Rank #1: Former Vice President Al Gore talks climate change solutions
Former Vice President Al Gore called Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz a “climate hero” Friday. Gore introduced the governor at a three-day event in Minneapolis tied to The Climate Reality Project.
The environmental leadership conference brings an estimated 1,200 activists to the Twin Cities and features dozens of speakers, including New York Times author and Minnesota native Thomas Friedman, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.
MPR News chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner sat down with Gore on day one of the conference.
Aug 02 2019
Rank #2: Climate Curious: Ask a climate expert
As part of our Climate Curious project, MPR News asked listeners what they want to know about climate change.
People wrote in with a wide breadth of questions, including what kind of trees to plant to fight climate change, how much the effects of a changing climate will cost and how to assess the accuracy of climate predictions.
MPR News Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner sat down with a climate reporter — MPR’s own Elizabeth Dunbar — and a climate scientist — Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist for the State Climatology Office at the Minnesota DNR — to answer some of the questions listeners submitted.More from Climate Curious
- What are the best carbon-capturing trees to plant?
- What's the difference between weather and climate?
Here’s a look at what they had to say.
How much will climate impacts and adapting to climate change cost? Who will pay these costs?
— Kate Knuth, Hennepin County, Minn.
It’s not possible to calculate an exact dollar amount as we’re still figuring out the true impact of climate change on our lives. But there are a few main areas we can focus on.
One is public health, Dunbar said. Increased air pollution will have an especially large impact on people who have asthma or issues breathing.
Damage to and improving infrastructure will comes with a large cost, too, Blumenfeld said.
More rain means the need for more effective draining, roads damaged in extreme weather conditions require time, labor and equipment to fix and rising sea levels will create the need to move whole communities.
It’s important to keep in mind that much of our infrastructure was not built with climate change in mind, Huttner said.
How extensive is crop failure in Minnesota and the Midwest due to flooding and extra wet conditions? I have seen a lot of standing water in cornfields. How unusual is this?
— Mina Leierwood, Minneapolis
“It’s been incredibly wet and we have to remember it’s not just this year,” Blumenfeld said.
Unfortunately, we went into last winter with very wet soil which then froze. We didn’t get much of a winter in terms of snowfall until late January through March. That snow added to the amount of moisture on the ground plus the heavy rains that followed in spring. That same pattern has been observed over the past few years.
Except for northern Minnesota, “it’s going to be the wettest decade on record” for most of the state, he said.
We’ll start to understand the real impact of this once farmers start their harvest, Dunbar said.
How accurate have past climate change predictions been? I seem to hear more about things occurring faster than predicted.
— Erland Lukanen, Eagan, Minn.
To answer this question, Huttner pointed to the words of Penn State University professor Richard Alley.
When scientists were making these kinds of predictions 30 years ago, Alley said, they had to do a bit of guessing when it came to how much humans were going to do when it came to producing or curbing carbon emissions.
Even so, Alley said the predictions on increased surface temperature, vapor in the atmosphere, increased rainfall, warming of nights and melting of sea ice were all pretty spot on looking at where we are today. And the rate at which sea levels are rising are actually faster than what was predicted.
It depends on the study, but for the most part earlier predictions have come within a tenth of a degree Celsius for how much the global temperature has increased, Blumenfeld said.
If you’re looking for predictions by region, things get a little trickier. There weren’t as many models on how Minnesota might be impacted by climate change individually. Looking at what’s happening right now we are warming at about half a degree Fahrenheit per decade and rainfall has increased by about 4 inches in that same time period.
Those may not seem like large numbers, but it’s important to remember those are averages over time, some areas are seeing larger increases and those statistics are likely to keep increasing, Dunbar said.
What can I/we do to combat climate change?
This question was asked in different forms from many of our listeners. Here are just a few things mentioned on the show:
Scientists do point to lifestyle changes as major ways to combat climate change — which can get controversial fast.
A large study last year pointed to eating a plant-based diet as a way of shrinking your carbon footprint. In Minnesota, agriculture is the third largest producer of emissions, behind transportation and electricity production.
But, Blumenfeld pointed out, these kinds of decisions don’t need to be all or nothing. Instead of eliminating all meat from your diet you can also choose to eat foods with a smaller carbon footprint, like chicken over beef.
Paring down your consumption of any one product in general is key, too.
One caller in Minneapolis mentioned that because she lives in a community of apartments and town homes she cannot install solar panels.
If certain strategies for combating climate change are out of reach, focus on what you can change, Blumenfeld said.
Make sure you’re turning off your lights and electronics when you leave your home, use energy efficient bulbs, seal your windows in the winter to cut back on heating and buy used instead of new whenever you can.
How do I talk to skeptics?
This is another question we’ve received from multiple listeners. Dunbar and Blumenfeld’s suggestion? Combine facts with empathy.
“One of the keys is to maybe not refer to them as skeptics,” Blumenfeld said. “I think we need to move beyond it, honestly.”
And instead of focusing on convincing them, try to understand where they are coming from, ask them what their concerns are, relate it to things they care about and try to help build connections to the trends we are seeing in the facts, Dunbar said.
That empathy combined with being knowledgeable on the science — Huttner pointed to SkepticalScience.com as a good resource — will likely lead to more productive discourse.
Is it true that 98 percent of scientists agree with climate change?
It really depends on what you mean when you talk about climate change.
Because it’s more like 100 percent of scientists who study the atmosphere recognize that greenhouse gases absorb radiation and in-turn warm the planet. Nobody disputes that, Blumenfeld said.
Where the debate is happening is how much of the warming we’re seeing can be attributed to those greenhouse gases.
Click the audio player above to hear even more questions and their answers. And check out all our climate change coverage here.
Sep 27 2019
Rank #3: Hydrogen power, modular nuclear and the other technology Xcel Energy has its eyes on
Xcel Energy says it should have no problem reaching its goal to cut carbon by 80 percent by 2030. It’s that last 20 percent that will require some still-nascent technology, Xcel CEO Ben Fowke told MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner in this week’s Climate Cast.
“If we start to nurture these kinds of technology, I think they’ll be there when we need it by 2050,” he said.
One technology Fowke is keeping his eye on is modular nuclear reactors. He said they would bring the same carbon-free power existing nuclear power plants do, but without some of the problems.
“They’re smaller, so they’re not these massively big power plants that cost billions and billions of dollars,” Fowke said. “And the reason they’re called modular is because they’re developed in the factory and not designed on the fly, as the history of what our nuclear industry has been.
“So the promise is [they’ll be] much more predictable; they have passive safety systems, which means they automatically shut down without the need for cooling, in the event they need to be shut down; and they’re better at integrating renewable energy, so they move up and down with load better than the existing technology,” he said.
Fowke also said he’s excited about the potential of hydrogen power.
“I would have laughed 10 years ago if I thought we could move to a hydrogen economy,” he said.
Through a process called electrolysis, Fowke said, utilities can use renewable energy to extract hydrogen from water. That hydrogen is then able to be stored, which means developing batteries that can store renewable energy long term becomes less of an imperative.
Xcel’s plan has been celebrated, but also critiqued because it requires the utility to rely more heavily on legacy natural gas and nuclear power plants to offset the closure of Xcel’s coal plants. Much of the country’s natural gas now comes from fracking, which takes a heavy toll on the environment. Natural gas also emits methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas emission.
Fowke said Xcel and other utilities recognize the downsides of natural gas and are pressuring the natural gas industry to be as sustainable as possible.
“Our industry, the electric utility industry, is going to make a push to say, if you want us to use your product, you gotta help us make it worthwhile to use,” he said.
Oct 03 2019
Rank #4: Yes, Hurricane Dorian's wrath is linked to climate change
Hurricane Dorian thrashed the Bahamas for three days, whipping structures with winds as strong as 120 mph and dumping nonstop rain on the low-lying islands. James Kossin, a hurricane and climate expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said climate change is fueling more of these slow-moving storms.
“If we look back over the continental United States, which is where our hurricane data is best, and we look all the way back to the year 1900 to the present, so about 120 year, we see a clear slowdown of 17 percent,” Kossin said. “That’s a long enough period to say that this does not appear to be natural variability.”
Sep 05 2019
Rank #5: The promise — and perceived peril — of bringing green amenities to low-income communities
The Minneapolis Foundation has awarded its first round of grants to involve low-income, diverse communities in climate change initiatives. More than $67,000 from the Minneapolis Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund will help nonprofits retrofit North Minneapolis homes and businesses with clean energy solutions, engage youth in decreasing the carbon footprint of their houses of worship, and bring electric car sharing to low-income communities in the Twin Cities.
Such communities are some of the hardest hit by climate change — a federal report says they’re disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and take longer to recover from natural disasters. But they’re also some of the hardest to engage around climate change solutions.
“[Electric car] charging infrastructure could be seen as a first foot for gentrification,” said Paul Schroeder, CEO of HOURCAR, the nonprofit working to bring electric car sharing to low-income communities. He said he recognizes that residents who have struggled with rising housing costs and watched other transportation initiatives, such as the Green Line and Interstate 94, disrupt their communities are likely to be skeptical of new green amenities.
That’s why HOURCAR and its partners on the project, the city of St. Paul and Xcel Energy, are starting the initiative with an outreach campaign and listening sessions.
“What works? Ask me in a year,” Schroeder said.
Shamar Bibbins, a senior program officer at the Kresge Foundation, just wrapped an initiative that supported climate change efforts in 15 low-income communities across the country over four years. She said what works is connecting climate change to the lived experiences of residents.
“There’s been a framing of climate that has not necessarily resonated with these communities,” Bibbins said. “But when you engage these communities and really connect the dots to the economic, social and public health issues that they’re facing everyday, they become your strongest advocates.”
Aug 08 2019
Rank #6: Carbon Offsets 101: How they work and how to get the biggest bang for your buck
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York this week after completing an emissions-free voyage by boat across the Atlantic. She traveled to take part in a United Nations climate summit, and to draw attention to the amount of carbon travelers emit when they hop on a plane.
Estimates vary, but plane travel represents a significant portion of carbon emissions each year.
So what do you do if you can’t set sail like Thunberg? One option is carbon offsets.
“A carbon offset is really just a purchasable greenhouse gas emissions reduction,” said Maggie Lund, a manager with Center for Research Solutions Green-e certification program. “So as a consumer, you can go out and buy a carbon offset to negate your carbon emissions.”
Lund said that could look like paying $5 to $7 to help block deforestation after a flight across the country. Your flight emitted a lot of carbon, but your offset saved trees that will continue to suck carbon from the air into perpetuity.
“One of the core principals of carbon offsetting is that without the revenue from the carbon offset or the carbon credit, the emissions reduction would have never happened,” Lund said. “So your investment as a consumer into that carbon offset is driving the emissions reduction to happen in the first place.”
Aug 29 2019
Rank #7: What a botched climate bill can teach us about passing reform today
Thousands of Minnesota youth are expected to walk out of school today in an effort to hasten the seemingly glacial pace of climate policy. The first and last major climate bill to pass a house of Congress was the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act. It failed in the Senate despite support in the House and from major U.S. corporations.
“Much of what we’re seeing play out today, both in terms of discussions about domestic climate policy and what’s happening internationally, one can argue is the aftermath of that failed attempt,” said Kyle Meng, an assistant professor of environmental economics at University of California, Santa Barbara.
Meng and University of Chicago economist Ashwin Rode recently published a post-mortem on the bill in the journal Nature Climate Change. Meng said understanding what went wrong can help chart a path forward for climate policy today.
He said the 2009 bill, which would have created a market in which companies would have to pay to pollute, banked on building political support by using revenue from that market to help companies offset their new costs.
“That prevailing view turned out to be false,” Meng told Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. “I think the thinking today is, how do we use this revenue in a way that’s more broad based than what was considered 10 years ago?
“This government revenue can be used to help address some of the economic inequality issues of our time, and I think linking these two (issues) could potentially build greater political support for climate change policy,” he said.
Sep 18 2019
Rank #8: Listening to the 'canaries in the coal mine' of climate change
This week, the Norwegian Polar Institute reported the largest die-off of reindeer in a decade. Researchers found 200 dead reindeer on an isolated chain of islands in Norway, called Svalbard. And they believe climate change was at work; a wet winter resulted in a thick layer of ice that plants — the main food source for reindeer — couldn't poke through.
These arctic ecosystems are some of the hardest hit by climate change, and that's what Amy Martin sought to document in season two of her podcast, Threshold. It includes dispatches from an island in Alaska that’s washing away, a Russian community struggling to speak up about climate change despite crackdowns on dissent, and Svalbard, where herding reindeer is a way of life for indigenous families.
“Getting out onto the land and meeting people where climate change is visible right in front of them, it’s not necessarily coming top-down from an academic but just from, ‘I know this place. I know how it used to be, and I know that it’s changing.’ I think those are powerful stories.” Martin told Climate Cast host Paul Huttner.
“Oftentimes in rural areas, people are more deeply connected with the land, and so in some ways I feel they’re the canaries in the coal mine, and we need to listen to them,” she said.
Aug 02 2019
Rank #9: Chemical fingerprints point to fracking as culprit behind new methane emissions
Methane is more than 100 times more potent that carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas emission, and it’s been on the rise for about a decade. Scientists have been debating what’s behind the spike — wetlands, cows and landfills all emit methane. But a recent study by Robert Howarth, an ecology and environmental biology professor at Cornell University, in the journal Biogeosciences ties much of that increase to shale gas released through fracking.
Howarth found his culprit by lifting chemical fingerprints from methane in the atmosphere. The emission’s chemical makeup varies slightly depending on the source, and Howarth found at least a third of new methane has a lower proportion of carbon-13 in relation to carbon-12 , suggesting it came from shale gas.
“Shale gas is the methane that’s been trapped over geological time in the shale, and it’s released only when we use high-volume hydraulic fracturing — technology that’s only been in widespread commercial use for the last decade or so,” Howarth said. “Conventional natural gas is methane which broke free from shale, migrated through semi-porous rock materials like sandstone over periods of tens to hundreds of millions of years until trapped inside some sort of a cavity. That migration … results in a loss of the lighter carbon-12 isotope.
“So the conventional natural gas that we’ve been harvesting in the 20th century ends up having more carbon-13 than shale gas from fracturing,” he said.
Shale gas is released rapidly, so it hasn’t lost carbon-12.
Howarth said his paper underscores the importance of reducing use of natural gas.
“Reducing methane emissions offers us a real chance — the only chance, I would say — of reaching the UN COP21 target of trying to keep our planet well below 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial baseline,” he said. “I think the way to go is to move as quickly as we can away from all fossil fuels. We need to do so anyway to get rid of the carbon dioxide, but a lot of times people say let’s focus on coal and come back and worry about natural gas later. We have to go after both.”
Aug 22 2019
Rank #10: Are trees the climate change silver bullet, or more silver buckshot?
A new study published in the journal Science estimates that massive reforestation efforts could cut atmospheric carbon by about 25 percent. But are those numbers accurate? And are more trees the climate change silver bullet, or just more silver buckshot?
Jul 25 2019