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Science Envoy Who Resigned in Protest of Trump: Climate Change Makes Storms Like Harvey More Severe

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In Texas, tens of thousands of residents began evacuating coastal communities Thursday, as forecasters predicted Hurricane Harvey could make landfall late Friday as a major Category 3 storm, delivering a life-threatening 35 inches of rain to some parts of the Gulf Coast. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called out 700 members of the National Guard as several coastal counties ordered mandatory evacuations. Hurricane trackers expect the storm’s eye to come ashore near the city of Corpus Christi, where Mayor Joe McComb called for a voluntary evacuation. For more, we speak with Dan Kammen, who just resigned as science envoy for the U.S. State Department.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if we can talk to you—you’re the now-resigned science envoy of the State Department, but if we can talk to you about what’s happening right now in Texas? Tens of thousands of residents began evacuating coastal communities, as forecasters predict that Hurricane Harvey could make landfall late Friday as a major Category 3 storm, delivering a life-threatening 35 inches of rain to some parts of the Gulf Coast. Can you talk about this hurricane, what we’re seeing, and whether you think it is related to climate change, global warming?

DANIEL KAMMEN: So this is an area where the science is still building. We certainly have seen a number of climatologists—I’m a physicist who works on clean energy solutions. But on the detection of climate change side, there is a building awareness of the degree to which climate change makes these types of tropical storms more severe. Whether that’s more frequent or whether that’s stronger is an area that’s still under research, but it’s clear that events like this—increased wildfires, droughts—these are all what we expect to see in a globally warmed, a climate-changed world.

And from my perspective, these are all economic and human, agricultural and environmental costs. And when we talk about not stepping up to the plate and acting based on a scientific knowledge to reduce our global warming footprint, to reduce the amount of pollution so that we can limit the effects of climate change, these are all huge economic costs for us, for the rest of the planet, that we are paying. And we’re paying them already. And that’s really the sad part of the story, to me.

We have a very clear global consensus that we need to reduce our emissions to get to under the so-called 2-degree target. That’s about an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s a herculean task. And every day that we delay and every bit of our economy that isn’t looking to find opportunities to meet those targets but also to build more jobs—we’ve already seen tremendous job growth in the clean tech sector in the United States, a number of countries—these are lost opportunities. And they’re also costs where they’re going to be paying far into the future.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to ask you about the Paris climate accord. We saw you in Marrakech the year after the Paris climate accord. And it was in November. It was just after President Trump was elected. So, a little while later, once he became president, as is well known, Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate accord that was signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump announcing that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris climate accord. Dan Kammen, the significance of this now?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, there’s a couple levels. One is that we’ve seen very clearly that investments in clean energy, in being more efficient with water and agriculture, in finding ways to clean our cities, are all things that actually pay us back. In fact, there is study after study indicating that the jobs benefit of investing in the green economy is really very large. And we’ve seen that domestically. We’ve seen that in efforts in other countries. And so, to step away from the Paris climate accord was disappointing on many environmental levels, but it was also disappointing on a very fundamental economic level. And this is the economy of the future. The U.S. has invested a great deal in energy research over the years. And to step away now, when it’s paying off, is economic folly, as well as environmentally incredibly dangerous and risky. It’s very disappointing to see.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you were in the State Department, right? The secretary of state, of course, is Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil. What’s been going on in the State Department around climate change? You are one person, as you pointed out. You’re the science envoy. But what is happening? What is his position? Does it matter, given President Trump’s position? And in academia, have you seen science and climate grants cut? You’re a professor at University of California, Berkeley.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Right. So, just to walk through those, in the State Department, there’s actually a very, very small team. There was a robust team under the last several presidents working on aspects of this. But under this president, the offices that deal directly on the international negotiations, that look for these business opportunities, these leadership opportunities, is essentially nonexistent. So there is very little work going on, despite the fact that Secretary Tillerson had actually made some quite positive comments about this process before becoming secretary of state. He had said previously that a price on carbon would be a good thing, which is essentially universally agreed on, in not only the research community, but the business community in the United States, in Asia and Europe.

And then, in the academic realm, we have not yet seen clear budget cuts in this area, because we’re largely living on the budgets right now that came out under President Obama. But we’ve already—we’ve all heard statements about potentially draconian cuts at State Department, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agencies that are on the 30, 40 percent range, have been reported in the news. And these are all not just big cuts, but they are cuts that would take place right when we see these investments really paying off at the federal and the state level.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about one of our headlines today: Brazil, the president, Michel Temer, abolishing a vast reserve of tropical rainforest in what conservationists are calling the "biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years," the move ending protections for the Renca reserve, a swath of rainforest the size of Denmark, paving the way for road building, mining and logging. Talk also about what this could mean, Daniel Kammen.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, there’s two things. One is that Brazil, previous to this, had actually been reducing the rate of deforest in the Amazon. They had gotten a number of international accolades and had seen their efforts to cut into deforestation, if you will, really pay off. This is a step in the exact opposite direction. And you can really argue that when the international community is moving towards investing in sustainability, in greater protection for indigenous minority communities, that that direction was really working well. And so, what you’re seeing in Brazil, and in the United States stepping away from Paris, is really a weakening or a rejection or an attack on this approach to sustainability that works across sectors and, as we’ve seen, makes our economy more resilient, makes it more inclusive. And so, the Brazil story is a sad reversal, just as that by Mr. Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Will the Trump administration, as far as you know—it’s now August. The U.N. climate summit will take place in Bonn in November. Will the Trump administration be sending a delegation?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, we don’t know yet. We are certainly working at the level of researchers, both in universities across the country, in the business sector. There will certainly be people who are planning to go. Many of them will be planning to go as government representatives, as they’ve done in the past. And we’ll find out.

The other feature, though, is that we are seeing what I would regard as the Paris deal from below. Governor Brown in California is the co-chair of the Under2 Memorandum of Understanding, the Under2 accords, which are commitments at the state or city or provincial levels around the world to meet the Paris climate accord on their own. I work with governments in East Africa, in Southeast Asia, many U.S. states, European areas, that are all taking this on. And, in fact, this Under2 MOU now constitutes about 40 percent of the global economy, 300 municipalities worldwide. Governor Brown in California and Baden-Württemberg in Germany are the co-chairs. And so, what I think you’re seeing is a reaction and a response to double down and demonstrate resolve at the levels that are actionable today. And that puts many of these same people back into the process. But it would be so much more economically beneficial for the United States to take this on as an overall mission. It is, after all, what the science is telling us and has told us. And acting on good science is what I believe enlightened leaders should do.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Kammen, are you encouraging other members of the Trump administration to quit, as you have?

DANIEL KAMMEN: I think that’s really a personal decision based on your own position and your own effectiveness. I certainly think that, for me, it was the right statement. And if an office is not moving in a positive direction, I think you have to really take a hard look. Can you do more work outside the system? I personally very much value federal service. I would dearly love to go back to federal service under this or a next administration that takes this on as an opportunity for the United States, not as an opportunity to bury one’s head in the sand. But I think individuals should really look at their own relationship with this administration and decide for themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Kammen, I want to thank for being with us, just resigned as science envoy for the State Department, professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, speaking to us from San Francisco. We’ll link to your resignation letter. The first letter of each paragraph spells out the word "impeach."

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll look at the death penalty in Florida and in Missouri. Stay with us.

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