Climate Cast: The science and policy behind Obama’s climate initiative

A power plant in Changchun, China's Jilin province. Image: Getty Images

Every Thursday MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner joins Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit for "Climate Cast" on MPR News Stations to talk about the latest research on our changing climate and the consequences that we're seeing here in Minnesota and worldwide.


These days it seems like we are witnessing climate changes unfold right before our very eyes.

It's not our imagination.

The nature of our seasons is changing. Spring blooms come earlier. Summer is more humid with a documented increase in extreme localized flash flood events...and more frequent droughts. Fall lingers longer. Lakes freeze up later. Winters are trending shorter and noticeably, measurably milder. New plants are able to thrive in Minnesota's milder climate.

Before you keep reading ...

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We're all living witnesses to rapid climate changes in our lifetime. This is no longer your grandparents "Minnesota" or Planet Earth.

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A power plant in Changchun, China's Jilin province. Image: Getty Images

In 2013 at MPR we're devoting more coverage to the science behind and the growing effects of our changing climate in Minnesota and around the globe.

You can hear me discuss the week's top climate stories, and get perspective from climate experts in our new "Climate Cast" every Thursday morning at 9:50am with Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit.

Climate Cast for June 27th, 2013

President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined a plan to use executive actions to cut carbon pollution and prepare for the costs of climate change.

The speech was long overdue for some, and set a tone for action on one of the biggest environmental issues of our time.

Decades of climate change research all points to the same conclusion. We're changing the chemistry of our atmosphere, and increasing its ability to trap heat. It's basic chemistry and physics. A warmer, wetter atmosphere can deliver more intense storms. Rising ocean temps raise sea levels through the expansion of warmer water, and through melting ice.

Follow The Money:

And what about the costs? You and I are already paying some increased costs of climate change through higher insurance called "shared risk" for the increasing number of billion dollar weather disasters.

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The number of billion dollar weather disasters is rsing sharply. Image: NOAA


Insurance and reinsurance giants like Swiss Re have been factoring in climate change for years. And Swiss Re even has their own in house climate change group.

Change = Opportunity?

The science is clear.

But what are the policy implications of action on climate change? And is this our generations "moon shot" or "Manhattan Project" opportunity? Retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency can be a huge job creator...something people don't often consider when discussing the implications of climate change. That's something of great interest... and it may be an opportunity for an economic boom in the building and energy sectors in the coming decades.

This week on Climate Cast we go In-Depth with The Daily Circuit's host Kerri Miller. Andrew Freedman from Climate Central weighs in along with other guests as we discuss what the President's new initiative may mean for our energy and climate future.

Here's the audio from this week's Climate Cast.

Climate Central's Andrew Freedman breaks down the key points from Obama's speech this week.

What are the main goals of this “Climate Action Plan”?

The White House plan includes three main policy tracks. The first addresses emissions of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2), from new and existing power plants. This would for the first time place limits on greenhouse gas emissions from more than 1,000 existing coal-fired power plants, and possibly natural gas plants as well.

The second track helps prepare the U.S. for the effects of climate change that are already occurring and are likely to occur in the next several decades due to the long-lived nature of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere.

Lastly, the policy proposals include provisions to work with the international community to address global warming, both from an emissions reduction and climate adaptation standpoint.

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Image: Climate Central

How much can science protect us from the effects of climate change?

Mark Fischetti has some interesting perspective in Scientific American.

Science can save us from the next Hurricane Sandy. That’s what President Barack Obama will say today when he releases his Climate Action Plan, during a highly anticipated speech at Georgetown University.

The plan, which consists of a long list of actions the executive branch can take with no help or hindrance from Congress, has three “pillars.” One is to cut carbon dioxide emissions, two is to “prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change,” and three is lead international efforts to achieve the same two goals.

Many of the preview stories streaming across the media focus on the first goal, which includes a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent by 2020, below 2005 levels. The big provisions there are to have the Environmental Protection Agency limit CO2 emissions from power plants, especially coal-fired plants, and from heavy trucks, buses and vans. But little is being written about how the plan intends to reduce death and destruction from the ravages of climate change, including heat waves, more severe storms, storm surges and sea level rise—what Obama calls “American’s climate resilience.”

The plan, released to the media before the speech, calls for conserving land and water, making agriculture more sustainable, reducing the effects of drought and wildfires, improving flood protection, and hardening power plants, hospitals and fuel-supply channels against extreme weather of all kinds. The key to all of that, the plan notes in surprising detail, is more science.

Politico has 10 takeaways from this week's speech:

President Barack Obama outlined a wide-ranging climate plan Tuesday that’s centered on greenhouse gas regulations for power plants — while making a surprise mention of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and defending his increasingly embattled nominee for EPA administrator.

“The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it is too late,” Obama said in a lengthy speech at Georgetown University that formally introduced his second-term climate agenda. “And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world we leave behind not just to you but to your children and your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I am here to say we need to act.”



Climate Change Mitigation: What you can do

Let's fact it, Climate Change can seem like an overwhelming problem with few easy solutions.

Many of you have asked what you can do in your lives to combat and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Here are some great resources from NASA and EPA.

NASA: Resources on Climate Change mitigation

EPA: What you can do about Climate Change

EPA: Regional impacts of Climate Change

Climate Cast resources:

Want to know more about climate change? Here are few quick links to credible climate change sources.

-Read the Minnesota Public Radio primer on Climate Change

-NOAA NCDC's "State of the Climate" report

-AMS Statement on Climate Change

-NASA key evidence of climate change

-Great summary of Modern Day Climate Change from SUNY-Suffolk

-Minnesota Climate Working Group climate change resources

-Mark Seeley's Weather Talk

-Common climate change myths

-Climate change in the news from Climate Central

-More coverage from The Yale Forum on Climate Change and Media

Paul Huttner