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KPBS Midday Edition Segments Founder McKibben Discusses Significance Of Record Atmospheric Carbon Levels

 May 16, 2019 at 10:22 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has surpassed 415 parts per million. The highest level ever recorded temperatures in the Arctic. We're in the mid eighties this week, this political season, Democratic presidential candidates have been joining with scientists to urge that actions to address climate change must be taken now. Bill McKibben has been sounding the alarm about human caused climate change for more than 30 years. He is founder of the seminal environmental group, three his latest book is falter. Has the human game begun to play itself out in coverage from the KPBS climate change desk? Bill McKibben spoke to KPBS is mark Sauer by Skype. Speaker 2: 00:44 Welcome bill. Hey, it's a real pleasure to be with you. Speaker 3: 00:47 In your view, what is the drastic warming this week of the article Speaker 2: 00:50 mean? Well, this is part and parcel of what we've been seeing now for a couple of decades. They're very, very rapid, warm warming in the Arctic, the fastest warming part of the planet, and the result is the rapid loss of CIS. We're at the record low for the date already this year. As that happens, it just amps up the whole reaction. We used to have a nice white mirror at the top of the world that reflected 80% of incoming solar radiation back out to space. Now we have huge patches of blue water that just soak that up and that open water among other things appears to be discombobulating the climate of latitude much to the south. As you've seen in California. The jet stream has tended to get badly stuck in recent years and either you get endless periods of drought or long, long periods of rain. The best explanation we have for why that's going on is that that open water up at the Arctic is angulating the jet stream and keeping it stuck in those repetitive patterns. Speaker 3: 02:02 Well, secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, peo thinks this may be a good thing, more drilling and a shorter route from China, but uh, the other leaders from the Arctic nations aren't so keen on this whole idea. Speaker 2: 02:13 Well, Mike Pompeo is a buffoon. I mean, this is the most dangerous thing that's happening on the face of the earth, the rapid warming of the planet. And in particular the destabilization of the Arctic, which we'll pour methane and carbon into the atmosphere and his, his responses that we'll be able to ship junk from China two weeks faster. So it's a good idea. I mean, I, I'd hate to see what he thought was a bad idea. Speaker 3: 02:42 Well, can I ask you to explain the meaning behind the name of your group? Three and the significance of the milestone we passed earlier this month regarding the keeling curve Speaker 2: 02:52 ensure a and 50 parts per million co two is what scientists tell us is the maximum safe amount of carbon in the atmosphere. We're of course way past that. This week we went passed for the first time, 415 parts per million. And I don't mean for the first time this century or the first time in human history. I mean for the first time in millions of years before there were any humans, uh, you got to go back to the Middle Miocene or so to get to an epic, a geological epic when we had CEO two in the atmosphere this high. And when you go back there, see levels were dozens of feet higher and things like that. Um, we're in completely uncharted ground now and it's truly terrifying. And what's most terrifying of course is that, uh, you know, our government is led by people who won't even begin to react to it. They, as you pointed out with Mr Palm Peo celebrated if they do anything at all. Speaker 3: 03:54 Well, you've expressed hope that politics of this are finally changing. Election season is here. What could concern voters be looking for in candidates regarding plans for meaningful action on climate change? Speaker 2: 04:06 Well, it is true that the politics do seem to be shifting a little among Democratic voters. Now the polling indicates climate change is done, number one issue. And by quite a large margin, which is very new development, candidates are responding with strong positions. Some of the strongest come from the people who are saying, we'll back the green new deal in one form or another. This is the first legislation that we've had that's on the same scale as the problem that we face and it is big changes that are required. One of the things I have to kind of stop myself from doing since I wrote the first book about climate change 30 years ago is, you know, it's not helpful or nice to say, Oh, if only you'd listened to me then you'll know, but it's true. 30 years ago there were small things we could've done that would've made a huge difference. A modest price on carbon in the late 1980s would have moved to the ocean liner. That is the global economy on enough of a different course that it would have sailed into a different ocean by now. Instead, we went full speed ahead on the old course and now we're so deep into this problem that all the changes that might have some chance to really mattering are pretty big and pretty hard, but very necessary. Speaker 3: 05:26 Now, as you pointing out in a recent article for politico, the media has been rather shameful and ignoring this critical issue. 25 debates over all in 2016 no questions on climate change. How's it going to be different this time around? Speaker 2: 05:39 Oh, I think the media will pay attention. But the problem is that people tend to let candidates off with a little hand waving about, oh, it's a horrible problem or an existential risk or or something. And without asking them the questions that really get at the root, uh, know for Democrats, the question is, are you going to achieve on with this charade of more natural gas? Uh, or are you going to actually back and aggressive and quick shift to renewable energy? California's proven that that's possible. I mean, there was a day last week when California was producing, uh, something like 80% of its power from wind, water and Sun. Um, that's a reminder of how fast we could go if we really wanted to. Speaker 3: 06:27 Well, and there was news this week, uh, in California, the Trump administration is opening 725,000 acres in the central coast to a drilling for oil and gas. So Sempra energy, huge energy, a conglomerate here in San Diego based in San Diego is just expanded their push toward natural gas. What gives you hope in the light of these dire news or reports that we're seeing over and over? Speaker 2: 06:53 Well, not that much. It gives me hope all the time and there are days when I despair, but I've been really happy to see this coalition come together in California to push first governor Brown and now governor Newsome. Very hard to end the practice of oil drilling in California cities to uh, make it much harder to put oil wells next to people's houses, your school yards and things. And I actually think that's the direction California's going to head in. I think that Californians are sick and tired of endless oil extraction and gas extraction. Uh, yes, there are some companies that still want to make some money that way, but I don't, I think California of all places can both afford and would like to tell them to shove off. Speaker 3: 07:42 And we're the biggest state where a, um, an economic powerhouse even compared to the countries around the world. We've joined with several other states, many of them in the West to be leaders on this issue. Is that enough? Or do we really need the federal government to step up? Speaker 2: 07:57 The problem is that California can't solve the problem by itself. Um, it can do everything right and if we're pouring in carbon in from the rest of the world, it'll overwhelm California just as fast or faster than, I mean, you guys get the firsthand look, you watched a city literally called Paradise, literally turn into hell inside half an hour. There's no mystery about what's going on. The world needs California to do the right thing, but California needs the world to do the right thing. Speaker 3: 08:27 All right, well, I've been speaking with climate change expert Bill Mckibben, whose new book is falter, has the human game began to play itself out. Bill, thanks very much. Speaker 2: 08:37 What a pleasure. Thank you for your good work. Bill McKibben was speaking to mark Sauer as part of the KPBS climate change desk. Speaker 3: 08:44 [inaudible].

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Bill McKibben has been sounding the alarm about human-caused climate change for more than 30 years. He is the founder of the seminal environmental group, so named because 350 parts per million is considered the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon concentrations surpassed 415 parts per million this week.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments