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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Panel Discusses Election Results; Big Data; Answer to Climate Change?
Aired November 11, 2012 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
Today on the show, the second Obama administration, how can the president and his team make sure to do it right? How can he avoid the pitfalls of so many second terms?
I'll talk to two former White House Chiefs of Staff and David Gergen who has advised several presidents.
Then, what happens when you mix big data and a presidential election? The results are fascinating and a little scary. It might well be the future of politics in America.
Also, sea barriers, wetlands, futuristic construction materials, what is the answer to climate change and how can we all adapt to this new normal of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods? I'll talk to Jeffrey Sachs and Time Magazine's Bryan Walsh.
And why does the world's greatest democracy have such an antique, disorganized, irregular way of voting? I'll take a look. But, first, here's my take.
Growing up in India in the 1960s and 70s, I always thought of America as the future. It was the place where the newest technology, the best gadgets, the latest fads seem to originate.
Seemingly exotic political causes, women's liberation, gay rights, ageism, always seemed to get their start on the streets of the United States or in the courts and legislatures.
For me, Tuesday's election brought back that sense of America as the future. The presidential race has been discussed as one that was about nothing with no message or mandate, but I don't think that's true.
Put aside the reelection of Barack Obama and consider what else happened this week. Three states voted to legalize same-sex marriage, which is the civil rights cause of our times.
One day we will look back and wonder who people could have been so willing to deny equal treatment under the law to a small minority. And Tuesday will stand as one of the most important moments marking the end of that cruelty. Two other states voted to legalize recreational use of the marijuana, which will mark the beginning of the end of the war on drugs. This may be the most costly, distorting and futile war the United States has ever waged.
Over the past four decades, we have spent $1 trillion to fight this war without reducing the availability of drugs in cities while also destroying our penal system.
The U.S. has more than three times as many prisoners per capita as we had in 1980 and about 10 times as many prisoners per capita as other rich countries, according to data from the OECD. About 1.6 million Americans were arrested in 2010 on drug charges, most for using marijuana.
This week's votes indicate that Americans have begun rethinking these policies, perhaps moving towards ones that would deprive drug cartels of their huge profits and allow our police to focus on serious crime.
Perhaps the most stunning shift this week came not in the passage of a ballot measure or law, but an exit poll finding, one that might move us toward major legislation.
When asked what should be done with the almost 12 million illegal immigrants working in the U.S., almost two-thirds of respondents wanted to grant them legal status.
Now, remember, four years ago, anti-immigrant voices were so load that John McCain, the sponsor of a comprehensive and intelligent immigrant reform bill, had to run away from his own handiwork when he was campaigning for the White House.
I hesitate to build a grand narrative out of all this, but the trend seems to be towards individual freedom, self-expression and dignity for all.
This embrace of diversity in every sense is America's great gift to the world, one which foreigners, since the days of Hector St. John de Crevecoeur and Alexis de Tocqueville, have always marveled.
In 1990, the neoconservative writer, Ben Wattenberg, wrote a book called, "The First Universal Nation" arguing that, "The U.S. was creating something unique in history, a nation composed of all colors, races, religions and creeds all thriving in their individualism."
"That diversity," he said, "Is going to be America's greatest strength in the years ahead." While Wattenberg's party, the GOP, has taken to looking at this new America with anxiety and fear, he was right.
What the world saw this week was a picture of America at its best, edgy, experimental, open-minded and brilliantly diverse. For more on this, go to cnn.com/fareed. There is a link through to my Washington Post column. Let's get started. Let's get right to our panel to talk about just how you plan for a successful second term in the White House. My guests are all old White House hands.
They are: Ken Duberstein, who was White House Chief of Staff in Ronald Reagan's second term. John Podesta had the same job in Bill Clinton's second term and CNN's David Gergen advised those two presidents plus President's Nixon and Ford.
John, you were there before and during the transition and chief of staff in the second term. How do you reenergize an administration going into a second term?
Is it important to change personnel? It is important to have new policy initiatives? What were your lessons?
JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, there's a natural changing of personnel because these are grueling jobs so a lot of people are going to leave.
We know the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner are leaving. Those are two of the all-stars in the administration.
So there's going to be a lot of turnover and what you want is both a certain level of experience in your personnel, but you also want some new blood. And I think the president met with his team and I think they're beginning the process of making those selections.
Secondly, you really have to focus on what you want to accomplish, particularly in the first year. I think that the first year after reelection is the time to get a lot done.
ZAKARIA: Ken, do you think that it is possible to make decisions that -- personnel-wise that get you into trouble?
There is this famous story about Reagan's second term when James Baker, the then chief of staff, goes in with Donald Regan, the then secretary of treasury, and he says, Mr. President, we've come up with an idea, let's swap jobs."
And a lot of people felt ...
KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Right. It didn't work out so well.
ZAKARIA: It didn't work out so well that while Don Regan might have been a good secretary of treasury, he was not a good chief of staff.
DUBERSTEIN: Right. Look, the answer is, to follow-up on what John said, you got to open the circle. You need some fresh talent. You need some fresh blood. You need some fresh ideas.
You also have to examine the lessons that you learned from the first term and realize that nothing is static which means you have to start building relationships that you may not have had during a first term.
John is right. You have about a year before you start getting into the next, God forbid, election cycle. This is the time where you have to narrow your agency, but be bold and hit one of the two, three, four things that you really want the country and your presidency to build around.
ZAKARIA: David, a lot of people think that it's not just a question of new personnel; that the president, in this particular case, needs to learn and use style. That he needs to be more of an active political figure.
Do you think, (A), that's true and, (B), do you think it's possible? Can presidents change their basic -- the way they do business in the middle of their presidency?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: Yes, I think they can. And you saw that with Bill Clinton, whom I think after -- especially after his mid-term loss in his first term, changed his governing style and became a much more effective president, as John Podesta can attest to.
History suggests to me, Fareed, three basic lessons about second terms. First, move quickly and that's both what Ken and John have both emphasized. Power does seep away from the presidency very quickly in the second term.
After the first year, people start looking to the mid-term elections. And, then, after the mid-term elections, they look over your shoulder at the succession question. And, domestically, power seeps away. You have to move quickly.
Second lesson is, and Dick Neustadt, our old friend, emphasized this again and again, you have to avoid hubris, excessive pride. You can overread the election and you can try to go too far.
Franklin Roosevelt famously did that in his second term. And I think, in this case, the importance is for President Obama not to overread the election results, understand them, use them effectively, but, also, take a look at his governing style.
And, finally, you have to expect the unexpected in a second term, often on foreign policy. And, as you know, Fareed, again and again presidents eventually spend more time on foreign policy than they do on domestic policy in a second term.
ZAKARIA: So when you're reading the election results, to bear David's admonition and mine, John Podesta, clearly the president was reelected because of minorities, particularly Hispanics.
Do you think that will mean that we should not be surprised to see very prominent appointment of Hispanic Americans or things like that? Is that calculus one that begins to play immediately?
PODESTA: Well, I think that what you'll see really an emphasis from this president on is on immigration reform. I think you'll see it in th4e personnel side, but I think really it's going to go to the substance.
I think the Republicans are back on their heels having really gotten clobbered amongst Latino voters and I think they're ready to deal and I think you'll see them come forward with immigration reform.
But I think as important to Hispanic voters is going to be what can he do on education reform, what can he do to keep the cost of college down, what can he do to keep -- get jobs growing and try to find a way forward, again, in this gridlocked city.
But I think you'll see a big emphasis on that. It'll happen early and I predict it'll be successful because I think the Republicans are ready to deal now.
GERGEN: I would assume that he would put the fiscal cliff and then a grand bargain up first. And, then, come to immigration. I agree with both Ken and John, immigration reform is very likely to pass because the Democrats really want it and the Republicans very much need it right now.
And, on the question of governance, I do think that the president needs to learn from some of the troubles he's been having. He's still remote even to Democratic figures.
But he needs to develop personal relationships. Governing is not just about going out around the country barnstorming in favor of your policies as much as a president wants to do this in a second term, it's also being effective inside Washington, on the inside game.
Ed Luce, in the Financial Times, pointed out the other day the president played 105 rounds of golf since he's been in office, only one with a Republican.
ZAKARIA: So we're going to talk about how the president is going to try to development a new, more effective governance to deal with what is surely item one on the agenda, which is to stop the United States from falling off a fiscal cliff when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Ken Duberstein, John Podesta and David Gergen, all White House hands, all of whom have served in second terms.
John Podesta, what does President Obama do to ensure that the United States does not fall off the fiscal cliff? You've already seen there is much debate about this.
And many people on the left, Paul Krugman in the New York Times, are saying do not make a deal just for the sake of making a deal. Hold out and call the Republicans' bluff.
PODESTA: Well, I think that this election set this up as one in which the president one on the basic argument that taxes needed to go up, particularly for the wealthiest Americans, they need to pay a little bit more to try to solve the deficit problem. And I think he's got to stick with that. The one thing he was clear about was that he wasn't going to sign a bill that extended high-end tax rates from the Bush era.
Now, he's going to have to negotiate with the Republicans. If they have ideas on how to raise taxes from that group, I'm sure he's willing to listen to them.
But I think, right now, he can't -- he's got to be successful in creating this fiscal framework that gives him the revenue he needs to make the investment that he wants for the things like education, infrastructure, science and tech that he talked about to the American people.
So he's going to have to, I think, be tough, but prepared to compromise and he's going to have to be clear to the American people what his priorities are.
ZAKARIA: David Gergen, people -- you know the Republicans already keep saying that there's no mandate here, but my reading is close to John Podesta's which is the president did talk about the need for investment, about the need for education, science, research, infrastructure and he talked about how to pay for it.
Will that translate into leverage on Capitol Hill?
GERGEN: Some, but not a lot and I think that -- you know the truth is the president clearly campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy. He obviously campaigned about protecting education and infrastructure. And he ought to be tough on that as John says.
But I think the big question is how do you -- how do we avoid the cliff? I think we can. I'm optimistic we can. I think people in Washington often are dumb, but they're not crazy and they're simply not going to take us into another recession I think.
But the danger is this; the president has to decide, look, do I want a grand bargain or do I want to isolate and fight it out over this tax increase on the wealthy.
I think if we get hung up on that issue, there is a higher chance we're going to go over the cliff. The issue ought to be how do we get revenue that's going to help settle this grand bargain?
And if the Republicans -- if you can get Republicans to agree to a framework that really will seriously increase revenue and increase the tax burden on the wealthy, the president's got to keep on that. But do it within the framework that also agrees to some sort of sense of entitlement reform and put that into next year.
I think that's a much more productive way than if we isolate on this question of whether we're going to raise questions on the elite, both sides are now dug in and we could easily go over the cliff.
I think it ought to be wrapped into the bigger discussion of how do you get revenue. ZAKARIA: Ken, so far, what I've been struck by is the Republicans have been remarkably flexible on the issue of immigration. Even Sean Hannity now says he has -- his position, in that wonderful Washington word, has evolved.
And he -- but no such evolution on the issues of taxes. Both Boehner and Mitch McConnell said tax rates simply will not go up period.
DUBERSTEIN: Yes, but I think you're missing the second part of the sentence which is that they are willing to consider new revenue. There are lots of ways, in that old expression, to skin a cat.
And I thought John Boehner the other day was quite emphatic in saying we are open to new revenues under the right framework.
Dave Gergen is absolutely correct. I think this is a two-step deal. I think it is too ambitious with too little time to get to the grand bargain in the so-called lame duck session of the Congress.
But I think that you can scrape together enough to avoid sequestration and avoid the fiscal cliff or fiscal slope. Remember, they have to come up with only about $100 billion. I know that sounds weird, but $100 billion, to get -- to set that aside.
Between spending cuts and perhaps some loophole closes, I think they can raise it. But you can't confuse that with the long-term deal.
ZAKARIA: John Podesta, does the math work though, which is if you close deductions for the wealthy people, can you raise enough revenue? I think that's the fundamental question.
PODESTA: Well, I think, you know this became a really contentious issue in the campaign. I think the only way to do that and to raise enough revenue is to actually take a big bite out of the middle class. That was the import of the Tax Policy Center's analysis of the Romney tax plan.
ZAKARIA: And I think what the Republicans would argue, David, is that the big problem is tax hikes are here to stay and spending puts tend to fritter away. You know the spending restraint is maintained for a year or two.
ZAKARIA: Is there a way to do a deal where you put in place super majority or (inaudible)? That is to say, you know, if you now want to go outside of this framework and raise spending again, you need 66 percent votes.
Something like that so that Republicans are assured that you don't have a two-tier system where the tax hikes are permanent, but the spending cuts are a one-year deal. GERGEN: That would be a very smart way to go. I think you have to put some protections in there for both sides, frankly. And that has a lot of merit to it.
I come back to this notion about whether the -- I think it's perfectly fair for the president to say we need more revenue and, within that context, you know, I promised the American people the burdens would go -- the wealthy would have to pay more.
But you can do that within the framework of Simpson-Bowles. Simpson-Bowles didn't ask for tax increases or increases in the rates. What it asked for was to go through tax reform and lower the rates in fact.
ZAKARIA: Ken Duberstein, finally, you were often described as a RINO, a Republican in name only, because you were seen as a moderate. How are feeling today?
DUBERSTEIN: I think the Republican Party has to evolve not simply on the social issues, but on immigration reform and to find out what the real identity is, to go back to not purism, but reality.
You know purity is find except it doesn't win elections and it is not a governing strategy. You have to be pragmatic and four-letter words don't include compromise. You have to learn how to compromise.
ZAKARIA: Ken Duberstein, John Podesta, David Gergen, thank you for a fascinating conversation. I hope the president consults with all three of you.
Up next, What in the World. Election week showcased a lot of great things about America, but it also highlighted one glaring problem, a problem that puts us behind the likes of Venezuela and Iraq. I'll explain when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Now, for our What in the World segment.
Imagine a country on Election Day where you know the results the instant the polls close. The votes are counted electronically, every district and state has the same rules and the same organized voting procedure. It is managed by a nonpartisan independent party.
Sounds like the greatest democracy in the world, right? Try Mexico or France, Germany, Brazil, certainly not the United States of America.
American has one of the world's most antique, politicized and dysfunctional procedures for its elections. A crazy, quilt patchwork of state and local laws with partisan officials making key decisions and ancient technology that often breaks down.
There are no national standards. American voters in more than a dozen states, for example, don't need identification, but even India, with a GDP just 12 percent that of ours, is implementing a national biometric database for 1.2 billion voters.
The nascent democracy in Iraq famously dipped voters' fingers in purple to ensure they didn't vote again. Why are we do behind the curve?
The conservative columnist, David Frum, recently wrote an excellent article for CNN.com and he tells a story about the 2000 presidential election. The City of St. Louis, Missouri, had outdated voting equipment so there were long delays in voting.
But St. Louis was heavily Democratic so Al Gore's campaign asked a judge to extend voting by three hours. The judge agreed, but then George W. Bush's campaign protested and the judge was overruled. Meanwhile, voting had already continued 45 minutes past the legal time.
Is that how elections should work in the world's greatest democracy? In most other countries, an independent national body would make the big decisions, there would be nonpartisan observers at the polls and, of course, there would be modern, functioning equipment.
Even Venezuela, which had elections last month, had electronic voting booths with biometric technology across the country.
We've been criticized around the world for this. I saw a scathing, 116-page report about our electoral process published by, of all places, Russia.
Here's the Wall Street Journal's translation of it, "The electoral system and electoral of the United States are contradictory, archaic, and moreover do not meet the democratic principles that the U.S. proclaims are fundamental to its foreign and domestic policy."
I hate to say it, but Moscow has a point. On the other hand, we do have one thing the Russians don't, actual free elections.
This election season, we've seen attempts to shorten the early voting period to further one party's chances of victory. Our ballots can be as long as a dozen pages.
In some places, they're paper ballots and, in some, they're electronic. And Election Day always falls on a Tuesday, a working day. Every four years, we see the chaos of American elections, but nothing changes.
This week, international election observers were banned from nine states. Some of these men and women were threatened with arrest. Maybe we should learning from election officials from abroad not trying to throw them into jail.
Up next, big data in the presidential election, why what you eat and what music you listen to has everything to do with whom you voted for.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dana Bash in Washington with a check of the headlines. Finally, a presidential winner in Florida. CNN projects President Obama will win the sunshine state with 50 percent of the vote. Florida's tally marks the end of the 2012 race. Obama's electoral vote total now comes to 332, well above the 270 required to win. Florida Governor Rick Scott is ordering a review of the state's voting progress after people waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.
Despite the presidential outcome in Florida, the race for the 18th congressional district remains undecided. Democrat Patrick Murphy leads Republican incumbent Allen West by about 2,400 votes.
West is refusing to concede, even though the race has been declared victorious by the Democrat Murphy.
And on this Veterans Day, you're looking at a live picture of Arlington National Cemetery where President Obama will lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns about 30 minutes from now. He will also make remarks.
CNN will carry that Veterans Day ceremony live at the top of the hour. Those are your headlines. Now back to Fareed Zakaria GPS.
ZAKARIA: Did you know that Obama supporters are likely to eat at Red Lobster and listen to smooth jazz? That Romney supporters prefer to dine at Olive Garden and watch college football? Well, big data does. Big data. That is the buzz word for the immense amounts of information being captured about all of us in this interconnected age. It's a great boon for business, but unbeknownst to many of us, it was also used to great effect in the 2012 presidential race. Here to explain this, "New York Times" reporter Charles Duhigg. Charles, what is big data? Why is it new?
CHARLES DUHIGG, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Big data is -- two things have happened in the last four or five years, the first of which is that everyone is now generating much more data throughout their entire life. When you go online, when you use your credit card, when you do almost anything that allows a company to track your behavior, you are creating data about yourself and your preferences. And in addition, computing power has grown so much so significantly that companies and campaigns can now take that data and can crunch it within seconds to try and figure out who you are, what types of habits you have, what do you like, and what can push your buttons.
ZAKARIA: So explain what the campaigns have been doing with this new data?
DUHIGG: Well, one of the things that the campaigns have done is try to vacuum up everything that they can. It used to be that when someone was running for office, they would get -- the voter file, right? They would say, someone's name, where they live and their party affiliation, whether they ever voted before. Now each campaign has literally thousands of data points on you. They know what magazines you subscribe to, they know if you've ever declared bankruptcy or gone into foreclosure, they know how many kids you have, they know if you ever bought a boat, what type of insurance you own, where your send your kids go to school. Thousands and thousands of data points, they collect to try and create an image of you, at the center of that is the same question, how can I push your button to vote for my guy or gal?
ZAKARIA: And what do you find that we -- you know, what are the kind of surprising things that are predictive of whether or not you are not going to vote -- you are likely to be a Republican or a Democrat?
DUHIGG: Well, what's interesting is a lot of it is as you mentioned it, when you introduced me was the other places you go. :Like, we didn't know, for instance, that Romney supporters go to Olive Garden and that Obama supporters go to Red Lobster, but knowing that is actually really useful. Because that means that Romney can go buy ads inside Olive Garden since they say, look, if you don't really -- if you don't often vote, come out to the polls, because I know you're going to vote for me.
ZAKARIA: Why were Obama's people better at this?
DUHIGG: Obama's people were better at it for two reasons. The first of which is they've had a lot more time to build it up. Keep in mind that four years ago, Obama started building this database. And so, when Mitt Romney came to this campaign this year he really had to recreate the wheel that the Obama folks had been building for four years and building the database bigger and bigger and bigger. The second reason is that there was a basic fundamental difference in approach to between the campaigns. Romney outsourced its data management. Obama built it inside. And there was a big question going on. The Romney folks would say, look, it's better to outsource because we can get the most cutting edge science, whereas the Obama folks are stock with something they started building four years ago. But I think what the election showed is when you build it inside, you really own the knowledge, the technical know-how and that seemed to end up making a huge difference. In fact, the Romney campaign folks I've talked to -- spoken to inside the campaign said on election day they were blown away. They had no idea how much more Obama knew about voters in certain areas and it just blew them out of the water.
ZAKARIA: What gets people to vote? There are people who say that, you know, once you've identified these are likely to be a Democrat or Republican, the trigger you pull, I read somewhere that shame is actually a very useful inducement, which I suppose that the Catholic Church has known for a long time.
DUHIGG: True. A number of religions, and, I think mothers have perfected using shame. There is two things that in particular. You know, if someone votes -- voting is a habit. So if someone votes, they're going to vote next time. So you and I, we didn't have to be persuaded to vote. But there are people out there who are potential voters, but not necessarily going to show up. And for them, there is two things that you can do. The first of which is, you can get a friend to call them or friend of a friend. So, this is one of the reasons why Obama.com and Romney.com asked you to use your Facebook log on so they can figure out who all of your friends are. And then say, hey, and this actually happened to me, because I sent it for both sites, hey, we saw that you are Facebook friends with Ruben (ph) in Nevada. Can you give him a call right now and ask him to go vote? Because we are not certain he is going to show up on his own.
ZAKARIA: Giving the call is more important than email. That human contact is the single most important thing.
DUHIGG: Absolutely. If you can get them to give the call. Now, a lot of people, it's easier for them to email. So, basically, the campaigns were saying, do what you can. But they pressured you to give the call, because they know that the human contact, there is a social habit there that will get that person to vote. But you are right, the other part of it is shame. And in fact, moveon.org, I guess they are known as moveon now, used the tactic kind of similar to this. But what they would do is they would send people report cards saying, this is how frequently you voted in past elections, this is your voter score, we might follow up after this election to let you know if your score's gone up or down. They're trying to sort of shame you or pressure you through social pressure into actually voting by saying, look, there is someone watching, peering over your shoulder, and we know whether you show up or not.
ZAKARIA: Now, the part that everyone worries about, when you hear about big data, is "Should I be scared?" Do people really know all the stuff about the intimate details of my life -- my life on computer, my life -- you know, to what extent is somebody out there in David Plouffe's office looking and saying, hey, Charles Duhigg, New York City, this is -- these are the four movies he watched, I don't know, streaming online in the last week.
DUHIGG: Well, I think -- I think people can put their worries at bay for two reasons. The first of which is, still by far the most predictive things are the basics, and the campaigns have known these for years, right? Where you live, how much money you earn, what your party registration is. So, unless you feel bad about people knowing these basics, you don't need to be worried in this new age. The second thing is that both campaigns went out of their way to try to anonymize online data they collected. So they could track user 1300 ...
ZAKARIA: All right.
DUHIGG: From site to site to site, and they would see if you came to Barackobama.com, where do you go next. What other issues do you seem to care about based on what you surf? But they never linked up that user number with a voter's name. Now, that's because they chose not to. In future years, they could.
ZAKARIA: And companies can.
DUHIGG: Oh, companies do all the time, right? Target, Wal-Mart, everyone else tracks who you are online and offline and tries to match them together. And a question of whether you should be worried about it, I think it depends how much you value the sense of privacy. The truth of the matter is if you don't want anyone to track you, just use cash. Never use a coupon, don't open any email.
ZAKARIA: Use cash and live in the cave.
ZAKARIA: Charles Duhigg, pleasure to have you.
DUHIGG: Thanks for having me.
ZAKARIA: Up next, we know the next disastrous storm is coming soon somewhere around the globe. The only question is of when and how can we prepare our cities, our towns, our infrastructure. Right back.
ZAKARIA: Hurricane Sandy left a trail of destruction in its wake. It also left us with this statistic. Three of the ten biggest floods in lower Manhattan since 1900 have occurred in the last three years, and it's not just New York. Freak weather seems to be here to stay all over the globe. On the one hand, the world needs to think about how to stop or reverse climate change, but in the meantime, we will have to figure out how to adapt to what is becoming a new normal. I'm joined by two distinguished experts. Bryan Walsh is a senior writer for "Time" magazine. He reported this week terrific story on how to climate-proof a city, and Jeff Sachs, a regular guest on GPS, is, of course, one of the world's best known economists and the director of Columbia University's Earth Institute. Jeff, let me start by asking you, to what extent can we link climate change to Hurricane Sandy? What would be the fairest way to describe it?
JEFF SACHS, DIRECTOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S EARTH INSTITUTE: Well, one thing we can start with is the ocean level has risen and then the Eastern seaboard by almost a foot during the past century, and that means that storm surges are all the more extreme. The flooding, which was so destructive, is made worse by that and the ocean surface, the sea level keeps rising and it's rising because of the glaciers melting, the ice sheets thinning and the risks of massive increase of ocean levels are very, very real. So that's one very clear part of human-induced long-term climate change during the past century. Whether the particular storm, this extraordinary storm, a tropical storm hooking up to this arctic storm and creating such damage on a long swath, that the hurricanologists are debating and they'll be debating for a while.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that we are thinking enough about how to adapt and make ourselves resilient to this kind of new forces?
SACHS: Well, clearly not. We're not thinking about either the mitigation, how to stop the damage that we are making, or how to be resilient and adaptive to these changes that are already under way. We've not been doing what we need to do. We're not doing our homework. When the engineers look at this in the United States, the infrastructure specialists, they're aghast and they've been telling us year in and year out our infrastructure is not up even to just maintenance, but it's not up to the climate change that's also under way.
ZAKARIA: What was it about this -- our infrastructure that made this worse than it had to be because in your -- as you say, a lot of this destruction was manmade in the sense that we had the wrong infrastructure or such -- or it was in such a state of disrepair that we caused a lot more damage than we needed to.
BRYAN WALSH, SENIOR WRITER, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, it's manmade in a sense. We've put nearly 4 million Americans now around the country to live within just a few feet of high tide. Those are the people who are vulnerable any time a major storm comes through, and as Jeff mentioned, sea level rise has happened and will accelerate in the future, so this will become a bigger problem in the years to come.
Specifically, when it comes to Sandy, when we've seen still -- we still have hundreds of thousand of people who lack power. That's in large part because we have an antiquated grid, one that's mostly above ground. When you have a major storm, when you have wind, trees get knocked over, knocks over those lines, people lose power. So one simple way we could deal with that is try to put more of our power lines underground. That's one way to deal with it, to make sure we get power. And then we just have to think about what sort of infrastructure do we need to put away from the coast. Maybe above sea level, one thing we definitely know, is you don't want to put your backup generator in the basement as a number of companies and institutions in New York did. It's a way to think about well -- when this flooding happens, how do we make sure that people and vital infrastructure is away from the water?
ZAKARIA: When you look around the world, do you think anyone is doing this well, that is preparing for this kind of extreme weather, particularly hurricanes, tornadoes, things like that?
SACHS: Well, there are places, of course, like the Netherlands that have been fighting the sea for centuries, and they indeed have used the most modern technologies to put up sea barriers and to prevent the massive flooding, and they have a lot of lessons to teach us.
ZAKARIA: You know that there's been this debate about creating a kind of almost series of natural barriers around New York islands. Sunken subway cars, using (inaudible) -- is that -- you know, from what you could tell in your reporting, is that a more -- is that something that -- a consensus that experts feel is better than these kind of big sea walls, which are $10 billion or something like that?
WALSH: Yeah, I mean that's certainly a less expensive way to go about doing it, and it's a way that would be less disruptive to the natural environment than -- than building as you point out a seawall that would -- I'm sure would cost more than $10 billion. And what's important to also remember is that it wouldn't protect everything. New York City has over 580 miles of coastline. You can't protect all of it with the seawall. You might, say, protect lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, but then in turn, that would actually raise flooding levels outside the seawall. And if you can imagine, we already have a huge political debate over who got served first when it came to the response to the hurricane. I can only imagine how huge the political battle would be over which areas get protected by seawall, and which areas were actually more vulnerable because of it.
ZAKARIA: Should we tell people you can't live that close to the coastline?
SACHS: Well, I think first we should note for hundreds of years the world's biggest cities have located on the coast. That's where you trade. That's where the world economy operates, sea-based trade has been organizing the world economy for a very long time. And so ...
ZAKARIA: But people would live a little bit further away from the actual water than they do now.
SACHS: There may be particular zoning issues to be sure, but we should understand that city after city, great cities around the world are on the coast, and I think the point is that there's no way we're going to beat this just through adapting to the changes. We're on the path of raising the impacts so powerfully, so frighteningly that if we don't get the climate change itself under control, I don't think we'll ever catch up through patching, through these kinds of solutions, through emergency response.
Everywhere that I've been in recent weeks, that's usually a lot for me as I'm traveling around the world, Nigeria recently, massive floods when I got there. I was in Bangkok recently. I was remembering the one-year anniversary of the devastation of Bangkok when the whole city basically was under water and the economy took a terrible hit. There had been huge storms, huge sea surges, floods, not to mention -- and we should remember -- the U.S. went through its worst drought in modern history this year, the warmest 12 months on record in America. The warmest single month on record in July. So we're being hit on many, many sides. And I just want to emphasize that as we think about the protection which we have to do, we'd better turn to a low carbon energy system if we're going to have a chance against all of this because we need to slow down the human induced climate change as absolutely the first resort. We won't keep up with this damage otherwise.
ZAKARIA: Jeff Sachs, Bryan, a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for joining us.
Up next, a new way for the Chinese to relive some old history, bloody old history. Back in a moment.
ZAKARIA: And now for our question this week for the GPS "Challenge." Which political prisoner turned national leader's image was put on his or her nation's freshly printed banknotes this week? Is it A, Nelson Mandela, B, Ho Chi Minh, C, Vaclav Havel, or D, Benazir Bhutto? Stay tuned, and we'll tell you the correct answer. Now, if you should ever miss a show or a special like our recent energy special, go to iTunes.com/Fareed. You can get the audio pod cast for free, or you can buy the video version.
This week's book of the week is Robert Kaplan's "The Revenge of Geography." In a world, in which you think economics, technology, and globalization have erased boundaries and created a new world, Robert Kaplan reminds us that the map still matters. Where you are, who your neighbors are still has a profound effect on your destiny.
Now, for the last look. One of the many unknowns in the Chinese transition is how the new leadership will deal with increased tensions between China and many of its neighbors, especially its deep-seated dispute with Japan. But here's a place where Chinese citizens can work out some of those tensions by reliving old ones. It's a warfare- themed park where visitors and actors don the garb of either China or Japan and fight to the death with toy weapon, thank goodness. Hopefully the two sides won't resort to real guns any time soon.
The correct answer to our GPS "Challenge" question was A. South Africa honored Nelson Mandela this week by putting his image on the nation's newly issued rand banknotes. On the reverse of the bills are Africa's big five: elephants, buffalo, rhinos, leopards, and lions.
Before we go, a special thanks to our very sharp viewers who new that Benjamin Harrison was the president between Grover Cleveland's two terms, and not Chester Arthur. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."