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Climate Change Debate

Aired July 31, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. In the fierce and often ugly fight over global climate change, we finally have an answer and it's coming from the Earth itself. My brief tonight and the focus of this whole program, the weather is telling us that climate change is real, it's here and we are causing it.

Relentless weather swings this summer alone, droughts, wildfires, melting glaciers, unprecedented storms, all are happening at the same time. And around the world, people are demanding that something be done about it.

Even in the United States, ground zero for climate change denial, six in 10 Americans say that they believe it's happening. But political leaders seem to be missing in action, cowed by a vociferous climate change denial club that's actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps themselves.

So now to get to the hard facts and science, we turn to Professor Michio Kaku from City College of New York.

Thank you for being here with us.


AMANPOUR: What is going on? Let's look at our magic table, where we can see what happened in Texas last year.

And the science is telling us that this is connected to global warming.

KAKU: Well, first of all, there's no smoking gun. You can't simply point to one thing and say, aha, that's global warming. But you look at the whole picture. The Southwest is being hit with a triple whammy: high temperatures, low rainfall and also a very dry winter. So the reservoirs are drying up.

All of that is consistent with global warming.

AMANPOUR: And we saw some pictures of these crops. This is also going to cause real pain to individuals. Food prices are going to go up.

KAKU: It's going to hit us in the pocketbook come fall when food prices begin to skyrocket. And remember, about 60 percent of the country is either in drought or near drought conditions, things that we haven't seen since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

AMANPOUR: You describe yourself as a climate skeptic who's converting to a believer in the human factor when it comes to global warming. What is it that caused you to change?

KAKU: I used to say, "Give me a break. I mean, come on. Global warming?" Human activities drive the temperature of the planet Earth? No way. However, I'm not laughing any more because if you look at the sheer amount of data from ice cores, from glacier recession, from increasing sea level rise, all the indicators point in the up direction. There's not a single indicator in the down direction.

AMANPOUR: In fact, there's a very interesting new study that's come out, that showed a carbon curve. As the carbon emission increase, so does the temperature.

KAKU: In fact, that's really scary. This is scary stuff, because it shows that like two roller coasters in synchronization, when carbon dioxide levels go up, temperature rises also in synchronization.

So we're playing with fire. We're playing with the planet Earth. As humans drive the temperature of the Earth by increasing carbon dioxide emissions from home heating, from transportation, from cars, fossil fuel burning, all of that is driving the temperature of the Earth.

AMANPOUR: And we just saw that graph behind me as we were talking. And let's go to what's also happening around the world this summer. And those are floods. We've seen these terrible floods in Russia. We've got fields that are covered with water. I guess it's too early to know what caused that.

KAKU: Well, some people say it can't be global warming. Increased rainfall? Come on. Give me a break, right? However, realize that global warming is a misnomer. It should be called global swings. You can have drought in one area and next door you can have 100-year rainstorms and flooding in the next area.

And as you've noticed, we have all these 100-year floods, 100-year droughts, 100-year floods, 100-year rainfalls. I mean, give me a break.

AMANPOUR: All happening in obviously --


KAKU: All happening --

AMANPOUR: -- years.

KAKU: Get used to it. We're going to have 100-year this, right next to 100-year that because of the fact that is global swings.

AMANPOUR: You say get used to it. But if we go back to our map and look at Italy, look at Venice, which were pictures taken back in 2008, this was the famous St. Mark's Square, which is flooding. What was the analysis of why that was? Global warming?

KAKU: Take a look at sea level rise. For the last 100 years, we can measure the sea level rise going at 8 inches in the last 100 years. And it's accelerating. So we're going to have to get used to the fact that Wall Street may be underwater in part, parts of Boston by mid-century could be underwater because it's basically a landfill.

And look at Venice. Look at all the hot spots. Realize that many of our coastal cities is where people live. And with the sea level rise, it means we're going to have flooding and perhaps dikes around Manhattan.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's look at the simulation. Obviously, this is real in St. Mark's Square, but you were just talking about Wall Street and dikes around Manhattan. This is a simulation taken from Al Gore's famous film, "An Inconvenient Truth," which shows that if the worst case does happen, this is what's going to happen, the black being the sea.

KAKU: That's right. And you have to take a look at the big picture. This is not going to happen soon. We're not going to see this tomorrow. We're talking about decades. But this is a legacy we're going to leave our children. Plus think of the economic impact because the seasons are being disrupted. Agriculture is being disrupted right now.

AMANPOUR: We've got Greenland right here. What does happen when you say it's not going to be tomorrow? Dramatic pictures of this summer, tourists just, you know, going past this land mass and part of a whole iceberg (inaudible).


KAKU: It's happening right now, is the recession of every single major glacier on the planet Earth. And the polar ice caps are thinning by 50 percent just in the last 50 years. Realize that our children are going to say, there's no Santa Claus because there's no North Pole. Santa Claus has to be a myth because there is no North Pole. And every kid is going to know this in the coming decades.

AMANPOUR: We're talking about the North Pole, the Arctic, the Antarctic. But one of the things that really struck me was these summer storms that we've had; we've seen them here in Manhattan, lightning and thunder and torrential rain, which they say are punching into the ozone layer and perhaps thinning it, just like has been happening at the Arctic and the Antarctic.

KAKU: We're being hit with a double whammy. We thought global warming was just global warming and ozone depletion was ozone depletion. And never the twain shall meet. However, now we realize that the two could actually come together. And with this increase in temperature, we could have a larger ozone hole over the South Pole and over the North Pole.

I mean, we're playing with fire. We're playing with the integrity of the planet Earth. The ozone layer makes life on Earth possible. And if we deplete the ozone layer, we're going to be hit with x-rays, ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which means increased cancer, the disruption of agriculture on the planet Earth. We're playing with fire.

AMANPOUR: You've given us the facts, Professor, and we are going to turn next to some of the struggle to come up with some of the solutions. Thank you for being with us.

KAKU: Yes.


AMANPOUR: And about that struggle, no one has waged it more fiercely than Professors Lonnie Thompson and his wife, Ellen Mosley-Thompson. They have made it their personal quest to unlock the frozen history of our climate.

He is one of a small group of scientists whose research actually led to the discovery of global climate change and she leads a major polar research team at the Ohio State University, where they both work and they both join me now.

Thank you both for coming in.



AMANPOUR: What was your most important discovery? We've talked about connecting the dots when it comes to global warming and climate change. But what led you to it?

THOMPSON: Well, I think when you look at the history, when we started, glaciology was kind of a boutique subject. Very few students went into this area. There were very few jobs in the area because glaciers only cover 10 percent of the surface of the planet and they're in places where people don't live.

But as time has gone on and we've had the opportunity to observe these glaciers and now in over 16 countries, we've become very concerned about the rate at which the ice is being lost.

AMANPOUR: And as you heard, Professor Kaku talking about ice cores, and that is what you brought back. And I know you, Professor Thompson, have played a huge role in interpreting the data and the evidence.

What are the ice cores, particularly the ones I think you've got from Peru, what have they told you? What has it led you to know?

MOSLEY-THOMPSON: Well, there are various chemical and chemical species and physical properties that we can extract. Probably one of the - - one of the most important is that temperatures in the 20th century have been rising. Of course, thermometers tell us that. But the ice cores tell us this as well. But in addition, we get information about precipitation, about the chemistry of the atmosphere.

So it's just getting that holistic picture.

AMANPOUR: And Professor Thompson, from what I understand, some people have praised your work, saying that the beauty of it is in its simplicity. How did you manage to convince the skeptics that what you discovered was not just part of a historical cycle?

THOMPSON: It's the length of the records. The ice cores give you a time perspective that you can't get from any other source. The ice is annual. You can go back; you can go through what supposedly were 500-year cycles, 1,000-year cycles and see that they don't exist in a global scale.

And so that perspective is what -- very much like tree rings, that they're annually layered. You can see those temperature variations. You can see the dry seasons and the wet seasons.

AMANPOUR: How long have you been doing this for? Because it seems to be that you're in a race against time.

THOMPSON: We've been doing this since the early 1970s. And as time has progressed, the -- when we started, there was no discussion, serious discussion on global warming and climate change. I mean, you go back in the `70s.

But our observations, with what was happening with the glaciers -- and we had the opportunity to go back year after year to observe these changes. And they are in remote places where most people don't see it. But glaciers are one of our early warning systems on this planet.

AMANPOUR: And as I said, you've been interpreting a lot of this data. You went to Kilimanjaro and there are amazing pictures -- and I think you predicted that the ice would be gone from Mt. Kilimanjaro.

What have you learnt from that, and you brought the ice back to the university, right?

MOSLEY-THOMPSON: Yes. The only ice cores ever to be collected on Kilimanjaro were collected by our team. And after our major analyses, we have retained those for smarter people in the future.

AMANPOUR: I hear you have something like, I don't know, is it 40 miles of it? How much ice do you have at Ohio?

MOSLEY-THOMPSON: We have 7,000 meters.

THOMPSON: That's a little over four miles.

AMANPOUR: Four miles, there you go, an extra zero (inaudible) take off.


AMANPOUR: But what does it mean? Does it mean that perhaps one day that will be the only ice that's available to study?

MOSLEY-THOMPSON: For some locations, such as Kilimanjaro and for Quelccaya ice cap in Peru, that undoubtedly will be true at some point in the future.

One of the --

THOMPSON: Two of the six sites that we drilled in 2000 are now gone. The glacier is gone.

AMANPOUR: Whereabouts?

THOMPSON: On Kilimanjaro.

AMANPOUR: Two of the sites?

THOMPSON: Two of the six sites. So that ice is in the freezer at Ohio State. And give it 20 years, if you want to see ice or look at ice from Kilimanjaro, you'll have to come to the freezers at Ohio State.

AMANPOUR: So how do you decide how hard to keep pushing yourself to do this work? I mean, I know that it's taken a huge toll on your health. You've had major heart issues. You've had a heart transplant.

THOMPSON: This is correct. But it's, you know, everyone has their passion. And as we've come through time, it's become more of a salvage mission, because these histories of our past will disappear. And understanding natural variations and things like El Ninos and monsoons, that history will go with the ice. And even if the climate at some stage does cool again, that history will be gone.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it will? Unless -- I mean, without intervention?

THOMPSON: On our current course, they will disappear.

AMANPOUR: The ice caps --

THOMPSON: The ice caps.

AMANPOUR: -- and the glaciers?


AMANPOUR: Where do you need to go next? What is your next area of study?

THOMPSON: Well, we had been doing a lot of work with our colleagues at the Institute of Plateau Research in Tibet. There are a lot of glaciers there, over 46,000, very important for water resources. They're at the headwater of many of the major rivers, like the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra.

And knowing what the history is, what's the past history and then how is that history changing today is critical for millions of people. And so getting that history is one of our main objectives.

AMANPOUR: It's incredible that you're still at it. Professor Thompson, Professor Thompson, thank you very much indeed for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And we've seen the science, we've heard the personal story of trying to prove it. And now comes the hard part, finding the political will to do something about climate change. When we come back, a former insider who knows how Washington handles change and who has the scars to prove it.

But first, take a look at this picture. The naked truth about global warming comes to a glacier in the Swiss Alps. Yes, those people are naked. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program on global climate change. Once you settle the science debate, then comes the hard part, finding the political will to actually do something about it.

Van Jones was in a position to do something, as green jobs adviser to President Obama, he was the White House point man on the environment. He's not there now, though. He resigned in the face of a right-wing smear campaign. Now he's trying to mobilize change as a grassroots activist.

And Van Jones, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Thank you.

Let's just talk about the political will.

JONES: Sure.

AMANPOUR: Let's go straight to what people around the world are thinking. If you look at the green and the blue, it basically shows that most people around the world believe that it's either very or somewhat strong feelings that something should be done about.

JONES: Sure. Even here in the United States, that's true.

AMANPOUR: Even here in the United States, which as we said, was ground zero. So why isn't anything being done?

JONES: Well, because the people who are trying to protect their present profit model mounted a ferocious counterattack on public opinion on anybody who was willing to stand up. And it was effective.

I think when we first came in in 2008, John McCain ran, saying climate change was real. He ran saying that cap-and-trade was a solution. He ran, saying it would create jobs. So you had a bipartisan consensus and numbers did even better than this going in.

So we thought we'd have a little bit of a boxing match. These guys come into the boxing match. They bring a chain saw, a baseball bat and six cobras. We were like, this is not the normal fight.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying it's sort of a civil war in this country over this?

JONES: It really is. And I think that those of us who were, you know, looking at the science but also seeing the economic opportunities, the positive economic opportunities, thought that we had won this debate and it was a question of putting the laws in place.

And we were upended by a pretty savage counterattack. And literally hundreds of millions of dollars spent saying things that just were not true about the science, about the scientists and about the people who were trying to make a difference.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's just -- you know, the obvious answer is why did you fold? You were convinced; you had the people behind you, the president said he was going to do something about it. Why did you fold?

JONES: Well, I -- well, first of all, I mean, to say we folded, it seems like we didn't put up a fight. We put up a fight --

AMANPOUR: But not a strong enough fight?

JONES: Obviously not a strong enough fight, because we got stopped in the water.

Here's a couple things. I think if you're going to be honest about this, first of all, a lot of the people who are on the climate change side -- who believe in climate change, we're not street fighters. We're not hardened political operatives. We're people -- we got some good science to get to the policy ideas.

You've put us up against people who are willing to say and do anything to protect their profit model and you're going to lose that first round.

But what I would say is that we could -- that the fight is not over. The wacky weather we're experiencing right now in the United States is opening up eyes from coast to coast. This -- the Koch brothers themselves, the main funders of climate denial have now funded a study that proves our point. The fight's not over.

AMANPOUR: But that is incredible in and of itself. We discussed this study that was funded by the Koch brothers, who are well known conservative climate deniers. And they funded this study. I don't know whether they knew it was going to come out this way, but they have created at least one significant climate convert.

Is that politically, from where you sit, the beginning of a tipping point?

JONES: It absolutely is. Let me tell you where things are going to go. You've got a couple of factors now. You have the -- again, the wacky weather is speaking for itself. People are looking around, saying this is not normal.

Number two, you have climate skeptics who now cannot continue with -- they're saying, why, because the evidence is now become overwhelming, even for them.

And you have this new generation of young activists, not the D.C. Democrats and the establishment environmentalists like myself, but the younger ones, who are in groups like, who work with Native American organizations, who care about indigenous folks around the world. They are on the march.

I think this issue is going to come back and this time you're going to have a much tougher pro-environmental lobby and a movement that can survive these counterattacks.

AMANPOUR: You talk about on the march, literally there are people on the march. There are people protesting in places as far afield as Pakistan and China. We've had the Keystone pipeline protested by activists here in the United States.

Is that essentially what it's going to come down to? Is it going to have to be from the bottom up?

JONES: Well, it absolutely will. I think what happened to us last time was that we stopped marching. This weird thing happened where we had this big bloom of hope around Obama, around green jobs, around climate solutions.

And once it got handed over to D.C., OK, now you guys passed the laws. You didn't see massive protests in the country. You didn't see people marching anymore. It's like, OK, well, that's handled. We voted, now it's handled.

And guess what? It wasn't handled. And in fact, the very minute we sat down, these other forces stood up. And when I talk about hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to convince people that coal is a clean fuel, that climate change is not real, and also going after legislators, saying, you'll lose your job, buddy, if you vote the wrong way on this. And you saw this collapse.

I don't think that you'll see that in the next fight. I think this time, people know what we're up against. We're not going to be as shocked. And much more importantly, the stakes are becoming more and more clear.

AMANPOUR: You talk about protecting their profit model. Obviously, economics is a huge part of this as well. How do you convince, you know, big business that it's not going to be to their detriment or that they can actually gain some by doing this? Look, you believe in cap-and-trade. Other people believe in a carbon tax.

One way or another, I'm told, that it makes economic sense, either one of those, that it contributes to individual and corporate tax lowering of those taxes as well as cleaning up the environment. So what's not to like?

JONES: Well, that's what -- you're making the argument that we made coming in. In fact, we came in with the cap-and-trade solution because we knew that it was supposed to be the more business-friendly solution. We thought we'd be able to come to a better deal.

Part of what I think we've got to make a better case of to the American people and everybody is the way more jobs to be had, of putting up solar panels, retrofitting buildings, building wind turbines, going to better forms of agriculture, there are more jobs there than are going to be in the coal mines over the next century.

There's only 80,000 coal miners left in America. They're American heroes. We respect their contribution. But right now, we have 100,000 workers in the solar industry, another 100,000 in the wind industry. There's more in clean batteries. So the future economically is in this direction.

What we fail to take into account was that the people whose core business model depends on cooking the planet, it depends on putting out planet-baking pollution, they are unwilling to change. And yet, every single time business has been asked to change, they resist it, they resist it. And the minute the rules change and they're certain, businesses figure out a way to innovate and they do well.

So businesses can do better under a carbon constrained regime. But they have to be made to do better with new laws.

AMANPOUR: This all does eventually boil down to political negotiations. How does one do it? And where is the political leadership? And we've talked about President Obama. But what about Al Gore, who was the hero of the environmental movement, had every credential under the sun, where is he? He's AWOL.

JONES: I wouldn't say that. I mean, he continues to --

AMANPOUR: Where, though? He's not public.

JONES: He fights publicly. The news media, unfortunately, has a little bit of ADD on these issues.

AMANPOUR: No, we don't. I'm following it (inaudible).

JONES: Well, I --

AMANPOUR: Well, who else is there?

JONES: Well, I'm here and there are others. But here is what you're going to see, I think, going forward. First of all, I think the entire planet owes Al Gore a salute. He -- his Paul Revere ride through global consciousness is the reason we're talking about this right now. And so if he never did anything else --

AMANPOUR: And everybody fully accepts that. But where is an Al Gore or his like to lead this fight?

JONES: I tell you who you're going to look at. You're going to look at a Bill McKibben, who is out there with, helping to rally the young people. You're going to look at a Majora Carter, who's an African- American, who's putting forward green solutions for low-income people, and you'll continue to look at Al Gore.

Al Gore continues to raise these issue in small places and big places. And we do have the ability to fight and win. But I tell you what, we got sucker punched in a way that we did not expect. We know that American businesses, when the rules are clear, can out-compete anybody.

We did not expect for the business -- for not the business community, but for the small set of businesses to unleash hundreds of millions of dollars to absolutely lie about the science, to stop the rulemaking process. That's what happened in our country. We haven't recovered yet, but we will.

AMANPOUR: And the science seems to be coming to a different -- well, generating momentum on the side of climate change.

JONES: When the skeptics come around and come on your program and say, we were wrong, it's a new day.

AMANPOUR: We'll be there for round two when the bell rings.

JONES: Looking forward to it.

AMANPOUR: Van Jones, thank you very much for being here.

There's the politics and then there's the raw materials. On my Facebook page, you can read how climate change means a total rethink for buildings, things like bridges, roads, railways and much more. That's at

And a final thought when we return.



AMANPOUR: And a final thought, it was Winston Churchill who said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other systems that have been tried."

Imagine a world where democracy faces up to a crisis before it becomes a catastrophe. My earlier guest, Professor Kaku, was lamenting how democracy for all its virtue dilly-dallies until it's almost too late. The climate change clock is ticking; the stakes for our planet and our children's future. That's it. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.