The Economic Impact of Climate Change Policy

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:55
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A new report shows worldwide carbon emissions from energy use have risen to record highs. Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued fresh warnings about that city's vulnerability to climate change. Joining me to look at the growing pressure on political leaders to take action against global warming: David Kreutzer with the Heritage Foundation, Steven Mufson of The Washington Post, and Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund.

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:37
I know many of you feel strongly about this issue. I hope you will join in our conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

MR. STEVEN MUFSON

10:08:01
Good morning, Diane.

MR. DAVID KREUTZER

10:08:01
Good morning, Diane.

MR. NATHANIEL KEOHANE

10:08:02
Good morning.

REHM

10:08:03
But first, joining us by phone from Marion, Mass., Jennifer Francis, she is a research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. Prof. Francis, I wonder if you'd give us a brief overview of the International Energy Agency's report on climate change.

PROF. JENNIFER FRANCIS

10:08:30
Sure. Good morning, everyone. The impetus of this report, as Diane already mentioned, is that we have recently broken two very important records, and the we there is all of humanity on this planet. And neither of these records is something for us to be proud of. As Diane mentioned, the first one is that we have reached the highest ever emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in 2012, and we recently broke through the 400 parts per million concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

PROF. JENNIFER FRANCIS

10:09:07
This is the highest amount of carbon dioxide that's been in the atmosphere in at least 800,000 years. And we know that the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the earth was a very different place. It was several degrees warmer, sea levels were tens of feet higher, and there were forests in the Arctic. So both of these records are very significant, and that's why this report came out. And...

REHM

10:09:36
And who set the goal, Prof. Francis?

FRANCIS

10:09:40
The goal of two degrees?

REHM

10:09:41
Yes.

FRANCIS

10:09:43
Well, it's been a generally recognized goal. It's not very exact, I would say. It's an estimate of how much warmer the earth can be compared to, say, before 1950 without having very damaging changes to the climate system. But we're -- I should note that we're already almost halfway there. We've already warmed about almost one degree. So the report points out that we're -- right now, if we keep going the way we're going, we're on track to warm more like 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 degrees centigrade, which is about eight degrees Fahrenheit.

REHM

10:10:20
What about China? I gather China experienced the largest growth, but its increase was one of the lowest in a decade.

FRANCIS

10:10:32
Right. So China is being -- is taking very seriously this problem of increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and even though they are using a lot of coal to generate the energy that they need to grow, they're also investing heavily in renewable power. So it's starting to show up as an improvement in their emissions, as it is also in the United States.

REHM

10:10:56
So what about the IEA's suggestions on how to reduce these emissions? What are they?

FRANCIS

10:11:06
Right. So they have come up with basically four specific steps that are considered doable based on existing technology, and they pretty much target the energy sector of our society. And that's because two-thirds of the global emissions of greenhouse gases come from the generation of power, and 80 percent of that comes from fossil fuel. So fossil fuels play a huge role in generating the electricity that we all use. These four specifics steps, very briefly, include basic conservation and increased efficiency.

FRANCIS

10:11:44
That accounts about half of the emission savings that they're recommending. The second is to replace more of the coal that's being used to generate electricity with either natural gas and particularly with renewable sources. The third is to reduce the amount of methane that is sort of waster by the development of fossil fuel extraction and also the processing and also to accelerate the phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels.

REHM

10:12:17
And you talk about the fact that we've got to figure out where impacts from climate change are greatest. What did you think about Mayor Bloomberg's comments?

FRANCIS

10:12:32
Right. Well, I think, you know, Mayor Bloomberg got -- his city was smacked right between the eyes by Hurricane Sandy, and it really woke up the world to the fact that climate change is playing a role in not only changing the weather patterns that we're seeing in all seasons now, really, but also probably contributing to real vulnerability for most of our cities along the coast.

FRANCIS

10:12:57
Not only are sea levels rising, but we have moisture in the atmosphere now. And the atmosphere is warmer. And both of those factors mean that storms that form these days have more energy to work with. They have more moisture to work with. And so we're seeing the impacts of these changes coming before our very eyes now.

REHM

10:13:20
Jennifer Francis, research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, thanks so much for joining us.

FRANCIS

10:13:34
You're welcome.

REHM

10:13:35
And, David Kreutzer, turning to you, your take on Jennifer's comments and the IEA's suggestions?

KREUTZER

10:13:44
Well, the IEA seems to be proposing that things are getting worse when the scientists who are -- that study the impact of CO2 on temperature are shaving down the high-end estimates. They don't expect to see the 4 1/2-degree-plus warming. And Andy Revkin and the Dot Earth Blog has really been covering this very well. His with, you know, The New York Times blog. But the study that just came out highlights one of the big problems with doing a policy in the U.S. or even in Europe.

KREUTZER

10:14:12
We've seen that our CO2 emissions have gone down in the past year, primarily from lackluster rebound from the recession and also switching from coal to natural gas. Europe's CO2 emissions have been lower. The big growth is going to be coming from the poor countries that are energy poor already, and it's going to be tough to get them to hold back. I would like to make some comments on people who point to things like Hurricane Sandy or floods or tornadoes and say, see, this is from climate change.

KREUTZER

10:14:44
If you look at the trends of hurricanes over the past century when we have had this degree of warming, there's -- it's flat. The hurricanes in the U.S. -- there's no upward rising trend in hurricanes. There's no upward rising trend in powerful tornadoes, the F3, 4, 5. People look at flooding worldwide in the U.S. There's not an upward trend in flooding.

KREUTZER

10:15:03
So it's really disingenuous to say, we believe in science and then point to these events that we've had all the time. We've had hurricanes hit New York and the Mid-Atlantic. We've had a lull lately, but now they're coming back. We had that in the '50s. So I think we need to be careful if we're talking about science not to abuse individual events, link them to warming when the trends simply aren't there.

REHM

10:15:27
David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation. Nat Keohane, you have a different view.

KEOHANE

10:15:34
Yes. Thanks, Diane. Let me address the science really quickly although David and I are both economists, so it's too bad Jennifer's not here to address the science as well. First, David mentioned some of the new thinking he referred to about how sensitive the climate is -- the atmosphere is to greenhouse gases. And that's -- I think the jury is still very much far from out. And the scientist I have talked to say, we still see the same kind of concern, the same kind of urgency and sensitivity of the atmosphere.

KEOHANE

10:16:05
There's a couple of new models, but there are other models that say something very different. And I think, overall, we clearly see the direction and the concern about warming. Second, just briefly on the trends, again, I think you see a number of scientists coming out and saying, what you can say about attributing the effects of climate change in terms of extreme weather is things like the storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy was greater than it would have been because the oceans are higher.

KEOHANE

10:16:33
We know that sea level has risen. And so at the very least, we can say, Superstorm Sandy in New York, where I'm from, had a greater effect than it would otherwise have. We can also say that the models -- the best available science we have tells us this is the type of thing, the type of event we're likely to see more and more and more of. So I think in terms of the impacts, we're already starting to see what the world looks like with a warmer climate.

REHM

10:16:58
Nathaniel Keohane, he's at the Environmental Defense Fund. Steven Mufson, what about these recommendations? Are they economically practical for countries and even companies?

MUFSON

10:17:15
Yes. I think in a lot of ways, they are. And I think that was what the IEA was trying to do, is to come up with things that we could do that wouldn't necessarily hurt our economies. And energy efficiency measures, for the most part, are things that pay off in very short periods of time. The capture of methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations are something that would benefit the companies that did it because they'd be able to sell that natural gas, although in some places it would require building substantial amount of infrastructure.

MUFSON

10:17:49
But it's still something that would have at least some sort of payoff at the end. Probably the hardest thing, in some ways, would be to limit the emissions from coal-fired power plants. But a lot of those are older plants, and I think we're going to see a lot of those plants going offline anyway. So I think that, again, it's something that could be doable.

MUFSON

10:18:13
I'd say one thing about some of the things David said, that while the U.S. has made some steps toward reducing CO2 emissions in the past year, it's important to remember that some of those trends might not last that long such as the switching from natural -- from coal to natural gas. That could be a limited phenomenon.

REHM

10:18:32
Steven Mufson, he's energy correspondent at The Washington Post. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll talk further and take your calls.

REHM

10:20:04
And we're talking about a new report from the International Energy Agency regarding climate change, the rise in CO2 levels beyond what are healthy and good for human beings, good for the country, good for the world. We talked with a scientist who laid out what that energy report says. But, David of the Heritage Foundation, you argue that the cure is really worse than the disease.

KREUTZER

10:20:49
Right. You know, actually, I did a report recently where I took some estimates that economists did from MIT on how much warming impacts growth, primarily of the poor countries. And I looked at the estimates that the EPA made of how much doing something like the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill or an equivalent carbon tax cut would do to our growth. And if we had that, the damage to our growth is worse than the benefit to the poor country so that worldwide GDP drops.

KREUTZER

10:21:20
And if you bring in Europe, it actually gets worse. So that's exactly right. The cure can be worse than the disease. And the reason is none of these policies are going to end CO2 emissions. They're going to stop global warming if it is caused by the CO2 emissions or to the extent that it's caused by the CO2 emissions.

REHM

10:21:38
And, Nat, you totally disagree.

KEOHANE

10:21:41
Yes. Well, I mean, I've read David's report, and it's, you know, I think it's best to call it, David, a back-of-the-envelope calculation. And I think there's a lot missing from it. Frankly, these tricks have been -- well, I think we've seen this kind of report again and again, and it feels like we need to move beyond this false debate. Look, what we're seeing in terms of Hurricane Sandy, what we're seeing in terms of droughts and floods, again, I think -- and a lot of scientists think you can attribute that to climate change.

KEOHANE

10:22:09
We know that that's -- what the future looks like. And those costs, the cost of inaction, the cost of the consequences of climate change, those are the costs we should be focused on. I also want to pick up something about the report -- the IEA report. You know, climate -- taking action on climate change to reduce emissions, it's not going to be free. But the IEA report gives us a path forward for things that will make money back and that overall, as a package, will have no net economic cost.

KEOHANE

10:22:37
Things like removing inefficient fossil fuel subsidies or things like making greater investments in energy efficiency that pays back over time, as a package, the IEA says -- and this is the world's most respected energy authority -- says these things don't have a net economic cost on any country or region, and they can get us on a path to safer trajectory.

REHM

10:22:57
Steven Mufson.

MUFSON

10:22:59
Well, I must say just something about the costs of climate change going forward. And I think any projection that's out to 2050 is going to have a huge margin of error. And in evaluating these predictions for the newspaper, I'm always a little cautious. But directionally, I think they tend to be similar. And even if you assume half of what some climate scientist predict will actually come true, that would still be quite serious.

MUFSON

10:23:28
If you look at some of the things big insurance companies are saying, like Munich Re is probably the best known for this, but they're increasing their estimates of what potential damages could be and how they would grow from climate change in the future. And that's pretty persuasive. Those are the people who are in the business of calculating risk.

REHM

10:23:49
Steven, where are with the number of scientists who argue that climate change not only is happening but that it is indeed man-made? You know as well as I that there are still a great many people out there who argue that climate change may be happening, but it has nothing to do with human activity.

MUFSON

10:24:21
I think, at this point, the vast majority of climate scientists would agree that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it in some significant way. And if you look at opinion polls of the public, the public, even among Republican Party members, tend to believe this as well. I think it's one reason why Gov. Romney's statement at the Republican National Convention was probably not a good political move to poke fun at President Obama for caring more about oceans than jobs.

MUFSON

10:24:57
You know, the climate issue seems very real to people, especially in some swing states like Colorado and Florida. So I think that both at the expert level and the public opinion level, there's a fair amount of consensus about this.

REHM

10:25:12
And just to be clear about positions here, David Kreutzer, would you agree with what Steven just said?

KREUTZER

10:25:21
Right. Because he didn't talk about any sort of hysterical climate catastrophe coming. You know, I run in these circles of people who are called climate skeptics or deniers. It's not clear what they think we're denying. Universally, all of the scientists that I talk with say, yes, there is an impact from CO2. It's a greenhouse gas. Nobody can deny that. And there's some warming from it. Now, the question is, how much warming are we going to get?

KREUTZER

10:25:42
And as an economist, I say, OK, if you have that, how much benefit are we going to get from the costly programs to cut it because we cannot eliminate this impact. And so that's where, I think, we will have the biggest disagreement, not that there are some fingerprint of man-made global warming. But how significant is it, and what would the policies do to mitigate it?

REHM

10:26:03
So has this become a political argument? Nat.

KEOHANE

10:26:09
Well, I think one thing you do see is signs of renewed interest and concern about this in government and in high levels of politicians. I think you see the president -- Obama looks in his second term. He's talking -- he started off the term, started talking much more about climate change. I think we'll see more action from the administration on climate change, which is welcome.

KEOHANE

10:26:32
And you also see -- you see folks like the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and you see -- like the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, starting to talk about this, putting it in the mainstream discussion from people saying, look, the biggest threat to our economy long term, from people like the World Bank and the IMF president, is climate change. So I think you're starting to see more people of that caliber and that stature talking about this. And I hope that that focuses and translates into action, and groups like ours will certainly be pushing them.

REHM

10:27:01
Do you believe it will, Steven?

MUFSON

10:27:03
Yes, I do. And I think that one of the things to think about when we're talking about measures to limit climate change is that some of these measures aren't necessarily bad from a -- just, let's say, take a carbon tax from a tax policy point of view. I think that almost anyone at Heritage or any place else would say that it's a bad idea to tax labor. It's a bad idea to tax capital. We do it because we need tax revenue, not because we think it's necessarily a good idea.

MUFSON

10:27:35
And so we do it, you know, as little as possible, given the amount of revenue we want to have. But if you're taxing carbon, that's actually taxing something that we don't want to have happen, that could increase sufficience (sic) to the economy, that could have some positive effect on national security. And I think that at some point, if only as a matter of tax policy as well as a climate policy, that we're going to have to have a more serious discussion about whether or not we want to tax carbon.

REHM

10:28:04
David, it's so interesting to me to read Mayor Bloomberg's comments yesterday that he was encouraging business and residents to better prepare against hotter weather, fiercer storms, increased rainfall. Administration officials estimate that more than 800,000 city residents will live in 100-year flood plains by 2050. That figure is now more than double the current estimate. I mean, how do you react to that?

KREUTZER

10:28:47
Well, first of all, Mayor Bloomberg isn't -- I'm not -- is not a scientist. All right? And I'm not very impressed with his projections. He got caught, I think, with his pants down with Sandy and would like to blame it on other things. There...

REHM

10:29:01
Do you think his statement was pure politics?

KREUTZER

10:29:05
I don't think it's going too far out on a limb to say that a mayor of New York is primarily focused on politics.

REHM

10:29:11
And I want to get your reaction to that, Nat?

KEOHANE

10:29:15
Well, I'll just say as someone who lived in New York -- who lives in New York City and saw some of the destruction on Long Island, in Queens, certainly first hand, saw some of the destruction in New Jersey, the shore, I think if you can say even part of that, and I think scientists are comfortable saying even part of that is attributable to climate change and part of those damages, I think that's just a sign of what's coming. And I think Mayor Bloomberg is right to be focusing on this as an issue.

REHM

10:29:43
Steve Mufson.

MUFSON

10:29:45
I think that from -- my takeaway from looking at some of the climate scientists is that a lot of the risk is on the, I don't know what you'd call it, upside or downside, but on the more serious side, and that some studies that we've seen coming out of places like Alaska and the Arctic suggest that if there's any error in forecast, a lot of that error is toward the more serious consequences, looking forward. So I'd be very cautious about dismissing some of these concerns, and we're pretty cautious about it at the Post.

KREUTZER

10:30:21
I'm not dismissing concerns about damage from hurricanes. We've had them in -- you know, they had hurricanes in Mid-Atlantic in the '50s. They had worse storms earlier, and they had them in the 1800s. I think it's very prudent when you have more people living in areas that are storm-prone to take more measures.

KREUTZER

10:30:35
I think it's wishful thinking to say, we're going to cut CO2, and in 100 years the sea level will be a couple of inches lower than it would have been otherwise if we hadn't cut it because cutting it is not going to do much. It's better to take -- to look at the problem directly, take action right now, than to say, we're going to cut CO2. That will have almost no impact in the next 10 years.

REHM

10:30:54
And what action would you take right now?

KREUTZER

10:30:58
Oh, I think they should look at seawalls, building up -- there's some -- there was a town in New Jersey that did a decade or so ago. You know, they built up the sand dunes around the town, and they were much less impacted than the towns that didn't take protection.

REHM

10:31:10
But wouldn't you say doing that would cost a great deal of money?

KREUTZER

10:31:16
Yes. It cost a great deal of money, and it had saved a lot of real estate.

REHM

10:31:19
No, no, around the country, in vulnerable areas.

KREUTZER

10:31:24
You -- I wouldn't do it for the Everglades. I would do it for Miami, I would do it for New Orleans, and it's because we're going to have hurricanes regardless. And so if the question is we want to have a costly program that's going to have a moderate impact 100 years from now, or a less costly program that's going to have a direct impact immediately, I would go for the second one.

REHM

10:31:42
I want to ask about the trend line that David talked about. Nat, what does the Environmental Defense Fund see in terms of frequency of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and the like? Are we simply experiencing a funny bump?

KEOHANE

10:32:05
So I think it's an excellent question, and it's a hard question to do the attribution to any individual event. And so that's why, for example, when I talk about Hurricane Sandy, I say, OK, what I think scientists are comfortable saying is rising sea levels translate into a higher storm surge. Can we say that Sandy in particular? Well, you know, there was actually -- there was a paper that was written a couple of weeks or months before Sandy that predicted that global warming would lead to a change in the jet stream that would bring more hurricanes at the Eastern Seaboard.

KEOHANE

10:32:32
Does that mean that Sandy was attributable to climate change? I don't know. Is it consistent with everything that models say? Yes. And so I think the question of attributing this event versus that event is not as much important as the overall trends we are already seeing. The trends in terms of drought and temperatures and so on and 100-year floods coming every couple of years, I think those we're seeing.

KEOHANE

10:32:50
Let me make one more quick point just to follow up on something Steve said, and that is an economic argument for doing this. Look at the package of things the IEA says we should do. Here's a package of things, no net economic cost, that get us back on a trajectory toward climate safety. Do those by 2020.

KEOHANE

10:33:07
If David Kreutzer -- if David is right and we start learning, oh, the climate is not as bad as we think, then we've done some things that save people money, that save energy, that give us cleaner air. And if I'm right, then we are in a position to really take the actions we need to avoid catastrophe.

REHM

10:33:23
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Steve, I'd like your reaction to this trend line. Different trend lines from these two men.

MUFSON

10:33:36
Well, I think the -- I think on the question of how you -- if you see the trend line as something growing more serious, how do you respond to it? And I think it needs to be a bit of both. I mean, we are already, in New Orleans, having to build levees higher. So it's not...

REHM

10:33:54
Of course.

MUFSON

10:33:54
...it's not as though we're not doing things now to defend against phenomenon that may at least, in part, be attributable to climate change. So -- and I think we're seeing some adaptation efforts in a lot of other countries that are much more aggressive because they're in much more serious trouble. You look at...

REHM

10:34:11
Such as?

MUFSON

10:34:12
...Bangladesh or parts of China, Southeast Asia. These places are already inundated on a regular basis, and there are a lot of people working on efforts to try to build levees or to stop erosion in places that could help in the near term. So I don't think they're -- these things are mutually exclusive.

REHM

10:34:38
And do you see those other countries making other efforts to reduce CO2?

MUFSON

10:34:48
Well, some of the developing countries aren't, you know, admitting that much, but in the big ones -- you know, in India and in China -- this is going to be important. And in China, there's a very sharp awareness of this already partly because of the phenomenon this winter of the very severe attacks of air pollution in the major cities, which wasn't just about CO2. It was about other pollutants. But I think it sharpened people's awareness of the effect that industrialization in China is having on the environment and has built some pressure for the government to take some sort of action.

REHM

10:35:26
And China is doing just that.

KEOHANE

10:35:29
I was just going to say very briefly, there's a sort of myth that China is not doing anything, that the U.S. has to go at it alone, but, in fact -- and -- now, you know, China needs to do more. The U.S. needs to do more. The world needs to do even more. But what we're seeing in China is a response to the air pollution problems that they have and a very real awareness on the part of the government that getting to cleaner energy, getting away from coal is part of their solution to giving their citizens cleaner, healthier air.

KEOHANE

10:35:56
So that's one of the examples of the great benefits you get in terms of cleaner air, less air pollution, from doing the same things that also cut greenhouse gas emissions and carbon.

REHM

10:36:05
What about that, David?

KREUTZER

10:36:06
You look at China. They have a horrible traditional pollution problem. We have the technology to clean that up, and it's effective. We've been using it in the U.S. for 20, 30 years, and they're not adopting that. This is the pollution that hurts you. So they -- the fact that they won't even cut the pollution significantly that harms them directly, all right, really brings into question what makes you think they're going to have serious expensive efforts to cut energy use for the pollution that doesn't affect them directly?

REHM

10:36:37
Steven.

MUFSON

10:36:37
Well, as you know, Diane, I was The Washington Post correspondent in Beijing from '94 to '98, and I was just back over there for three weeks, and I think they are doing things. They're not doing nearly as much as they could be doing, but you can already see some effect. The emissions went up 3.8 percent, but that's much lower than the rate of growth of the economy. So energy efficiency has improved about 17 percent in recent years.

MUFSON

10:37:06
Again, that's not nearly enough from a climate point of view, but it is -- there are strides going forward. There are problems with enforcement on pollution issues. A lot of -- there are a lot of plants that may have scrubbers to deal with traditional pollutants that don't run them because they cost some -- lose some of the energy output. But I do think things are moving in generally the right direction, if not fast enough.

REHM

10:37:29
Steven Mufson, he's with The Washington Post. Nat Keohane, he's at the Environmental Defense Fund. David Kreutzer of The Heritage Foundation. Your calls when we come back.

REHM

10:40:04
And we're back. Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, to Gainesville, Fla. Good morning, Jules.

JULES

10:40:18
Hi. I actually have two questions for you.

REHM

10:40:20
Sure.

JULES

10:40:21
But first, it's a pleasure to speak with you.

REHM

10:40:22
Thank you.

JULES

10:40:22
But, this is for the gentleman who said that the solution is sometimes bigger than the problem in regards to developing countries. I'd like to hear what he has to say about sea level rise in the island nations, such as Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea in the Maldives that are physically losing ground. And secondly, about the rise in global temperature and the species migration and the spatiotemporal distributions that we're experiencing, how it's going to affect our pollinating species and the crops that we use and any other ecosystems and dysfunctions we're going to experience.

REHM

10:41:01
All right. Thanks for your call. David.

KREUTZER

10:41:04
Yeah, well, the sea level rise -- the sea level has been rising since before the industrial revolution, so you can't blame all of that on CO2.

REHM

10:41:13
But how fast in the...

KREUTZER

10:41:17
It's about a foot in 150 years and they're looking at about a foot in 100 years. So it's not that much faster.

REHM

10:41:22
Nat.

KEOHANE

10:41:24
Well, I have a broader point to make, which is reflecting back on Jennifer's opening.

REHM

10:41:30
OK. We'll let David finish then.

KREUTZER

10:41:32
Yeah, OK. So the sea level doesn't -- it goes up in some places and down in some places. It's not even across the globe. In the island of Tuvalu, for instance, everybody is worried about that and sea level is actually going down there. Yeah, I mean, whether it's from CO2 or not, these countries have to worry about the ocean coming in. But the question is, how much can you slow that, at what cost? The species migration, we've had ice ages come and go, and we have pretty much the same species we've had for the past several ice ages. So they managed to adopt -- adapt, excuse me.

REHM

10:42:05
Adapt. Go ahead, Nat.

KEOHANE

10:42:07
So, first of all, I mean, there is, I think, unquestionable evidence that the seas are rising. That's something we can measure. We can measure it with our sea gauges. The models are very clear, but, I mean, that's basic physics, right? It's not only the effects of melting glaziers and so on, but it's just warmer water expands. It's like, you know, put an ice cube in a glass. And so the...

REHM

10:42:28
But the question is, how much and how fast?

KEOHANE

10:42:33
Well, here's the point that I wanted to make, going back to Jennifer's opening. As she noted, we've gone above 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is terra incognita. We have not been to those levels. We have not seen the levels we already have. We have not seen those in millennium, hundreds of thousands of years, in basically recorded human history.

KEOHANE

10:42:53
So we're going into totally different territory here, and we simply -- when we talk, I think that Jules, the questioner, is absolutely right to talk about the disappearance of island nations, the species migration because we're going to see impact. If we don't do something about this problem, we and our children, our grand children are going to see impacts that are very hard to comprehend because we haven't seen this kind of world ever in our history.

REHM

10:43:15
Steven.

MUFSON

10:43:16
Well, I think the other unknown is that -- is the sort of baked in the cake phenomenon, that the impact of the emissions we have today, we won't see until tomorrow. So how big those are? It's hard to forecast. We haven't run this global experiment before.

KREUTZER

10:43:33
Yeah. I mean, if you think that CO2 is the only thing driving this, then the 400 parts per million is pretty scary. If you think that four-one hundredths of 1 percent of the atmosphere might not be the total impact but have other things causing it, which is pretty clear and true, then this 400 parts per million need not be scary. We were talking about population during the break.

KREUTZER

10:43:54
Back in the '70s, people were making all sorts of horrendous projections of what's going to happen if we don't slow population growth, which we didn't. People are better fed now. They have a higher standard of living, and in most places, there's less pollution.

KEOHANE

10:44:07
I'm sorry. I just -- I have to go back to this four-one hundredths. I mean, that -- this is basic science. And I thought we were all agreed five or 10 minutes ago, that we all agreed that on the science and the fact the world is warming and CO2 is the problem or it was one of the problems. And this notion that, oh well, it's just 400 parts per million -- that's, you know, if I get -- if I have that much arsenic in my drinking -- you know, I mean, the point is, if I have that much, I can have tiny amounts of poison in my water, and it'll kill me.

KEOHANE

10:44:32
So the point is not 400 parts per million sounds small, the point is we know it's basic physics. We are putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That traps heat.

KREUTZER

10:44:42
No.

KEOHANE

10:44:42
And we're seeing the impacts of that already. So there's -- I mean, that's not a...

REHM

10:44:43
All right.

KREUTZER

10:44:44
We know that, but we don't how bad it is, and we don't know absolutely that all these things you're talking about are due to climate change. You say the model show this. The evidence shows flat trend lines for all of these events. We're seeing people back off on the high end of the sensitivity. So, yes, it's basic science at one level, but it's pretty complicated science at another.

REHM

10:45:06
Steven.

MUFSON

10:45:07
I'm not sure what David's talking about exactly because it was my impression that some of the people who had been the most prominent skeptics about climate change in recent years have changed their views and...

REHM

10:45:22
Such as?

MUFSON

10:45:23
There was a fellow at Berkeley, I believe, and another one at MIT. I can't remember their names off hand. But -- so if anything, it seemed to me that consensus was growing on this issue.

REHM

10:45:35
OK. And the issue of trend lines, which I was trying to get to earlier.

MUFSON

10:45:41
Right. And the trends are toward rising seas, and it seems to me, as an economic matter as well as the scientific matter, that if the risks of catastrophic change are even moderate that you would want to do something to hedge that risk, and, you know, this is what you come down to from a policy point of view. You're dealing with the issue of uncertainty, but the consequences are so grave on the downside that it would seem to me prudent to take actions that aren't that incredibly hard to take in any case and might have some other good effects as well.

KEOHANE

10:46:28
Just a notion on this question of trend lines, Diane. There's one trend line that matters. And that's global temperature, and it's rising. And that's just incontrovertible. We're already up almost a degree as Jennifer said in the opening, and we're headed to 3, 4 1/2, 5, 6 degrees.

REHM

10:46:43
OK. But what about David's point that maybe it does matter if the temperature rises?

KREUTZER

10:46:51
No. The trend line -- nobody is talking with 5 1/2 right now, I mean, some are, but the main scientists are backing off of that. And the -- this catastrophic thing, what does the policy do to mitigate or ameliorate that? If it doesn't do much, then the cost can still be too high.

REHM

10:47:06
Steve.

KREUTZER

10:47:06
We need to have something -- some other plan.

REHM

10:47:08
Steve.

MUFSON

10:47:09
Well, I'm not sure that the costs are too high on some of these measures, but I also want to say something else about the trend lines is that it's not just a question of what you're seeing in ocean levels, talk to people who deal with infectious diseases. A friend of mine just moved from Washington to Texas because the rate of infectious disease in the southern part of the United States is rising at a significant rate, and it's a great place to study infectious diseases.

MUFSON

10:47:39
We didn't need to worry about some of these things until the last 10 or 15 years. So I think we see all kinds of different effects. They have all kinds of different costs, and I think that people who are on the ground looking at some of these are seeing things that they believe are trends that were only going to become more serious.

REHM

10:47:59
All right. To Yorkville, Ill. Good morning, Bob.

BOB

10:48:05
Good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:48:07
Sure.

BOB

10:48:08
I have got a couple of questions. I just kind of think that we probably been in global warming since the ice age went away, and as far as putting certain things in the year, the forest fires used to burn, literally, millions of acres, which, of course, now was a kind of national news if it's a couple a hundred acres. And I just -- curious what your guests feel about that.

REHM

10:48:36
Forest fires. Nat.

KEOHANE

10:48:38
Well, first, let me address Bob's first point about global warming. I mean, I think we've been talking a lot about the science and the trends. I think what you also see is people observing this in their own backyards. You know, you were seeing increasingly there was a polling from last fall that 70 percent of Americans see global warming already affecting their weather. And I say that not as a substitute for the science but because, in addition to what the scientists are saying and what the climate models say and what the best available science says, we can also see it with our own eyes.

KEOHANE

10:49:10
And so, I think, you can start to see the impacts. Just ask yourself, does the world look like it did 10 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago? And I think you'll see that's where the trend line is. In terms of the soot in the forest fires, you know, I mean, I think what we're talking about here, for the most part, is carbon dioxide, a little bit different than soot. But, hey, forest fires, there's, you know, there's another piece.

KEOHANE

10:49:30
If you're in Colorado, then you should be worried about the warming winter is making your forests more susceptible to pine bark beetles and, therefore, the forest fires in the summer months. And so that's another example of trend lines and of the kind of impacts we're going to seeing in a warming world.

REHM

10:49:46
So, Steven, talk about what's happening around the world. Has the issue of climate change, because of economic concern, slipped in priority?

MUFSON

10:50:02
Well, it's kind of a tug of war because, on the one hand, we do want people's living standards to improve.

REHM

10:50:09
Right.

MUFSON

10:50:09
We're expecting a major increase in things like the sales of air conditioners in the Southeast Asia because people there don't want to be as hot in the summer. People are -- more people are using more and better and bigger appliances in places like China. So on the one hand, you want advances. On the other hand, the costs are, you know, there are -- these are areas that are under environmental stress from a whole raft of factors.

MUFSON

10:50:38
There are water shortages in large parts of China. There are the pre-existing pollution problems that David mentioned before that are exacerbating the water shortages. They have energy shortages. So they have conflicting goals right now.

REHM

10:50:56
Exactly.

MUFSON

10:50:57
And they're at a point of stress that a lot of us start, you know, to find out too.

REHM

10:51:02
All right. To Hedgesville, W.Va. Good morning, David.

DAVID

10:51:07
Good morning, Diane. I have a couple of comments to see what your panel thinks.

REHM

10:51:11
Sure.

DAVID

10:51:12
First, I feel that no one without a good basic science background should make any pronouncement about global change. I earned a second degree in earth science, and that just gives me a basic ability to understand the science. So -- and my second comment is with Senate 744 projected to increase our population by 10 percent over the next decade. If the world's countries ever agree on mandatory emission limits, the U.S. will have a much more hard-pressed job to try to meet our allotment if it is passed.

REHM

10:51:47
Steve.

MUFSON

10:51:49
Well, I think the population issue is important. The more people we have, the more we're going to want to consume. But, certainly, no one wants to say that the next billion people shouldn't share the same aspirations in standard of living as we're all enjoying. So that's going to make it definitely a more difficult task.

REHM

10:52:07
What about that, Nat?

KEOHANE

10:52:09
Well, you know, I think we've been talking about some of the impacts, the economic impacts on the developing world in particular. And one of the things that I think we've seen that's very striking in recent -- in just the last year or so is people are starting to say -- people like, again, Jim Kim of the World Bank saying he sees his mission -- the mission of the World Bank -- is to lift people out of poverty then get broad economic prosperity.

KEOHANE

10:52:32
And he says, if we're going to do that, and we're serious about that, we need to address climate change 'cause if we're concerned about poverty around the world, then we need to be concerned about the impacts that climate change is going to have on those vulnerable populations.

REHM

10:52:43
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Felipe in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Good morning. You're on the air.

FELIPE

10:52:54
Hi there. Good morning, Diane.

REHM

10:52:55
Good morning.

FELIPE

10:52:55
I love your show.

REHM

10:52:56
Thank you.

FELIPE

10:52:57
And I've very glad that you're doing this show today because it definitely goes with the one you had last week about the, you know, the Portuguese man-o'-war, you know, the jellyfish...

REHM

10:53:08
Ah, yes, the jellyfish.

FELIPE

10:53:09
…that's so much all over the place. And, you know, the tie-in is it's quite simple. They are indicator species, such as insects, maybe, like, bees, or like birds, they indicate either the health or the lack thereof of an environment. And this business of denying the effects of climate change is the same as believing that the earth is flat, you know?

REHM

10:53:31
What do you say to that, David?

KREUTZER

10:53:33
Well, you can look at Harrison Smith, an astronaut, the last person to step on to the moon. He certainly knows the earth is not flat, and he is classified as a climate skeptic. You know, what we have, in some sense, is a bit of snake oil. It's every kind of problem you imagine is due to climate change. That's where you could call it a hoax if you want. Not that people on my side think that the earth isn't warming or that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas.

KREUTZER

10:53:59
But you say to yourself, look at people looking in their backyards. We have data. We don't have to just trust what people think. They always think the weather is unusual. You look at the temperature increase for the past 100 years has been about a degree. Look at it for the past 50 years. It's been about a degree per century. In the past 30 years, about a degree per century. And you're wrong. The temperatures have flat lined for the past 15 years. You say it's growing.

KEOHANE

10:54:16
That's just -- that's not correct.

KREUTZER

10:54:17
No, that is correct. The...

KEOHANE

10:54:19
That's just false.

KREUTZER

10:54:19
...group in England says so, the people that do it. They said there's no significant warning. It goes up and down, sure. But you look at for the past decade, it's pretty level.

REHM

10:54:28
So from your perspective, all of this talk about global warming and what to do about it as far as reducing carbon emissions is a waste.

KREUTZER

10:54:43
No. There's -- clearly, we have efficiency. People don't like to pay more for energy, so they do things that economize on the use of energy. So we see that. We see new technologies being developed. But when you look at things that just restrict CO2 and you look at the benefits you get from that versus the cost, it seems like it's not worth it. There are other things we can do to mitigate the impacts from the warming.

REHM

10:55:06
Steve, is it my incorrect understanding that some 90 percent of reliable scientists belief that the earth is warming?

MUFSON

10:55:26
I actually thought it was closer to...

KREUTZER

10:55:27
Ninety-seven.

MUFSON

10:55:28
...97 percent. Right. So...

KREUTZER

10:55:29
But that's the study. But go ahead.

REHM

10:55:30
But you reject that, David.

KREUTZER

10:55:34
No, OK. The -- well, that study has lots of problems. Yeah, most of them say it's warming.

REHM

10:55:39
But I want to know...

KREUTZER

10:55:40
The question is, how much is it warming, and how much will our policies reduce it?

REHM

10:55:43
OK. Nat.

KEOHANE

10:55:44
So, look, we could sit here all day and...

REHM

10:55:47
Right.

KEOHANE

10:55:48
...disagree. And so let me take another cut at this, which is here we have an I -- a report from the IEA, the leading energy authority in the world, backed by a huge amount of economic analysis that says, here are four policies. Things like eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, which, you know, David probably would think is a great, I mean, should think is a great idea -- I think we could all agree on -- things like that and energy efficiency, here are four policies: No net economic cost.

KEOHANE

10:56:10
Put us in position in 2020 to turn the corner towards a safer climate trajectory. If we do those things, no net economic cost, cleaner air. If David is right in 2020, then we can say, OK. We did those things, no regrets. But they put us in a position to act when we need to.

REHM

10:56:24
Steve.

MUFSON

10:56:25
Well, just -- in trying to evaluate things as news stories and trying to figure out how to describe things, I mean, when you get to 97 percent consensus on an issue, we tend to, you know, to treat that as something fairly real. And, I think, as I said before, if anything, the margin -- the error seems to be -- the most likely direction of errors seems to be towards something even more serious. So we've kind of stopped agonizing about whether or not climate change is real at The Post and trying to figure out just how serious it is and what kind of policies people can pursue.

REHM

10:57:03
And that's the last words.

KREUTZER

10:57:04
We agree with.

REHM

10:57:05
Steven Mufson of The Washington Post, Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund, David Kreutzer of The Heritage Foundation, surely, much, much more to be said on this subject. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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