The Urgent Question On Earth Day Remains How To Avoid The Consequences Of Climate Change
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / April 22, 2020
David Victor, a professor of international relations at the UC San Diego, believes technological innovation can help overcome the hurdle of the costs required for governments to take action.
Speaker 1: 00:00 On this 50th anniversary of earth day. The most urgent question facing us is how to slow climate change in time to avoid its most catastrophic consequences. The Kovac 19 quarantine has resulted in a dramatic drop in carbon emissions, but how will this global health crisis affect the global environmental crisis in the longterm here with a perspective on this question is David Victor, professor of international relations at the university of California, San Diego's school of global policy and strategy. He's a co author of an article in the current edition of foreign affairs magazine, headlined the path to net zero how technology can save the planet. David, thanks for joining us.
Speaker 2: 00:39 Well, it's a pleasure to be back with you.
Speaker 1: 00:42 So now a lot's been written about the positive consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on carbon emissions and cleaner air, but you know, I wonder in general, what strikes you most about this forced slow down and how that could change how we think about climate change?
Speaker 2: 00:57 Well, I think overall it's going to be bad news. Certainly we've seen a reduction in emissions for now. When the global economy comes back, commissions are going to come back in the past. Sometimes they'd come back at even higher levels than, than before. These kinds of economic shocks, so that's going to be bad news. But I think the really big challenge right now is that people understandably are focused on other things and focused on health. They focus on jobs and economic growth and except for die hard environmentalist's the priority put on environmental issues and in particular global environmental issues. It's really dropped a lot in the last six to eight weeks.
Speaker 1: 01:30 President Trump is currently asking for a plan to provide federal assistance to the oil industry that's of crossing an historic slump in sales. Do you, do you worry about the way the federal assistance packages are being dulled out in terms of, you know, which energy companies will survive?
Speaker 2: 01:46 Well, we're going to see a lot of energy companies die, especially smaller companies, more fragile companies. That's going to be true in the oil industry. It's already happening in West Texas. It's going to be true also in parts of the renewables industry. That's starting to happen as well. I think right now it's a little too early to tell what the impact of these stimulus programs is going to be on the energy system. Right now, the stimulus programs are mainly focused on protecting workers, paychecks, keeping companies from going under these quickly and all of that is the right thing to be doing. There's been a lot of focus by the Trump administration on how to save the oil industry and what's left of the coal industry, but there's also a lot of attention by Democrats and others on how to build into the stimulus program. Various kinds of green incentives. Just as that's happened back in the 2009 financial crisis,
Speaker 1: 02:32 now you've written it to make a real impact to slow climate change. We need a comprehensive industrial policy. In other words, lifestyle changes. Individual countries won't, won't do it. Do you think that what's happening as a result of the pandemic is, is bringing global governments closer to that possibility or not?
Speaker 2: 02:50 I don't think it's bringing global governments in the form of global cooperation closer to that possibility. What's happened in terms of global cooperation in general as is eroded as a result of the pandemic and it was already in trouble to begin with. What I think is more interesting is that we're seeing through the pandemic in effect a giant test of government. We're seeing tests of the capabilities of governments to do complex things, to gather expert advice to have an impact on industry, on their societies, and this huge variation in those responses. So I think what we're going to see on the backside of this are places where government has performed effectively. Those are going to be also the places where governments are, are most likely going to be in the lead on a lot of other tasks that require active government policy, including cutting emissions.
Speaker 1: 03:33 Well, how important is the role of local governments like the city of San Diego and making changes to slow climate change [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 03:39 well, I think this is the most fascinating aspect of the American policy is with the Trump administration doing what they're doing. We've, we were already seeing before the pandemic a huge surge in city state activities, including here in San Diego. There's a big difference around the country between the cities that are talking a lot and not doing very much and cities that are talking and also doing, and since San Diego has been in the latter category, clearly
Speaker 1: 04:05 you know those who are fighting for policies to slow global warming. For example, Gretta Thornberg often say, we, we got to pay more attention to what scientists are telling us about global warming and climate change. Do you think scientists might get more respect as a result of how they've guided our efforts to have what the worst of his pandemic
Speaker 2: 04:23 science is coming out of the pandemic looking better? It turns out the science is really important and as a scientist, I'm very excited to see that. I've never really thought that climate change was fundamentally a scientific problem. The science is vital to understanding that we have a problem. It's vital to guiding which technologies we need to invest in and so on. In the article, in the current issue, foreign affairs is about that. It's about how to make more investments in the right technologies. But the reason we wrote that article is because improving the technologies then makes the politics easier and this is fundamentally a political problem and so long as it's seen as expensive, difficult task, then mobilizing the political support for serious action on climate change is always going to be a lot harder.
Speaker 1: 05:04 And as you say, you know, one of the resistances is that it costs a lot in the current time and it's, and the benefits are in the future. What, what do you see as being the most promising things happening right now to bring down those costs now?
Speaker 2: 05:18 The area of greatest promise has been in the electric power sector. It's really striking mainly because of renewable power and some other parts of the world. Nuclear power has played a role preserving the existing U S nuclear fleet has played a role, but the, the really big improvements that we've seen globally have been in renewable power. And in some places it's greater use of cleaner, natural gas compared with coal. And that's why the only sector globally that is consistently making some progress and cutting emissions is electric power. So I think that's going to be the front end of a big strategy for cutting emissions, but we have to keep this all these numbers into perspective. Stopping global warming requires an 80% cut in emissions this year because of the global economic recession. We might as six or 8% cut an emissions and then they'll come back. And so the job in front of us remains just a truly massive job. It's going to take decades to deliver. Well, David, thanks for your perspective. Was a pleasure as always to be with you. That's David Victor, professor of international relations at the university of California, San Diego school of global policy and strategy.