Ad Campaigns Highlight Effects of Global Warming

Recently, the Ad Council joined forces with the advocacy group Environmental Defense to launch "in-your-face" radio and TV ads urging Americans to fight global warming in their everyday lives. Bill Chameides, chief scientist with Environmental Defense, and Norris McDonald, president of the African American Environmentalist Association, discuss the current state of global warming.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya, in for Ed Gordon.

You probably recall the public service ad featuring Smokey the Bear, the big friendly grizzly in a ranger's hat who warned us about preventing forest fires. These days, the makers of that campaign are working to get your attention on an issue that has divided politicians and arguably politicized scientists. That issue: global warming. Recently, the Ad Council announced that it's joining forces with the advocacy group Environmental Defense to launch in your face radio and TV ads urging Americans to fight global warming in their everyday lives. One of those campaign spots features children.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick, tick, tick. (unintelligible) heat waves.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Heat waves.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Sever drought.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick, tick, tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick...

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Devastating hurricanes.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick, tick, tick, tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Our future is up to you.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Tick.

Unidentified Child: (In commercial clip) Go to fightglobalwarming.com, while there's still time.

CHIDEYA: Bill Chameidas is chief scientist with Environmental Defense, and joins us from our NPR bureau in New York. And on the phone is Norris McDonald, president of the African-American Environmentalist Association, based just outside of Washington D.C. So Bill, let me start with you. Global warming made the cover of Time Magazine recently. It was a cover that showed a polar bear looking at melting ice caps. But that doesn't say much about how and whether this is affecting people. So what are we really talking about these days when we discuss global warming?

Dr. BILL CHAMEIDAS (Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense): Well, global warming is now a mainstream issue. In fact, scientists have been surprised, even alarmed at how fast the climate is changing, and we're seeing affects that are really impacting people's lives already today. There was a heat wave in Europe that was responsible for about 27,000 deaths that has been attributed to global warming. We're seeing rising sea levels. We're seeing wildfires. We're seeing more intense storms.

CHIDEYA: How is this marketing campaign different from those in the past?

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: This is the first major national advertising campaign to let Americans know that they can do something about global warming. We fear for our children and grandchildren's future if we don't act soon. If people go to our website, fightglobalwarming.com, they'll learn about all the great things that they could do to actually make a difference in this problem.

CHIDEYA: Critics of this ad campaign say that it's politicized, and of course, the issue of global warming itself has become politicized. Is this a fair use of the Ad Council and of what is supposed to be a non-partisan, non-profit venture?

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: Well, the science community has spoken on this issue very, very strongly. In fact, one example is the National Academy of Sciences, is an organization that was chartered by Congress when Lincoln was president to advise the government on technical issues. The National Academy of Sciences has urged all nations to take prompt action to avert the dangerous consequences of climate change. If that isn't a scientific consensus, I don't know what else is.

Seven out of ten Americans now agree that global warming is a problem, and we need to do something about it. This is not a political issue. This is a mainstream issue.

CHIDEYA: Norris, let me turn to you with the same question. You're with the African-American Environmentalist Association. What is your take on the politics of global warming, are the politics going to continue to be the focus, as opposed to solutions?

Mr. NORRIS MCDONALD (President, African-American Environmentalist Association): Hopefully, we can cut through the politics and the politicians and the technicians. And society cannot only describe the problem that is global warming. There's general consensus now that global warming is happening. And so now, we need solutions. And we do promote two solutions to this problem: nuclear power because nuclear power plants do not emit green house gases--also no smog forming gases, which is another benefit--and combining nuclear power plant with electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles.

So, regardless of the politics, there are technical solutions there that should be accelerated, because this is the most serious environmental problem facing us today.

CHIDEYA: President Bush has advocated using nuclear energy as a way of producing clean energy, as opposed to, for example, coal burning energy. But not everyone agrees with that strategy. What kind of pushback do you get to the idea that nuclear energy, which itself had been very controversial, for example, in the 1970's, is actually a technology that we can use to help protect the environment?

Mr. MCDONALD: Well, you made the point yourself. Three Mile Island happened in 1979. I mean, that was a long time ago, a quarter century ago, and nuclear power has been providing emission-free electricity--up to 20 percent of the total amount of electricity used in the United States--during that period, contributing nothing to the global warming problem. And that's why we come down in that area.

Also, hydrogen is used for fuel cell for vehicles. So, if you combine these two, you can also produce hydrogen from the nuclear power plants. So there are technical solutions there. We think that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was a great piece of global warming legislation.

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: If I could just jump in for a second?

CHIDEYA: Yes, Bill?

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: I think that there are lots of long-term technical solutions that we need to look at. One of the points of our advertising campaign, however, is point out to consumers that they can actually make a significant impact on this problem over the short-term by just making very simple changes to their lifestyles that will actually save them money.

For example, if every home in United States replaced three of their bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which are readily available in the stores, it would be the equivalent of taking 3.5 million cars off the road. When we buy new cars, if everybody bought a new car that had just five miles per gallon better fuel mileage than the one they own today, it would be the equivalent of cutting our emissions by 10 percent.

So there's lot of things that we could do in the short-term that we all can do, pitch in together, and will make a significant difference in the problem.

CHIDEYA: Norris, let me ask you about the racial politics of global warming. We have seen in the African-American community a lot of attention to Hurricane Katrina. Some scientists are arguing that global warming is to blame for the increased ocean temperatures, and thus the increased number of hurricanes. And, in fact, other scientists are predicting a record hurricane season coming up, starting this summer.

Is global warming an issue that has a direct impact on the African-American community, or is it something that people of color generally don't think about that much?

Mr. MCDONALD: Well, we should be thinking about it. In addition, we agree with the information you just presented, that there will be more unpredictable weather. But more directly, global warming affects asthma. Asthma rates are going through the roof in the African-American community. A higher temperature contributes to a more toxic smog.

So to the extent that you have global warming, and you're cooking up the smog even more during each summer season, the asthma rates are just going to go through the roof, because there is no protection from smog.

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: I think Norris has raised some good points. If I can just say a couple of things. Incidentally, until a year ago, I was chair professor at Georgia Tech, and I know Judy Curry and Peter Webster who did that work very, very well. And there's a large and significant scientific debate about that work and whether hurricanes are already becoming more intense.

I tend to find that work quite compelling, but I think that we still have to sort that out. What we don't argue about is that global warming will cause storms to become more intense in the future. I think that one of the lessons from Hurricane Katrina is how vulnerable we all are to natural events, and especially how vulnerable the disadvantaged in our nation are--the poor, the elderly, the infirm.

And I think we need to look at Katrina and very, very soberly ask ourselves whether we really want to see that to happen? And I think we can all sort of turn that around by taking personally action.

Mr. MCDONALD: I have to add in, too, that I think the politics of it are that environmental groups I think are going to have to bite the bullet and look a nuclear power and give up the opposition, because it doesn't emit greenhouse gases.

CHIDEYA: Bill?

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: All environmental groups, including Environmental Defense, don't necessarily argue that nuclear power needs to be off the table. I think there are some issues with nuclear power that need to be resolved before we make a big a step towards nuclear power.

Mr. MCDONALD: But see that's the problem we have politically, Bill. We don't have time; and you would agree with me, the last thing we need to do is to continue to delay implementation of aggressive solutions to global warming, correct?

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: Well, I agree with you, but I also think that there are lots of technologies that we can take off the shelf that can address the nuclear power issue. Let me just mention parenthetically that the advertising campaign is a non-political, bipartisan effort.

With regard to nuclear power, in order for nuclear power to make a significant dent in our energy usage over the next 30 to 40 years, we're going to have to build hundreds of these nuclear power plants in the United States--as many as 400 or 500. And if we're going to make that big a commitment to nuclear power over the next 40 years, I think it makes sense to wait a few years and work out some of the problems that have to do with disposal of waste, the fuel cycle, problems about nuclear proliferation...

Mr. MCDONALD: But is there a better solution...

CHIDEYA: But Norris, let me just jump in and ask you this. Do you, Norris, ever foresee Americans actually putting a lid on energy consumption saying--go ahead.

Mr. MCDONALD: Absolutely not. From the oil standpoint, we use 20 million barrels of oil every day. We import more than half of that. Electricity goes up at a rate of 2 percent per year every year, and that's not going to go down. We're buying more gadgets that use electricity, not less. The industry can't build houses fast enough. So we can't conserve our way out of it, and we have to be able to provide electricity for millions of people.

And so, we do have to build the number of power plants that Bill mentioned, and there are a limited number of alternatives. You have coal. You have natural gas. Technologies are limited. We have an off the shelf technology right now that doesn't emit any greenhouse gasses, and so not only should Environmental Defense, but the other environmental groups should get on board and promote this technology very aggressively. We don't have time to wait and study this any longer.

CHIDEYA: Well, Bill, we're going to have to end this here, but I want to just ask you the same question. Norris seems very adamant that we cannot conserve our way out of energy consumption issues and global warming. What about you? Are you going to ask people as part of an ongoing campaign, or do you ask people to try to conserve? Or has that ship sailed?

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: Conservation and efficiency in renewables are all part of the mix. Our polls indicate that Americans really are confused at what they can do to make a different. They don't understand the relationship between energy usage and global warming, and they're hungry for solutions. And I think if they know about the things that they can do, in terms of conservation and efficiency to make a difference, I think they will. And to say they're not is, I think, rather pessimistic and defeatist.

The other thing I would like to point out is that efficient, low-carbon energy is the wave of the future. This is the way we're going to generate energy in the future, and the question is whether the United States is going to be a leader in development--developer of those new technologies, and an exporter or an importer and a follower in those new technologies. And the new technologies include other options, very, very exciting and potentially important options besides the nuclear option. Which is not to argue that nuclear should be off the table. I think nuclear should be on the table, but it should compete against all the others in the marketplace.

CHIDEYA: Well, we're going to have to leave it there. There's obviously a lot more to talk about. Bill Chameidas is chief scientist with Environmental Defense, and Norris McDonald is president of the African-American Environmentalist Association. Thank you both for joining us.

Mr. MCDONALD: Thank you, there.

Dr. CHAMEIDAS: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Coming up, research shows marriage rates are declining throughout the U.S., but especially among black couples. Does marriage still matter for African-Americans? We'll explore that question on a special roundtable, next.

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