When MPR News’ Climate Cast debuted in January 2013, it was one of the few regular programs to address how a warming planet could change life as we know it.
That urgency has only grown. In 2023, climate change is one of the leading issues driving political, economical and societal change.
To celebrate Climate Cast’s 10th anniversary, MPR’s chief meteorologist Paul Huttner talked to an elite panel of experts about how climate change has evolved since Climate Cast began.
What does the latest science say about how fast the planet is warming now? What are the biggest climate change impacts here in Minnesota and around the world? How is public opinion adjusting? And how far have climate solutions advanced in the past 10 years?
Katharine Hayhoe is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading climate scientists. Among other things, she is a professor at Texas Tech University and the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy.
Bernadette Woods Placky is an Emmy Award-winning meteorologist and director of Climate Central's Climate Matters, a program that offers data analyses, graphics and other reporting resources to a growing network of more than 3,000 local TV meteorologists and journalists to help them tell local climate stories.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Click the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
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1. Raising our voices matters
Katharine Hayhoe: When I ask people to describe what they feel about climate change in one word, the answers are: scared, depressed, paralyzed, overwhelmed, angry, guilty, anxious and frightened. Those are entirely reasonable. But unless we recognize that our choices make a difference, we're not going to fix this issue.
Too often, we picture climate action like a giant boulder, sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep cliff, with only a few hands on that boulder. We think, “why should I add my hand to that boulder? It's not going to move. It's pointless.” But when we look around and see all the action that's already happening, we realize that the giant boulder is already rolling down the hill in the right direction. And if I add my hand, and used my voice to encourage others around me to add theirs, it would go faster.
As Joan Baez famously said: “The antidote to anxiety and despair is action.” And we can't fix this alone, but together. I'm absolutely convinced we can do it. It all begins when we use our voices to call for action wherever we live, work, study, worship, play. We can use our voices for a better future for us all.
2. Climate change impacts are more expensive than ever
Bernadette Woods Placky: When we experience an extreme event, some of the impacts are obvious for the immediate toll on lives and our health. But it doesn't end after the event, especially in these communities that don't have as many resources and are the most vulnerable among us. That's where we have to continue making these connections: a storm is connected to climate change, but it is also connected to what you're already paying to recover and how that factors into your future costs.
For instance, the Flood Insurance Program has gone through some major ups and downs. California and parts of the West are really trying to figure out how they're going to cover people with wildfire insurance, especially when affordable housing is already a massive issue, then you add all these extra pieces on top of it with the economy and COVID. It's affecting people who have really worked hard most of their life and done everything right out of their homes. We've gotten to a point now where the cost of taking action and leading toward climate solutions is more affordable than what we're paying in the impacts.
3. U.S. systems are not built for such extreme climates
Jason Samenow: We've seen about 1.2 degrees Celsius of change. But the increase in extremes is increasing disproportionately. In other words, we're seeing a bigger change and extremes than you might expect for that amount of warming. That has climate scientists particularly concerned because if we go to 1.5 Celsius warming or even 2 degrees Celsius of warming, we're going to see these extremes continue to proliferate.
Our systems are built for a climate that was a degree cooler, so the cost of trying to adapt to these extremes is going to be profound. It makes it incumbent in planning decisions to think about where we're headed in terms of the different extremes that we're facing and how they're changing.
When we saw Hurricane Ida go through and you saw 4 inches of rain falling in an hour, the systems there weren't built to withstand that. We see these extremes continuing to get worse, the wildfires increasing the speed at which they spread, hurricanes like this past hurricane season — with that 15-foot surge in southwest Florida or around Fort Myers — and you add sea level rise on top of that. There's just a lot of thought that needs to be put into planning across the different economic sectors, whether you're talking about agriculture, health, water, all of these different systems are very vulnerable to extremes and they are proliferating before our very eyes.
4. Weather can solve climate change impacts
Bernadette Woods Placky: One of the ways we're solving this is through wind and solar energy. That is weather, and it is dramatically shifting how we get our electricity. As the society can move as much as possible over to electrically-driven cars and transportation, and within our home units, businesses and buildings, then we power that with multiple forms of renewable energy. But again, I'm honing in on the forecasting aspect of this. This is weather powering our future. That's one of the areas where we're already seeing tremendous growth, and we'll see even more.
5. There are 5 key truths about global warming
Ed Maibach: Me and my colleague Tony Leiserowitz have been conducting a poll that we call “Climate change in the American mind” every six months since 2008. One of the things that we've learned from our research is that there are five key truths about global warming. People who understand them are much more likely to be engaged in doing something about the problem. Those five key truths are:
Global warming is real and the proportion of Americans who understand it is 7 out of 10.
Global warming is human caused.
Global warming is bad for people in a whole variety of ways
There's hope actions we take will make a difference.
Experts agree that global warming is human-caused, no matter what you hear about it.
6. More than half of Americans are both alarmed and concerned about global warming
Ed Maibach: There's really no such thing as the general public. That never really does justice to the way people really think and feel about issues. So we used our survey data back in 2008 to identify distinct ways of seeing the global warming issue among the American people. We found six distinct categories: the alarmed, the concerned, the cautious, the disengaged, the doubtful and the dismissive. The top-two categories — alarmed and concerned — make up the majority with 53 percent.
Ten years ago, fewer than 3 in 10 Americans felt that climate change was changing the weather here in the U.S. and now it's almost two-thirds, so more than 6 in 10 people who get the fact that the weather isn't what it used to be.
7. Politicians stopped denying climate change and started acting on it
Ed Maibach: In the most recent election, we really didn't see Republican candidates talking about climate change and I would contend that's actually a good thing. Normally during prior election seasons, Republican candidates used to speak out against climate change, against the belief in our human-caused climate change, and against taking action on climate change. But that didn't happen in the most recent election. I think the reason why is because that doesn't play with young conservatives in America anymore. They actually would like their leaders to acknowledge the realities of the problems that we face. I think that's a really important step forward, and I hope it continues to play out. America will be a much better country.
Another thing that I think everybody should keep their eye on is the fact that Congress did pass the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which is a major climate solutions bill. So a whole lot of money is going to be flowing through federal agencies to help Americans, homeowners, renters and business owners start to participate in the clean energy revolution, at a much more affordable price than they could have previously participated. My guess is that public enthusiasm for climate solutions is about to skyrocket.
8. Overall emissions have decreased since 2007
Jon Foley: At the national level, this surprises a lot of people. But the United States as a whole has actually been seeing a decrease in all of our emissions overall, as a country, by about 20 percent since 2007. Most people don't expect that to be true, but it is. Even though our economy and our population have grown, our emissions have been going down since 2007.
That's true in Minnesota, too. And what's also really interesting is the price of solar photovoltaics and wind power has fallen more than anybody ever expected. Even the optimists have been caught off guard by how cheap solar and wind have gotten. Solar is now the cheapest form of energy humans have ever had in our entire history, so no wonder it's finally winning. It's beating coal, and it's going to beat natural gas in the marketplace really quickly. That's great news.
9. Big actors can move things faster
Jamie Alexander: Another thing that I'm looking at is what the big actors in society, such as large corporations, are doing to help us move much faster than any one individual can. We have a lot of big businesses in the Twin Cities that have a lot of clout and influence and can really help us move money much more quickly than any one individual into climate solutions. These big actors in society can help us shift away from the source of the problem and toward the solutions.
Large corporations can shift their banking practices away from those banks to finance the sources of the problem and toward climate solutions. One of the things I'm looking at up here in Duluth, where I live, is how we're going to work to transition like workers in the Iron Range, for example, and how mining is going to be. I think that's going to be a really important thing to get right.
10. Little changes can make a big difference
Jon Foley: We can do a lot of things in our homes that save us money, like retrofitting our homes when we have the chance, taking advantage of tax breaks, insulating and weatherizing our homes, improving our heating and cooling systems to new efficient made-in-America heat pumps. Also small things like reducing food waste, eating our leftovers, making sure we take home the doggie bag, shifting our diets to things that are a little bit more climate friendly. We can also do the talking about it and engage in a larger conversation, not just in the voting booth, but every day about what we buy, how we talk, what we post on Facebook, what we listen to, how we chat about it. Even at work, asking questions about our retirement funds, what our company is doing about climate change and so on. We can be part of a larger democratic conversation as a society that really brings climate change to front and center but also all the benefits climate solutions bring to us too.