discussion forum

Scientists Issue Dire Warning on Climate Change & Key Researcher Urges “Changes in How We Live”

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, Nov 21 2017 - 09:45

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany. The International Energy Agency predicts U.S. oil production is expected to grow an unparalleled rate in the coming years, even as the majority of scientists worldwide are saying countries need to cut down on fossil fuel extraction, not accelerate it. Meanwhile, a group of 15,000 scientists have come together to issue a dire “second notice” to humanity, 25 years after a group of scientists issued the “first notice” warning the world about climate change.

This comes as a major new study says European governments have drastically underestimated the methane emissions from gas. The report finds European Union nations can burn gas and other fossil fuels at the current rate for only nine more years before these countries will have exhausted their share of the Earth’s remaining carbon budget necessary to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Well, we’re joined now by the co-author of that report, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. He traveled here from England by train, refuses to fly because of its massive carbon footprint. Kevin Anderson is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester in Britain, co-author of the major new report entitled “Can the Climate Afford Europe’s Gas Addiction?”

Kevin Anderson, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, there’s so much to talk about. First, you took a train here, not a plane?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Yes. I always try and travel either by train or by ship, often by container ship. It’s not that I think the emissions necessarily from me or any other individual are, in themselves, really important. But I think it is really necessary, for those of us who judge that climate change is a huge and serious issue, that we demonstrate that in our own lives, and that we don’t just demonstrate it in what we do, but you try and push that agenda more widely, amongst our own colleagues, with our own universities, and then, of course, hopefully, eventually, that governments pick these things up and then scale up policies to drive this behavioral change at a national and then, hopefully, a global level.

AMY GOODMAN: You have coined the term “the climate glitterati.” What do you mean?

KEVIN ANDERSON: I think there have been—for many years, there have been people, you know, the great and the good, in the climate world. And they have certainly tried very hard to address the issue of climate change, though I think, with the latest data, we can see that emissions are going up, even this year, in 2017. So, fundamentally, they and the rest of us have actually failed in delivering what we expected to or what we hoped for.

But this particular group, I think, have done remarkably well out of the climate change world, if you like, out of all of these, the COPs or negotiations, the engagement with policymakers, the trips to Davos and so forth. And I think, in doing that, in being part of the status quo, they have actually misunderstood that a significant part of the problem when it comes to climate change is making changes in how we live our lives today, particularly those of us who are the very high emitters. About 50 percent of global emission has just come from about 10 percent of the global population. And the climate glitterati are quite clearly—and I include myself there—are in that particular group. And we have to demonstrate leadership in what we do. And I think if people are going to take our very careful analysis seriously, then we have to lend that analysis credibility by demonstrating that we are adjusting our own lives accordingly.

AMY GOODMAN: You took pictures of the summit on Friday night?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah, I did indeed, yes. Yeah, I was here at 10:00, when it was virtually empty. I was still working in one of the computer clusters. And all the computer screens were still on. But the main large screens were still running. And this is the climate change conference, the 23rd climate change conference. Now, I’m all in favor of the UNFCCC and the IPCC and these big organizations. They are really important and pivotal to climate change. But we must be, surely, by now, demonstrating change in our own institutions.

AMY GOODMAN: I was talking to some Pacific warriors this morning, as they rolled out the red carpet that said “Keep it in the ground,” for Angela Merkel, who’s speaking today. They were from Tonga and Samoa. And they said it’s Fiji inside and Bonn outside, freezing cold outside and boiling inside.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah, that’s very much what it’s like. Yes, indeed, yeah. It’s also very bright inside, as well, with all the lights.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what David Banks said? This is President Trump’s climate adviser.

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, my take on what I heard there was he was very uncomfortable trying to defend the indefensible, really. I mean, he clearly was not happy with having to agree what the president has said on a number of occasions about climate change. Of course, his position—the president’s positions have changed on this quite considerably, as they have on other areas, as well.

I mean, I think, at the end of the day, that quite clearly the president and his adviser are reluctant to engage with anything coming from the science on climate change. So they are coming to climate change from a completely different perspective, and the science is almost an irrelevance. They’re thinking of climate change much more in a short-term, narrow, political sense.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you had the Trump panel on Monday night. It was just astounding. Three-quarters of the room walked out in the middle, singing a song, “Proud to Be an American,” to a different lyric. And at the end of this panel—it was four corporate executives and someone from Pence’s office and Trump’s office—I got a chance to ask them a question.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman from the Democracy Now! news hour.

FRANCIS BROOKE: All right, this is—this is our—this is our last question before we have to wrap up.

AMY GOODMAN: Quick question, just a simple yes or no from each of you: whether you support President Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord? If we could begin with Lenka?

LENKA KOLLAR: I’m here for a reason, and that’s to support climate change mitigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick, simple yes-or-no answer.

LENKA KOLLAR: The question was?

AMY GOODMAN: Whether you support President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord?

LENKA KOLLAR: No, I don’t support it.

AMY GOODMAN: Holly?

HOLLY KRUTKA: I know you want yes or no, but our company’s statement wasn’t a yes or no, so please just allow me to say what it is. We did not ever weigh in. There was reports, actually, that we weighed in in both directions. Our opinion was that it’s up to them. There’s a lot to decide. But whether or not the U.S. is in the Paris climate agreement, we will continue to work on low-emissions technologies for coal.

AMY GOODMAN: And you, personally, Holly?

HOLLY KRUTKA: Gosh, I’m not really a policy person. I’m sorry, that was a cop-out. You’re right. I, personally—I’m not here to represent myself, so come talk to me afterwards.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes or no, are you for or against?

HOLLY KRUTKA: I’m not going to answer for my personal opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Amos?

AMOS HOCHSTEIN: I think I have the easiest task. I don’t think Dave or Francis expect me to say anything else. I worked for the Obama administration. I supported the Paris Agreement fully, thought it was a great achievement for the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Barry Worthington, yes or no?

BARRY WORTHINGTON: There’s actually two answers.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes or no!

BARRY WORTHINGTON: The U.S. Energy Association did not take a position before the president pulled out of Paris. As soon as he pulled out of Paris, we issued a statement saying that he should renegotiate Paris. From my own personal standpoint, the answer is yes, because of the reasons I laid out. We’re—

AMY GOODMAN: You support Trump pulling the United States out.

BARRY WORTHINGTON: We’re achieving the emissions reductions goals without having the regulatory burden. We’re doing it for other reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Francis Brooke?

FRANCIS BROOKE: Thanks, Barry. Now we’re going to go to closing from our speakers.

AMY GOODMAN: No, Francis, I’d like your response.

FRANCIS BROOKE: Can you—we are not here—

AMY GOODMAN: Just two more people, simple question, just yes or no.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Takes five seconds! Answer her! Answer it!

FRANCIS BROOKE: I mean, pretty clearly, we both work for the administration, so that’s who we’re here to represent, and it’s not going to change anything. So we’re going to go through closing now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Banks, your—final question.

FRANCIS BROOKE: So we’re going to start with Barry Worthington.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes or no?

FRANCIS BROOKE: He’s going to close for us.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: David, any answer?

DAVID BANKS: I work for the president of the United States.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: So is it a yes or a no?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Trump’s climate adviser, David Banks; before that, Francis Brooke, policy aide in the Office of Vice President Pence. Of the four corporate representatives pushing nuclear, gas and coal, Lenka Kollar of NuScale energy and Amos Hochstein of Tellurian disagreed with Trump pulling the U.S. out of the climate agreement. Holly Krutka of Peabody wouldn’t say. And Barry Worthington of the U.S. Energy Association agreed with President Trump. Interestingly, Trump brings—Trump’s administration brings four corporate executives; two of them—half of them—disagree with him on this issue. But your response to what they said?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Again, I think they are primarily just trying to take a political line on this. They’re not—they don’t seem to be particularly engaged with the issues of climate change at hand. They don’t—I get the impression they didn’t really see it as a really very serious issue, that it was just a thorn in their side. They were uncomfortable trying to defend one position or the other.

You know, to some extent, I think it’s reminiscent of what we’ve seen from the Trump administration: a lot of uncertainty and no clarity and, I would also argue, I think, a complete lack of innovative thinking. Because if they are genuinely concerned about the sorts of things that Trump said he was concerned about, things like jobs, I think the climate change agenda can quite easily be described as a jobs agenda. So there’s plenty of employment in responding to the climate challenge in line with the Paris Agreement. But it requires a little bit more innovative thinking. I didn’t hear—

AMY GOODMAN: What are those jobs?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, if you think about it, the renewable industry itself requires lots of people working in it. But also, we have to retrofit the existing infrastructure that we have in our society. If you look at the U.S., it’s very high energy consumption. That needs to change rapidly. That means retrofitting buildings and properties, people’s houses. It means much greater electrification of the energy system than we see today. There’s just a huge amount of construction work, engineering work, design work. You know, this is about really a 30-year jobs program for all of the industrialized parts of the world to transition from the very high-carbon infrastructure we have now to the low-carbon infrastructure of tomorrow. So, in that sense, surely, if his commitment to the Dust Belt was really a sincere one and he had some innovative capacity, he would see that the climate change agenda is a jobs agenda for the people that voted for him.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on geoengineering, something that’s also discussed here? First, what it means and what you think about it?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Well, let’s be quite clear. There is geoengineering, and there’s something else quite similar to that called negative emission technologies. The negative emission technologies are basically these technologies that we don’t yet have, that are designed in the—or hoped in the future to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, sort of suck the carbon dioxide out the atmosphere. And at least that’s addressing the real problem, even though we don’t have these technologies. Then you liquefy that carbon dioxide and store it somewhere safely underground for a few hundred or few thousand years. The geoengineering is—

AMY GOODMAN: Are you for or against that?

KEVIN ANDERSON: I’m for us researching it, but I’m for us doing all of the mitigation, all of the carbon reductions, assuming it does not work. So, yes to research, no to including it in our policies today.

And the geoengineering one is actually, I think, much more dangerous, in many respects, though, again, I think it’s important to have a research program on it. But the geoengineering is saying, “Let’s not really do quite so much on the mitigation. Let’s rely on reflecting the sunlight back out—the sunlight and the heat back out into space, and therefore we can dissolve the problem that way.” And they’re things like pumping sulfates into the stratosphere, rockets into the stratosphere to put sulfates there. They’re putting—enriching some of the oceans with iron to increase the uptake of—the development of biomass, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But these things all interfere with sort of major global planetary systems that we don’t fully understand. I think they’re incredibly dangerous. But nevertheless, I think it’s important to research those, but, again, mitigate our emissions, reduce our emissions, assuming that they won’t work, either.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what effect does President Trump saying he’s pulling the U.S. out of the climate agreement mean? You were critical of the climate agreement. And we just have 20 seconds for this part of our conversation, then we’ll do Part 2.

KEVIN ANDERSON: There’s a good, and there’s a bad part. Pulling out sends a really bad signal. But in him pulling out, it has energized some other parts of the world to say, “We will step in and do far more,” including, of course, many U.S. mayors.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with Kevin Anderson, the Zennström professor in climate change leadership at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies, Uppsala University, also chair of the energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at University of Manchester in Britain. We’ll link to the report that he has co-authored.