Transcript: How Can Scientists Work w/Congress? - Dr. Rush Holt - 6 July '16
Thom Hartmann: For tonight's Green Report we talk man-made climate change. Thirty-one leading scientific organizations recently wrote to Congress that "There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health." That's right - ongoing climate change IS HAVING broad negative impacts according to these 31 organizations - including - the American Geophysical Union - the American Meteorological Society - the American Public Health Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
And that should be alarming - because less than a decade ago in a 2009 letter to Congress - scientific groups warned that "there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have," keep in mind this is a 2009 letter so we're in future tense here, "broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment"
Now - we're talking about events that are unfolding right now every day around us in every corner of the world: like the wildfires in the West, the floods in Appalachia and Europe, the drought in India, the algae blooms off of Florida. The scientists write in their letter that "To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced."
For more on this I'm joined now by Dr. Rush Holt - former U.S. Congressman - CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Executive Publisher of the Science family of journals. Dr. Holt, welcome back to the program.
Dr. Rush Holt: Good to be with you, Thom.
Thom Hartmann: And I just want to put in before we get into any of this a plug for the AAAS. I've been on and off, pretty much a lifetime member. I get Science Magazine every week. I am a total science junkie and for anybody who has any interest at all in a deep dive into the entire spectrum of scientific disciplines, your organization is the place to go and Science magazine is the thing to be reading.
Dr. Rush Holt: Well, for more than a century and a half AAAS has been the world's leading organization in seeking to advance science for the benefit of all people. When I announced I was leaving Congress a year and a half ago I didn't know where I was going to go, I just thought it was time, and I couldn't be more fortunate, to end up at this great organization.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, it's a wonderful place. For years I've been giving, at Christmas I give subscriptions to my three kids, and now all three of them are scientists.
Dr. Rush Holt: Good for you. Hey, everybody out there. You heard it. Thank you, Thom.
Thom Hartmann: You heard it here. I don't want to turn this into a commercial but honest to god, it's one of the most amazing organizations.
OK. How desperate has our climate situation become since 2009 when this warning letter was first published?
Dr. Rush Holt: The scientists have collected more evidence, they've re-analyzed the evidence that was existing then, there is a stronger and stronger consensus that what was thought to be happening is indeed happening and the troubling aspects are that it's accelerating. Glaciers are melting, but they are melting faster than people thought. Ocean currents are changing, fisheries are disrupted, but it's happening faster than people thought, than scientists thought.
So scientists are not only more sure that human activities are affecting the Earth; our planet. They are more concerned. Sort of the way it went was, science is not a check list of what's true and what's not true. Nor is it dogmatic, saying 'here's what you must believe'. It's a way of approaching evidence and analyzing and re-analyzing evidence and putting your work out there for others to check. That's how we get to reliable knowledge. Not absolutely foolproof knowledge, but reliable knowledge.
And, you know, scientists at first said a century ago, 'this is interesting, carbon dioxide could serve as a blanket and warm the Earth. Maybe that's what's happened in other planets'. Then some decades ago they said, 'gee, this is interesting, it seems to be warming'. And then, a decade or so ago they said, 'wow, this is really happening'. And now it is, 'uh oh!'
Thom Hartmann: In biological systems and in medicine, there's this thing called amplification which is, somebody has a disease, for example, say a blood infection or something, and you see the bacterial count in the blood and it's at this level and it's at this level and then instead of going up linearly it starts going up logarithmically, exponentially, and that's that point of amplification; that's that tipping point, that point of no return and when a physician sees that in the blood work of a patient then you know this person is getting ready to die or we've got the wrong antibiotic or whatever.
Dr. Rush Holt: Usually you see things like that retrospectively.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Rush Holt: It's hard to know when you're at the end point.
Thom Hartmann: Well, and that's the big problem, is that particularly with big systems like weather systems, you pretty much can't identify the tipping point except retrospectively. But are we seeing evidence of that amplification process, of that going from linear to log in climate systems? And if so, where and what should that tell us and should we be freaked out about it or is that just, 'ok, well that's happening there'?
Dr. Rush Holt: Well, that's what I mean when I say we've reached this 'uh oh' moment where scientists are saying, 'yeah, this is', you know, they were saying, 'this is interesting', and then they were saying, 'gee, I think this is serious'. And now the evidence analyzed, re-analyzed, new evidence, suggests that things are happening even faster - some things - even faster than predicted.
And I suppose it's important to make the distinction between global warming and climate change. It's easy to say, 'oh, well we can adjust to a few degrees difference. We can adjust to a few inches more of sea level. But when the climate changes faster than biological systems can respond, entire forests are wiped out, entire species are wiped out. Crops fail. The changes occur in devastating ways than with more severe storms. Ocean currents that wipe out fisheries, fishing grounds.
Thom Hartmann: We're seeing all this happening right now.
Dr. Rush Holt: And those things are happening, yes.
Thom Hartmann: Are there any technological obstacles right now to an aggressive world wide, I mean, I realize there's political obstacles, but that's a whole other conversation. Are there technological obstacles to our getting off carbon?
Dr. Rush Holt: Sure. I mean, we're heavily dependent on carbon and, by the way, other greenhouse gases. We've been careless with methane. Chlorofluorocarbons are somewhat under control but they have a very strong blanket effect keeping the Earth warm. And it's hard to change our ways. And so that's not just political. Sure, it's political, getting people to change their minds. But it's also an engineering problem. But it's also a behavioral problem. But it could be done and we now know that it is very likely harmful and very likely very harmful so we should be doing more and I think we could.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. What are your thoughts on the Paris Agreement?
Dr. Rush Holt: The significance of the Paris Agreement, the good thing about it, was that many nations made commitments of something they're going to do. Now, are the commitments binding? Not exactly. Will all of those commitments together be enough? No. Not according to current calculations. We would still have dangerously great climate change even if all of these unenforceable agreements of goals were met. But there were 150
, I forget the number, nations that actually committed. So that is significant and everybody there said this was not meant to be final. So it may be that as it dawns on people that this is getting worse and worse, they will, what, ratchet up their commitments. Because I think we can do some things.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah.
Dr. Rush Holt: You know, it's not guaranteed that we haven't passed a tipping point. It's not guaranteed that, you know, freezing at 400 parts per million carbon dioxide in the air or 450 or whatever it is will be enough for ratcheting back to 300 or 280, but it looks like it's not hopeless yet.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Which is, you know, given how dire the situation could be, that's actually good news. Dr. Rush Holt, it's good to have you with us.
Dr. Rush Holt: Thanks a lot. Great to be with you.
Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.