Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.

As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”

Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.

I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.

“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”

She’s talking primarily about global sea level rises, but there’s also the devastation that will occur due to rising temperatures, widespread drought and the increasing frequency of deadly storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Find out more about Stahl’s report for the Years of Living Dangerously series here. It’s produced by David Cameron and features reports from Tom Friedman, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle.

The interview was recorded at the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series in Silicon Valley on May 15, 2014.

Check out my interview with Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters’ legacy.

Jennifer Granholm: Amazing Race for Clean Energy

Jennifer Granholm: Amazing Race for Clean Energy

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Let’s face it, President Obama is struggling to get anything through Congress right now, never mind a national energy policy, but here’s a big idea from Berkeley’s Jennifer Granholm to create more clean energy and clean jobs… from the bottom up.

You may remember Jennifer Granholm as the Governor of Michigan (2003-2011), the TV host of “The War Room” or the passionate speechmaker at the DNC 2012; but perhaps her most lasting contribution to the world will be this big idea: a Clean Energy Race to the Top.

Leveraging her experience in Michigan, where she attempted to transform the state’s “rustbelt” image to “greenbelt” by investing heavily in clean energy and green jobs, she’s seen the strategy’s economic impact and is eager to keep the momentum going. This time, on a national basis.


Modeled after the Education Race to the Top (RTT), her clean energy idea is to offer a pot of money to incentivize all 50 states to compete and raise their clean energy standards to 80% by 2030. Just think: The Amazing Race for Clean Energy.

Her budget? A cool $4.5 Billion. By her calculations, that’s less than one tenth of 1% of Federal funding (and close to the RTT budget for education), nevertheless in today’s economy, funding prospects look grim.

Granholm’s Clean Energy Race to the Top sounds like a smart idea, but in these times of brutal belt tightening and sequestration, securing that funding looks like mission impossible.  It will be fascinating to watch the debate unfold here and at her TED talk; and see if she gets any traction for it during this congress.

It might not be perfect time for a Clean Energy Race to the Top, but don’t expect the idea to wither and die. Granholm may be keeping a relatively low profile as a law professor at UC Berkeley these days, but if there’s another Clinton (or Obama) in the White House in 2016 or beyond (I’m talking Hillary or Michelle), we may see Granholm taking a cabinet role. She’s earning her stripes for a position as Energy Secretary, and that could one day make her big idea a reality.

This Fresh Dialogues interview took place at the Claremont Hotel, Berkeley on February 21, 2013

See more on Clean Energy policy here 



Dianne Feinstein Plans Carbon Tax, Argues Against Keystone, Oil & Gas Subsidies

Dianne Feinstein Plans Carbon Tax, Argues Against Keystone, Oil & Gas Subsidies

Senator Dianne Feinstein shared her plans to introduce a new “carbon fee” bill, during a press conference Wednesday in downtown San Francisco.

“I think a carbon fee is growing in popularity,” said Feinstein, after an appearance at the Commonwealth Club. Her plans follow President Obama’s SOTU call for “market based solutions to climate change,” and a growing consensus among experts in favor of using the taxation system to control carbon dioxide emissions.

She referred to her colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders), which proposed a “carbon fee and dividend scheme” that would tax carbon emitters, such as coalmines, at the source. Here’s the rationale:

  1. By increasing the price of fossil fuel in the market…
  2. It levels the playing field between carbon-based fuels and renewable fuels, such as wind and solar, making renewables more competitive and attractive to consumers and investors.
  3. A portion of the “dividend” (the carbon “fee” proceeds) would be refunded to US residents.

Similar schemes have been implemented in British Columbia, Sweden and Ireland  with some success. The aim is to encourage consumers to see the true cost of their energy choices. The fee represents some of the externalities of choosing fossil fuel, such as particulate pollution and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

Feinstein responds to a climate change question from Alison van DiggelenFeinstein’s proposal was short on details, but she confirmed, “It’s my intention to introduce a fee of $10 a ton and we’ll see what happens to it.”

The Boxer-Sanders proposal is for a tax (or “fee”) of  $20 per ton of carbon. Presumably Feinstein feels it’ll  be more palatable to start at a lower level and gradually phase in a higher tax over several years.

Feinstein acknowledged that with other issues stealing center stage (notably saber-rattling in North Korea and the ongoing domestic gun control debate), climate change is not currently on the government’s “high priority list,” so it’s hard to predict what progress the government will achieve.

Nevertheless, Feinstein was vocal on the topic of climate change and bullish about renewable energy during an earlier interview with the Commonwealth Club’s Greg Dalton:

On the threat of Climate Change Dianne Feinstein talks with Greg Dalton, Commonwealth Club

“People don’t really understand. They think the earth is immutable. They think we can’t destroy it, that it’s here to stay. It’s not so… As we fill the atmosphere with pollutants: methane, carbon dioxide, other things…it warms the earth. And it begins with animal habitat disappearing, the ocean beginning to rise, more violent hurricanes, tornadoes…drought is more prevalent.”

“What’s going to be the ultimate change is weather. People see weather, they see the devastation and so eventually people are going to come around to support restrictions on carbon dioxide, maybe a fee on the use of carbon to replace our deficit, our debt. A $20 fee (per ton of carbon or methane equivalent) is like $1.2 Trillion in revenue over 10 years.  If you just take half that: $600 Billion.”

“I wouldn’t say there’s much (support in the Senate) but I would say this: people are coming to realize now… climate change is getting worse. Actually  since 2008, ‘good energy’ has doubled. Electric cars are being more prevalent, hybrids are being more prevalent. People are saving money. Good things are happening. The question is: can we really bite the bullet and make the decision that we’re going to save the planet?”

On the Keystone Pipeline

“I’m told the area in Alberta (Canada) is bigger than the state of Florida, I’m told it’s a forested area which they mow down and begin to dig the huge giant lakes which they pour chemicals in to produce this form of tar sands oil. The earth is defaced forever.”

“Now we have to make up our minds: do we want to deface large portions of our earth forever? I don’t think so because we’re making progress on clean energy and that ought to really be where we go.”

“Some people say if the pipeline isn’t built north-south through the center of our country, they’re only going to do it east to west and send it to China. That’s not a good argument.”

Feinstein urged the audience to read the latest article on tar sands from National Geographic.

On California’s Monterey Shale Reserves

“I don’t think candidly that it’s all that necessary. There will be no oil drilling off the coast of California, if Senator Boxer and I prevail, and we have so far. My emphasis would be on clean energy: the wind farms, the solar facilities and there’s so much research going on on different forms of fuel. Leave those fossil fuels alone because they pollute the atmosphere.” Read more on the country’s largest shale oil resource from KQED.

Photo by Alison van Diggelen

Photo by Alison van Diggelen

On Tesla’s Model S

“I sat on one (a Tesla Model S) out at the Tesla Fremont plant. I kind of dented the fender. But anyway…” (laughter)

Feinstein drives a Lexus hybrid

On California’s water shortages

“We’re on our way to a much drier climate…the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s drying up and it’s very serious…The key is: we need to store more water from the wet years and hold it for the dry years and this environmentalists don’t like. It may mean raising a couple of dams (eg Shasta)…I do believe that the time is now to have a storage water bond. The most important thing we can do for our state is to hold water from the wet years for the dry years and we should get that done (or) we’re going to lose our agriculture… I live in Washington now for a lot of the time and I can tell you the crops grown in California taste much better than most places in the world.”

On subsidies to oil and gas

I think the day has come for subsidies to go for industries other than startups like some of the clean energy…solar. As you know, everything is “cut cut cut” back there (DC) right now. With sequestration cutting another $85 Billion before the beginning of the fiscal year and the amount goes up. So there’s going to be cut after cut after cut. And they’re big cuts. So I think we need to look at tax reform and we need to look at all those deductions and remove a lot of them and we also need to look at our entitlements programs.”

Bill Clinton’s Hero: Former Climate Skeptic Richard Muller

Bill Clinton’s Hero: Former Climate Skeptic Richard Muller

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

On December 7, President Bill Clinton appeared at Celebrity Forum in Silicon Valley and talked at length about climate change, referring to Berkeley scientist Dr. Richard Muller  as “a hero of mine.”
You may recall Dr. Muller, the self described “former skeptic” who frequently emphasized the fallibility of research on global warming and was funded by the Koch Foundation. But last summer, after thorough research with the Berkeley Earth project, he announced his dramatic conversion in an Op-Ed in the New York Times. He now concludes that global warming is happening, and that humans are essentially responsible for all of the warming in the last 250 years.
I happened to be sitting next to Dr. Muller last week, and although he was whisked backstage by some big secret service staffers after Clinton’s speech, he agreed to answer a few Fresh Dialogues questions by email about his research and how he feels about hero worship by number 42.
You might be surprised to learn three things about Dr. Muller:
1. He says Hurricane Sandy cannot be attributed to climate change.
2. He suggests individually reducing our carbon footprint is pointless – we need to “think globally and act globally” and encourage the switch from coal to gas power in China and developing nations. He’s a fan of “clean fracking.”
3. He says climate skeptics deserve our respect, not our ridicule.
Muller hopes that Berkeley Earth will be able to coordinate with the Clinton Foundation on their mutual goal of mitigating global warming.
Here’s our interview: (it also appears at the Huffington Post, together with a lively debate)
van Diggelen: You wrote in the New York Times that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes – how so?

Muller: Science is that small realm of knowledge on which we can expect and obtain agreement.  I felt that many of the skeptics had raised legitimate issues.  They are deserving of respect, not the kind of ridicule they have been subjected to. We have addressed the scientific issues in the most direct and objective way, and just as I have adjusted my conclusions, I expect that many of them will too.

van Diggelen: Regarding the human cause of global warming, you say that your conclusions are stronger than that of the Intergovernmental Panel. You concluded “essentially all of this increase in temperature results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” The panel said “most of the warming.” Why is this significant?

Muller: The IPCC said “most of the warming” (meaning 51% or more) for the past 50 years.  They could not rule out an important role from solar variability.  We say essentially all of the warming of the past 250 years.  Our analysis allows us to make a better prediction for the future since it does not have confusion from a solar component.

van Diggelen: What’s your message to climate change skeptics?

Muller: Most of your skepticism is still valid.   When something extraordinary happens in weather, such as the accidental occurrence of Hurricane Sandy hitting New Jersey and New York City just at the peak of tides — many people attribute the event to “Climate Change.”  That’s not a scientific conclusion, and it is almost certainly wrong.  Hurricanes are not increasing due to human causes (actually, they have been decreasing over the past 250 years).  Tornadoes are not increasing due to human causes.  (They too have been decreasing.)  So please continue to be skeptical about most of the exaggerations you will continue to hear!  Proper skepticism is at the heart of science, and attempts to suppress such skepticism represent the true anti-science movement.

However, we have closely examined the evidence for temperature rise, and there are several conclusions that are now strongly based on science.  The temperature of the Earth has been rising in a way that closely matches the rise in carbon dioxide. The history of solar activity does not match the data at all.  Based on this, the human cause for this warming is strongly indicated.  Read our Berkeley Earth papers and see if your objections are answered.  I believe that the key objections have all been addressed.  Based on this, you should consider changing your skepticism on global warming, even if you are properly skeptical about all the claims that are lumped together under the rubric of “climate change.”

van Diggelen: You’ve said that the difficult part is agreeing what can and should be done about climate change…any suggestions?

We need to recognize that the greatest contributors to climate change in the coming decades will be China, India, and the developing world.  Thus any solution must be focused on realistic actions that they can take.  The Clinton Foundation is doing wonderful work on energy efficiency and energy conservation, and working closely on this with the developing world. The only other action that we can take that could be equally important over the next 20 to 30 years is to help them switch from coal to natural gas.  (For the same energy delivered, cleanly-produced gas creates only half to one third of the greenhouse emissions.)  This was the subject of my WSJ Op Ed with Mitch Daniels.  It is also discussed in detail in my new book “Energy for Future Presidents.”

van Diggelen: What are YOU doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

Muller: I am trying to get people to stop asking that question!  It is very misleading.  This is a problem in which we need to think global and act global (NOT local!)  Reducing our own footprint, if it is done in a way that will not influence China and the developing world, is not a worthwhile action.  It may make us feel good, and then in the future after the world has warmed (because our actions were not something that China could afford to copy) we’ll be saying “at least it wasn’t MY fault.”  Wrong!  We need to be acting to help China and the emerging economies.  Focusing on ourselves at home is a way of avoiding coming to terms with the problem.

van Diggelen: What should others be doing? If you could have President Obama’s ear for 5 minutes, what would you say?

Muller: Double (or more) our efforts to help China become more energy efficient.  And equally important: develop “clean fracking” standards.  Work with China to expedite and accelerate their switch from coal to natural gas.  Devise market-based approaches that will guarantee that the developing world will apply clean methods to their natural gas production.  Show leadership by approving a US move to nuclear power; reverse your unfortunate canceling of the Yucca Mountain waste storage facility.  In the US emphasize technologies that can work in China (e.g. natural gas), not those that are too expensive (e.g. autos with costly lithium-ion batteries).

van Diggelen: Just how urgently is action needed on climate change?

Muller: We need to act, but no need to panic.  I see no tipping points that are scientifically valid.  Of course, we don’t understand the atmosphere and biosphere well enough to be sure.  Rather than speed of action, the key parameter is finding solutions that are profitable — because those are the ones most likely to be applicable to the poorer nations.

van Diggelen: How do you explain Hurricane Sandy? Some scientists say it was exacerbated by climate change? Warmer oceans, more evaporation? Higher sea level swells?

Muller: None of the above.  Hurricane Sandy was a freak storm that happened because a relatively small hurricane (it wasn’t even a category 1 storm when it hit New York City) veered towards the coast during a very high tide.  None of the causes of the damage can be attributed in a scientific manner to climate change.

The word “scientific” in that last sentence is very important.  Many of the critics of the skeptics claimed that the skeptics were not being scientific.  Yet that is also true of the alarmists.  There is an unfortunate tendency, when the issue is very important (as in climate change) to abandon science and work from gut feelings.  No, that is a mistake; when the issue is important, then it is most urgent that we stick to our science!  We must be objective!

Hurricane Sandy cannot be attributed to global warming.  The rise over the oceans, in the last 50 years, has been about 0.5 degree C.  That’s tiny!  In those 50 years, sea level rose by 4 inches.  So the high tide, if not for global warming, would not have been 14 feet but “only” 13 feet 8 inches.  There was a similarly severe storm in 1938 (my parents lived through it out on Long Island).  We should stop attributing all freak storms to climate change.  This is an important issue, so let’s emphasize the science.

Unfortunately, there will always be scientists with some credentials that will exaggerate, maybe even convincing themselves.  I recall back in the 1950s, when I was a kid in New York City, that the freak storms and changes in climate were attributed by some eminent scientists to atmospheric nuclear testing.  (Maybe the freak storms and changes in climate should now be attributed to the nuclear test ban.)  It is not science to list the bad things that have happened lately and claim that they “may be linked” to climate change. Even scientists, such as those who were passionately afraid of thermonuclear war, tend to see connections in things that aren’t there.

Climate change is real, and we need to do something to stop it.  But it is not strong enough (0.6 C in the last 50 years) to be noticeable by individuals.  It takes scientists analyzing large amounts of data to see it.  (A statistical analysis of hurricanes shows that they have actually been decreasing in number that hit the US coast over the past 150 years.)  That gives us a good idea about what has been happening, and allows us to make predictions for the future.  Those predictions are worrisome enough that we should act — always remembering to keep our focus on China. But let us not be deluding into thinking that every extreme event is evidence supporting our worry.

van Diggelen: How did it feel to be called a hero by Bill Clinton?

Muller: I didn’t know whether to correct him or just feel awed. President Clinton is the true hero for his fantastic foundation, and for addressing many of the most serious problems in the world, from AIDS to clean water to ending poverty.

To read more about Muller’s analysis and conclusions, see Berkeley Earth and his books “Energy for Future Presidents” and its predecessor “Physics for Future Presidents.”

With thanks to Celebrity Forum Founder, Dr. Richard Henning for the introduction to Dr. Muller.


A Clean Energy Future: Advice from Silicon Valley

A Clean Energy Future: Advice from Silicon Valley

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Last night, President Obama addressed the nation for the first time from the Oval office. His subject: the BP oil spill disaster. Although some say he was “vapid”, Obama seized the opportunity to call for a clean energy future and end our addiction to fossil fuels. He underlined China’s massive investment in clean energy jobs and industries (subtext: just like the Space Race in the 50’s & 60’s, the race for Clean Energy has begun, and the U.S. is falling behind); and reminded us that we send almost ONE BILLION DOLLARS EACH DAY to foreign countries for their oil.

“The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.  Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.” President Obama.


In this week’s Fresh Dialogues, we look at the advice gleaned recently from a panel of clean tech experts in Silicon Valley. If the Obama administration is serious about unleashing America’s innovation and creating a clean energy future, it would do well to take note.

From the Fresh Dialogues archives: The Obama administration ought to have sent an envoy to the FountainBlue State of Clean Green Conference this year. A panel of Silicon Valley clean tech experts had much to share on this question: how can Obama better jumpstart the clean tech economy?

Tim Woodward, Managing Director, Nth Power said the government needs to create market demand, and recommends that every government building should have solar power and be retrofitted for energy efficiency; but he warned,

“There’s a little too much of a ‘large check mandate’ in the Federal Government that picks technologies and stifles innovation at lower levels: figure out how to get smaller dollars into the innovation engine of smaller companies.”



Download or listen to this lively Fresh Dialogues interview


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Laurie Yoler, Managing Director, GrowthPoint Technology Partners said,

“I look at the pricing and incentivizing through market pricing. We’re still subsidizing imported oil without putting the investment into alternative energies…I think we should put a tax on imported oil and use it to help pay off some of the defense spending we’re using to protect the transmission of that oil. We need to forge ahead with cap and trade legislation… until we have a price on carbon it’s hard for the markets to plan and have any certainty.”


Elise Zoli, Partner and Chair, Energy Practice, Goodwin Procter said that the Department of Energy needs to improve the low commercialization rate of national labs and is excited about a new national initiative to create virtual access to all the labs’ technology… “so you can  see the technology, acquire it and begin to commercialize it.”

“The DoE has a fantastic lab structure, producing some really innovative technologies… (we need to ) leave them there and help them – through public/private partnerships – and take that technology out of the labs…”


“There are things they (the DoE) do terribly and being a bank is one of them.”


And Elise has one last piece of advice if you have a green energy technology you think the Feds can use, contact Richard Kidd at the Federal Energy Management Program: ”Richard Kidd will not know you exist unless you call him…send an email to Richard’s team and use my name!”

Note: Richard’s email is richard.kidd@ee.doe.gov, 202-586-5772  – tell him Elise sent you…And check out the Program’s website contact page for more info.

Other panelists included Dan Adler, President, California Clean Energy Fund, and Matt Maloney, Head of Relationship Management, Silicon Valley Bank. The interview was recorded at Fountain Blue’s Conference on January 29, 2010.

Related Fresh Dialogues interviews

with Emmett Carson, CEO of the $1.7 Billion Silicon Valley Community Foundation on “How to Create a Green Jobs Mecca”

with Laurie Yoler on Tesla and the State of the Union Address

with Elise Zoli, In Defense of Nuclear

For more Fresh Dialogues archives

Paul Krugman: Will Climate Legislation Kill the Economy?

Paul Krugman: Will Climate Legislation Kill the Economy?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Download or listen to this lively Fresh Dialogues interview


We welcome feedback at FreshDialogues.com, click on the Contact Tab

As delegates gather in Copenhagen this week to thrash out a global treaty on climate change, the shrill from skeptics intensifies. It’s useful to listen to wisdom from Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman. In a recent interview, I asked Paul the question on many lips: Will climate legislation kill the economy?



Paul Krugman, Alison van Diggelen-Fresh Dialogues Interview“If history is any guide… it’s just not a big deal,” says Krugman, citing the example of acid rain legislation which many people also said would kill the economy.  “Dealing with it was cheaper than most estimates had suggested,” he says. “Given the incentives; the private sector found ways to generate a whole lot less acid rain.”

Krugman thinks the same will be true of carbon limits and has already explained his preference for cap and trade in a previous Fresh Dialogues segment.

We also discuss the power of his New York Times column and his influence on the Obama Administration. “We’re speaking across the transom…when I argue with them in my column this is a serious discussion…people in the administration do call me…it’s no longer this sort of Cold War as it was during the Bush years.”

And how does he view his role? “I’m trying to make this progressive moment in American history a success,” says Krugman.

But why not take a position within the administration to be more effective?

“I’m never going to be an insider type. You have to do bureaucratic maneuvering, be pretty good at being polite… reasonably organized…,” says the Pulitzer prize- winning columnist. “I’m none of those things. I can move into a pristine office and within three days it will look like a grenade went off.”

To read this segment transcript, click here.