As the U.S. suffers through its worst drought since the 1950s, the author and environmental correspondent Mark Hertsgaard joins us to discuss his new initiative, "Climate Parents." In a new article, "Parents Need to Act Against Climate Change for Their Kids’ Sake," Hertsgaard writes: "Beyond the distress and discomfort, the record-breaking heat raises a puzzling question for anyone who cares about the future of our young people. The laws of physics and chemistry — the fact that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades after being emitted — mean that man-made global warming is just getting started on this planet. As a result, my [daughter] Chiara and millions of other youth around the world are now fated to spend the rest of their lives coping with the hottest, most volatile climate in our civilization’s 10,000-year history." Hertsgaard is author of the book "Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth." He is an environment correspondent for The Nation and fellow at the New America Foundation. "We actually subsidize Shell and Exxon Mobil and Peabody Coal and all of these big fossil fuel companies," Hertsgaard says. "We subsidize them to wreck the planet for our kids. That has to change." [includes rush transcript]
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue to look at climate change as the United States suffers through its worst drought since the 1950s. A new report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 60 percent of the country is now affected. About 1,300 counties have been designated "drought disaster" areas.
The combination of heat and dryness has taken a major toll on corn and soybean crops. This is a farmer, Bob Bowman, who says his cornfields in and around Welton, Iowa, look green, but his plants are less than half the height they should be.
BOB BOWMAN: This corn should be as high as my head right now, and it’s waist-high. It’s been stunted because of the dry weather. This is—it’s early morning here, and the corn—the corn is relaxed and looks pretty nice. By 5:00, if I was standing in this same spot, the corn would have a little bit of a gray cast to it, and it would be all rolled up tight.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, our next guest, Mark Hertsgaard, looks at these conditions in a new article for The Daily Beast called "Parents Need to Act Against Climate Change for Their Kids’ Sake." He is author of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. Mark is environment correspondent for The Nation, fellow at the New America Foundation, co-founder of this new group called Climate Parents, joining us from San Francisco.
Mark Hertsgaard, thanks so much for joining us back again here on Democracy Now! Talk about the climate that we are experiencing just in the United States alone now and what you’re doing about it.
MARK HERTSGAARD: Well, that shot from Iowa reminds me of—I was just out doing reporting in Minnesota myself and talking to the farmers there. The quote that comes to mind is from a plant biologist at the University of Illinois who looked at the drought and the heat in—hitting the Farm Belt of this country, and he said, "This is like farming in Hell." We’re going to see an enormous impact already on the agricultural output in this country.
And, you know, we forget sometimes, the United States is the world’s leading agricultural superpower. But this summer, we’re already seeing in the futures markets for corn and soybean, prices are shooting up because of what’s going to happen to the harvest. And let’s remember what happened the last time that food prices went up around the world in 2008. We saw food riots in 12 countries that almost toppled governments. So these are some of the impacts that climate change can lead to.
And, you know, we’re just at the start of this also, unfortunately, which is why we’ve started Climate Parents, you mentioned—thank you very much for that—because our kids are the ones who are going to have to deal with this. The climate future that we are handing off to them is really, frankly, quite terrifying. And so, to me, one of the things I asked in that Newsweek/Daily Beast article is, why is it that parents aren’t more involved in this? Why aren’t we up in arms about it? And so, we’re starting this group, climateparents.org, as an effort to help parents find their voice on this issue. And I must say that the initial response to that article has been very gratifying. I’ve heard from literally scores of parents all across the country who are saying, "Yes, I have felt scared about what my kids are facing because of climate change, but I’ve also felt powerless and paralyzed. And I didn’t know what to do." Well, we’re going to try and change that, because, at the moment, we think that parents are probably the single most under-organized constituency on climate change, which is pretty bizarre, considering the threat that climate change poses to what all of us hold most dear in our lives, which is our kids. So we’re going to find a way to change that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mark, you also make the point that it’s not a question of individual actions, like recycling or your own individual efforts to beat back the climate change, but it’s the necessity of getting involved in organized consumer actions.
MARK HERTSGAARD: I’m glad you mentioned that, Juan, because I think most people’s response, especially when they’re listening to the mainstream media, if they care about this, is, "OK, well, what can I do? Well, maybe I can bicycle to work, or I’ll take the kids on mass transit instead." And don’t get me wrong: those are good first steps, if only because they make you think about how your own individual actions affect the collective future. But those things alone will never suffice.
You’ve got to go after what are the main drivers of climate change, and those are government policies and corporate practices. We just spent the earlier part of this program looking at what Shell is going to do, wants to do, in the Arctic. I was a little surprised that you didn’t mention what Interior Secretary Salazar has said about that. When they asked him about the possibility of an oil spill, he says, "Well, I don’t think there will be an oil spill." Somehow that’s not very reassuring to me.
We’ve got to change those kinds of practices. We’ve got to change the fact that right now there is no price on carbon pollution in this country. You are allowed to pollute, to put your waste into the atmosphere, for nothing. And those are because of government policies that not only make it free, we actually subsidize Shell and Exxon Mobil and Peabody Coal and all of these big fossil fuel companies. We subsidize them to wreck the planet for our kids. That has to change.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by that subsidy, Mark.
MARK HERTSGAARD: We spend billions and billions of dollars every year, including subsidizing these kinds of exploratory drilling. We subsidize the production of coal. We subsidize all of the highways that are used to consume that oil. If you actually look at the amount of subsidies, it’s up in the billions of dollars. And this, by the way, is for the richest industry in history, the fossil fuel industry. Why are we doing that?
Well, right now, there are 60 members of Congress—senators and the House of Representatives—who have signed on to a bill, led by Keith Ellison in the House, of Minnesota, who are calling—and I think Bernie Sanders of Vermont—who are calling for an end to those subsidies. If you can’t get that through the Congress, I think that it’s just a sign of what a corporate control there is in Washington. But I will say that a lot of the environmental groups this fall are going to be pushing to ask your member of Congress, "Where do you stand on ending those subsidies?" And that’s one of the fights that we hope that Climate Parents will be involved with, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mark, over the past month, all across the United States there were extreme weather events: the worst forest fires in Colorado history, a deadly mid-Atlantic storm that left 23 dead and four million without power, and a record-shattering heat wave across the East Coast and the Midwest. But amidst the news coverage of these extraordinary events, we didn’t hear much in the media about global warming. This is just a sampling of some of the news reports at the time.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The heat wave that’s baked the Rockies and the Great Plains, now spreading east. There are 113 million Americans now in the excessive heat advisory zone. That’s more than a third of the entire U.S. population.
JOHN YANG: The high today here in Indianapolis? A sizzling 103 degrees. That broke a 78-year-old record.
Nashville broke its all-time record, hitting 109 degrees. Authorities urged people to stay indoors and canceled outdoor events this weekend. From Atlanta:
ATLANTA MAN: Smoking out here.
JOHN YANG: To Chicago:
CHICAGO MAN: I’m going to bring a towel soaked in ice and a bucket with ice and try to keep cool.
CBC ANCHOR: U.S. National Guard is helping police in Colorado Springs in the wake of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history. Those fires have forced thousands of people to flee their homes.
BRUCE MILDWURF: The fast-moving fires in Colorado have destroyed hundreds of homes and are threatening thousands more. The fires have grown so large, you can see it from space. Take a look at this video from the International Space Station. It shows the area scorched by flames in the Western states so far.
WXYZ-TV ANCHOR: It’s getting quite dangerous for some people, very old and the very young, especially. There’s an excessive heat watch, which is basically an official way of telling you what we’ve been telling you for a long time. The rest of this week, lots and lots of excessive heat.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mark, you’ve made the point in your writings about previous deadly heat waves across Europe and the United States, and somehow the signs keep being ignored here in this country.
MARK HERTSGAARD: In this country only, though, Juan. You know, we’ve had two, maybe three, landmark heat waves in the history of man-made global warming. The first was 1988, which put global warming on the map, when Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist, went to Congress and said global warming’s begun. The second was 2003 in Europe, where we lost 71,000 people in the space of six weeks, died from that heat wave. But it also pushed the discussion in Europe forward, and government leaders began to recognize it and call for tougher policies.
We will see if 2012 is going to be the third landmark heat wave, because it doesn’t just require—to become a landmark, it’s not just about the meteorological conditions, it’s about the political and the social reaction to it. And one of the things I really want to do is to call on my colleagues and the rest of the media, who so far have been ignoring the climate’s signature on this heat wave of 2012. We have our own federal government scientists saying this is what global warming looks like. We need to start taking that seriously. And above all, we need our politicians to begin to talk about this.
And I just want to, in particular, shout out to President Obama and Governor Romney. You are both parents. Start acting like it on the climate issue. We need you to show the kind of leadership—and all politicians—to show the kind of leadership on this. This should not be a political issue. This is about protecting our children.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hertsgaard, I want to thank you very much for being with us, environment correspondent for The Nation fellow at the New America Foundation. His new article is on The Daily Beast; it’s called "Parents Need to Act Against Climate Change for Their Kids’ Sake." We’ll link to that at democracynow.org. And he’s author of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.