Global Warming Solutions for Egypt, U.S.

NPR's Science Editor David Malakoff joins Liane Hansen in the studio to reflect not only on the three climate change stories reported from Egypt, but also on NPR's Climate Connections series as a whole.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Our science editor, David Malakoff, joins us in the studio now to reflect not only on the three climate change stories we've reported from Egypt and some possible solutions to problems there, but on the Climate Connection series as a whole. Welcome, David.

DAVID MALAKOFF: Thanks.

HANSEN: Let's begin on our series on Egypt and some of the adaptation strategies that were mentioned. Population relocation, genetically-modified crops, barriers to protect the lowlands. Each one of those is an incredible undertaking for the Egyptian government. What I want to know is how does Egypt fit into that bigger picture of global warming?

MALAKOFF: Well, I think Egypt reflects what is going on around the world in a lot of coastal countries. They are really beginning to focus on the potential threat that climate change and particularly sea level rise poses to low-lying areas. And all three of the things that you talked about being done or researched in different parts of the world.

When you have large populations living in low-lying areas, you either need to think about moving them or protecting them somehow with dikes. And we know in the United States how difficult that can be. You also often have very large agricultural areas in low-lying areas. And one of the solutions that's being looked at there is can you change the crops that you grow, either by using fancy genetically modified crops or more traditional plant breeding in Bangladesh and the Philippines, for instance, they're looking at rice that can grow in salt.

And so, yes, Egypt, I think, is having the same experience that many countries around the world are having.

HANSEN: What about energy use? The solar water heaters, for example, in Cairo, they are really the result of enterprise on a local level.

MALAKOFF: That's right. And energy strikes at the very heart of the climate change problem. Unless you can figure out how to produce energy without burning fossil fuels that create the gases that collect in the atmosphere and warm the earth, you're not going to solve this problem in the long run.

So you're seeing a lot of local entrepreneurial activity around. Things like solar hot water heaters, where people can get products they need without adding to the climate problem.

HANSEN: So, on an individual level, what can Americans do to help fight global warming?

MALAKOFF: Well, a lot of it is common sense. For instance, in this country right now there's a big movement on to get people to replace incandescent light bulbs, which burn a fair amount of energy for the light produced, with compact fluorescent bulbs or other kinds of technologies.

You know, in your own house, for instance, a large proportion of your energy goes into heating water, just as in Cairo. And so if you can find a way to use less water or heat it in another way, that helps. And of course, driving our cars. You know, do you have to take that extra trip to the grocery store? A lot of it's common sense.

But I would say that it's important to recognize that personal action has limits. And in the end we're going to have to look at some fairly significant policy changes that change the way we produce energy on a global scale.

HANSEN: So, it's difficult to fight global warming on an individual level but not impossible?

MALAKOFF: That's right. I mean, human ingenuity is a very deep well that we can go to again and again.

HANSEN: NPR science editor David Malakoff, thank you.

MALAKOFF: Thank you.

HANSEN: And to read more tips on how to fight global warming, go to NPR.org/ClimateConnections.

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HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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