Climate Change Conversations: Causes, Impacts, Solutions

Proposed Solutions to Climate Change

Scientists and policy makers have over the years discussed possible solutions to climate change over the airwaves of public broadcasting. To address and mitigate the impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2014 that the United States and other polluting countries must come together to implement a global strategy to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions as much as 80% by 2050, and eventually eliminate them altogether. According to researchers with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations' Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, this can be done using existing or near-commercial technologies. With the reduction of the use of fossil fuels, countries will need to make large investments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

One possible solution is a binding international accord. In November 2009, former Vice President Al Gore gave a public talk in Boston, recorded by WGBH, which took place shortly before the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. "In spite of the odds, and in spite of the pessimism," Vice President Gore was confident that there was an "excellent chance of a binding political agreement among heads of state in Copenhagen, that will both begin immediate reductions and give a road map to the negotiators who will be assigned to complete the details of a comprehensive treaty in the months following Copenhagen." The resulting accord recognized the need to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, but it did not contain any global commitments to achieve emissions reductions.

In the months following the Copenhagen conference, WGBH recorded public talks by scientists and climate activists at an event titled "After Copenhagen: Global Climate Change Conference." Dr. James Hansen, then Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, spoke at the event. "If we want to stabilize the climate," he argued, "we will have to remove the planet's energy imbalance. The way that we would do that is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere ... to around 350 parts per million ... but in fact it's continuing to increase." When Dr. Hansen gave his talk in 2010, he reported that there was around 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "But if we want to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, we're going to have to do that," he stated.

Another solution is to take steps on domestic, comprehensive federal policy initiatives. During some programs broadcast by public broadcasting stations, audiences have called-in and demonstrated their disdain with lack of efficient national policy to address global warming. During President George W. Bush's administration in 2001, WILL hosted a call-in show with Myron Ebell, Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an organization which advised President Bush's administration on his energy plan. According to his biography on the Competitive Enterprise Institute website, Ebell and the Cooler Heads Coalition which he chairs question "global warming alarmism and oppose energy rationing policies." During his interview, Ebell expressed arguments against energy policy of the Clinton-Gore administration, whose agenda he claimed "fit in very well with the environmental agenda" of their administration. "Second is the issue of global warming," he argued, "and as you know Vice President Gore...may not have invented the internet but he did pretty much invent global warming. He really truly believes that people have to use a lot less energy, particularly fossil fuel energy..." He thought that the Bush plan was "a u-turn away from that approach." David Enge, host of the show, discussed environmentalists' criticism of the Bush energy plan is its continued reliance on fossil fuels, that as a result of their burning add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which has been "important in global warming, something that many people feel is a continuing problem." The first caller asked about Mr. Ebell's scientific credentials, for which he had none, and about from whom his institute receives its funding. Another listener called in to express her concerns "I'm calling from my car phone for the very first time because I'm like the previous caller absolutely infuriated at your speaker who clearly is big business, oil corporations, is not a scientist and who refuses to divulge who is funding his institute, which clearly has a conservative anti-envrionment bias..." Ebell replied "I think that the ad-hominum attack really has limited usefulness. It's really not where people come from, what they look like, what the color of their skin is, where they get their money, it's what they argue." By the end of the hour-long program, several other callers also had the chance to express similar concerns.

Yet other proposed solutions focus on specific technologies. "The bad news is that climate change is far worse than most people are led to believe," states Daniel Schrag, geochemist and Director of Harvard University's Center for the Environment, in a public talk recorded in 2008. Many of the recordings in this exhibit document scientific evidence of imminent sea-level rise, more frequent and severe weather and heat waves, and longer wildfire seasons that need to be confronted. Dr. Schrag discussed ways in which local communities will need to adapt to the changed planet. He also presented some technological methods of geo-engineering the climate on a global scale, such as reflecting sunlight by putting aerosols in the atmosphere. "It's a terrifying idea...the worst possible idea except for the alternative." Comparing global geo-engineering methods with a tourniquet, he stated, "they may be necessary and we need to understand them because we might actually need them, but boy, I hope not." When communicating the human-driven causes of climate change that have taken place over the last 150 years, Dr. Schrag said we should "hope that the next 150 years is going to look very, very different."