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.”
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.
Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors spoke with Fresh Dialogues last night in San Francisco about the five week suspension of Chevy Volt production; the future of what he described as GM’s “statement car” and his surprisingly candid views on climate change.
Arguing that GM matches production to inventory, he said, “It’s foolhardy to produce beyond demand.” As of February 2012, Volt inventory was 6,300 units, enough to last at least 5 months at current sales volumes. Last month 1,023 Volts were sold, up from 603 units in January, making the 2012 goal of 45,000 sales appear a huge stretch. Akerson complained about the media’s laser focus on the Chevy Volt. Despite it being less than half of one percent of GM’s annual car production, it gets all the attention. He noted that no one batted an eye when production of the Chevy Cruze (GM’s top selling car) was halted for two weeks.
So what’s the future of the Volt? A spring relaunch will feature new generation Volts, with improved emissions levels, which now qualify for HOV lane stickers in California – a key factor, since one in four Volts are sold in the Golden State. He believes that this will help stimulate demand and quoted a recent study that found the average commuter saves 36 minutes a day by using carpools. Time is money. But is it worth $40,000? He confirmed that small shipments of the new Volt had already been made and the car will be available soon in California showrooms.
Akerson also described the new ad campaign which will be, in his words “more interesting.”
And the facts about Global Warming? Fresh Dialogues had to ask.
“We’re doing the right thing for the company at the right time. We will leave it up to the consumer how they interpret that.” Akerson said.
But his position on climate change is clear. During a Commonwealth Club interview, he confessed that he “believes” in Global Warming, adding “Several GM executives say ‘you don’t say that in public.’ Well, this may surprise you but my underwear doesn’t have GM stamped on it…I am an individual and I do have my own convictions.”
Good to know.
Here’s the amusing video segment from the Commonwealth Club
Read transcripts, see photos and check out our ARCHIVES featuring exclusive interviews with Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many more green experts and visionaries…
Days before the Global Climate Conference in Durban South Africa, NBC’s Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw delivered a strong message in Silicon Valley for those who deny climate change. “It’s real, we see it in our weather systems,” he said and made a somber call to action, saying everyone needs to take a part. Brokaw, who has hosted two documentaries about global warming for the Discovery Channel, says he’s planning an expedition to Antarctica with a team of climate scientists to record the glacial melting next January.
Brokaw cited carbon based fuels and energy consumption as major issues, and stopped short of making specific policy recommendations, but said that the Obama administration missed a valuable opportunity to do something substantial about energy and jobs. “People could have got allied with that,” he added.
He acknowledged his part in contributing to the problem (long commutes in polluting LA traffic to visit his beloved mother), but is now doing what he can to be greener. He recently adopted solar in his Montana Ranch, recouping his capital investment in only three years. In this intimate video, he waxes lyrical about the piping hot water and heating system – even during long Montana winters.
Brokaw ended on an upbeat note, saying that he thinks the younger generation will change things for the better.
The video was recorded on November 21st, 2011 at the Commonwealth Club in Silicon Valley, moderated by KGO TV’s Dan Ashley. Brokaw is promoting his new oeuvre The Time of Our Lives, a conversation about America; Who we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American Dream.
TJ Rodgers, the outspoken CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, was one of four Visionary Awards recipients at the Oscars of Silicon Valley June 21st – a gathering of Silicon Valley elite presented by SV Forum. He was introduced by Eric Benhamou of Benhamou Ventures who described Rodgers as “a tough boss, argumentative and very competitive,” and added “I’m using polite language here.”
Renowned for his libertarian views, and highly critical of government “meddling” in the economy, Rodgers, who led the acquisition of SunPower by Cypress in 2004, shared some of his business philosophy with Fresh Dialogues. And check out this VIDEO CLIP to hear why Rodgers almost named Cypress “Pear Tree” and how he maintains his passion for learning…in his hot tub, with the newspapers, a floating desk and LEDs.
TJ Rodgers on global warming
“Global warming is a secular religion…I call it the Church of Greenhouse Gases.”
TJ Rodgers on New York Times columnist and author of Hot, Flat and Crowded, Tom Friedman
“Friedman is doing a disservice to the American economy. He’s a writer. He knows nothing about cleantech and creating businesses and jobs.”
TJ Rodgers on the role of government in stimulating the green economy
“I believe in a level playing field. Scrap subsidies for oil….I’m against laws like AB 32.”
Note: In 2010, TJ Rodgers took a strong and vocal stand for California’s Proposition 23, which sought the suspension of AB 32, the law that regulates greenhouse gas emissions. He quit his position on the board of SunPower, adding, “I was at odds with the management of SunPower…they knew who I was when I saved their ass.” (referring to Cypress Semiconductor’s purchase of Sunpower in 2004 which proved to be a mutually advantageous choice for both companies)
TJ Rodgers on why you should invest in cleantech
“A ‘greater good” motivation is not a good argument. Business isn’t charity. Create products people need, efficiently and produce profit for shareholders. Profits give you the moral high ground…they make for a good economy and more jobs.”
TJ Rodgers on cleantech entrepreneurs who want to ‘save the planet’
“I’d be more skeptical about investing in cleantech entrepreneurs who are motivated by global warming…it’s like a religion. It’s not good business.”