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The Inside Story - Confronting the Climate Change | Episode 89 - TRANSCRIPT

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THE INSIDE STORY: Confronting the Climate Crisis

Episode: 88 - April 27, 3023

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

Right now on The Inside Story: Confronting the Climate Crisis.

Global temperatures are on the rise.

What can we do to make a difference? What are the potential consequences of inaction?

Join us on The Inside Story for an in-depth look at the climate crisis and the solutions that are being proposed.

The Inside Story:

ELIZABETH LEE, VOA Correspondent:

Welcome to Inside Story. I’m Elizabeth Lee.

From drought, to flooding, extreme weather and climate change is being felt around the world. Global temperatures are rising.

But why does that matter?

What do rising temperatures mean for us?

And will fixing the problem cost you money?

That’s where things get complicated. Because the answers to all those questions are complex, and in some cases unpleasant.

And fixing the problem is a challenge that makes landing on the moon look simple by comparison.

Many scientists say the longer we wait to bring our planet’s temperature down, the harder it will be to fix the problem.

If we do nothing, the world our children’s children will be living in will be increasingly uninhabitable.

Today on Inside Story, confronting the Climate Crisis.

Vice President Kamala Harris says the United States is working to mitigate the impacts of climate change. One of the challenges: fewer resources for more people.

That, Harris says is a recipe for global instability.

The vice president recently spoke in Colorado.

VOA’s Scott Stearns brings us this story.

SCOTT STEARNS, VOA Correspondent:

The vice president came to Colorado at a time of deepening concern over water and the inability of regional states to agree to reduce demands on the Colorado River, where hydroelectric production downstream is threatened by prolonged drought.

Vice President Harris told a community event in a Denver suburb that past federal policy did not sufficiently address conditions in Western states.

Kamala Harris, Vice President:

Federal policy around extreme weather and extreme climate had taken into account historically tornadoes and hurricanes. But, hey, let’s also think about how we are dealing with drought and wildfires and bring to bear a perspective from Western states around how it impacts this region of the country a bit differently from other regions of the country.


She credited the impact of local action by state governors, including Colorado’s Jared Polis.

Jared Polis, Colorado Governor:

We like to think that we are doing a lot right here in Colorado. We are pursuing bold climate action to protect the state we love and save people money. We know that right here in Colorado extreme drought threatens our agriculture and our recreation industry. The situation around water in the West is becoming more and more difficult.


Vice President Harris also said she is traveling to Africa later this month to focus on climate resilience and adaptation.

Kamala Harris, Vice President:

If a community or a particular geographic location is experiencing extreme drought over years and years, they cannot grow food. They will then leave that place to go somewhere where they can grow food. And they may go to a place that speaks a different language and prays to a different god, which invariably will lead to some degree of conflict.


Fighting climate change has been a top priority for the administration, with legislation last year that expands wind and solar power with the goal of reducing U.S. dependence on oil, coal and natural gas.

Scott Stearns, VOA News, Arvada, Colorado.


Earlier this year, the state of California experienced a three-week period where major rainstorms caused widespread flooding resulting in the death of 20 people.

This follows years of drought that helped fuel devastating wildfires.

VOA’s Steve Baragona reports on these climate extremes.

STEVE BARAGONA, VOA Correspondent:

California has gone from one climate extreme to the other. The severe weather follows years of drought that helped fuel devastating wildfires.

Around the world, dry extremes are becoming drier and wet extremes wetter as a result of climate change.

Rainstorms are becoming more intense in California and around the world, says University of California, Davis hydrologist Helen Dahlke.

Helen Dahlke, University of California, Davis:

As we are warming the atmosphere on Earth, we are giving that atmosphere a greater capacity to absorb more water vapor. And eventually that water vapor will fall as precipitation somewhere.


Flooding has not been Californians' main concern recently. Drought has. The state has been in some degree of drought for most of the century.

Droughts are worsening for much the same reason as storms are getting worse: Warmer air holds more water.

Helen Dahlke, University of California, Davis:

Dry air that is warmer will try to suck out more moisture from the ground. And that also means that our precipitation we get in California might not reach as far as it used to in the previous years. It takes more precipitation to wet up these soils again, to wet up that vegetation.


It's more important than ever to hold onto rain when it falls. So, when they can, water managers in some areas flood dormant fields and let the water soak in and recharge the groundwater.

Helen Dahlke, University of California, Davis:

Those wet years — and we only get them maybe every five to seven years — they are rare, and we have to bank as much water as we can because again, the next drought could just be around the corner.


For a deeper look at the science of climate change, what the U.S. is doing, and if any of those efforts will make a difference, we now turn to VOA Science Correspondent Steve Baragona.


A warmer planet makes basically any kind of extreme weather, more likely and more extreme. e're seeing events that used to happen maybe once in a century, happening every few years now, and it's really made, you know, Weather experts have to recalibrate what they consider kind of normal weather now. This is the case with drought. It can make droughts come on faster, and be more severe. It can have a similar effect with extreme rainfall where you're getting much heavier precipitation than you used to.Climate change basically loads the dice for these kinds of events.

The most recent thing that's that's happened in the US is the the something called the inflation Reduction Act. It contains a lot of provisions that are meant to deal with climate change. It's a lot of tax incentives for manufacturing. Things like solar panels and batteries and credits to to install these things, credits for the energy produced with them credits for buying electric vehicles, and even credits for farmers to try to change the way that they farm. in ways that are better for the environment. It’s described as the most significant bill on climate change that the US has ever undertaken. It's right now under some threat from Republicans in Congress in the House of Representatives who'd like to repeal some of these tax credits. There's some on there from their perspective, they would rather see more fossil fuel development, which is still a big part of the energy system around the world and will be for some time. But we know from scientists from everyone who's been studying this for a long time that at some point, those fossil fuels need to go away. At what point that's the tricky part right now.

The Paris Agreement said that that countries would try to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre industrial temperatures. We're almost there anyway, the planet has warmed about 1.1 degrees so far. And given the amount of co2 that we put into the atmosphere, we're pushing right up against 1.5. And unless we take radical drastic action, we're gonna go right over 1.5 That's not the end of the world. Every 10th of a degree, things get worse.

So, if we're able to pull back from the brink at 1.5, that would be great. That would be ideal. Looking less and less likely. It's true for 1.6, let’s try 1.7, let’s try 1.8. Every 10th of a degree, things get worse. So there's no point at which it's too late. Something needs to be done and the sooner it gets done the less the damage will be.


For nearly a decade, fruit growers here in the United States and around the world have witnessed the negative impact climate change is having on their crops.

Warmer winters and colder springs mean damaged produce, raising concerns about how the industry will survive.

VOA’s Steve Baragona has the story from Berryville, Virginia on how farmers are learning to adapt to climate change.

Bill Mackintosh, Mackintosh Fruit Farm:

It looks like we have maybe five to 10% damage in here.


Fruit grower Bill Mackintosh checks his peach trees for frost damage after another cold night.

It is late March in Berryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington. Frost is not unusual.

What was unusual was February. It was Virginia's warmest on record.

The peach trees started blooming early.

Bill Mackintosh, Mackintosh Fruit Farm:

We're probably every bit of three weeks ahead of what a normal season should be. And we're probably a week if not 10 days ahead of what last year was, which was very early.


Mackintosh says these early warm spells are happening more often.

Bill Mackintosh, Mackintosh Fruit Farm:

The climate that we've experienced over the last probably 10 years has been warmer winters and earlier bloom, and which puts us in a situation for a lot of loss.


When temperatures dipped, he says the plums fared worse than the peaches.

Bill Mackintosh, Mackintosh Fruit Farm:

This is really just a complete wipe-out. Just completely fried.


Virginia Tech professor Sherif Sherif says frost damage is increasing, even as temperatures are warming from climate change.

Sherif Sherif, Virginia Tech:

The reason is not because we have more frost days than before. The reason is the shift in flowering.


He says late winter warmth lures trees out of dormancy and into flowering too early.

Sherif Sherif, Virginia Tech:

And once the tree is in the bloom state or the flowering state, they become far more sensitive to any low temperatures and the cold and the freeze damage.

Jason Londo, Cornell University:

It might be Virginia this year. It was France last year.


Cornell University professor Jason Londo says early blooms are happening more often across the temperate regions, causing problems for all kinds of fruit growers.

Jason Londo, Cornell University:

If this happens once every 10 years, it's part of the risk of the job. If it's happening every three to five years, that begins to reduce the viability of that industry over time.


Farmers are adapting. Mackintosh invested tens of thousands of dollars in frost-fighting heaters and fans. He says it is worth the cost. But it is not for everyone.

Whether it's frost, heat, droughts or floods, climate change is forcing farmers everywhere to adapt. But there are limits, Londo says.

Jason Londo, Cornell University:

You can do all sorts of things to try to reduce climate impacts. And we will have to do those. At some point, the economy won't play out and that production will have to move.


On a changing planet, many farmers will have to change what, where or how they grow.

Steve Baragona, VOA News, Berryville, Virginia.


One of the first things to understand about climate change is the difference between a more long-term behavior and the daily weather outside your door, which can change minute-by-minute.

To explain the difference in more detail, we talked to meteorologist, Matthew Cappucci.

Matthew Cappucci, Atmospheric Scientist/Meteorologist:

I think one key thing to remember is that with climate change, it's not whether or not this event would or would not have happened without climate change. It's how climate change is influencing already existing events. So, there are two main shifts I'm seeing with the atmosphere. Number one, we tend to get stuck in the same weather patterns for longer and the reason for that comes down to how the jet stream behaves. Essentially, the jet stream is that river waves in the upper atmosphere that distributes heat between the equators and the poles. Now the poles are warming a lot more quickly than the equator, so the jet stream goes farther north, and farther south becomes and becomes much wavier to do that same job of distributing heat, which in the process needs to move left to right or west to east a little more slowly, so we get stuck in weather patterns for longer.

Number two, obviously across the board, we're kind of askew huddle a little bit, but my bigger concern comes down to rainfall and precipitation extremes. For every degree Celsius the air temperature increases. We're about 7% more water in the air. When there's moisture available. That means much heavier downpours, higher rainfall rates and greater propensity for flooding. When moisture isn't available, that means the air obviously is warmer. It desiccates the landscape sucks moisture out of the ground that causes drought that dry air could heat up even and it self-reinforces that process, so again, it's ultimately down to rainfall and precipitation experience including snow, more heat extremes and more weather patterns have become stuck, so to speak.


How do we know that the what is causing this because most people say that this is caused by carbon emissions. Other say maybe kind of just the normal cycle of the earth. How do scientists know the reason behind this?

Matthew Cappucci, Atmospheric Scientist/Meteorologist:

The climate has always changed the climate will always change and a large percentage of that is natural. What we're seeing now is a greater rate to which the climate is changing for ways that are linked to human induced climate change basic human emissions, we know based on the atmospheric composition, how much moisture how much heat it should hold. So when you pump stuff into the atmosphere. It's pretty easy for us to account for sort of how it behaving and why it's behaving a certain way, especially if we know certain molecules are affected and helping you trap heat.


Countries around the world have met on many times and various gatherings and Summit. A lot of countries especially the bigger polluters, or emitters are have pledged made pledges to cut down emissions. Have we seen that and how quickly would we see the positive impacts of some of these actions?

Matthew Cappucci, Atmospheric Scientist/Meteorologist:

I liken these meetings with worldwide leaders to sort of the fancy schmancy banquets you see in Hollywood when a bunch of rich people all get together and pretend to care about an issue.

Just look at the media. I think for the most part, we're not really seeing any meaningful change from larger countries around the world. They'll have any actual difference on the conditions we face.

The atmosphere is almost like a freight train. If you were to stop emissions all together today, the climate will continue warming for a number of decades to come. Thanks to that inertia so to speak, you cannot have this freight train going it takes a long time to pump the brakes on it. And so I don't think in our lifetimes unless things drastically changed, that we'll see any meaningful change in the way the climate is shifting ultimately and changing weather conditions will face and the other thing too is rather difficult with this isn't the biggest emitters of climate changing greenhouse gases, are the developing countries who don't necessarily have the resources to invest in infrastructure systems that would allow them to take a different path because it'll get their act together for global for more developed nations around the globe. It would be easier for them to make these shifts whether or not as economically feasible remains to be seen.


A reason why hurricanes these days in the US have been so devastating. It's because we've been building our cities along the coast. So is it adaptation rethinking how we plan our cities and where people live and we can talk more of that is kind of the takeaway.

Matthew Cappucci, Atmospheric Scientist/Meteorologist:

If somebody's houses on stilts, they're too close to the water to begin with. If they live in a floodplain, they should not live there. And so we have to be smart about where we're designing cities. If we're putting a city in the middle of a desert and pumping in water from hundreds of kilometers away. That's not smart infrastructure too so we not only have to build responsibly for today, but we have to plan for what tomorrow will hold in terms of climate and in terms of population moves and things of that nature.


Climate scientists agree it’s hard to say global warming caused a specific weather event.

But they have plenty of proof showing an increase in weather extremes, including precipitation, drought and forest fires.

Tornado deaths in the United States have nearly tripled this year compared to all of 2022.

And the scary part for Americans living in tornado-prone areas is that twister season just started late last month.

VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has this story of the deadly storms destroying everything in their path.


Cell phone video captures an incoming tornado… one of at least 100 estimated to have hit the United States over just one weekend in March.

Tornadoes account for about 60 deaths so far this year – nearly three times higher than all of last year – and peak tornado season is only now underway. The twisters tearing through America’s south were among 17 such deadly storms in 2023.

Tornadoes obliterated much of Rolling Fork, Mississippi. The town of roughly two-thousand is home to a mostly Black population where about one-in-five residents lives below the federal poverty line.

One-third of the population here lives in mobile homes, ill-equipped to withstand the brute force of a tornado. The National Weather Service says more-than half of all tornado-related fatalities happen in mobile homes.

Ronnia Pope, Resident:

I have seen better days, but this is the worst I have ever ((seen)). This is devastating. I have so many family members, friends, memories that’s been destroyed. Typical disaster. Devastating. Friends. Loss. Damage. It is heartbreaking.


The Weather Service adds that just an E-F-(one) tornado – with speeds up to 177 kilometers per hour – is enough to flatten a mobile home. The tornado that tore through Rolling Fork registered as an E-F-(four), with potential windspeeds north of 320-kilometers per hour.

Meteorologists say the pairing of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and high winds helped form these massive storms.

Brian Carcione, National Weather Service Meteorologist:

You have this kind of powerful storm system that’s helping to unite those two ingredients. These ingredients don’t always come together so effectively. And unfortunately, they just have in this case, and this is a very favorable time of year for that happen.


And when the storms come, area residents have little choice but to run for their lives.

Sam Smith, Grandson of Resident:

We came when the sirens started going off, so we had about five minutes from when we parked to when we had to come down here and sit down. The neighbors were with us. We might have had 13 people in here with us, and once the door closed, you could just feel the pressure. It’s like atmospheric pressure. It’s not like literal pressure. But when we were sitting out, we just heard the wind. It was like a train coming toward us.


In addition to the losses of life and property, hundreds of thousands throughout the country were without power, many without running water.

Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.


In a report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, highway vehicles release about 1.4 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year.

To combat this, the EPA has new released proposals that will increase U.S. vehicle emission standards.

VOA’s Keith Kocinski reports on how this new initiative aims to drive consumers to purchase more electric cars by 2032.

KEITH KOCINSKI, Reporting for VOA:

Alex Brown has owned an electric vehicle for a decade and is part of an EV car club.

He has a passion for electric cars stemming from his desire to combat climate change.

Alexander P. Brown - Vice President of the New Jersey Electric Auto Association:

I had kind of an epiphany when I had my first child right and we had just purchased this home. I was thinking about his future and I was really concerned about it.


On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its intention to raise emission standards in the U.S. for cars and trucks with a goal of improving air quality across the nation.

The Biden administration claims the proposals would avoid nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 emissions, equivalent to more than twice the total U.S. CO2 emissions in 2022.

Alexander P. Brown - Vice President of the New Jersey Electric Auto Association:

I think it’s a move in the right direction. I think it’s kind of a shame we haven’t done more.


The EPA projects that EVs could account for 67% of new light duty vehicle sales by 2032. Presently the number sits at around 7 percent.

Eric Verhoogen - Professor of Economics, Columbia University:

It’s ambitious. At the same time we need these sorts of big bold ambitious moves in order to address the crisis of climate change.


In the EU countries as well as China, EV sales account for over 20 percent of auto sales, according to the firm Counterpoint research and European Commission.

Pankaj Lal - Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Montclair State University:

Globally it is happening. Everywhere it’s happening. All the countries. It’s not just happening in the US.


The Biden administration touts Americans will save over 1 trillion dollars at the pump, should the proposal be adopted. While there is optimism, there are looming concerns.

Eric Verhoogen, Professor of Economics, Columbia University:

There’s some uncertainty about how the industry will react. Are consumers going to want to buy these cars? Are the prices going to come down sufficiently? Are the minerals that are going to go into the batteries that are required for electrical vehicles available? Are the charging stations going to be built in sufficient numbers?


Experts also say the auto industry must adapt to the new changes and shifts in labor. Another concern: over 60 percent of U.S. electricity is still derived from fossil fuels.

Eric Verhoogen, Professor of Economics, Columbia University:

You are going to need to make sure that the supply of electricity is affordable, but also itself is not creating bigger problems for the environment then this whole transition was trying to solve. So, you really need to move the generation of electricity to renewables as well.


Renewable energy sources are growing in the United States – for the first time, accounting for more electricity production than coal.

Alex believes the only direction is to move forward with EV’s.

Alexander P. Brown - Vice President of the New Jersey Electric Auto Association:

I really think we are going to look back on these old gas cars and say wow that was smelly. How did people deal with all that air pollution back then?


The proposed new EPA greenhouse gas emission standards must undergo a pubic hearing before becoming official. The hearing will take place virtually on May 2nd and 3rd.

Keith Kocinski for VOA News.


That’s all for now.

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For all of those behind the scenes who brought you today’s show, I’m Elizabeth Lee.

We’ll see you next week for The Inside Story.