada is the clear example of a country that won’t make it.

Graham: So we won’t have a sort of Copenhagen Protocol, Copenhagen appears to be now just another stop along the way to drafting a treaty.

Claussen: It’s not everything that many were hoping for, and there’s a fair amount of disappointment about that. But, quite honestly, there are a lot of very difficult issues for different countries to face here. And there actually had not been any real negotiation over the two years since the negotiation started.

Graham: Eileen Claussen is the President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Thanks very much for talking with us.

Claussen: Well, thank you.

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Climate Bill Moving Along

  • A lot of compromises and some arm-twisting are persuading moderate Democrats to support limiting global warming emissions. (Photo courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol)

Work on the climate change bill
in the Senate is progressing
despite the controversy surrounding
the bill. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Work on the climate change bill
in the Senate is progressing
despite the controversy surrounding
the bill. Lester Graham reports:

A Republican boycott and bitter wrangling between Democrats and Republicans over provisions in the climate bill in the Senate and, still, supporters say it’s going okay.

A lot of compromises and some arm-twisting are persuading moderate Democrats to support limiting global warming emissions.

Even the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, is now saying Congress will approve legislation this session.

Josh Dorner is with a group backing a climate bill, called Clean Energy Works. Dorner says getting moderate Democrats like Baucus on board moves a climate bill closer to reality.

“That coupled with the bi-partisan agreement amongst other senators, Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman to move forward, I think shows that we’re closer to a bi-partisan agreement on getting a bill done now than we ever have been before.”

“Bi-partisan” meaning only a couple of Republicans joining a lot more Democrats in support of the bill.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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National Parks Hit by Climate

  • Glacier National Park in Montana. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

A new report warns that US National
Parks will be affected by global warming.
Tanya Ott reports rising sea
levels and changing habitat will mean
major changes:

Transcript

A new report warns that US National
Parks will be affected by global warming.
Tanya Ott reports rising sea
levels and changing habitat will mean
major changes:

Forget melting ice-caps. Stephen Saunders wants you to picture your favorite
vacation spot closer to home.

“Climate disruption caused by humans is the greatest threat to all of our national parks.”

Saunders is president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. Their new
report identifies 25 national parks, lakeshores, seashores and monuments
most at risk from warming temperatures, rising sea levels and retreating
snow.

So what does that mean? Among other things, wildlife is going to
have to move to other areas. The report recommends the Park Service work
with private landowners to create special wildlife corridors for migration.

Right now, the US Senate is considering clean energy and climate
legislation. The House passed its climate bill in June.

For The Environment Report, I”m Tanya Ott.

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Conversations With China About Climate Change

  • President Barack Obama addresses the opening session of the first U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Listening at left are Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, center, and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, left. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy, courtesy of the White House)

The Chinese are in Washington in high-level talks with the Obama administration about – among other things – energy and the environment. Lester Graham has more on that:

Transcript

The Chinese are in Washington in high-level talks with the Obama administration about – among other things – energy and the environment. Lester Graham has more on that:

Opponents of the climate change bill in the U.S. like to remind us that China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. China likes to point out the U.S. didn’t even sign the Kyoto Protocol.

“We’ve been each other’s biggest excuse for the past five, eight years about not acting on international commitments.”

That’s Jennifer Turner. She’s Director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Turner says things are changing.

Recently China and the U.S. started talking about how they can help each other. And, she says, while China’s not talking about climate change a lot, it is talking about energy efficiency.

“China has actually been doing a lot over the past eight years on lowering their CO2 emissions, pushing energy efficiency more, for trying to ensure their own energy security and to lessen the health impacts of pollution.”

While the U.S. has been stressing climate change.

The governments have figured out they’re working on the same problem, just looking at it a little differently.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Avoiding a Climate Tipping Point

  • If the global temperature goes past 2 degrees Celsius - the danger point - we might not be able to get the climate back to a more natural state (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Two new studies in the journal Nature are trying to answer: how much is too much when it comes to global warming? Rebecca Williams reports:

Transcript

Two new studies in the journal Nature are trying to answer: how much is too much when it comes to global warming? Rebecca Williams reports:

These studies look at what we’d have to do to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius.

That’s considered the danger point for climate change.

Past that point we might not be able to get the climate back to a more natural state.

These papers suggest that we’ve got to cut back on burning fossil fuels a lot. They say by 2050, countries like the US need to cut emissions by more than 90% below what they were in 1990.

The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress have proposed cutting emissions by less than that – 80%.

The researchers make the point… of all the coal and oil and natural gas in the ground that we know about, we can only burn one fourth of that amount by 2050.

We’re burning it at a much faster rate.

The studies say, at the current rate, we could be past that tipping point in less than 15 years.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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Climate Change and Wildfires

  • Jennifer Pierce and David Wilkins stand in front of a ponderosa pine forest just outside the city of Boise. They hope to study the relationship between fire and climate here and recreate a snapshot of ancient climate. They are both teach at Boise State University's Geosciences Department. (Photo by Sadie Babits)

Twenty years ago this year, the
country watched its oldest national park
go up in flames. Looking back, scientists
believe the 1988 fires of Yellowstone
National Park were the signal fire of
climate change. Researchers have been
working ever since to understand this
relationship between climate and wildfire.
Sadie Babits reports on two scientists
searching for clues to ancient climates,
using trees as their guide:

Transcript

Twenty years ago this year, the
country watched its oldest national park
go up in flames. Looking back, scientists
believe the 1988 fires of Yellowstone
National Park were the signal fire of
climate change. Researchers have been
working ever since to understand this
relationship between climate and wildfire.
Sadie Babits reports on two scientists
searching for clues to ancient climates,
using trees as their guide:

Jennifer Pierce wears work boots as she plows down a steep slope in a
ponderosa pine forest.

(sound of walking, twigs breaking)

Her blonde hair is tucked up under her Boise State bronco cap, but it keeps
sneaking out. She has to keep brushing it back under. She and her
colleague David Wilkins are professors who work for Boise State
University’s Geosciences Department. They’re in the middle of tall pines in
a forest just outside of Boise, Idaho. Suddenly she’s crashing across the
brambles and heads for this tree.

“Oh that’s a great one! Wow! Sweet!”

She drops to her knees and shows me how this tree has been scarred by
fire.

“You see this little V shaped cat face here at the bottom of the tree that’s
blackened? So during a fire when the bark of the tree gets damaged that
preserves a record of the fire as a scar on the tree.”

Pierce says since the tree has annual growth rings, she can tell when the
tree got burned.

It’s one way Pierce and Wilkins reconstruct the fire history of this forest.
It’s a key to understanding how climate has affected forest fires in the past.

“I think as we move into a likely warmer and drier future, it’s going to be
increasingly important to understand the relationship between climate and
fire.”

She says climate is the primary control for wildfires. As the West warms,
there’s less control. Recently, that’s meant a lot more wildfires.

(popping sound) “There you go!” (sound of a drill bit going through the tree
with sound of birds and forest)

David Wilkins is twisting an auger into the tree.

“It’s a good upper body workout!” (laughs)

It’s a way to take a sample of the rings of this tree. Within a half-minute,
Wilkins’ auger is stuck. The tree is rotten inside. An eight-inch core is all he
gets.

(sound of drill bit coming out of the tree)

Jennifer Pierce takes a look at this sample Wilkins twisted out. The rings –
some light, some dark – reveal just how the tree has responded to moisture
and temperature.

“If you have a tree that kind of is at the edge of its comfort zone so to
speak, it will be more of a sensitive recorder of those environmental
stresses. See this one looks pretty good.”

Tree rings aren’t the only clue these scientists use to reconstruct historic
climates.

(scraping sound)

“I didn’t bring my big shovel. I kind of feel naked without it.”

Pierce scrapes away dirt and she finds bits of charcoal. She can sometimes
use charcoal for radio carbon dating. But these won’t do.

“But, um, I wouldn’t use them for dating because you want to make sure
that the charcoal is stratographicly in place and that you haven’t had
critters burrowing and mixing things up.”

Charcoal can be dated much further back than the tree rings. It helps
Pierce and Wilkins understand what happened here thousands of years
ago. With samples from other scientists, they’ll get a snapshot of ancient
climate and how it affects wildfire.

And possibly determine what climate change will mean for forests in the
future.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sadie Babits.

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