ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
August 16, 2013
Guests: Michael Oppenheimer, Steve Coll, Jigar Shah, Carol Browner, Bill McKibben
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: I`m Chris Hayes. And this is an MSNBC special,
"The Politics of Power."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we do not act soon, it is our children and our
grandchildren who will have to pay the price.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Professor Hall, our economy is every bit as
fragile as the environment. Perhaps you should keep that in mind before
making sensationalist claims.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the last chunk of ice that broke off was
about the size of the state of Rhode Island. Some people might call that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: What once seemed science fiction in the film "The Day After
Tomorrow", now, almost a decade later, is closer to reality. It`s the
dangerous formula of fossil fuel economy and climate change continues to
For the next hour, we`ll show that climate change is happening, and
the root of the problem is our dependence on fossil fuels. The story of
our energy use is fascinating, where we get it, what type it is, and how
much we use. And that needs to change.
HAYES (voice-over): The evidence is overwhelming. 2012 was the
hottest year on record in the Continental United States. Across the
Midwest and Texas, crops shriveled in the worst drought in 50 years. In
Alaska, qualifying races for the 2013 Iditarod were canceled. The reason:
not enough snow.
In the Arctic, sea ice continues to melt at an alarming rate and the
pattern is clear. Ten of the record-breaking warmest years worldwide have
all occurred since 1998 and a new study finds global temperatures are the
highest in 4,000 years.
JENNIFER MORGAN, WRI: If we continue business as usual, you`re going
to see temperature rise that we haven`t seen in millions and millions of
years. It`s just across the board, something that human civilization has
never had to deal with before.
HAYES: October 2012, superstorm Sandy barrels into the East Coast
from the unusually warm waters of the North Atlantic. In its wake, at
least 147 dead and $65 billion in damages.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s like one minute your life was fine, and
then 10 minutes later, you lost everything.
HAYES: New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo has little doubt what`s
behind the devastation.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Climate change, extreme weather,
call it what you will, it is undeniable.
HAYES: "Bloomberg Businessweek" magazine puts it even more bluntly,
across the globe, a disturbing statistic. Carbon emissions from the
consumption of energy are up 48 percent since 1992.
We`ve heard it many times before, but it bears repeating, because some
people still don`t get it. When coal, oil, and natural gas are burned to
create energy, the process pumps carbon dioxide and other gases into the
atmosphere. They don`t dissipate. They stay there, creating a sort of
blanket that traps heat in.
If the heat stays in, the planet gets warmer. If the planet gets
warmer, the ice caps melt. If the ice caps melt, they can no longer
reflect the sun`s rays. That means the rays are absorbed by the dark
water. Warmer water means the seas expand, rise, and fuel super storms,
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the West Coast, you have fires, droughts in
the middle of the country, and on the East Coast, you have storms.
HAYES: And yet, according to a recent Gallup poll, only one third of
Americans are greatly worried about climate change. What can possibly
explain this apathy when 99.8 percent of scientific studies support the
existence of human caused global warming?
Well, some of the credit goes to the so-called experts, peddled
dubious science to counter any government attempt to tackle the issue. The
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you do nothing about this at all, for the whole
of the next 23 years, the worst that will happen, using the U.N.`s own
estimate, is a one Fahrenheit degree warming, which will be largely
harmless and beneficial.
SUZANNE GOLDENBERG, THE GUARDIAN: I think it`s really important for
people to realize that climate change denial has nothing to do with
science. These people are for hire. They do not have any real scientific
HAYES: Not surprisingly, some of the funding for climate change
denial comes from the very industry with the most to lose, fossil fuel
companies. One of the largest financial backers of the climate denial
movement was ExxonMobil. Its annual reports show that from 1998 to 2007,
ExxonMobil gave millions of dollars to organizations that cast doubt on the
scientific validity of climate change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s obvious why they want climate change not to
be true. As long as climate change is not true, then we can keep selling
coal, natural gas, and oil. So, remove the cause and your business is
HAYES: In 2008, ExxonMobil announced they would discontinue
contributions to groups that could, quote, "divert attention in the
important discussions on how the world will secure the energy required for
economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner. In fact,
ExxonMobil is funding research devoted to mitigating the increase in
Yet there remain numerous deep-pocketed billionaires and corporations
still supporting climate change denial.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s really disheartening, as a climate
scientist to hear the misrepresentation of the science. And reminds me of
what happened with tobacco.
HAYES: In 1994, they said their product was not addictive, despite
the evidence proving the opposite.
JOSEPH TADDEO, U.S. TOBACCO: I don`t believe that nicotine or our
products are addictive.
ANDREW TISCH, LORILLARD TOBACCO: I believe that nicotine is not
EDWARD HORRIGAN, LIGGETT GROUP: I believe that nicotine is not
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cigarette industry created 50 years of pseudo
science to convince legislators, regulators and smokers that smoking was
not harmful. Is the fossil fuel industry now paying for pseudo science to
convince policymakers they`re not to blame for climate change? Of course
MORGAN: There is a window of time where we need to act, and once you
go past that window, if the missions keep going up, you lose the Arctic. I
have to hope that people think about how they`re going to protect their
homes, their families, their kids, and get down to business, because we
don`t have that much time.
HAYES: We are now on the leading edge of climate change with more to
come. With me is Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, a veteran of the climate wars.
He was chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, and is now a
professor of geosciences at Princeton University. In 2007, he was part of
a group of scientists who won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on
Wonderful to have you here, Doctor.
DR. MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: Happy to be
HAYES: How should we understand, I think when you say to people, OK,
we`re headed the towards two degrees of warming or three degrees of
warming, four degrees of warming. I think to myself -- well, I sit in my
room and I out the thermostat from 68 to 72, and that`s a little different,
maybe I take off my jacket, but that`s not a huge amount. How should we
think about those numbers?
OPPENHEIMER: What really hurts us and makes us vulnerable to the
climate is not the average. It`s the extremes. And it`s the extremes that
change a lot when the average just changes a little. So even if earth only
warms about five degrees Fahrenheit, which is the average prediction for
this century, we`re going to see sea level rising because of the warming by
an amount of two, three, four feet. And on a typical East Coast beach, for
instance, that takes away 200, 300, 400 feet of beach horizontally inland.
We are likely to see an increase in the intensity and frequency of
heat waves. And you have to remember, heat waves kill we had one in Europe
a few years ago that killed about 40,000 people. We`ve had heat waves in
the United States that kill a thousand people or more.
So, small changes in that average create huge headaches for us.
HAYES: So it`s the extreme weather events that are the signal to us
about what`s happening, and the thing to prepare for in the future. Are we
already seeing that now?
OPPENHEIMER: We`re already seeing some changes in the extremes that
we can tie to global warming. There`s already more heat waves, there`s
already an anticipation of heavy precipitation events, the kinds of things
that cause intense flooding. There`s already a rise in sea level, which
means we`re getting events of extreme high water, like having Hurricane
And the critical point is, we`re not prepared for any of this.
Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina gave us examples of how well we are
prepared, or at least in these cases, unprepared, to deal with these
extreme events. We`re falling behind. It`s getting worse all the time.
We`re -- as long as we let the world warm, we`re always going to be
playing catch-up ball. And we`re never going to be good enough at it.
HAYES: You have had to have had the experience of being a climate
scientist, battling people on the other side, who often are not scientists.
What has the experience been like, and what has the effect of this climate
denial industry been on how the U.S. policy apparatus and government deals
with the issue?
OPPENHEIMER: The denialists have been given a big megaphone by
private interest groups that want to continue the use of fossil fuels,
continue society, heading -- surging in the wrong direction, essentially.
And through that megaphone, I think they`ve confused the public. They`ve
tossed up a lot of dust, basically.
I have to believe the basic truth outs in the long-term. The trouble
is, we don`t have forever. The emission of these gases, once they`re in
the atmosphere, they stay there for hundreds of years, so the situation is
irreversible. We can`t wait for the dust to settle. Action has to begin
On the positive side, governments are painfully, slowly starting to
make moves in the right direction.
HAYES: Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, thank you so much.
Up next, an examination of America`s oil addiction and why it`s so
darned hard to kick the carbon habit.
HAYES: It`s hard to believe, but just 50 years ago, an oil company
ran an ad, actually boasting that each day it sold enough energy to melt 7
million tons of glaciers. Today, those melting glaciers and arctic ice no
longer symbolize economic progress, but are the proverbial canary in the
coal mine of climate change.
But why are we in this situation to begin with, and what`s keeping us
from taking the necessary option to solve it?
It turns out the politics of power is really about the politics of
HAYES (voice-over): In the United States, 80 percent of our energy
comes from fossil fuels -- coal, oil, natural gas. And which one do we use
the most? Oil.
In 2012, we used almost 7 billion barrels of oil to fuel nearly all of
our transportation, provide half of our industrial energy needs, and make
chemicals, plastics, and synthetic materials found in nearly everything we
use today. In fact, the U.S. is the world`s top energy consumer, and much
of it is imported, often from volatile nations.
MICHAEL LEVI, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: We`re connected to a
global oil market, and when something goes haywire in the Middle East and
sends oil prices through the roof, consumers feel that at the pump in the
United States and they demand action. That draws us into conflicts around
HAYES: Yet in the last few years, we have begun to wean ourselves off
foreign oil. Since 2005, oil imports are down from 60 percent to less than
45 percent of total consumption. Part of the reason: a technological
breakthrough that makes it possible to extract vast amounts of oil from
shell rock, right in our own backyard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up until recently, it was judged untappable. It
was judged to be impossible to get oil out of this rock. And a few people
had a vision, if we can get it out, we`ll find a way. And American
ingenuity came to bear.
HAYES: The process begins by drilling town thousands of feet into the
tough shale layer. The drill line goes vertical and then horizontal
through the rock, sometimes as far as a mile. Then, under high-pressure
water, chemicals and sand are pumped into the line, forcing fractures in
the rock, releasing the oil, which is then pumped to the surface. This
ingenious technology is called hydraulic fracturing, or more commonly,
"fracking," and has led to a modern-day oil rush.
But there`s something else locked up in the shale, natural gas. And
natural gas is only half as much CO2 as coal, so it`s a cleaner fossil
fuel. In just over a decade, U.S. production of shale gas has increased 12
times. Meanwhile, U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level since
ANDREW REVKIN, DOT EARTH BLOG: We`ve had a pretty significant
reduction in our carbon dioxide emissions from fuel burning. And it`s
because of the boom in natural gas, which is cheaper than coal, so
companies running power plants say, hey, why are we burning coal when we
could burn natural gas?
HAYES: Some people see natural gas as a so-called bridge fuel, to get
us where we need, towards renewable sources of energy, such as sun, wind,
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That implies we have time to walk the bridge.
That implies that climate change is not yet upon us. But it is upon us and
we have to worry about it today.
HAYES: There are huge consequences and disincentives for reducing our
use of fossil fuels. A mammoth industry supported by trillions of dollars
in investments, from the fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, the oil
companies predict fossil fuel use will grow by quite a bit, not diminish,
over the next 15 years.
With me now to discuss oil`s future is Steve Coll, a Pulitzer Prize-
winning journalist and the author of "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and
So, when ExxonMobil and oil companies look out and do planning, and
one of great things about your book is the concept of how far out they
strategically plan, it`s really quite remarkable. There`s almost no
institution in the world that plans as far out as an oil company.
What do they see in 2030 and 2040?
STEVE COLL, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: They see rising
consumption of fossil fuels worldwide, driven mainly outside the United
States in emerging middle classes in China and India, large, growing
economies that are not likely to leapfrog past fossil fuels in order to
fund their growth, fuel their growth.
So, in the United States, they see consumption of oil flattening out,
maybe even a small decline. Some certainly shift to natural gas. Rapid
growth in alternative, solar and wind, but no big breakthroughs to change
the kind of energy mix in a way that would rapidly address climate change.
HAYES: So their investment decisions, their strategic bet from a
market perspective is they are long fossil fuels?
COLL: They`re long fossil fuels and they`re especially long natural
HAYES: What do the oil companies, ExxonMobil, for example, what do
they think of the climate science and how do they see that affecting their
COLL: Well, for a long time, they were not persuaded that climate
science or climate politics was going to challenge their business. More
recently, as the evidence has become clearer, that the worst ranges of
climate change forecasts are starting to be born out in evidence, the oil
companies have shifted to acknowledge that there`s a problem.
But to try to manage it, essentially, through regulation and taxation
that won`t go to the heart of their own investments in oil and gas. It`s
part of the reason, though, that they are investing in natural gas, because
they presume that eventually, the collective wisdom of the United States
will impose a price on carbon, as a response to the problem of climate
change, and once you start to price carbon, then coal, which is already
unfavorable for a number of reasons, will become more so.
HAYES: One of the biggest challenges we face, as we transition
through this era, is just the sheer cost and diffusion of fossil fuel
infrastructure. What is the path forward for that? I mean, we can`t leave
that behind at one level, but we`re going to have to transition quite a
COLL: So, it`s a profound observation and it`s the heart of the
problem. I think to attack it, the first thing you have to do is to break
it into two chunks. First, there`s electricity generation, which is the
infrastructure and the investment, the capital stock, as economists say,
that bring these lights into this studio. Then there`s transportation, the
investments that allow us to get in our cars and drive.
There are two different but related problems. The electric generation
can be met by alternative fuels, clean fuels now, technologies that we
have, solar, wind, and hydraulics as well as, you know, geothermal and
other more cutting edge technologies. That is a question of incentives,
public policy, not a question of technological breakthrough, and the
investment stocks is not as big of an impediment. Look at Denmark, look at
Europe. These transitions have been made fairly rapidly in the electricity
Transportation is harder. All those gas stations, all those roads,
all those garages that presume a certain kind of vehicle fuelled a certain
way, to transition from an oil-based transportation economy to even a
natural gas base, never mind a battery-driven economy, is a much more
HAYES: Do oil companies worry about challenges to their supremacy
coming from technology in some unexpected way?
COLL: They do, ExxonMobil studies the problem systematically.
They`re not afraid of most of the alternatives that are on the horizon, but
they do worry, a little bit, about breakthroughs in battery technology,
because great batteries could change the way we drive and make oil much
less relevant as a transportation fuel.
HAYES: Thank you, Steven Coll.
Up next, is oil and its kissing cousin, natural gas, here to stay,
climate change be damned? We`ll have some answers when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world`s first nuclear-powered merchant ship,
NS Savannah is launched near Camden, New Jersey. NS for nuclear ship,
powered by an atomic reactor which will go three years before refueling,
Savannah will be a floating showcase for the peaceful use of nuclear
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The NS Savannah was the first nuclear ocean liner and a part
of President Eisenhower`s Atoms for Peace Initiative, an effort to replace
fossil fuels with nuclear power. It didn`t work out so well, and I suspect
fracking won`t either.
All right. So, then, what do we do? Well, we`ve got to turn our
famous American ingenuity towards developing low-cost and reliable
alternative fuels, using the same determination and innovation and resolve
that gave us fracking. That is where our future lies. Renewables.
HAYES (voice-over): They`re the Holy Grail of green, clean, zero-
carbon energy -- sun, wind, and water. So-called renewables, because their
supply is endless. They`re similar to fossil fuels in that, except for
hydro, they originate from the sun, but different in that it doesn`t take
millions of years for their energy to fossilize. It`s immediate as a ray
of sunshine or a gust of wind or a raindrop.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fossil fuels are really the eight track economy,
right? It`s the fuels of the past. They pollute, they`re not even as
And then there`s the iPod economy, what`s going on in energy. There`s
wind, there`s solar. Those are the technologies of the future.
HAYES: But how do we get from here, the federal government shelling
out tens of billions of dollars a year in fossil fuel subsidies, to there,
a cleaner planet with more renewables and fewer fossil fuels?
Well, one place to look is across the ocean. You might start by
taking a page out of the European playbook. Spain gets half of its energy
from wind and solar.
Denmark, nearly 30 percent of its power from wind. Today, Germany
gets nearly one fifth of its energy from renewables and has ambitious plans
to up that to at least 35 percent by 2020, and 80 percent to 100 percent by
MORGAN: If you look at Germany, if you look at China, they have a
larger percentage of renewables. They`re creating more jobs than the
United States is. So the U.S. is not on the cutting edge, at all.
HAYES: There is some good news coming out of the U.S. Iowa, for
instance, now getting nearly a quarter of its electricity from wind. And
in California`s Mojave Desert, the world`s largest solar plant is nearing
TOM DOYLE: The technology we`re using here is called concentrated
solar thermal power.
HAYES: The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar electric generate system will
create 2,100 new jobs, produce enough energy to power up to 140,000 homes,
and keep millions of tons of CO2 and other air pollutants from entering the
atmosphere. To understand how Ivanpah and its solar power towers work,
think of that sadistic experiment some kids do, using a magnifying glass
and the sun to incinerate an ant.
DOYLE: So sunlight shines down on to mirrors, which we refer to as
heliostats. Those mirrors then reflect that sunlight on to that steam
generator. And that`s where the steam generator then generates
electricity, and that electricity then flows into a transmission line and
into the power grid.
HAYES: The current U.S. power grid in some places half a century old,
is engineered to transmit energy only short distances. From a fossil fuel,
hydro, or nuclear power plant to a nearby user. But for renewables, we
need a new smart grid that moves the power from where it`s made, in regions
with lots of sunshine or wind, to users all over the country, without
losing substantial power via the transmission lines.
Most of us can`t even fathom the technological innovation it will take
to transmit zero-carbon, clean energy long distances. But we are
notoriously bad at predicting future technology. A hundred years ago, who
would have been able to predict television, cell phones, or Internet, or
fracking oil and gas out of deeply buried rocks.
DR. STEVEN COHEN, THE EARTH INSTITUTE: What if some day a solar panel
was the size of a window, and that generates the energy you need for your
home. Maybe it doesn`t do it 24 hours a day, because it gets to be
nighttime, but you can store energy, you can send it back into the smart
grid, so that when you didn`t need energy, you could give it to other
people and when they had excess energy, you could use theirs.
DR. BRENDA EKWURZEL, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: We`re dealing
with new innovations that are going to be right around the corner that we
can`t even imagine right now, but some young student is about ready to
discover it, as long as we unleash that innovation. We just lack the
political will and the world can`t wait. It`s too urgent of a problem.
HAYES: So, what would a green, carbonless energy economy look like
and what would the power sources be comprised of? Wind, solar, tidal,
Joining me is a person who can answer those questions and has spent
his career using his entrepreneurial skills and enthusiasm to help foment a
green energy revolution, Jigar Shah.
He started his own solar energy company, Sun Edison, and sold it for
more than a few dollars. He was then chairperson of the Carbon War Room
and now runs his own green tech consulting firm.
Nuclear is a carbonless energy source. It`s not considered a
renewable, and there has been tremendous civil war inside the big green
tent of environmentalists about the future of nuclear. What is the future
JIGAR SHAH, JIGAR SHAH CONSULTING: It`s dim. Because from my
perspective, I`ve moved billions of dollars into projects, right? That`s
my religion, right? Right?
And so, when Citibank says that we are going to short every single
stock of every single company that`s working on nuclear, then I`m not
working on nuclear. And that`s what Citibank has said.
HAYES: Why? Is that just because the risk is so large of something
catastrophic that it`s just difficult to price in?
SHAH: No, it`s just not cost effective today. If you look at Areva,
the French company, in Finland, they`ve been trying to build a nuclear
plant for the past six years. They are four years behind schedule and two
and a half times over budget. And it`s not done yet.
HAYES: You worked for BP solar. And we`ve been talking a lot about
the fossil fuel companies. How committed are fossil fuel companies to
renewables? Do they see a path forward? Can we imagine a transition of
those companies from where they are now to being renewable companies?
SHAH: BP has actually announced that they`ve sheltered their solar
division and they are actively selling off all of their wind plants around
the world, as has shell. So ultimately, they`re doubling down on 20th
century technologies. They are not interested in the 21st century.
HAYES: How much does the grid have to change in order for us to get
to where we want to be in terms of how much of our power is coming from
things like solar and wind?
SHAH: Now, in my world, that`s the big fight, right? Because there
are wind farms that are measuring in hundreds of megawatts, who need
transmission to generate -- to shift their power to load centers like
cities. Whereas in the solar industry, the vast majority of our panels are
installed in a hundred thousand at a time -- $100,000 projects at a time,
doing $87 billion of work last year. So that`s a lot of $100,000 projects.
On the rooftops of Wal-Mart, on the rooftops of your relatives, on,
you know, commercial buildings, on churches, on schools, where they`re
actually used. And so that`s the big fight. Is that transmission is
fantastic if you can build it. But there`s a lot of land owners who don`t
want a transmission line to go through their land and many of those land
owners have enough money to take projects and delay them through the
courts. So that`s why people are moving to distributed generation, away
from central generation.
HAYES: It`s a very exciting time to be in solar right now. There
seems to be a lot changing. The price is just falling off a cliff. What
is going on in the solar market?
SHAH: Well, solar is fundamentally a semiconductor, right? In the
same way we talked about Moore`s law, in the same we talked about
innovation in Silicon Valley, solar had this same benefit in the R&D space.
The problem with solar is that we weren`t spending enough money on actually
capturing all of those research and development benefits, until 2006, when
Germany was turning on the after-burners for their program. Japan was
doing the same, et cetera. So now, seven years later, all of that R&D has
actually come to fruition, and solar is now 70, 80 percent cheaper than it
was back in 2006.
HAYES: Jigar Shah, thank you so much.
When we come back, how today`s partisan politics are getting in the
way of tomorrow`s power, as Washington fiddles around while the seas rise.
CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: I`m Craig Melvin. Here`s what`s
happening. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he would sign a bill
making it easier for sick children to get medical marijuana, as soon as the
legislature makes changes.
The government confirmed area 51 does exist. The classified CIA
documents reveal the location of a top-secret test site on a map in Nevada,
but mentions nothing of aliens.
And the first family enjoyed part of a ride on a bike ride at Martha`s
Vineyard. They will return to the White House on Sunday. Back now to THE
POLITICS OF POWER.
HAYES: For too long, our national leaders have spent too much time
talking about addressing our fossil fuel addiction and too little time
doing anything about it. That is until President Obama decided to finally
take action in a landmark speech on climate change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I`m announcing a new national
climate action plan, and I`m here to enlist your generation`s help in
keeping the United States of America a leader, a global leader, in the
fight against climate change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: From the great depression to fighting fascism to the space
race, the solutions and the money to tackle our greatest challenges have
often come from one place -- Washington. So, too, must the solution for
HAYES (voice-over): Without government support, and yes, funding, of
industry and new technologies, the American economy, as we know it,
wouldn`t exist. Federal land grants helped build our railroads in the 19th
century. In the 20th century, federal and state funds built the highways
that powered the automobile industry.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You wouldn`t have a personal computer if it wasn`t
for the space program and the missile program. They shrank computers to
put them into guidance systems on missiles. It wasn`t something, somebody
was like, gee, it would be nice to have a computer on my lap. That
happened later when geniuses like Steve Jobs turned it into a commercial
entity. But the basic science, the basic R&D, came from the government.
HAYES: Another way government can jump-start progress is smart,
forward-thinking policy. And listen to this, it has worked before. If
you`re of a certain age, you may remember the panic over a growing hole in
the ozone layer and another potential environmental catastrophe known as
acid rain. The ozone crisis was mitigated by a worldwide ban on CFCs,
chlorofluorocarbons which once powered aerosol spray cans. Acid rain was
dealt with in North America by using a novel approach called cap-and-trade,
which enabled older plants to buy credits from newer cleaner plants, but
with a limit on how much they could pollute.
MICHAEL LEVI, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The good news from the
experience with acid rain and with ozone is that we found problems, we
identified solutions, and we have achieved big results.
HAYES: So why can`t we replicate those legislative successes with the
even more daunting problem of climate change? The answer to that question
can be found in Washington.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: I have offered compelling evidence
that catastrophic global warming is a hoax.
REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: I would point out that if you`re a
believer in the bible, one would have to say the great flood is an example
of climate change, and that certainly wasn`t because mankind had
overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.
HAYES: A recent survey found only 44 percent of republican voters
believe there is solid evidence the planet is warming. Compare that to 87
percent of Democrats, including the President. Frustrated by Congress`
lack of initiative on the issue, President Obama announced in his climate
change speech that his administration would limit CO2 emissions by the EPA.
OBAMA: So today for the sake of our children, and the health and
safety of all Americans, I`m directing the Environmental Protection Agency
to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power
plants and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
HAYES: While President Obama has stepped up, Congressional action on
this issue is still very much needed to limit CO2 emissions and bring about
a faster transition to renewable energy. Yes, global warming remains a
hard issue to get any politicians, republican or democrat to fully embrace.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Global warming is the antithesis of something that
politicians would find a way to act meaningfully on. Because you can`t do
the, cut a ribbon, look what I did, and then have it play out in your time
HAYES: Even the ceaseless obstruction facing climate realists at the
federal and state level, and little incentive for change, how can we move
forward on possible solutions, such as a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade or
any kind of price on carbon?
With me now is Carol Browner. She served as the head of the EPA for
eight years for President Clinton and was President Obama`s director of the
White House office for Energy and Climate Change policy from 2009 to 2011.
Currently Miss Browner is a senior fellow at the Center for American
Progress, and it`s great to have you here.
CAROL BROWNER, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Thank
HAYES: The vast middle of politicians who if you and I sat down with
them and said, yes, the world is warming, it`s a problem, we got to do
something about it. But they`re not going to work every day prioritizing
this. Why is it so hard to get the kind of responsiveness to the issue,
even with people who are sympathetic? Is it because -- said, there`s no
ribbon cuttings, right? There`s no deliverables to bring back to your
BROWNER: I think that`s part of it. There are no deliverables, there
are no ribbon cuttings. But I think the other part of it is, we have
tended to solve environmental problems and we can see the pollution, we can
taste it, we can feel it. It`s immediate. And what we`re asking people to
do here is think about a problem, the consequences which may not happen for
a while, may only happen in parts of the country, maybe Sandy was a climate
change-induced hurricane, well, maybe it wasn`t. And so, you`re really
asking people to sort of step out of their everyday life and make decisions
about the future. And that`s a hard thing for anyone to do.
HAYES: Let`s talk a little bit about the President` speech and his
new initiatives. Because I think Congress has felt like a dead end for
change on this issue. So there`s going to be change in the next three
years, four years, that`s going to come from the White House. What`s your
take away from it?
BROWNER: I think it`s important to remember that what the President
is doing is using a law that`s been on the books since 1990. This is not
something new. He`s not going behind anyone`s back.
HAYES: Explain the law.
BROWNER: Clean Air Act. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1990.
Bush won, signed it. Many provisions of it have been upheld in the Supreme
Court, including EPA`s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. And so what
the President is basically saying is, I went to Congress, I tried to do it
with you guys, you`re not responsive. I`m going to take the authorities
you gave me previously, you gave presidents previously, I`m going to take
the Clean Air Act and I`m going to use it to regulate these dangerous
HAYES: So if you take the overall emissions in the U.S. economy, how
much of them are coming from power plants?
BROWNER: A lot. I mean, the way people generally think about it, is
we have about a third from transportation, a third from electricity
generation, and then a third from buildings and industrial --
HAYES: Other stuff.
BROWNER: Other stuff. So this is a big, big chunk of it.
HAYES: One of the themes in the President`s speech was natural gas
and how important natural gas has become to the American economy. Are you
bothered by the fact that the White House seems, A, so gung ho about
natural gas, that they view it as so vile, as a bridge fuel, when many
climate activists point out that, you`re talking about natural gas, talking
about coal, you`re talking about oil, there`s still a lot you`ve got to
leave in the ground, and we don`t start to make progress until we start
leaving stuff in the ground.
BROWNER: So, I so think natural gas is an important fuel source, it`s
a domestic fuel source. I think we have to be very careful about how we
take it out of the ground. Taking things out of the ground is inherently
dangerous and it can be bad for the environment. There will come a point
where you can`t continue to grow the use of natural gas. Where you
actually have to bend the curve down. And that means we have to continue
to create opportunities for renewables. We need to continue to drive down
the price of renewables.
HAYES: There`s been a lot of conversation, argument debate within
circles of climate activists and politicians about when we do take another
run at this in Congress, going from the cap-and-trade regime which was
proposed and passed in the House and died in the Senate to a carbon tax.
Are you agnostic on this? Do you think that there`s a meaningful
BROWNER: I`m not sure, even if all the economists in the world say
it`s the best way to do it, that Congress is going to embrace something
HAYES: Because it has the letter, tas (ph).
BROWNER: It has those three letters and that people in Congress just
can`t bring themselves to say.
BROWNER: I think with the president, he`s also a realist, is looking
at, OK, I tried. I tried to get them to do something, I was open to any
number of ideas. And now I`m going to use what`s available to me. I`m
going to use the Clean Air Act.
HAYES: So let`s say Congress doesn`t throw a fit and throw up
obstacles to that --
BROWNER: They may try.
HAYES: They`re going to, almost certainly. And whether that means
defunding the EPA, there will probably be lawsuits by the power companies
and others to try to get this and join this, be a big court battle rights.
So, that`s --
BROWNER: You didn`t throw all of this.
BROWNER: Any pollution standards, it`s what happens. The EPA does it
right, and I have the confidence they will do it right, they can withstand
all of that.
HAYES: The politics of this, it was interesting to me that the
President chose to make this speech. Was it something you discussed when
you were in the White House?
BROWNER: I think the President genuinely believes this is one of the
biggest problems we`ve faced in the world and that we have a responsibility
to lead, to find -- I think he also believes that there`s opportunity, that
if we can find these cost-effective solutions, if we can find the new
technologies, if we can drive down the price of solar panels, we can
compete in a global economy. You know, Germany`s getting rid of their
nuclear. They`re going 80 percent renewable. You know, we could develop
the technology and we could make it cost effective, use it here, sell it
HAYES: Thank you, Carol Browner. I really appreciate it.
Coming up, who`s been naughty and who`s been nice? We take a look at
what other nations besides the U.S. are and are not doing to reverse
HAYES: Atop Hawaii`s Mauna Loa, the air is cleaner, purer than almost
anywhere else, yet the research lab here recently recorded carbon dioxide
levels of 400 parts per million. According to experts, it hasn`t been that
high in millions of years. Unfortunately, the problem of rising CO2 levels
is one the U.S. can no longer solve alone. Developing economies like China
and India are now among the world`s biggest CO2 emitters, joining the
United States and other nations in a dangerous game of climate change
HAYES (voice-over): Climate change is a problem without borders,
developing countries are feeling the heat even more than the first world.
Rising sea levels threaten the existence of 17 million people in
Bangladesh, melting glaciers in the Himalayas will leave Pakistan and India
facing severe water shortages. Air pollution in China is now so bad, it`s
been compared to living in an airport smoking lounge. China`s carbon
emissions are up 240 percent with no end in sight. Private car ownership
in China doubled from 2005 to 2008, and the country is now the world`s
largest auto producer and market. Global energy use projected to grow by
35 percent between now and 2030.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You`ve got a billion people in China, who are all
looking to buy cars. They`re building coal-fired power plants at a
ferocious pace. The number of people who are going from having no energy
and being off the grid to being on the grid is growing exponentially.
HAYES: Across the developing world, people are fueling up and
plugging in at an unprecedented rate. And all these new users and energy
pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, our American efforts, both past and
present, to curb carbon emissions are just a drop in the bucket.
LEVI: It`s true that if the United States acts and big developing
countries don`t, then we`re going to still be in for a very dangerous and
risky world, but there is no big solution without the United States. The
United States accounts for almost a fifth of the global greenhouse gas
emissions. It`s ridiculous to claim that the United States has no role in
dealing with the problem.
MAY BOEVE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, 350.ORG: There`s a path that could be
taken by developing countries to develop in a more clean way than the
United States and Europe did. But if the United States and Europe continue
to rely on fossil fuels, what incentive is there for China and India to do
something different when we`re setting that model?
HAYES: The solution to global warming is just that, global. But
America can`t do it alone. Conversely, and this is important, the world
absolutely cannot do it without us.
With me now is a person who keeps a global focus on climate change,
Bill McKibben. His 1989 book "The End of Nature" brought global warming to
the forefront from many Americans. Today he keeps that topic front and
center from 350.org in organization he helps start. According to the
"Boston Globe," he`s our most important environmentalist. Bill, it`s great
to have you here.
BILL MCKIBBEN, AUTHOR, "THE END OF NATURE": Good to be with you, as
HAYES: OK. Explain to me your theory of change here. I mean, we`re
sitting here at point "A." And the point we want to get you is,
essentially, a global carbon regulation regime. Right? That`s what we`re
HAYES: How do we get from here to there?
MCKIBBEN: Well, it`s impossible to get there without leadership from
the U.S. This whole superpower, and the place that in per capita terms is
the biggest steel contributor of carbon to the atmosphere, and in
historical terms, which everybody knows about. I mean, that stuff lasts up
there in the atmosphere a hundred years. Most of the plurality of the
carbon in the atmosphere was made in the USA. So we do need -- this is one
of the places we need to start. We need a serious price on carbon.
We will not get that price on carbon until we`ve beaten the power of
the fossil fuel industry. Sooner or later, the world will figure out that
it has to regulate carbon. That this is the most dangerous thing now on
the planet. But the sooner or later is the key part of the question here.
If we don`t do it pretty soon, then there`s not much use in doing it.
HAYES: We have just passed 400 parts per million of carbon in the
atmosphere. Your organization is called 350.org, and that 350 stands for
350 parts per million, which scientists say is a safe level of carbon in
the atmosphere. So the question is, we`re already passed it by 50 parts
per million. What do you see as the solution to bring the carbon level
down to your organization`s name?
MCKIBBEN: Well, there`s no solution other than stopping burning coal
and gas and oil and doing it fast. We`re past the point where we`re going
to stop global warming. I mean, we already melted the arctic, OK? So if
we do everything right at this point, it will still be decades before we`re
back to 350 and a lot of damage will be done in the meantime. But if we
don`t do everything right at this point, that damage will escalate. It
will be civilization scale.
HAYES: There`s someone watching this right now, who is worried about
being on unemployment for three months, who has a dear relative who is
fighting in Afghanistan, who is worried about her own reproductive choice.
What do you want to say to them about this issue and how to think about it
in context of those things that seem much closer to the skin?
MCKIBBEN: The first thing to be said is, by now, for hundreds of
millions of people around the world, this is an incredibly immediate thing.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January in a
report that we`ve already raised the temperature enough that the ability of
humans to work outdoors has been cut 10 percent and it will be 30 percent
by mid-century. That`s about as basic as it gets, OK? But the second
thing is, the transition to the kind of world that works for everyone will
be greatly aided by the transition to a world of renewable, dispersed,
spread-out, democratic energy.
A world that doesn`t depend on the Koch Brothers and the Exxons and
everybody else to bring them their energy, that instead is set up so that
you can get it from the sun and if you want to understand why those guys
hate that world so much, just remind yourself, from their point of view,
what the problem with the sun is. You can`t meter the damn thing.
HAYES: When thinking about climate change, we are a bit like the frog
in the proverbial pot of water. As the water slowly warms, the frog
remains at rest, adjusting to the heat incrementally, until it reaches a
boil. And then, then, sadly, it is too late. Today, our global pot is
filled with carbon dioxide-laden fossil fuels and it is close to the
metaphorical boiling point. So attention must be paid now and we, we the
people, must resort to our own politics of power and push our politicians
to change the current energy equation from fossil fuels to renewables. And
if they won`t, well then, then we need to vote them out.
As President Obama urged in his climate speech, make yourself heard on
this issue. Tell your representatives it matters to you. The price for
politics as usual is just too high, our timeline too short. The clock is
ticking. Tick-tack. And midnight draws nigh. For MSNBC, I`m Chris Hayes.
Thank you for watching.
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