Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Links Between Global Warming & the California Wild Fires

Democracy Now!
Environmental Journalist Bill McKibben on the Links Between Global
Warming & the California Wild Fires

"This is the kind of disaster we see more and more of as we begin to
change the basic physics and chemistry of the planet we live on," says
McKibben, who is organizing the Nov. 3 Step It Up National Day of
Climate Action. [includes rush transcript]

What does global warming have to do with the fires raging in Southern
California? More than 500,000 people in San Diego County have been
ordered to evacuate. Over 900 homes have already been destroyed. At
least one person has died in the fires. Another 37 people have been
reported injured, including 17 firefighters. The fires extend from the
Mexican border to Santa Barbara. The most devastating fires were in
San Diego County. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state
of emergency.

* Bill McKibben, leading environmentalist and one of the leading
forces behind Step It Up. In 1989, he wrote the book "The End of
Nature," one of the first books to describe global warming as an
emerging environmental crisis. His latest book is "Fight Global
Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community."

Related Links: StepItUp2007 RUSH TRANSCRIPT

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help
us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our
TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate - $25, $50, $100, more...

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue on this issue of global warming, what does
global warming have to do with the fires raging in Southern
California? More than a half a million people in San Diego County have
been ordered to evacuate. Over 900 homes have been destroyed. At least
one person has died. Another thirty-seven people have been reported
injured, including seventeen firefighters. The fires extend from the
Mexican border to Santa Barbara, the most devastating fires in San
Diego County. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of

Bill McKibben is a leading environmentalist and one of the leading
forces behind Step It Up. In 1989, he wrote the book The End of
Nature, one of the first books to describe global warming as an
emerging environmental crisis. His latest book is called Deep Economy:
The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. Bill McKibben,
joining us from Boston, welcome to Democracy Now!

BILL McKIBBEN: Amy, it's good to be with you, as always.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. The fires in Southern
California and global warming, is there a connection?

BILL McKIBBEN: I'm afraid that there is. This is the kind of disaster
that we see more and more of as we begin to change the basic physics
and chemistry of the planet we live on. One of the people leading the
really brave rescue effort out there yesterday said, one of the San
Diego authorities said, this is the driest it's been in at least
ninety years. It's dry because they've had terrific heat and not much
rain. And those are just the conditions for that part of the world
that all the modeling suggests come about when you begin to raise the

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Tom Swetnam of the University
of Arizona, one of the ecologists there. He has written about the
connection to global warming. He published a study in the journal
Science, saying global warming has increased temperatures in the West
about one degree, and that's caused four times more fires.

BILL McKIBBEN: This is the problem. Things don't work in a linear
smooth relationship, you know? You raise the temperature a little bit,
and you begin to get very large cascading effects. So, for instance,
across much of the West in Alaska, warmer temperatures have brought
with them infestations of new kinds of insects. Those insects have
killed off hundreds of thousands of square miles of forest. That
forest catches fire once those trees die. All that burning forest
sends yet more carbon into the atmosphere. On and on and on. We see
the same kind of dynamics playing out now with this drought in the
Southeast, with the ongoing drought in the Southwest. And, of course,
the US has been hit less hard by these changes than much of the rest
of the world so far.

What's important to remember and the reason that we spend all our time
organizing now, trying to change all this, is that so far human beings
have raised the temperature of the planet about one degree Fahrenheit.
The computer modeling makes it very clear that before the century is
out, unless we take very strong action, indeed, we're going to raise
the temperature of the planet another five degrees Fahrenheit. So,
take whatever you see now, multiply it by five, and then toss in all
those cascading effects that come, as we exceed one threshold after

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, we hardly see, with the massive coverage of
what's going on in California, which is very significant, these fires
raging in Southern California, the words "global warming" mentioned.

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, it's like Katrina. I mean, the sheer horror of it
in the moment is so enormous that it's hard to focus on causes. That's
why we've got to be building that movement all the time, doing the
kind of stuff that Ted Glick is doing in Washington, doing the kind of
stuff that at we're doing all across the country, as
we get ready for our next round of big nationwide protests on November

It's only, you know, when we're able to take a step back -- I mean,
you know, the people in California today can't be concentrating on
global warming; they've got to be concentrating on getting people out
of harm's way and fast. My aunt was evacuated yesterday afternoon, and
I'm worried sick about her. But the rest of us can't be in there --

AMY GOODMAN: Where does she live?

BILL McKIBBEN: She lives near San Diego. The rest of us can't be in
there fighting fires, you know? We're thousands of miles away. What we
can be doing is trying to put out, or at least damp down, the big fire
that's causing all these other effects, and that's global warming. And
that can only be done with federal action soon. That's what we're
pushing for on November 3rd.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to New Orleans for a minute. You mentioned
Hurricane Katrina. They are experiencing a massive rainstorm, at least
eight inches yesterday. The forecast: it will continue. Mayor Ray
Nagin closed City Hall. They closed the schools. They told people not
to drive in the streets. The waves, they were afraid, would inundate
the buildings that have just been cleaned up from Hurricane Katrina.
That connection?

BILL McKIBBEN: Look, when you raise -- warm air holds more water vapor
than cold air does, right? That means that in arid areas, you get more
evaporation and hence more drought. And we're seeing that around the
world. Once that water is up there in the atmosphere, it's got to come
down someplace. In wet areas or in big storms, we see way more
precipitation. The number of storms that drop more than two inches of
rain in a twenty-four-hour period has grown by something like 25%, the
real gulley washers.

We're -- to call it "global warming" is correct, but almost a
misnomer. What we're really doing is adding immense amounts of energy
to a system, and that energy is expressing itself in all kinds of
ways: more evaporation, more precipitation, higher wind speeds, rapid
melt of ice across the Arctic and across every glacial system that we
know about, on and on and on.

It is -- you know, we used to think that we were still a decade or two
away from the real emergency. That's what we would have said twenty
years ago, when I wrote The End of Nature. Now, we understand, the
modeling makes clear, that the planet was more finely balanced than
we've understood. What we've done so far has been enough to throw
every physical system on earth out of kilter. What we're fighting for
now is not to prevent global warming. There is going to be some global
warming; there already is. What we're fighting for now is to keep that
miserable and difficult century of global warming from turning into an
absolute catastrophe that rewrites the geology and biology of this
planet for eons to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, in the Southeast, several states are in
the midst of a major drought. As of last week, seventy-one of North
Carolina's hundred counties were in exceptional drought, the federal
government's highest classification. Georgia has declared a state of
emergency, appealed for federal aid. The drought has also affected
large swaths of Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina?

BILL McKIBBEN: When you increase the temperature, what you're really
doing -- I mean, if I say the temperature has gone up one degree, it
doesn't sound like much, but that masks enormous increases in the
extremes, much longer and stronger heat waves. You know, we keep
having one record warm year after another across this globe. And that
doesn't happen without consequences. The earth is a physical system,
and those inputs start to change the outputs pretty darn dramatically.

AMY GOODMAN: The action that you're planning as one of the lead forces
behind Step It Up on November 3rd, can you talk about what your
demands are? You say the federal government has to take action.

BILL McKIBBEN: Absolutely. We're talking about three things at One of them is the same call for an 80% reduction in
carbon emissions by 2050 that we called for last spring, when we
organized 1,400 demonstrations in all fifty states. Those
demonstrations were very successful in getting that demand deep into
the agenda. It went from being a kind of radical and fringe idea to
being very much part of the legislative mix that's reflected in what
Congress is thinking about now.

Second demand is that we need an immediate moratorium on new
coal-fired power. No such thing, at least at the moment, as clean
coal; it's dirty where it comes from, and it's dirty when we burn it.
And that -- you know, if we build any significant percentage of the
150 coal-fired power plants now on the books, then the discussion
about dealing with global warming is moot; we will put so much carbon
in the atmosphere that we can't control it.

Third thing, we need to make sure that the big economic transition
that's coming with global warming, with fighting global warming, the
move to a new set of energy sources, doesn't leave behind the same
people that our last economy left behind. So we're stressing very hard
this Green Jobs For All campaign.

What we're trying to do this time is find out which of our politicians
are actually going to become leaders. People who go to the website can use the nifty new invite tool devised by
my colleagues, all of whom are twenty-two and twenty-three and who
actually know how the internet really works, and with this neat tool,
they can easily invite their senators, congressmen and the
presidential candidates to come appear at one of these hundreds of
rallies that will be taking place across the country on November 3rd.
They can find out where in their community people will be gathering to
make their voices heard.

We need a movement as strong, as willing to sacrifice, as morally
urgent, as passionate, as the Civil Rights Movement was a generation
ago. If we don't get it soon -- and we have a real time limit here --
if we don't get it soon, then we're not going to be able to force the
changes that we need over the power of the very strong vested
interests that would like to keep things the way they are, even though
it's now destabilizing the planet in the most powerful and most tragic
ways. Those pictures of that smoke pouring out of those canyons in
California should remind us at the deepest level what's at stake and
what we can do to help right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, you mentioned Congress. What about the
presidential candidates, the Democratic presidential candidates? What
about the Democrat-led Congress, both the House and the Senate? What
are they doing to deal with this crisis?

BILL McKIBBEN: They're getting closer. They've started. We haven't
done anything about climate change for the twenty years that we've
known about it -- I mean, literally zip, zilch, nothing in Washington.
Finally, this year there's legislation on the table. There's very good
legislation from Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Henry
Waxman. That bill is being watered down at the moment by Senator
Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Warner of Virginia. It's a big
fight as to what kind of bill will go through. It may not matter,
unbelievably, at the moment, because President Bush is going to veto
whatever happens. We do need, however, to get the framework for strong
legislation, and then we need to make sure that whoever wins the
presidency really steps up to this challenge. They're all saying --

AMY GOODMAN: What about before? What about before? This is the chance
that constituencies have all over the country to make demands of
candidates, and then afterwards -- I don't want to say "hold their
feet to the fire," given what's happening right now.

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I think that would be, in fact, an appropriate
and correct thing to say right now. That's what we're trying very hard
to do. Look, the presidential candidates, the Democrats, have so far
mostly said the right things. After our demonstrations on April 14th,
all the leading candidates signed onto this Sanders bill for an 80%
reduction. However, none of them have yet shown that they're
determined to make this the central organizing principle of their
presidency, which it pretty much has got to be.

This is the biggest thing human beings have ever done, and if we don't
get on it right away, none of the other issues will matter. We'll find
out on November 3rd which of these people show up to talk to America
about this question, and we'll find out what they say, whether or not
they're going to go beyond saying the right thing and starting to work
and offering solemn assurance.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, we have to leave it there. I want to thank
you for being with us. November 3rd, declared a day against global
warming. They're stepping it up.

No comments:


"Manufactured Landscapes" SEE THIS BRILLIANT MOVIE! You'll never have the same shopping experience again.