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Berrien Moore On Global Negotiations And Local Implications Of Climate Change

Participants attend a panel entitled "Science on a Sphere Presentation"at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, north of Paris, Dec. 8, 2015.
Michel Euler
/
AP
Participants attend a panel entitled "Science on a Sphere Presentation"at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, north of Paris, Dec. 8, 2015.

Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 12, 2015, 19,385 national delegates from across the world met in Paris for COP21 to discuss rising emissions, green energy, and the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP21’s observers included a familiar face from the National Weather Center: Berrien Moore III, Dean of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences.

“What came out of Paris was a set of voluntary targets. Unfortunately, if you took all of the voluntary targets and put them up, and said okay, that's what we're going to do, we're off by a factor of three,” Moore told KGOU’s World Views. “So you have to go from the voluntary targets that came out of Paris and go further down. And that will be challenging, but I think it's doable. It's technologically doable. It's just difficult,” he said.

While climate change is still treated as an inflammatory topic in American domestic politics, Moore sees business interests as the key to shifting climate talks in the U.S.

“Quite frankly, in the United States, about two-thirds of the people believe it's a human-caused problem, and so really, there is the building of the political will. And I think that we just have to accept that energy is going to be more expensive,” Moore said. “After all, the color of money is green. There can be real businesses formed around these new enterprises. Look at the wind power industry here in Oklahoma. It's a very strong, fast-growing industry. In terms of new capacity for electricity, wind is number one.”

Though Moore is reluctant to attribute extreme weather events to climate change, sea level rise and rising water temperatures are immediate causes of concern in U.S. cities.

“Extreme events are extremely unlikely,” Moore said. “But there are certain things that are very clear. Sea surface temperatures are rising. Sea surface levels are rising. You're not allowed to talk about global warming in Florida, but they now talk about ‘inconvenient flooding’ in Miami, because of sea level rise.”

When it comes to planning for Oklahoma’s quickly fluctuating weather events, Moore advises communication and advanced planning.

“You ought to have a playbook,” Moore said. “That way you're thinking it through, so that when you then get warnings, that you've already thought this thing, and you don't do something foolish that puts you in harm's way.”

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On political solutions to cutting emissions

I think there's one thing that you could do, but it's going to be controversial. That is a carbon tax. We use taxes all the time to push behavior one way or the other. We use taxes to pay things like roads, when you buy gasoline. And so you could have a carbon tax. And that's a relatively easy thing to install. We know the carbon concentration in terms of an industry, in terms of making things. I think that's a doable tax. And then you would have to get by the political will. And you can say, well, let's make it revenue neutral. So all you're really doing is just shifting, so you could have maybe a reduction in income taxes that would be matched by the carbon tax. But the carbon tax would drive industries towards low-carbon solutions, because there would be a price advantage.

On storm chasing

You need to be very thoughtful. We have already seen very tragic situations with storm chasers. We have had deaths a couple years ago, in a severe outbreak. We just have to be smart. We put students and faculty into the field with radar trucks doing scientific investigation, but we know when to back out. 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Berrien Moore, welcome to World Views.

BERRIEN MOORE: Delighted to be here. Absolutely delighted.

GRILLOT: Well, Berrien, I know you do a lot of work on climate issues. Climate change is obviously something we talk about a lot, but what are some of the specific things that we need to focus on, and in particular, I know you've been involved in the conference in Paris not too long ago-- Tell us a little bit about that, and some of the international governance issues involving climate change and atmospheric issues.

MOORE:  Well, it was fascinating. It began on November 30, and went until December 13. I found it particularly interesting in that the first week, I saw what I expected, which was that the major countries started backing off and saying, "Well, we really can't hold to a two degree warming. We ought to maybe move that to about three degrees." And by Thursday of the first week, you sensed the backlash. The developed world, small countries, island states started to say, "Wait, two degrees isn't going to meet our needs. We've got to hold it to 1.5." And the French, I think, handled it just beautifully. They got people back on board and they started targeting what you could do--could you get to 1.5--and took it as a real challenge. I thought that at the end, it was quite successful. But, I will say, the goal is immensely ambitious. In fact, Chris Field, a dear friend of mine from Stanford, is just saying that the IPCC was looking at this, and he thinks it's just on the edge of doable. But, if you say, "Well, we're going to try to do two degrees," or as much under two degrees as we can, such as 1.5, that sets a very challenging target. But doable.

GRILLOT: I want to get to this issue of some of the obstacles: obviously, some of the-- When you say major countries, you know, when you say "developed countries," those are actually emitting, perhaps-- At least major players in the world. When you talk about trying to get to two degrees, or one and a half degrees, obviously this is a reduction in global average temperatures, I would presume. So, in terms of getting there, that two degrees or one and a half degrees, we're talking about reducing emissions, in order to basically protect the Earth from warming--

MOORE: --Right.

GRILLOT: --Breaking down atmospheric production from the sun. So that is basically what we're getting out, is that whole global warming issue, which, by extension, leads to climate change and all of the various extremes that we're perhaps even witnessing in temperatures. So that's the kind of clarification. So then the issue is, those that are perhaps contributing most to this problem-- Is that who you're talking about, the major countries that are contributing to this problem, and the difficulty they're going to have in making those proper adjustments in emissions?

MOORE: Well, we have to look at two things. One, we have to look at where the major contributions are today, because that's where we have to work from. The fact that the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere has increased from about 280 parts per million concentration, in the pre-industrial times, to now over 400. So it's about a 40 percent increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. That really has been brought about by the total emissions that the United States, Europe, China and so forth have done. So we have both the issue of kind of an equity question--of well, those who have already emitted CO2, what about the developing countries, that would like their shot at the carbon barrel, you might say. Unfortunately, we really have to reduce emissions. Yes, there have been that came first, but now we have to reduce emissions in order to stabilize the concentration in the atmosphere--and that's the key thing, it's the concentration in the atmosphere. To stabilize it, you've got to cut emissions by about 80 percent.

GRILLOT: But that's an 80 percent cut in emissions total, right? Because you mentioned the total barrel. So each of these governments, then--major players--need to go home and create legislation, regulations, things that will control the emissions that are coming from their specific countries, the industries and such that are operating in their specific countries. So, I presume there's some sort of complicated negotiation process to have a certain part of that barrel, of those overall emissions, of who's going to have to reduce more, right? I would presume that's maybe the stickiest point--

MOORE: --That's a sticky issue. And what came out of Paris was a set of voluntary targets. Unfortunately, if you took all of the voluntary targets and put them up, and said okay, that's what we're going to do, we're off by a factor of three. So you have to go from the voluntary targets that came out of Paris and go further down. And that will be challenging, but I think it's doable. It's technologically doable. It's just difficult.

GRILLOT: So it's a matter of political-- Politically doable; the political will to do it. And then of course, the role of private enterprise, corporations, industries, those that are actually going to have to implement these sorts of reductions. This could be costly for some, right? Let's leave the technologically doable thing aside, because we know that's the case. How are you going to get to the political will? What mechanisms are there in an international political environment such as we have, to regulate this and hold people accountable, and enforce some sort of global agreement of this sort?

MOORE: Right. I think right now it's a question of an informed politic. And we need to get away from the blame game. I think we need to get away from denialism, and really speak to the body politic. Quite frankly, in the United States, about two-thirds of the people believe it's a human-caused problem, and so really, there is the building of the political will. And I think that we just have to accept that energy is going to be more expensive. But after all, the color of money is green. There can be real businesses formed around these new enterprises. Look at the wind power industry here in Oklahoma. It's a very strong, fast-growing industry. In terms of new capacity for electricity, wind is number one.

GRILLOT: So this seems to be the potential solution to all of this, right? You monetize and you create business and industry around environmentally friendly-- We've already seen this happening. You mention wind, and there are multiple other examples we can make along this line. But it is more costly. It is perhaps more expensive, but there is money to be made by being environmentally sustainable and responsible. How do we encourage that, if it's going to be a market solution, as well as a government and regulation-- There will be solutions that are government oriented, and regulatory. How do we facilitate the business side of things?

MOORE: Well, I think there's one thing that you could do, but it's going to be controversial. That is a carbon tax. We use taxes all the time to push behavior one way or the other. We use taxes to pay things like roads, when you buy gasoline. And so you could have a carbon tax. And that's a relatively easy thing to install. We know the carbon concentration in terms of an industry, in terms of making things. I think that's a doable tax. And then you would have to get by the political will. And you can say, well, let's make it revenue neutral. So all you're really doing is just shifting, so you could have maybe a reduction in income taxes that would be matched by the carbon tax. But the carbon tax would drive industries towards low-carbon solutions, because there would be a price advantage. And I think that's the kind of thing that we need to do. What we need to particularly do is stop saying that this isn't a problem. It is a problem. But we ought to be grown up about it, and face it.

GRILLOT: So on that point, though-- I mean, you mentioned earlier that we need to get away from denialism, and that we need to focus on an informed political body. But, I mean, that raises this issue of education, and obviously raising awareness about these issues. But we've already seen that there are these issues. There are those deniers. There are those that push back on this notion that it is human responsibility that our planet is warming, and that we are having these sorts of consequences. So, education alone, given the fact that we have a political environment where people deny the scientific facts of the matter-- Whether it's human made or not, the facts are the facts, right? So how do you fight that battle, politically rather than scientifically?

MOORE: I don't think you have to win 100 percent. As I said, you already have a majority of people who recognize the problem. After all, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the ECMWF-- And we praise their weather model all the time. In fact, the United States Air Force has adopted their weather model. They got superstorm Sandy correct. Well, that's the same model they use for climate work. And so we can't say, "Well, that's a very good weather forecast, it does very well," and then say "well, this climate, that's completely different." Same physics. Same chemistry.

GRILLOT: So making that connection more clear, between the climate issue and the weather modeling issue, and how climate affects our weather. So let's talk about weather for a second, because you're kind of like the chief meteorologist over there, right, at the National Weather Center. So tell us about what we're to expect with weather, because obviously there's been a lot of assumptions over the years that global warming means it's just going to get hotter and hotter--but that isn't necessarily is the case. It's just more volatile, in terms of our weather patterns. Some places will be hotter, other places it'll be colder. There will be more hurricanes, more unstable weather--what are we to expect?

MOORE: Some of what you say is true, and some of what you say is-- We don't know. More hurricanes? Possibly. More tornadic activity? I don't think we know. The difficulty is when I start making statements about extreme events--extreme events are extremely unlikely. That's why they're called extreme events. And now you have to say something about the average, and you're going to say how it's going to affect the extreme events. That's tough. But there are certain things that are very clear. Sea surface temperatures are rising. Sea surface levels are rising. You're not allowed to talk about global warming in Florida, but they now talk about "inconvenient flooding" in Miami, because of sea level rise. I think that as these things become clear, then we will begin to recognize our role in this. And then I think we will recognize opportunities. But returning to the weather question, I think one of the very interesting things is that we have done a terrific job over the last eight to 10 years of increasing lead times for tornadic forecasts. We've done really tremendously well there. However, we've not cut death rates. We actually have a social dimension to this important problem, more or less like the climate question. It's not so much the physics and the technology. It really is a social question. And we're seeing the same thing with tornadic behavior. We had this terrible event a couple of years ago on a Friday when, unfortunately, people were told "get out of town." And you already have traffic jams on 44 and I-35 in Oklahoma City, and it's a Friday afternoon and now you've told everyone to get out of town. And yet you had tornadic conditions bearing down on highly exposed people.

GRILLOT: So the social dimension, just to be clear-- Obviously, how we communicate information about what we're seeing, what we're forecasting, what we can tell when a tornado is coming at you, when hurricanes are coming at you--we have a tremendous ability to do that. But how we communicate it and how it's received, right, by those watching the weather reports, or watching as that hurricane is coming towards us, in terms of what they do in response to that information again goes back to that question of information and awareness, and making sure that people are aware. So that's really what you're talking about in terms of the social dimension: communication, education, awareness, and then informed response.

MOORE: And I think the response needs to have been thought through. This is an area where families ought to have conversations, so they at least think it through.

GRILLOT: You do fire drills, you do tornado drills.

MOORE: Exactly. And we do the same thing--I mean, the football team does the same thing. They think about, well, in this situation we'll do thus and so. And in this situation, our opponent may do thus and so, and therefore we need to be ready, and we need to do certain things. And that's talked about. 

GRILLOT: You need a playbook!

MOORE: You ought to have a playbook! And it varies: if it's a weekend, we ought to do this. But that way you're thinking it through, so that when you then get warnings, that you've already thought this thing, and you don't do something foolish that puts you in harm's way. And I think that really speaks to a lot of aspects of education, in a way.

GRILLOT: In so many ways, weather is a spectator sport too, right? I grew up in Oklahoma, and my mom would stand on the front porch when a tornado is coming, watching the skies. That's what we do. We chase storms, and we go out and watch these things.

MOORE: And I think that's alright--up to a point. And then you need to be very thoughtful. We have already seen very tragic situations with storm chasers. We have had deaths a couple years ago, in a severe outbreak. We just have to be smart. We put students and faculty into the field with radar trucks doing scientific investigation, but we know when to back out. 

GRILLOT: Well, it sounds like when it come to the climate, environment, weather, all of it, it's all related and we all need to be smart about it. Thank you so much, Berrien, for being here today. It's really great to get your perspective.

MOORE: It's wonderful and an honor to be on this program.

Copyright © 2016 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.  

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