Transcript: Thom asks Rolf Skar, is global warming the cause of wildfires? 10 September 2009

Thom Hartmann: Rolf Skar is with us. He’s with Greenpeace, A Greenpeace forest campaigner. Hey Rolf, welcome to the show.

Rolf Skar: Hey Thom, glad to be here.

Thom Hartmann: Great to have you with us. In fact, for those of you who are watching our video stream, Rolf is coming in by Skype, and so you can see him. How are you doing Rolf?

Rolf Skar: Doing well today.

Thom Hartmann: There’s a fascinating article in “Science”. “Science” is the journal of the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And pretty much anybody who is a solid, real scientist subscribes to it, and it’s the top of the hill to get published in “Science”. It’s, you know, very, very difficult to get published there' it's solid peer review. It is talking about the forest fires that we’re seeing out West. Tell me about this.

Rolf Skar: Yeah, the science has been mounting now for years, showing that there’s a direct correlation between hotter, drier summers, earlier snowmelts, and more severe, more dangerous fires. So on the top level, this makes sense to an elementary school kid. You know, if you got hotter, drier weather, it’s a lot easier for fires to start and spread. But climate and weather are complicated phenomena, and scientists are now drilling down and showing the connection between these sort of hotter, drier conditions, and then the phenomenon of climate change, which is a bit more abstract and harder for people to understand.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. I’ve been arguing for some time that instead of calling it climate change, we should call it atmosphere deterioration.

Rolf Skar: Yes, that's a good point.

Thom Hartmann: Because even climate change sounds kind of passive. You know like, "Big deal. Global warming, oh yeah. Great, in the winter I’ll be able to have a more comfortable climate." You know, that kind of thing, but this is really what we’re talking about here is the deterioration of our atmosphere.

For a long time, the debate in the United States, where the discussion in the United States with regard to climate change, scientists were always very, very careful to couch their language around, you know, "we can’t see the effects of this yet, you can’t attribute, you know, like "New Orleans, for example". Everybody was back peddling on saying whether Katrina was caused by global climate change or atmospheric deterioration. Now, it seems scientists are willing to say more than they were before.

Rolf Skar: Yes, that’s true. Now, you can’t blame a given fire like the ones that have been in Southern California on climate change, or even weather alone. For example, there’s now an arson investigation into one of those significant fires. So, of course, there’s ignition, there’s weather patterns, there’s terrain, there’s a variety of factors that lead into a large phenomenon like a large wild fire. But what scientists are starting to say, which is becoming more and more clear, and sort of unavoidable, is that as climate change and global warming, or climate deterioration as you call it Thom, takes hold, and as we forecast into the future, we can be more and more confident that we’re going to see more conditions that will lead to more, larger fires.

That's sort of an inevitable truth when we look at the evidence there, and so that begs the question about action, shouldn't we be doing something now to make sure that in 2050 our grandkids aren’t dealing with even more extreme, larger and more dangerous fires.

Thom Hartmann: That’s right. So, Rolf Skar, with what is Greenpeace recommending?

Rolf Skar: Well, Greenpeace is recommending that in addition to preventative measures, and the emergency measures that happen on the ground every time that a fire hits, we looked at things like fire-safe developments, that home owners take responsibility for their homes and the areas around them. That we remove unneeded roads so that sources of ignitions, sparks, or even deliberate arson can be minimized. That we invest in prescribed burning, and other treatments that may help fire-dependent ecosystems get more into a natural rhythm with fires.

But more importantly though, the preventative measures that aren’t being discussed all that much in the context of these fires, is that the US, and in particular President Obama should stand up and provide some real leadership, and show the international community that we are ready to take the threat of global warming seriously, and that we’re ready to cut our emissions here at home as well as invest in climate-friendly technologies and development overseas.

Thom Hartmann: You know, the Prime Minister of Japan, the newly elected Prime Minister of Japan, who displaced the Liberal Party which actually was the Conservative Party, which has been ruling Japan for fifty years, and he is, cause the word Liberal means something different in Europe and Japan than it does here. Here we refer to people with that label as Conservatives. He has come out and said that even though the official position of the previous government was that Japan was going to dial back by eight percent their emissions, that he’s going to go for the twenty percent, the full twenty percent, and this is like, making big headlines. Several big stories about it in the “Financial Times” in the last couple of days. Do you think that, what do you see happening, and we've got about a half a minute left here, Rolf, what do you see happening in Copenhagen in December, when this is really all going to come together?

Rolf Skar: Well, right now, because the US has failed to provide leadership, the US Congress in particular has acted like a lead balloon on this issue, and the US put out a target of four percent, which has been full of loopholes and other get-out-of-jail-free cards for industry, the climate talks are at risk. Japan is taking a good first step forward. If the US steps up and gets to the twenty-five to forty percent reduction range by 2020 that scientists have said that we need to get to, in order to have a reasonable chance of stopping climate change, then the talks could be back on track.

Thom Hartmann: Yes. And let us not forget 350, three hundred and fifty parts per million. We have got to get our carbon dioxide rate down, right now it’s about 385, we've got to get it down to 350. Rolf Skar, thanks Rolf.

Rolf Skar: Thanks Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Great to have you us.

Transcribed by Gerard Aukstiejus.

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