A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
Political debate aside, an increasing number of environmental scientists believe unprecedented change in our climate is coming. The future they envisage is one where wars fought over food and water and spiking oil prices are the norm. This, together with dramatic ecological changes, such as the melting ice caps, widespread drought and loss of biodiversity will bring humanity to the brink of collapse. It’s a grim scenario, but according to my guests today, this threatened global and economic crisis could actually pave the way for enormous positive change. As part of our Environmental Outlook series we look at how it may be possible not just to adapt to climate change, but embrace it.
- Michael MacCracken chief scientist, Climate Institute.
- Amy Seidl author and lecturer in Environmental Studies, University of Vermont.
- Paul Gilding author, former executive director of Greenpeace International and founder of the environmental consulting firm ECOS.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The time for arguing is over, according to my guests today. Climate change, they say, is not only real, it's already with us. But rather than apportioning blame, they argue we should actually seize the opportunity to radically reinvent ourselves. As part of our Environmental Outlook Series, we look at how we as individuals and communities could triumph over the threat of climate change.
MS. DIANE REHMAmy Seidl is an ecologist, she's the author of a book titled "Finding Higher Ground." Michael MacCracken is chief scientist at the Climate Institute and joining us by ISDN from Sydney is Paul Gilding, he's an environmentalist and author of "The Great Disruption." I look forward to hearing your calls, comments, questions throughout the hour, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter.
MS. DIANE REHMI'll start with you, Mike MacCracken. There have certainly been dire predictions about what's happening now. Give us a sense of your assessment of where we are now in regard to climate change.
MR. MICHAEL MACCRACKENWell, what we're having happen is emissions are continuing to go up, atmospheric composition is changing or having a greater warming influence, the temperatures of the world are going up, heat index is going up, sea level's going up, sea ice and glacial ice is melting and thawing back. We're having more frequent and greater likelihood of extreme events and a higher risk, so lots of things are going up. All of those are very sort of unfortunate changes that are happening in that regard.
REHMWhat's happened in Greenland and Antarctica?
MACCRACKENWell, in Greenland, as -- it's sort of a block of ice and as the temperature has increased on the edges, you're getting a lot of thawing of ice around the edges. Greenland's been here for 10,000 years sort of as it is and it's starting to lose mass rather dramatically and that's very worrisome. That's also happening on parts of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica.
MACCRACKENGreenland's important because it has enough ice and water tied up on land that it -- if it were all to melt, could raise sea levels by about 20 feet. And the projection is that if we keep going at sort of the accelerating rate we're headed at, that sea level rise this century might be a few feet. So that's a tremendous amount of change.
REHMAll right. Well, given that sort of outlook, what would you expect this planet to look like, say, 50 years from now, based on what we know now?
MACCRACKENWell, the projections are that in some sense, the northern tier of states will have climatic conditions of toward what the middle of the country is, sort of in the latter part -- as we head toward the latter part of the century.
REHMWhat does that mean?
MACCRACKENThe central tier -- well, so if you were in -- if you're in Boston, you're going to start getting the climate more like what's in Washington. Now, for people, that isn't perhaps quite so bad. You can figure out how to adapt because you're inside a building. But for the environment and what's going on outside, that is a tremendous change.
MACCRACKENAs you have sea level going up in some of the areas, going up in Chesapeake Bay where there's very flat land or in southern Florida where there's flat land or in New Orleans or Bangladesh or a whole host of places, you're going to have sort of a higher sea level, but -- and the worrisome time is when the storms come. If hurricanes tend to become more powerful, they push a bigger storm surge onto land and it'll be higher because of what's happening, because of the water we're adding to the ocean.
REHMMike MacCracken, he's chief scientist for climate change programs at the Climate Institute. Paul Gilding, in your book, you suggest that indeed a catastrophic collapse of our way of life is in some ways unavoidable. How do you come to that conclusion?
MR. PAUL GILDINGI think we have to recognize that we're currently operating the system, the earth system, the global economy, at the edge of its capacity. So in terms of food production, in terms of oil use, there isn't a lot of room for dramatic change. And what Mike and many other scientists are saying is we're going to face dramatic change. Now, what that change looks like for us, I think, is economic.
MR. PAUL GILDINGWe are going to see, I think, the end of economic growth as we know it, the idea that we can all live with a consumer lifestyle and have more and more stuff as the basis of our happiness and our potential as human beings is basically not physically possible anymore. And the climate change is simply the kind of the hard edge, the sharp end of that issue.
MR. PAUL GILDINGBut we have a whole range of resource constraints from water to available soil and so on, which I think is going to lead to the potential for a major collapse of civilization. But the good news in this to me is therefore, we're going to respond, therefore, we're going to have a reaction which is probably more akin to kind of a war-like mobilization than anything we currently imagine in this area.
MR. PAUL GILDINGAnd what we see from history, World War II and other examples, is that we're very good in a crisis. So we can lament that and say, that's silly, we should have acted earlier. It is silly. We should have acted earlier, but we didn't and now we're at the time when the climate is changing, when we are going to face those limits, and therefore we are going to see dramatic shifts in humanity and that's the great opportunity, I think, in this space.
REHMAre you saying, Paul, that you think the collapse, if you will, is already underway?
GILDINGYeah, I think it is. I think that what we're seeing, in many ways, even with the debt crisis in the U.S. in recent weeks, is really about, you know, we can't get this economy to grow anymore because there's a range of physical limits to that growth, which translate into many, you know, commodity prices, oil prices, food prices and so on, but as we get the economy growing again, we hit those limits again and we have problems getting the economy to move.
GILDINGAnd so we borrow more money and we pile more money into the system to try and get it moving again and we're now facing, I think, the end of growth. And that that crisis is now definitely upon us, that's not a sudden thing happens on a certain day, but it's not over decades. We're talking, I think, this decade now that we're seeing this unfold and climate is, in many ways, just one of the examples of those limits being breached.
REHMPaul Gilding, he's climate change advisor and author of "The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring an End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World." And turning to you, Amy Seidl, do you agree? Have we passed a point of no return as far as climate is concerned?
MS. AMY SEIDLI think there are lots and lots of indicators that we have reached ecological and planetary constraints, but what I also think is that these tough circumstances need to be addressed with vision and leadership. And so what I have set to do is to take a very pragmatic approach to what that leadership and vision might be. And I've illustrated with a narrative individuals who see these changes upon them in the places where they live, see the conditions changing and have decided to rise to that capacity and try to not only predict those changes, but to marry them to new infrastructure, new design that will be successful.
REHMGive me an example.
SEIDLWell, there -- in the book "Finding Higher Ground," I talk about energy, food systems, building systems. But in food systems, for instance, this year we had such record rain in the Northeast, you know, the months of April and May, historic rain on record. We couldn't get corn planted in the Northeast, much like the Midwest, five and six times of planting. Others have been thinking about rice.
SEIDLIf you can grow rice in an area that has greater deluge events, which is prediction of climate change in the Northeast, and 30 percent more precipitation by 2050, perhaps other kinds of grains and, you know, nutrient-rich products like rice is a better idea than corn.
REHMSo you give up what you've been growing for years and years and years, you turn to other products?
SEIDLThat's right. Just as we're seeing in biological communities, those communities are responding evolutionarily to climate change. We too will respond through our culture, but as an evolutionary response to climate change.
REHMAmy Seidl is the author of the book titled "Finding Higher Ground: Adaption in the Age of Warming." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Mike MacCracken, if we were to cease carbon dioxide emissions today and sort of reign in the harmful chemicals that are loaded into the atmosphere, would we be able, at this point, to avoid the kind of scenario that we're not only seeing in the future, but perhaps experiencing in the present?
MACCRACKENWell, if we could end all emissions tomorrow, we could actually -- we would recover to some extent. The world would recover, but fossil fuels provide over 80 percent of the world's energy and with 7 billion people in the world, you can't sustain them without using fossil fuel, so it's going have to be a transition over time that occurs. The question is how fast we can accomplish that.
MACCRACKENThere's -- I mean, if we can do that, if we can work hard to do that over the next few decades, then that will be -- we'll have a good chance. If not, we're going to have very large consequences.
REHMMike MacCracken, chief scientist for climate change programs at the Climate Institute. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd we're talking about climate change, what can be done as with many scientists now agree this is our future. But the question is, what can we as individuals and as communities do not only to face into climate change, but to adapt somehow to it. And we've gotten lots of messages already on e-mail and Facebook.
REHMOne says, "I fear for both the U.S. and the world more than ever. There will not be the leadership required to steer the world from coming calamities. As we just witnessed, we elect those whose priorities and reasons for running for elected office may not be the same as ours." It would seem, Amy, that an awful lot of people feel that leadership is lacking in the kinds of things you are talking about.
SEIDLThat's absolutely right. And if we look at the mitigative successes in this country, they've not come from a federal regulatory pressure, they've come because individual cities and towns and states have seen the writing on the wall and begun to become less vulnerable and to increase their ability to mitigate, to reduce their carbon. I think that not only is leadership lacking, but it's important to look for where the grassroots is beginning to percolate up to actually show how this capacity can be built.
SEIDLNow, I'm entirely sanguine about this. I want to be clear that mitigative pressure is paramount here and essential and yet we're also very -- it's very apparent to us these heat waves, these flooding events, what we saw in Pakistan and Russia last summer, the...
REHMAnd even in this country.
SEIDLAnd in this country this summer. The phenomenon are upon us, so we have to simultaneously press for a mitigative effort and hope for a federal approach there while we build from the grassroots, as well as adapting our communities.
REHMBut now, Mike MacCracken, there's been lots of talk about GO or climate engineering. How possible is that or could that be to mitigate what seems to be happening?
MACCRACKENWell, the notion is that if we can cause climate change when we don't intend to, maybe we can do something by intending to do that to try and counterbalance it. It's all pretty speculative right now. There are some ideas. Basically, one might try and imitate what a volcano does, which our experience is that a large volcano will cool the climate a little bit, so you might put a lot of sulfur -- sulfate aerosol up in the stratosphere and that would reflect some solar radiation away.
MACCRACKENThat has other side effects. There's no such thing as a free lunch, here. And it has some real limits about what you can do. I mean, volcanoes, when we had Pinatubo or something, reduced the temperature by fractions of a degree and we're talking about degrees of change. And so you'd have to do a Pinatubo or something every year to two kind of event and that has a number of side effects.
MACCRACKENSo I mean, the scientific community is sort of getting so concerned that so little is happening with mitigation that we're looking and exploring other possible kinds of things to do. And there may be some that can be done for some parts of the problem, but it really only makes sense if we really make a strong effort to reduce our emissions as rapidly as we can and then sort of shave off the peak of the temperature and climate change, hoping that we can get it back under control and not pass that on as a responsibility to future generations.
REHMAnd Paul Gilding, of course, we've heard about all these, you know, doomsday scenarios. There's also those, including yourself, who believe that disruption from climate change as you call it could actually be a good thing. How come?
GILDINGYeah, look, because I think -- I think humans are really bad when things are going well and really good in a crisis. And I think that it's sort of sad but true that we should have acted on climate change decades ago and certainly a decade ago. We're still not acting really globally yet and therefore, when the crisis comes, we will get our act together and we will do amazing things and people are incredibly capable, as Amy is seeing at the local level, of changing when our backs are up against the wall.
GILDINGAnd therefore, I think the changes that we need to make, I mean, big changes, we're talking about really virtually eliminating the coal industry around the world. We're talking about inventing whole new industries which fortunately, by the way, are much more job intensive and bring a whole lot of other benefits as well, but we have to go through this massive economic transformation.
GILDINGAnd what we know from history is that in a crisis, we're good at doing that. We're not good at doing it preemptively, we're not good at doing it 'cause we think the risk analysis justifies it, but we are good, as we have been in, for example, I think World War II is still the best example, you know. When we need to, we can do it and we do remarkable things and then leadership emerges. Leadership emerges at the local level, but also at the national and global level and then we start to see those big changes happening.
GILDINGAnd in this case, the changes are about having better energy security, about having less imports of oil, about having cleaner cities, about having a whole range of more local jobs and more creation of local economic activity, all of which are actually good for our society across the board.
REHMGood for society across the board and yet, I mean, we've had examples, Katrina -- Hurricane Katrina, for example. Hurricane Katrina has still left a great many people without housing...
REHM...without work, the landscape decimated, changed radically and yet, Amy, you say there are good things happening there after Katrina, from which we might take lessons.
SEIDLYes, there are. And I think the best thing is that people understand that the need to build resilient communities is of utmost importance with the uncertainty that comes with climate change. So uncertainty is, what will these extreme weather events looks like, when will they hit, how variable will our climate be over time? The best way to build is so we can absorb shock.
SEIDLYou know, if we think about how wetlands function in ecosystems, they do just that. They absorb the shock of tidal surges, of hurricanes. How can we build our communities so that in time, as we're struck by these extreme events more frequently, we can absorb the shock of them? And so if there is an upside, if you will, or a hopefulness, it is the opportunity to redesign our communities to be incredibly more resilient. And as Paul says, to include these other environmental issues that are pressing down upon us simultaneously.
REHMSo how do you redesign a community so that it's eco-friendly?
SEIDLYeah. Well, I -- in my book, I talk about Greensburg, Kan., for instance, which was entirely wiped off the map a couple years ago by a cyclone. Now, first, the caveat is some of these events we will not be able to adapt to. They will be too much and there will be suffering and there will be difficulty, absolutely, but there's also the opportunity to prepare and to build again with new design as Greensburg did.
SEIDLThey built with entirely ecologically design. They built with a distributed power system, so as Paul says, it's a non-brittle power system. It comes from distributed solar and wind in the community so that buildings are creating more power than they consume. It comes with design features that are able to withstand high winds, whereas old housing designs did not. This is the opportunity to really think and have a shifting consciousness, really, an evolution.
SEIDLYou know, I think -- I say in the book, when the car was introduced to New York City, people said there's no way it could go faster than 15 miles per hour and why was that? Well, it would scare the horses. So if we think about what the future might be, it's that distinct from what in 1900 we thought transportation looked like.
REHMBut you know, Mike, I realize you're a scientist, you are not a psychologist, another branch. What is it that's affecting people, holding them back, having them cling to old ideas and believe they can stave off the future rather than be forced to adapt?
MACCRACKENWell, I think you're right to identify that as the problem, that people are holding back. I think there is a fear of the future. Part of it's not knowing where to go and to some extent, Amy's book and Paul's books try and say we could have a better world if we are willing to make the transition. The trouble really is, though, the world is heading from 7 billion to 10 billion people and there's tremendous momentum in the system.
MACCRACKENIf you wait for the crisis, if we wait to see Greenland really melting so it's happening rapidly as we think it could, and it lost roughly half its mass 125,000 years or so ago when it was not as warm as we're headed, once that starts, it's not at all clear you can stop it. So you can talk about trying to help societies in some way or building a little better town, but we have a lot of coastal infrastructure.
MACCRACKENWe have a lot of cities. There's a very interesting report by the National -- Natural Resources Defense Council about cities around the U.S. that are very vulnerable to sea level rise and it's going to be very hard to protect them. So there's tremendous momentum. We're gonna -- we have biodiversity loss. That's not something you can reverse once you have that kind of thing happen. So we really have to act before we get to a crisis and that's a really hard thing to do.
REHMPaul, do you feel that European governments are thinking ahead more than the U.S. government is in terms of climate change?
GILDINGI think they are, but I think there are many other countries and surprisingly, China is one of them, who are thinking ahead as well, and doing more than country, Australia, more than your country, the U.S., in terms of high-speed rail, in terms of tighter efficiency standards, in terms of stronger renewable programs and so on. So many countries now are getting ahead of both of our countries in terms of the economic opportunity here, and that I think is going to be a very big driver.
GILDINGThere is, as Mike and I may have said, a lot of suffering coming. Let's be clear. This is not all a good news story.
GILDINGThe point is, there's going to be a lot of damage done, but then there's going to be a response and I think that we should recognize that that is an economic transformation and therefore, it's an opportunity for those countries to get in early. And what we're seeing so far is some countries in Europe and interestingly, on the left and right of politics, so the conservative parties in Germany, France, the UK and so on are actively advocating acts on climate change, not from any kind of feel good moral criteria, but because it's good for their economies to get ready for what's coming.
GILDINGAnd that, I think, is a really important point because especially for the U.S., and I spend a lot of the my life in the U.S., America has lead on most of the great technological innovations and transformations we've seen in recent decades, and yet on this particular issue is currently missing in action, as far as national policy goes. Now, we should acknowledge that there are some amazing things happening on the ground in terms of technology, in terms of venture capitalists investing in new ideas in this area.
GILDINGBut I do think you need to have policy to drive that and that's what we're seeing in China, we're seeing it in South Korea, we're seeing it in many parts of Europe and we have to get that happening globally if we are to kind of leverage the great market opportunity in this change and recognize that we need to basically rebuild the economy and rebuild the way we run our societies to recognize that a low carbon future is our only option.
GILDINGAnd when we move there, we have to move very fast.
REHMPaul Gilding, he's climate change advisor, author of "The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of A New World," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And joining us now is Mike Tidwell from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Good morning to you, Mike.
MR. MIKE TIDWELLHi Diane, thanks for taking my call.
REHMYou're welcome. And I gather you'd like to talk about what's happening with the Chesapeake Bay.
TIDWELLWell, I -- first of all, great show. And I just want to say that Paul Gilding's book, "The Great Disruption," every American should read the book. It's just fantastic. And thanks for having a show about this issue. You know, climate change is not just, you know, something happening in Greenland and Antarctica, it's really -- the weather in the D.C. area, Washington, D.C., where I'm calling, is just unrecognizable in the last few years and it's affecting the Chesapeake Bay.
TIDWELLWe see evidence of sea level rise, saltier water from sea level rise. It's just real, real impact and I'm wondering -- my question for your panelists would be, do you think that the way that we talk about climate change in the United States, we tend to talk about it as, you know, a go green response, you know, 10 ways you can go green at the office, 10 ways you can green your wedding, et cetera, and there seems to be a lot less emphasis on green laws and what laws our elected officials can pass.
TIDWELLAnd if you look at great moral challenges in the past and climate changes is a great moral challenge, it's a question of right versus wrong because of all the suffering to innocent people that will happen, when you look at great moral challenges in the past, you know, Civil Rights Movement, for example, we didn't ask bigoted Southern sheriffs and governors to consider 10 ways to go integrated every other Saturday per their convenience.
TIDWELLThe moral wrong was so great, we passed laws that ban the immoral practice. We need laws that begin to phase out coal and oil and talk about 10 laws that our lawmakers -- 10 green laws that our lawmakers can pass. And I just think the emphasis -- we do need the adaptation, we need sustainable communities, but I don't think we're going get there to scale. We might get little neighborhoods in New Orleans here and there, but to get to scale, we need to change the conversation from go green individually to real green stature...
TIDWELL...would you not agree?
REHMThanks, Mike. Go ahead, Amy.
SEIDLYeah, I appreciate that, Mike. Obviously, this has got to be, and is increasingly framed as a moral issue. And if we think about the history of moral issues like these in America, we realize that a vocal minority in these social movements is what we need to tip the American public. Not a majority, but a vocal minority. Let's just take slavery for a minute, you know.
SEIDLHere was Jefferson espousing our breach with what was now immoral, an economy based on slavery. And yet it took time for him to truly and personally breach himself. That's the same kind of chronic complicity that individuals in America feel. They realize that the normative culture of fossil fuel use has got to be breached. It is rising the sea levels in the deltas of Bangladesh.
SEIDLIt is responsible for these tremendous storms in large part that we're seeing. And so people are reaching for pragmatic efforts to make that breach real. And in time, it will follow with social policy and laws and litigation that will keep people within a moral code that is new and based on a new culture.
MACCRACKENWhen I came to Washington as a scientist, I was trying to understand partly why there were so many different views given all that we thought we understood about the science. And it's really that there's different perspectives that have to be reconciled. There's energy security, energy supply and all of these kinds of things and there are a few politicians who have been able to try and pull that together and create action, Governor Pataki was doing it, Governor Schwarzenegger has done it. So there are things that can be done to try and get us moving.
REHMMike MacCracken, chief scientist for climate change programs at the Climate Institute.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time for us to open the phones as we talk about the possibilities of adapting to climate change. First to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Brian, you're on the air.
BRIANGood morning. This has been a excellent discussion. I've been studying, following this for some years now. I'm not even sure where to begin. If you look at what some of the experts like Hanson and McKibben's say about not passing the 350 Point on CO2 and some other scientists say that, well, really, we can prevent the very worst of it if we don't go 450 parts per million.
BRIANYou know, you look at the population that was just growth that a gentleman earlier mentioned and the political factors that are going on. I think one of the reasons why this country can't really deal with this climate change issue the way it should is the power of the lobbyists, the coal, the Petroleum Institute and the ability of them to hire a few scientists to present confusing facts and issues to the American public and the media's effort to maintain an even, balanced approach on information and data that really should not even be considered even and balanced, but they do so. And...
REHMI don't think we have done that, Brian. I just want to inject that point. But you've raised already a great many things. I gather you also wanted to ask about technology that might be feasible to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to reverse climate change. Any such thinking going on, Mike MacCracken?
MACCRACKENWell, they're certainly thinking about it and it would be desirable to do, but the ways -- one way to do it is just to grow more forests. And if you can use the land, because that will naturally pull carbon out of the atmosphere. If you want to do it as an industrial process, they're trying to do it to pull the CO2 out of the exhaust of power plants, where the CO2's relatively concentrated and that's turning to be very expensive or at least quite expensive. Hopefully they can figure out how to do it.
MACCRACKENBut if you want to then just pull it out of the atmosphere, the concentration is so low that it's going to be a good bit more expensive than that. Right now, there's a lot of good options to go after that are much less expensive that are efficiency is a tremendous thing to do. Prices of renewables are coming down. We can get off and do a great many things if we make a go of it.
REHMNow, he also mentioned population growth, Amy, which is something a great many of our listeners are sending in Facebook postings, messages about how important is the question of population growth and climate change?
SEIDLYou know, population is a factor in every environmental issue that we face, but more important, actually, is the consumption of people who are already here, really. If we look at the long standing kind of algorithm of environmental impact equal to affluence, i.e. how much material good a particular person or household has times the population on the planet times the technology, the efficiency, the way in which we can use energy more conservatively and more efficiently, that becomes the sum total of impact.
SEIDLTechnology times affluence times population. And what we've seen is that affluence is a very, very strong factor, the stronger factor there than population yet. Now, if we had a population that wanted to live the way we live, for instance, we would need many, many more resources to do that. So as Paul points out in his book, perhaps, the idea is to live not only more efficiently, as Mike has been talking about, more conservatively, (unintelligible)...
REHMBut with less.
SEIDLWith less so that others can have more. And going back to, I think it was David's comment earlier, the caller, this is about a moral issue of growth and about materialism as well because climate change is the -- serve the first planetary constraint we're dealing with. Right behind it is fresh water. Right behind that is food security for those same numbers of people in the world and so we need to thing very holistically about the problem and not just proximately.
REHMPaul, you might just talk about that.
GILDING(word?) I'd love to 'cause I think this is really interesting, I'm pleased to hear Amy say that because the numbers on this are very, very clear. So for example between now and 2050, the population is forecasted to increase by about 35 percent, so that makes our problem 35 percent harder to deal with. In the same period of time, the per capita wealth is forecast to increase by 300 percent. So the issue of consumption isn't just a big issue, it is the overwhelming issue.
GILDINGAnd that's why I argue in my book that that growth, the whole idea of endless economic growth or the concept of infinite growth on our finite planet is simply an impossibility and therefore, it's going to stop at some stage and we need to manage that stop and we need to plan for that and think about a different kind of economy built on happiness, built on quality of life. Not going out and living in caves, but recognizing that we don't have to have more and more stuff to be more and more happy and we can actually evolve to a higher consciousness in this process and recognize what really does matter to us as humans is not stuff, but community.
GILDINGYou know, doing this with meaning. You know, pursuing happiness in a deeper way, not in a material way.
REHMBut Paul, how optimistic are you that that kind of lifestyle, that kind of thinking, that kind of holistic approach can be realized?
GILDINGLook, I'm optimistic that that will be our response to the crisis, but it won't happen before the crisis, so I'm realistic that humans don't respond prior to the crisis emerging, but then (unintelligible). So I think once we face the crisis, once we're -- and this is not a pleasant crisis, let me be clear. We're not talking about a -- an inconvenience, we're talking about global famine and disruption and weather disasters at a great scale with a lot of disruption, a lot of suffering going on.
GILDINGBut once we face up to that reality, I do think we are going to see that we are capable of moving, you know, a sort of great leap forward, if you like, into a more holistic approach. Not because we're going to have this sort of moral awakening as much as we're going to have a necessity to change in order to survive as a species and to flourish. And necessity, you know, is a great driver of change.
MACCRACKENWell, I think it's important to understand, if you try and estimate, though, how much the natural world could support, in terms of population, it's only a few hundred million. It's a few percent of what our world population is today. We're going to have to depend on technological kinds of contributions to make -- to supply the food supply, the water and the other things that we have and we're going to have to draw energy from that in ways that don't further impact the planet.
MACCRACKENSo I'm not quite sure what Paul's talking about in terms of collapse, but if you want to maintain a population like we have, it's going to require a tremendous amount of investment and engineering and technology to do that. Let me say one other thing and -- but to say how tough the problem is, though, because people talk about population. It's a lot about choices. If the entire developing world were not there, and we're not using any fossil fuels, and the developed world of a billion and a quarter or so people continue on their present path, the temperature will continue to rise.
MACCRACKENWe're the major -- I mean, the developed world's the major contribution to what's been causing the problem along the way and we'll pass some of these warming thresholds that people were talking about, Jim Hanson talks about we're already past that, but the international leaders have talked about going over two degrees Celsius and getting dangerous above that. We'll pass that the latter part of the century just because of the choices that the developed world is making.
REHMThe developed world.
MACCRACKENYeah. We have to change our way. Now, certainly the developing world, if there were not developed world and they continue on the path they're on, the same thing will happen. We're all in this together. We have to make different choices.
REHMBut is sounds from -- it sounds from what you've said, Amy, that indeed, the developing world may be making better choices now than the developed world is making.
SEIDLAbsolutely. That's right. And there's a real opportunity and we've seen this in the past, to leapfrog the kind of messy, now filthy approaches that the developed world has relied on, coal in particular, as they, you know, transition into an energy future that is actually renewable. So for instance, right now, there are 2 billion un-electrified people in the world. We'll have another 2 billion people in the world who are presently don't exist, so they will need electricity.
SEIDLHow do we move that 4 billion people by mid-century to a renewable source of electricity? Well, in one hour, in one hour, the amount of sunlight hitting the earth's surface can fund, can fuel the world's economy for a year, in one hour. So this superabundance of solar energy -- not only photons of light energy, but the sun driving the hydrological cycle, driving wind currents and other kinds of current solar power is the way in which the developing world should be headed.
REHMI was also talking about population and the choices that some in the developing world are making.
SEIDLOh, yes. Absolutely. And what we know strongest driver of population control in the developing world is the education of women. So important to make that clear. The more we have a literate, educated class of women, the fewer children they have. And in Bangladesh, even with not as much education as we'd like to see in women, they've moved from six and a half children per family to two and a half children per family in the last couple of decades.
REHMAll right. To Roachdale, Ind. Good morning, Maryanne, you're on the air.
MARYANNEThank you, Diane, I appreciate your voice in the dark (laugh). I'm calling from Indiana and I guess I am a local minority because I'm speaking for the animals and confined animal feeding operations, but I would like to say that one big choice, I feel, that we all could make, knowing that these operations produce such gigantic carbon emissions is to think about feeding -- more talk about feeding our affluent society healthy with plant-based diet instead of focusing on our addiction to meat in this society.
GILDINGYeah, a very big issue and one that's getting worse, in terms of global environmental impact because the wealthier people are becoming in China and India and so on the more their diets are becoming like ours, so more meat intensive, more dairy intensive. And as the caller was correctly saying, this is causing very significant emission increases across the board, not just of CO2, deforestation and the like, but also methane emissions, so a very important issue.
GILDINGOne in which the science is interesting and developing, I should say, that the certainly feed lot approach is certainly very damaging. There are some who argue and the science in this is not yet clear, that certain types of grazing can actually help us to lock up carbon in the soil, so there is areas to work on here that we need to understand better in terms of the broader (word?), but there is no question that at the moment, with current approaches, that the consumption of meat as a major source of protein is increasing and emissions, as a result of that, are increasing at and is an important step that people can take.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." A caller in Tulsa, Okla. Good morning, Bill, you're on the air.
BILLHey, thanks for squeezing me in.
BILLJust in the last -- in the last couple of weeks, I read an article in Forbes talking about how somebody had done some -- announced that the satellite data from NASA and they had found that the earth isn't warming as quickly as some of the UN climate models had been modeling for and that there may be some problems with the -- you know, the alarmists talking about how quickly the earth's warming. I was just wondering if your panel had heard anything about that and if they had any comments on that article.
MACCRACKENI have heard it, it's sort of a scientific result getting published in a popular magazine. There've been a lot of problems that the scientific community has identified with that article. In general, the problem we face in trying to explain this to the public is that the media tends to focus right on the cutting edge and at the cutting edge of science, there are always going to be things going back and forth and some disagreement and they tend to like that.
MACCRACKENAnd they tend to forget and don't keep presenting and reminding everybody of the fundamentals of what's happening that make this problem real and something that's not going to go away. So you'll constantly hear little things that the edge's coming up where there's disagreements, but -- and it takes a while for scientists to sort of go through and pin those down.
REHMAmy, I want to get to something that you've written your book. You say you've already seen some of the reinvention taking place amongst insects and some animals.
SEIDLThat's right. So I start the book looking at these biological systems where -- we've been talking about response. Their response is evolutionary. So not only are animals and plants having to deal with these shifting conditions, they're actually changing their genetic structure, Natural Selection is acting to favor particular traits that succeed, make them succeed in the environment.
REHMGive me an example.
SEIDLSo one of the examples I've been talking about are these animals called pitcher plant mosquitos and they live at the base of these aquatic plants called pitcher plants. And these insects, for a long time, as long as people have studied them, enter their wintering hibernation at 15 hours of day length. But because the falls are so much warmer and so much more extended, they now enter their hibernation at 14 days. So the gene, what's actually been identified as the timeless gene, has been selected for those individuals that can actually take advantage of an extra hour of day length and many more weeks of reproduction and physiology and enter at a later date in the year.
MACCRACKENWell, I would just comment that while populations change, the individual species, that means some are dying and some are surviving, new ones are coming up. The other thing that happens, though, that we're going to face is that pests and weeds tend to really love warmer temperatures and more CO2 and invasive species and so there's going to be all kinds of things happening, some are positive and we'll see some indications that there can be some adjustments, but there's going to be a lot of changes happening that will make life very difficult.
SEIDLYeah, the importance of the model -- absolutely, Mike is right, that there are changes across ranges, across these different types of species, but the point I'm making is that the response was evolutionary, that we're seeing Natural Selection mediated by climate change that we have induced actually changing the genetics of populations and that response is now evolutionarily and we will respond through culture in evolution and time ourselves.
REHMThis is a conversation to be continued. Thank you all so much, it was fascinating. Amy Seidl, her book is titled "Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming." Paul Gilding is climate change advisor, he's the author of "The Great Disruption" and Mike MacCracken is chief scientist for climate change programs at the Climate Institute. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Several cities, including Boston and Chicago, have vowed not to participate in deportation policies championed by President-elect Trump. And lawmakers in California are moving to limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Diane and a panel of guests discuss so-called sanctuary cities under a Trump presidency.
Donald Trump will take office with a Republican-controlled Congress and abortion opponents in his cabinet. This is likely to reopen emotional debates over abortion rights and women’s health.
Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis is known for his tough stance on Iran and ISIS. But because he's recently been active duty, President-elect Trump’s choice for defense secretary needs a special congressional waiver to take the post. A look at Trump’s Cabinet pick and what it would mean for U.S. military strategy.