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The Good News In The Fight Against Climate Change

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It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the fight against climate change this year. Here are some people who took action in the fight against global temperature rise in 2019.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 We have a special program today devoted to climate change. I'm Mark Sauer. I look at how young people sounded the climate change alarm this year and how many San Diego ans answer the call. This is KPBS mid day edition.

Speaker 1: 00:23 It's December 24th Christmas Eve. This past year may well be remembered as a time when the notion of climate change became a real impending climate crisis for much of humankind news here and across the globe was dominated by thorough scientific studies explaining the existential threat to planet earth, rising temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, devastating wildfires, floods, drought, untold numbers of climate migrants and vanishing species. Large and small, relentless facts about our changing climate can certainly cause severe depression, but there's plenty of reason for hope as well. That's one reason we launched the KPBS climate change desk and today we're going to reintroduce you to some of the San Diego bins we met over the past year who are working to combat climate change. When climate scientists were asked about bright spots this year in the campaign against climate change, youth movements were often mentioned. One girl inspiring those movements. His 16 year old Gretta thunbergii of Sweden. She was named time's person of the year and has been called a climate Joan of arc in our age of worldwide peril. Here she is giving a Ted talk.

Speaker 2: 01:33 We've had 30 years of pepper talking and selling positive ideas and I'm sorry, but it doesn't work because if he would have, the emissions would have gone down by now. They haven't and yes, we do need hope. Of course we do, but the one thing we need more than hope is action

Speaker 1: 01:57 inspired by Thunderbird. People around the world, young and old participated in climate strikes this year, including here in San Diego. I spoke to one local teenager ahead of a walkout in March. Here's K to Chando, then a senior at Hilltop high.

Speaker 3: 02:11 The youth wants there to be a dramatic change in how we're handling the climate crisis because I feel like right now we're not really facing it head on and we're kind of just digging ourselves into a deeper hole.

Speaker 1: 02:22 Despite the Trump administrations of oud or withdraw from the Paris climate Accords leaders, organizations, and millions of concerned individuals across the globe are urging action. We've compiled interviews with some of them with a specific focus on San Diego to give you an inspiration for taking action on this urgent issue. First up, grandparents with a mission. Young people are often leading the way and forcing the national conversation on action to come back. Climate change, the sunrise movement and marches and over 200 cities worldwide were led by high school and college students. But what about the very young toddlers and school kids?

Speaker 4: 03:00 They have the most to lose in a rapidly warming world. You'd have no voice in the debate. I spoke with David angle and Linda Pratt of the group stay cool for grandkids in October. Here's that interview. David, you started stay cool for grandkids with your wife. Peg in 2013, what was the

Speaker 5: 03:18 duration for starting the group? We had our first grandchild. It was born a violet and she's now seven. And, uh, we were thinking about what her future was going to be like under the scenarios that we were aware of that, uh, are going to be happening or could be, could happen and we wanted to preserve the best possible future climate future for her.

Speaker 4: 03:42 So, uh, what would you say is your organization's mission statement? Well, our mission is to educate and inform and engage people of our age group, whether or not they are grandparents or not, and to get them to be informed advocates for really strong climate policy because we know it's not just our generation but it's generations to follow that are going to be suffering the most from climate change. Right. And it's an urgency for our group, middle aged and older folks, but far more reality in terms of the worst to come as we see over and over again in the science and in the studies that are done constantly on this. How do you go about getting people urgent about the future who may not be there then but their kids and grandkids will? Well, we try to put a face to the future. 2050 is the time when people continue to talk about some of the most horrific climate change impacts. While in 2050, my grandkids are going to be in their twenties and thirties and I can't let a day go by where I don't try to do something to try to make some reasonable changes in policies and actions that people are taking now. And can you give us an overview of the types of programs that your organization puts on?

Speaker 5: 05:04 The way we started was offering programs, educational programs for grandparents and other adults. And we utilized our local resource, the Scripps institution of oceanography, who has a lot of really world renowned scientists. And we invited some of them. Charlie kennel, a former director was one of our first speaker. Uh, Richard Somerville was one of our first speakers. Both of those guys are really well known around the world and, uh, you know, most recently we had rom Ramanathan as a, as a speaker. I, we actually honored rom for all that he's done for, for grandkids and gave him like the grandkids climate hero award. Uh, so that's, that's one of the things that we do. The other, the other really important thing that we do is education for, for children climate education and specifically OSHA climate education. And we've partnered again with Scripps institution of oceanography. We utilize some of their grad students and we put on a two hour lecture course on ocean warming and ocean acidification I complete with, with demonstrations and experiments that they do in class and it's become very popular with, with the teachers.

Speaker 1: 06:22 Well, I'm glad you brought that up. I have three granddaughters ages five and younger myself and talking to them about climate change seems kind of out of the question because it's so scary in terms of, of what really is some of the dire of predictions that scientists are making. But, but you're saying you can speak to young kids about conservation and about knowledge of, of the oceans and the earth.

Speaker 5: 06:42 Absolutely. You know, I've heard that theory that it's too scary for kids. We talked to sixth graders and believe me, they're plenty ready for, for hearing about this. We also emphasize the scientific part of it, so they will understand that, you know, CO2 is, is a gas and it's a heat trapping gas. And we explain how it also causes the acidification of the oceans. So a good foundation of knowledge, very good, very, very strong scientific foundation so that they can understand what they're reading in the papers and actually hopefully teach their parents.

Speaker 1: 07:18 All right. And Linda, you've had a career in environmental protection, large role in creating the city of San Diego's climate action plan, which is a very aggressive one among American cities. I wanted to ask you, who makes up your organization? Who's joined so far?

Speaker 4: 07:31 Wow. We have such an amazing group of people. So just on our advisory council, we have the amazing David angle and peg angle, you know, who understand science very well. We have, um, the previous planning director from SANDAG. Uh, we have myself who has been very active, you know, in environmental policy. We have a number of people who are in the education field who are now just wanting to continue to give back. I have to tell you, it is my favorite volunteer organization. When I retired I had to decide what I wanted to invest my time in and I am passionate about this organization because of the high caliber of folks who are, who participate.

Speaker 1: 08:15 And uh, Linda, when you hold discussions and events in the community, what are they like? What sort of feedback and enthusiasm do you get from people?

Speaker 4: 08:22 Well, we do a couple of things. Let me tell you about a couple of our recent field trips. One of them was to dr Jeff Severin houses climate ice lab at Scripps institution of oceanography where we got to see a real ice core and got to see how they measured CO2 emissions, um, through history as it were. Absolutely. And that was fascinating and we have taken a behind the scenes tour of the airport, San Diego airport and all the sustainability measures that place there, which was also enlightening and inspiring. You know, as you said, this is scary to think about things moving forward and our grandkids suffering all of the major consequences. But when we see all the good work that a number of organizations are doing, I am more hopeful. Our recent lecture was from dr Randerson from UC Irvine and he talked about wildfires and why Santa Ana's are so much more powerful now than they used to be. So those kinds of things really inform our members and all of them, you know, seem to really get a lot out of it. And we, and we enjoy that. We also do, you know, hikes in parks with grandkids, the King tide. We did a field trip where we had grandkids come with us, you know, to look at the King tide and understand what causes that. So lots of great things going on.

Speaker 1: 09:45 And David, uh, Linda touched on a point there where it's easy to get discouraged if you read so much of the studies and what the projections are, especially if you look at the more dire ends of things. How do you keep your, your own hope and enthusiasm up because you don't want to discourage kids and grandkids. They're the ones who have to take this a battle into the future.

Speaker 5: 10:04 Oh, that's a difficult question. Truthfully, I don't always keep my spirits up. I do get depressed about it then. Uh, I think that's probably a realistic way to deal with it. But I do take heart in the fact that if we really do put our minds to it, there are solutions and we can, we probably can't prevent what's going to happen, but maybe the worst of it, maybe the worst we can, we can lessen the worst of it. And that's what we're really are focused on.

Speaker 1: 10:34 I've been speaking with David angle and Linda Pratt of the organization. Stay cool for grandkids. Thanks very much.

Speaker 4: 10:40 Thank you so much.

Speaker 5: 10:41 Thank you, Mark.

Speaker 1: 10:50 I'm Mark Sauer and let's continue with interviews from the KPBS climate change desk, interviews with people and group leaders from San Diego who are taking action to mitigate this peril facing us all. Sometimes the most profound scientific discoveries start as the simplest ideas. A team of plant scientists at the Salk Institute believe in their simple idea of harnessing the power of plants. The plants capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stored in their roots. This could have a dramatic impact on efforts to combat climate change in April. Sock was awarded $35 million to make the project a reality. I spoke with biochemist, dr Joe Nowell and geneticists, dr Julie law in April, both our members of Sox plant biology team for the harnessing plant initiative. Here's that interview professor law. What's Sox harnessing? Plants initiative?

Speaker 4: 11:45 So the harnessing plants initiative at SOC is based on um, harnessing the natural ability of plants to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. And what we'd like to do is,

Speaker 3: 11:54 um, generate plants that can draw down a significant portion of the excess co two that's put into the atmosphere based on human activity. And so while this is a clearly an audacious project, the basic idea is very easy to understand. So we want to use the fact that plants during the process of photosynthesis takes the O two from the atmosphere and generate plant biomass. And then the idea would be to generate plants that take that CO2 and generate deeper, more robust root systems that contain molecules that are resistant to degradation. So in a year over year basis, we would be essentially locking more carbon from the atmosphere into the soil.

Speaker 6: 12:30 All right. And professor? No. Uh, how did the idea to use a cork like substance to help plants grow more complex root systems and absorb more carbon dioxide? How did they come about? Um, it actually goes back to my childhood. So I grew up in Western Pennsylvania and my grandmother and great grandmother were avid gardeners, taught me to love plants from a very early age. And I actually got very into composting, actually degrading kitchen waste and I collected leaves in the neighborhood, et cetera. And one thing I remembered a couple of years ago when we began thinking about plants as a way to change the conversation about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was that I was trying to decompose corks from wine bottles in a compost bin. And I remembered that they actually persisted for long periods of time. And so I'd sort of drew back on that a couple of years ago when we started talking about how plants might be a mitigating factor for CO2 in the atmosphere.

Speaker 6: 13:24 Uh, interesting backstory on that. So why does this work? How does this work? Tell us about the process. So it's an interesting idea that you know, for a number of years people had been thinking about engineering approaches to reducing the carbon dioxide that's already in our atmosphere. But the answer was actually staring us right in the face. It's all around us. It was plants. So this really interesting process called photosynthesis that is the basis of their entire food chain, which is what plants do. They actually use carbon dioxide as a fertilizer and they convert it into a whole host of really wonderful natural chemicals, one of which is cork. We call it superin, but most people are familiar with it as quirk, but all plants actually have it and it will actually stay behind in the soil because all roots of plants in particular make a lot of this quirky material.

Speaker 6: 14:12 And it's a key, it's a protective mechanism that plants have that regulates their interaction with the environment. But we also know when you actually go in and look at soils that are very organically rich, very fertile, and you actually say, what are the natural molecules that are in soil? It turns out that it's the building blocks of cork. So it's a way of converting this carbon dioxide, which a lot of people nowadays think of as a toxic pollutant. We reframed the question, we look at it as a fertilizer. We're all carbon based life form. So every carbon atom in your body actually comes from carbon dioxide. So by reframing that problem and realizing that plants are all around, and rather than using an engineering solution, we use a natural solution that biology has been perfecting over the last 2.8 billion years since photosynthesis first arose on her and professional role.

Speaker 6: 15:02 How many plants or what will it take to achieve the project goal of reducing CO2 by 20 to 46%? It's pretty ambitious goal. It's a very ambitious goal. Um, and we're focusing really at this moment on crops. So the major food crops that are used worldwide, that allows us to gain the acreage that we need to actually combat the issue of CO2 in the atmosphere. And right now we're looking at about eight plants that are grown on about half of the global acreage used to farm, uh, plants. In which type of plants that we talking about. How did you identify which ones to grow? So we actually looked at what are actually grown as the major food crops worldwide in terms of their sheer acreage. So things like corn, rice, wheat, and then even things like cover crops, they're used to actually enrich the soil, radishes, Clover, and rye grass. All right. So I'll throw this out as kind of a jump ball question for both of you. How do you determine the impact? How do you scale this up on a worldwide basis and hope it has enough impact to be meaningful to, uh, to thwart climate change?

Speaker 3: 16:07 So, I mean, I'm on a broad level. Of course we want to try to get these, uh, plants, the prototypes out and running. And then we have to partner with ANGOs and M S and NC companies and, and talk to farmers to get these out and planted at scale and take advantage of that already set in place. Um, infrastructure. Um, and in terms of, of measurement, I'm part of the project is to be able to measure and quantify it and in much level of detail than we're able to do now. Exactly how much carbon is I'm staying behind in this oils. But the nice part about the initiative is that it's, it's very scalable. So in w you know, the one individual plant only needs to be a little bit better at doing, uh, at, at, um, taking the CO2 and storing it in these cork like molecules in the soil. And if you add it up over all the different plants that we're, we're trying to generate and all the different acreage that we'd like to cover, we can make a big impact.

Speaker 6: 17:01 Okay. And it's yet to be determined just how much of an impact that'll, you'll have to see that as you go on. Yeah, that's a major part of the science that we're actually conducting. We have to quantify with precision and accuracy what act, what exactly is happening, so how many molecules of carbon dioxide do these plants actually pull in and then modeling it with sophisticated computer programs as to the acreage that they're planted on. And we can make accurate predictions as to what it would actually do in terms of reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All right. And professor know, what are the key challenges that you see as you head into this project? One is actually more outside of our wheelhouse, which is in policy and interacting with governments, NGOs and seed companies for acceptance of these crops. And that's where I, where you know, the scientific community is a global village.

Speaker 6: 17:47 We really have to, with a lot of other partners in this, this is not solely a solar salt program. What we really hope to do is to do the science that can demonstrate the feasibility and the scalability of the project to a sufficient level of detail that we are able to convince others to partner with us. To really expand this in a global sense. And you've got to a work, a professor law with politics and politicians. I mean, that plays into this. The department of agriculture is huge as an enormous budget here in the United States. We have a similar agencies in every country around the world. At some point you're going to have to make that leap in a, into the political world in this, I imagine.

Speaker 3: 18:25 Yeah. I mean, something that we've been thinking about as, as Joe mentioned, it's not something that's normally within our wheelhouse. So we're trying to start to engage with, um, with the people involved in all aspects of, of policy. Um, as well as, um, um, agriculture in, on top of the, of the science. And we're hoping to kind of engage early and often so that as we're rolling things out, we're doing the best that we can to make it, um, the easiest transition from, from the, you know, from the biology in the lab out into the real world. And we're hopeful that beyond having a social benefit of, of drawing down more CO2, that if we're successful in generating these plants, they may also have economic benefits. For example, the increased soil carbon should help, uh, with fertility of the soil and having increased soil health and also has the potential to make the plants more resistant to extreme weather like droughts and flooding. So on top of having a, you know, a social benefit, we were hopeful that it will also have an economic benefit. Well, which will help with some of these aspects of the project that kind of go beyond the, the science.

Speaker 6: 19:24 And finally, a personal question for both of you. How excited and hopeful are you about the success and impact of this project? I mean, we talked about how ambitious it is, but it must be very gratifying personally in your careers to take this on dr lah.

Speaker 3: 19:39 It's really great to, um, to have a, a project where you know, you have the potential to make a global impact. And it's really at a time where both the science and technology are at a great stage, that we can actually do things in the lab, um, in, in a much more streamlined manner and see them translated, um, in, out into the railroad in, in fields. And so I'm really hopeful that, uh, we'll be able to make a really big impact in a very short amount of time

Speaker 6: 20:02 and professor all from your core cork background now to, to having a chance to really do this in your career. So I'm a grandfather now and I have two children and so I would love to leave a legacy in a selfie sense to my own family, but also to the larger community. It was one of the original mandates of Jonah salt at the SOC when he found that it was to, we have to be reasonably good ancestors to the future. So as Julie said, with the technology now available, I'm very optimistic that we can achieve this, the, you know, how we get there. That's what the science, that's what we have to do and we face this every day in our lab. We're all, we're going to hit, you know, roadblocks. But what we do as scientists figure out solutions to those problems, and I, and I'm very, very hopeful that this is, this will be one part of a larger

Speaker 1: 20:48 group of, of technologies and science that can be brought to bear to deal with the issue of climate and the stakes couldn't be higher with global warming and climate change. Absolutely. Absolutely. I've been speaking with Salk Institute professors, Joe Nowell and Julie law, both members of the SOC plant biology team. Thank you both. Thank you. Another San Diego group that was nationally recognized this year for its climate change work is wild coast. The nonprofit based in Imperial beach was one of 10 recipients of the 2019 Keeling curve prize for its work on protecting climate. Their project features mangrove forests off the coast of Baja, California. KPBS mid edition cohost, Jade Heinemann spoke with the plot per of the nonprofit wild coast about the organization's work.

Speaker 3: 21:40 Well, Zach, welcome to the program. Thank you. So first tell me what does it mean?

Speaker 7: 21:44 So mangrove is a, it's a blue carbon ecosystem. So it's a ecosystem that grows in a, in a saltwater environment, um, either subtropical or tropical areas. It's a tree and it's very unique to some certain parts of the world. Northwest Mexico being one of those.

Speaker 3: 22:00 So how are they able to remove carbon from the air and store it?

Speaker 7: 22:04 So just like any plant specie, it intakes carbon, but with mangroves have, and especially these desert mangroves in Mexico is this root system, very intricate root system and a large soil substrate around it. So it takes the carbon in through its leaves, deposit it through its root system into this sediment below it. And it has these vast areas of the sediment around them where it stores all this carbon. That's why those ecosystems, those mangroves in Northwest Mexico are so effective at carbon sequestration. And the science shows that these mangrove desert mangroves in Mexico sequester up to five times more carbon than tropical mangroves.

Speaker 3: 22:38 Mm. And so how important are mangroves

Speaker 7: 22:40 to climate change policy? So in terms of policy, not enough yet. We're just learning how effective that these ecosystems are. We're trying to integrate them into policy in Mexico. And then there's similarly ecosystems like sea grasses and salt Marsh in California that actually can also play a big role. We're trying to integrate those into a policy as well.

Speaker 3: 22:58 Do you have a sense of how much carbon, uh, this mangrove off of the coast of Baja California is actually taking in,

Speaker 7: 23:05 right. So the 39,000 acres of mangroves that we've looked at in the Gulf of California and in Magdalena Bay and Southern Baja California store about 19.5 million metric tons of carbon. That's Oklahoman CEO of about 1 million people's annual carbon emissions.

Speaker 3: 23:20 Wow. So wild coast has been working with the Mexican government on this restoration project. What does all of this entail?

Speaker 7: 23:28 Right, so we've been working with the Mexican national government, federal government and the Mexican national park service essentially since 2008 to set aside these mangrove areas for conservation. So they can't be owned and by law they're actually protected. They can't be cut down. That doesn't mean that they're not cut down. And that doesn't mean that there's land around these mangroves that can have an impact. So we're buffering these areas. We're actually getting concessions for these mangroves to put them under the management of the park service, essentially creating protected areas where these mangroves are, where they weren't protected as well. We're also working with Griffith university in Australia to do all the science. So it's a tri national effort between wild coast, which is a U S and Mexico based organization, the Mexican national government and institutions in Australia to do the research, to show how much carbon there is and to show what it would mean if we stopped the degradation of these forests.

Speaker 7: 24:16 And there's also an economic component to this project too, right? Yeah. So the, the amount of carbon that that is stored here and that would continue to be sequestered. If we can leave these mangroves alone, it's about half a million dollars on the voluntary carbon market. And there are also, these mangroves are also a basis for commercial fisheries for ecotourism. So there's a lot of other benefits other than the carbon sequestration value of them. Zach, aside from um, taking in carbon, what are some of the other benefits that mangroves, uh, have? Right. So they have incredible benefits for wildlife and that's really why we got started protecting these areas. They, a lot of these areas are the world's last end developed California gray whale breeding lagoons. They're critical stops and the Pacific flyway for migratory birds, they're feeding areas for sea turtles. They're also at the basis of a lot of commercial fisheries that go to international markets in the context of climate change.

Speaker 7: 25:03 We're also seeing that these mangroves buffer coastal communities against more intense hurricanes and sea level rise. So mangroves are helping sequester carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. But our mangroves also at risk because of climate change itself. Absolutely. So in areas that mangroves don't have and place to migrate to. So with sea level rise, we're going to see coastal ecosystems move if they can, if there's development or agriculture or other land uses right up against where these mangroves are, they will not be able to migrate and they will actually be squeezed out by sea level rise. So it's not only important that we protect the mangroves that are there now, but areas around it to allow them to move over time. If mangroves can be restored as you're doing in Baja, does that mean they can also be planted anywhere in the world to help guard against climate change?

Speaker 7: 25:48 Maybe not anywhere in the world. They grow in very particular particular climate. So it needs to be warm. There needs to be certain levels of salinity. But what we're looking at is restoring reforestation projects in Mexico. So we just got a grant from the United nations development program to restore about a hundred acres of degraded mangroves in a place called San Ignacio lagoon. That's the world's last undeveloped California gray whale breeding ground, also home to these mangrove ecosystems. So we're actually looking to reform a certain areas and that project's very scalable to other areas in Baja, the Gulf of California and throughout, um, tropical parts of the world where these mangroves grow. So what does this Keeling curve prize award mean for wild coast? So this Keeling curve prize shows recognition of our project. We're onto a great idea. We're getting a lot of exposure because of winning this award, but we're also getting $25,000 in funding. Then it's going to help us advance the protection of these mangroves. It's going to allow us to continue to do the science and then we're also going to use that funding to go through the accreditation process. We have a project that's accredited and the voluntary carbon markets, we can actually work with the Mexican government to sell carbon credits that can then be reinvested in the management conservation of these areas. All right. I've been speaking with Zach plop or conservation director at wild coast. Zach, thank you so much. Thank you.

Speaker 8: 27:03 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 27:07 I'm Mark Sauer and today we offer stories about San Diegans taking a stand against climate change. Next, we're going to listen back to a pair of interviews with people who have practical advice on what the average person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. First, we're going to talk about travel. Millions of travelers are on the move each day from Europe to Yosemite, from Hawaii to Antarctica, and of course on freeways throughout California. All of this burns, fuels spewing huge amounts of greenhouse gases. But what if we all traveled a lot less? Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist based near Los Angeles. He wrote a book in 2017 about his personal quest to decreases carbon footprint. It's called being the change live well and spark a climate revolution. A big part of change for him was cutting out conventional travel. I spoke with commas by Skype in June. Well, in 2010 you began a journey to decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions you were creating. What was the impetus for that?

Speaker 9: 28:11 You know, um, when I was a graduate student in New York city, I started learning about climate change. I was studying astrophysics at the time, but I got more and more concerned about it as I learned more and you know, I couldn't believe that this wasn't a story at the top of the headlines every day and that people were seemed like they didn't really know about it and they weren't really doing much about it. And so eventually it dawned on me that one thing you know I could do was to reduce my own emissions. As my awareness grew, the feeling I had about my own emissions, my sense of not wanting to eat anymore, it got stronger and stronger. So I naturally started looking for ways to reduce and when I started figuring out where my emissions were actually coming from, to my surprise, at that time, 75% of our rounds of my ambitions were from air travel.

Speaker 1: 29:00 So you haven't flown in a plane since 2012 what is the avoiding flying look like in your own life?

Speaker 9: 29:05 Well, my parents live in Chicago. I'm in Los Angeles, so about once a year. That means a 4,000 mile trip, either by train or by driving for several years. I would do that trip in a car that ran on waste vegetable oil. It was sort of a hobby of mine, old Mercedes. And then, um, late last year I actually purchased an electric car, a Tesla. Um, so in December, December and January we, my family and I did the trip over the mountains in the winter time in the Tesla and it worked totally fine. How did you find places to charge it along the way? Uh, well all of the freeways right now, by every a hundred miles, there's a supercharger from Tesla. So it's, it's actually quite easy. Um, it takes a little bit longer. Um, you know, to get a hundred miles of charge right now it takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get 200 miles of charge if you need that, it's more like 45 minutes.

Speaker 9: 29:57 So you have to stop for lunch or dinner or something longer than that than stopping for gas obviously. And you a little bit longer, but, but you have more breaks and um, you know, you kind of have this break to look forward to. So it was actually kinda nice and understand, even skipped, uh, going on a trip to Paris with your family. How did that, how'd you come to that decision? You know, my family doesn't fly that much. I think my wife's taken only maybe two plane trips in the last four or five years. Um, this was something they'd been planning for a while and really wanted to do. And I, I was sad not to be a part of it, but my sense of urgency about climate change has gotten so strong that that even a family trip to Paris isn't enough to get me on a plane.

Speaker 9: 30:37 I mean, this is just, uh, I see ecosystems breaking down. Um, I see a species struggling, you know, I see ice sheets melting away and heat waves getting worse and, um, you know, sort of political ramifications from climate refugees and it's all breaking my heart. So it just wasn't, you know, it broke my heart to miss that trip with them, but it wasn't, it didn't rise to the level of getting me on a plane. Now critics may say that your individual changes are amounting to much. We need systemic changes? What's your response? Absolutely. I feel so strongly about that myself. But when you think about it, what can we as we are individuals, that's just the fact, each one of us. So what can we do as individuals to push for that systemic collective change that we desperately need? Um, so as an advocate, as, as a scientist who speaks out about climate urgency, I think my message is made much, much stronger by my decision to use less fossil fuels.

Speaker 9: 31:39 So that's one among very many ways that I pushed for this cultural shift that we need. The, the collective action will only happen. And once it happens, I think it will happen pretty quickly. So I'm optimistic in that sense, but it will only happen once the public has a strong enough sense of urgency and that's going to take a cultural shift. So you literally walking the walk, I mean, you ride your bike around, you're walking places, you're doing public transportation, anything to avoid the burning fossil fuels. Now the way we all jump in a car as individuals and a lot of that stuff that I do, I absolutely love. For example, riding a bike. It's my main form of exercise and I just feel super happy when I'm on a bike. I would completely do that the same way. Even if there wasn't any climate breakdown happening and the car culture has been ingrained for a century in places like Southern California.

Speaker 9: 32:28 How can that reasonably be changed? Well, I'm, so, cars are interesting, especially when you look at them and really relative to airplanes because there is sort of a path forward, uh, through electric vehicles, um, where you can at least imagine some semblance of a carbon free car culture. You know, I think there's other problems with the car culture. There's just too many cars on the road. It causes our cities to be too spread out. So maybe the personal car, and it's also incredibly expensive to own a personal vehicle the way we do. I mean, most of those cars are just sitting most of the time, so we may be moving away from that. But airplanes, there's no similar kind of technological path towards carbon free Ava. You know, some, some technological optimists might disagree and say that electric planes are on the horizon, but I don't know fuel planes, right?

Speaker 9: 33:16 So the problem with biofuels is there's just not enough of it. You can certainly run airplanes on essentially vegetable oil like I was doing with my old 1984 Mercedes, but right? Maybe, maybe algae. But it just takes an incredible amount of this stuff and right now we don't have the capacity to make that much fuel. And then the problem with batteries and airplanes is the energy density just isn't there. I think, you know, it's almost maybe a factor of 10 to go, um, that, you know, the, the energy density, the amount of energy get per unit mass of the kerosene is just so much higher than what you get from batteries in a car. It's kind of wonderful to have that mass low down. You get this wonderful handling from having a battery down there, but in an airplane you have to lift that up into the air.

Speaker 9: 34:00 And so it doesn't make sense energetically. Now if our listeners want to decrease their own carbon footprint in terms of travel, what do you recommend? So in terms of travel, um, you know, almost anything you do except maybe driving a very large SUV by yourself is going to be better than getting into a plane. So the main thing is probably to, you know, substitute of vacation on the other side of the world with something closer. So if there's something in your state or in a nearby state that you've always been kind of thinking would be kind of fun to explore and do maybe a road trip and you know, maybe fit your whole family into the vehicle, then you're going to have substantial carbon savings. That way the bus actually, um, you know, if you can, if you can stand being on a bus, um, the bus is the best.

Speaker 9: 34:48 Uh, from a carbon emissions point of view, the best thing that you can take, transportation wise riding coach and a train is roughly half as much admission as this riding coach in an airplane in this country. So we have a ways to go to decarbonize our train system in Europe, for example. They've, they've made significant inroads there, you know, because you can obviously electrify trains in a way that you can't electrify airplanes or that we haven't so far been able to electrify airplanes. All right, well, Peter Kalmus, thanks for joining us today. Thanks for having me Mark. And finally we're going to turn our attention to plastics. They're choking our oceans and threatening all Marine life. More than 360 million

Speaker 1: 35:39 tons of plastic are produced annually. Millions of tons end up in our oceans. Can we change that? Will McCollum of green peace offers a practical guide in how to give up plastic? I spoke with him in August when his book first came out. Here's that interview. If you walk the beaches in San Diego or practically any seashore in the world, this problem is obvious. How did we end up with this universal pollution crisis? A plastics have been around for many decades.

Speaker 10: 36:07 You know, when they started, people saw it and thought this is a cheap, safe igenic, uh, easy to use material. And they just didn't think about the end of its life. They didn't think about, well, if we carry on producing at this rate, who's going to deal with it? It just never occurred to them and, and that's amazing to look back now and be like, how did you not realize this was going to become a big problem? But you know, that's dwelling on the past and I prefer to look at the future of now we know it's a problem now we can see on every beach, as you say, around the world, we're finding plastic even on the most remote parts of the planet. We have to do something about it. We can't let plastic production continue to rise at the rate that it is.

Speaker 1: 36:45 Now you're right that not just environmentalists, but politicians, celebrities, consumer store owners, et cetera, are finally aware that plastic is polluting virtually the entire planet. We've recycled for a long time. We've ended the use of plastic shopping bags here and in many other places. There's a big push to cut down and using plastic straws at major change. That's not nearly enough though, is it?

Speaker 10: 37:05 No, no. It's a great start because you know, our waste system isn't exactly great and, and any piece of plastic you're using could end up in the ocean. So those small items, cutting them out wherever you can are really important also cause they're, it's empowering to, to play your part. This is a shared problem. We all want to feel like we're part of the solution as well. Uh, but you know, we have to get companies and government to listen to, to say, you know, this is our target. We're going to reduce plastic by this much by this year, by 50%, by 2025 let's say. And only when we have that really strong vision are we going to start to see that the pace of change match where it needs to be?

Speaker 1: 37:47 Well in plastic, so much of it designed for single use seems the definition of convenience. How do you sell the public on the inconvenient truth that plastic has to go

Speaker 10: 37:56 well? I think a lot of the public are already there. You know, they're going to the store. No one wants to go into a store and walk home, unpack their bags and realize they have just as much plastic as they've got food in their bags. You know, no one enjoys the experience. No one goes to the shop and thinks, Oh yeah, my fruit and vegetables really needs three layers of plastic. Packaging is just, we don't have a choice. You know, if you go, if you, if you live in the Western world, you don't have much choice about using that much plastic. So this is what needs to change. We need, we needed to be made easier for us and, and individuals play a huge role in that by, you know, using their voice. Unlike decades gone passed through social media, we have access to decision makers.

Speaker 10: 38:36 We can actually make ourselves heard much, much more easily and we can say, you know, enough is enough. We don't want to be part of this problem. We're doing our bit, you know, I've got my eras reusable water bottle. I'm cutting out plastic by making my lunch on a Sunday and taking it in a lunch box, which I have to say is the single biggest way I reduce my plastic footprint by doing that. Uh, but now it's your turn to join this with us. What are you going to do? Are you gonna set these targets? Are you going to reduce the amount of plastic you're producing in your book? Is a guide to drastically cutting down on your supplies Dick in our lives. What are some of the other basic things that everyone can do? Reusable coffee cup and saying no to straws, a reusable water bottle, a reusable bag in the kitchen, you know, do some research.

Speaker 10: 39:18 Where in your area is selling food, not wrapped in plastic. Go there or order from there online, uh, in the bathroom. You know, use a bar of soap instead of plastic bottles for shower gel. Look up companies like lush that are doing moisturizer and creams and tins that you can return to them. Stop using cotton airbags, stop smoking cause cigarettes are cigarette butts are made of plastic. You know, these are all such simple steps and the impact they have is real because our waste systems are, are pretty broken. And the plastic that you're using in your house might actually end up in the ocean. So best not have it there in the first place. And the plastic bottle, you're right about 500 billion are sold annually. That's 16,000 a second. I mean it's a mind ball gun boggling number, but a you recommended deposit return scheme, Germany and Norway, Havana.

Speaker 10: 40:06 Some States like Michigan habit here. Why isn't it more widespread in the United States? I think because we just forgot that it was a really good idea because it's something from the past, people thought, I know we probably got rid of it because we didn't, it wasn't no good. And you know that's just wrong. So deposit return scheme, they're brilliant. In Germany they reduced plastic bottle pollution by 95% so 95% of plastic bottles are recycled in Germany. Compare that to UK were only 50% ours, but we don't have a deposit return scheme. We're meant to be getting one soon. And you know, it's that these solutions are simple. We have the tools, we know how to do this, we just have to get on and do it. And you wrote that people are surprised to learn that their clothes are responsible for about a third of all plastic released into the oceans.

Speaker 10: 40:50 Explain how that is. So you'll close if your clothes were made of nylon or polyester. When you put them in the laundry, the plastic can shed off. So in these tiny little things called microfibers, tiny filaments are plastic finer than a human hair. And they're so small that they can go drown the drain system into the water and eventually end up in the ocean. And when they're in the ocean, they act like magnets. All kinds of other bad stuff sticks to it like mercury or other chemicals. So when they're eaten by a fish, you know they're actually quite toxic. And then that fish is eaten by a bigger fish. As you can buy, a bigger fish could even end up on your dinner plate. That's where we have a problem with microfibers. So by washing your clothes differently, by doing them at a lower spin cycle, a lower temperature full load, you can help reduce microfibers going into the environment.

Speaker 10: 41:32 But you can also just think twice about do you really need the item of clothing? Is it really necessary? Or maybe you could just repair an item that you've already got. And that goes back to this idea of these solutions often quite simple. They're there, they're not rocket science, but one of the, one of the overall solutions might be to, uh, to tax producers. When you've got a multibillion dollar a plastics petroleum industry, army of lobbyists consider it seems like a daunting task complete. And, and the, the producers for a long time have gotten away with not paying the cost of the end life of their product. You know, the automobile industry, they pay their, they pay their costs for the end life of cars. The electronic waste industry is having to pay much more of the cost. But plastics producers, they haven't had to yet.

Speaker 10: 42:16 And that's somewhere where we really need to see legislation. We need to see, uh, the production of plastic being, uh, paying the full price, the full environmental costs of it rather than, you know, producing it, putting on a shelf and then leaving all of the costs to the consumer. No, this segment is part of our climate dusk coverage or connect the dots for us. Tell us how plastics pollution is connected to the climate change crisis. Well, two main ways. One way is plastic is made of fossil fuels. So the oil companies digging up the oil, they're making that plastic. And if we are going to continue at the rate of plastic production at the rate we are so quadruple by 2050, then plastic could make up 15% of our global carbon budget. That makes the plastic problem into a climate problem. So reducing the amount of plastic as the only way out of that.

Speaker 10: 43:04 Now the other way is plastic is very linked to over consumption. You know, is very much linked to us taking more than we need. Using resources inefficiently aren't economically. And so, you know, plastic is often used for marketing, for over-packaging, for making a product stand out for trying to persuade us to buy more of something than we need. And that's the other link to climate because so much of climate change as we saw in the, in the land use report earlier released today by the international panel on climate change, you know, over consumption is a major driver of climate change. And plastic is facilitating that. Well, so much to think about. I've been speaking with will McCollum, author of how to give up plastic. Thanks. Well thanks.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.