High Court, U.N. Weigh In on Climate Change The Supreme Court rules that the EPA can regulate auto emissions of greenhouse gases. And a new report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change predicts increased hunger, water shortages and massive floods as the world's temperature rises.
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High Court, U.N. Weigh In on Climate Change

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High Court, U.N. Weigh In on Climate Change


High Court, U.N. Weigh In on Climate Change

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Up next, a look at this week's landmark greenhouse gas Supreme Court ruling. Just to recap it for you a bit, back in December, the Supreme Court heard arguments in its first case, the first case ever related to global warming. Here we had a group of states and environmental organizations taking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, taking them to court.

The states were arguing that the EPA can and should regulate tailpipe emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Earlier this week, the judge ruled five to four in favor of the states and environmental groups. Joining me now to talk about the ruling and what it means is my guest, Michael Robinson-Dorn, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington, also director of the Berman Environmental Law Clinic there. He joins us today from the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Professor Robinson-Dorn.

Professor MICHAEL ROBINSON-DORN (Law, University of Washington): Terrific to be with you, Ira.

FLATOW: So what was at stake here? The EPA had argued it had no standing, it had no power to actually regulate CO2?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: That's right. The standing argument was a little bit different, but you're absolutely right. EPA said that they did not have any authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.

In addition, they said even if they did have the authority, they had several reasons why they would not invoke that authority, including the potential to interfere with international treaties that might be negotiated, the idea that it might be a piecemeal approach to things. And in each respect, the Court rejected the EPA's response.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number, if you'd like to talk about the environment and the greenhouse gas rulings. Why did the states bring this suit in the first place? Did they want the power to be able to determine for themselves how much CO2 came out of tailpipes in the cars in their states?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: Not specifically. There's been a lot of questions certainly, even after the case, as to why the suit was brought. But I think fundamentally it was to force EPA to have to confront the issue and require EPA to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases coming out of the tailpipes of cars. Now that doesn't mean that the states don't have a role to play - and, in fact, the decision suggests states may even have a larger role to play - but that was not their initial reason for bringing the case.

FLATOW: So let's talk exactly about what the court decided. Did they say that the EPA can regulate emissions or that it has to regulate emissions?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: What the court said was that greenhouse gases are air pollutants. And under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required - and this is specific to cars and auto emissions - required to regulate if, in the judgment of the administrator, he determines that that air pollution might be endangering or reasonably anticipated to be endangering the public health or welfare. And welfare specifically includes climate and weather.

FLATOW: So by saying it is a pollutant, then the EPA has to judge whether it's dangerous or not.

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: That's right. That's the next step. EPA's got to roll up its sleeves now and get to the hard work of first making that determination and then, second, determining how and when it would regulate.

FLATOW: Did the courts say what criteria it must use to make this decision?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: It did in a sort of a negative way, which is to say the criteria that EPA did use, things like policy considerations, whether or not it would interfere with CAFE standards, those were improper and the standards that the EPA had to use had to be those that were in the Clean Air Act itself. So this is going to be scientific judgment. EPA's going to have to explain either that it does - greenhouse gases do lead to this endangerment or why it does not or why there's so much uncertainty that they can't figure it out.

FLATOW: Is there a deadline on this?


FLATOW: So it could sit on its hands and say: Let the next administration do this.

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: Well, you know, when we say there's no specified deadline, the court didn't impose a deadline. Agencies generally take a fair bit of time in getting to these things. I'd expect that the agency will have to get on this. Congress is already suggesting they're going to hold hearings to ensure that. But there's no hard and fast deadline.

FLATOW: So it might be up to Congress to work first on this.

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: I think a lot of people think that Congress will, in fact, be the place where this gets worked out and work first.

FLATOW: Okay, well hang in there. Can you stay with us a little bit longer?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: Certainly.

FLATOW: Stay with us. We're going to take a short break. And we're going to come back and talk lots more about this ruling. And we're also going to expand it and talk about the IPCC - the big ruling that came out today - the U.N. commission report about greenhouse gases, global warming effects, the drastic effects it predicts for droughts and water shortages and disruption of life around the planet. So stay with us, we'll be right back after this short break.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're talking about the latest news on global warming. My guest is Michael Robinson-Dorn, assistant professor of law, University of Washington. 1-800-989-8255.

Dr. Dorn, this ruling just was brought and was judged on tailpipe emissions, on car emissions, but would it apply now to smokestacks of power companies, things like that?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: Well the decision itself doesn't apply, but your question's a good one. There are currently two cases pending in the court of appeals, the court just below the Supreme Court, that are using the same logic to say that coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers are also emitting air pollutants under a different title of the Clean Air Act. And I think that it's going to be very hard for EPA to say that they don't also need to regulate those stationary sources, or at least that they don't have the authority to.

FLATOW: Now this ruling was a five to four ruling. What did the dissenters - give us an idea of the mood of the court on this. What did the dissenters say?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: Well the dissented - really there are two dissenting opinions, one written by Chief Justice Roberts, the other by Justice Scalia. Each one was joined by four of the dissenters. The first issue that Chief Justice Roberts wrote on very strong opinion really has to do with whether or not there are parties, including states like the state of Massachusetts or Washington state, that can bring this kind of a lawsuit. Should they be allowed to come into a federal court and challenge EPA's failure to act in this case?

And Justice Roberts disagreed vehemently with the idea that states have a special role, which is what the majority found, and that there were the traditional factors that would allow a party to come into court. In other words, that there was an injury, in this case to the state of Massachusetts, that that injury was caused by global warming; and that even if it were that, there would be some way to redress or address that injury through this lawsuit. And the dissent and majority opinions are starkly different on each of those aspects.

They also have a little bit of disagreement on the science. And I think that you can see that the majority opinion was very interested in the science and knew and showed an understanding of climate change science, concluding ultimately that the sea-level rise was in fact taking place, based on some affidavits that had been submitted, that sea-level rise would continue to harm Massachusetts, and that the risk of harm would in fact be reduced if EPA took action.

Chief Justice Roberts disagreed on every single point, and in particular pointed to the idea that there's a lot of speculation in this. One, he didn't believe that the affidavits were more than just conclusions as to harm and that there weren't other possible reasons for the inundation of the coastline. And second - and this is very interesting from a science perspective - he pointed out that there are many different compounding relationships and to understand climate change is very difficult. And he wasn't persuaded that that was an immediate enough harm or that you could demonstrate causation using that kind of a climate-change model.

FLATOW: So he wasn't swayed by that last IPCC report which said there was a 90 percent certainty?

Prof. ROBINSON-DORN: Apparently not from a legal perspective, although again it's interesting to see the majority does cite to the international reports. They cite to things like using ice cores. So there seems to be a difference at least as it's applied in the law.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Stay with us, Michael…


FLATOW: …because we want to talk about this U.N. intergovernmental panel on climate change, the IPCC report and its ongoing release of different aspects of it. And this new report came out, or was released today, and it deals with the projected effects of global warming. And, you know, it's very interesting. And let me bring on two more guests who can weigh in on that. Vicki Arroyo is director of policy analysis at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. She joins us from our NPR studios in Washington. Welcome to the program, Vicki.

Ms. VICKI ARROYO (Director of Policy Analysis, Pew Center on Global Climate Change): Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: Linda Mearns is a senior scientist and director of the Institute for Study of Society and Environment in the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Ms. LINDA MEARNS (Director, Institute for Study of Society and Environment, National Center for Atmospheric Research): Thanks very much. Glad to be here.

FLATOW: What were some of the major points, Dr. Arroyo? Give us some idea of - this was really not - I mean, this was sort of scary, some of the things they were saying.

Ms. ARROYO: Absolutely. I work on this everyday, and it's somewhat depressing to see these reports come out over and over again with more and more compelling statements. It is the most compelling statement that we've had yet on impacts, endorsed by over 130 countries, including our own. And it finds that we are already seeing impacts to both physical and biological systems from climate change and that these impacts can be linked with human activities, with greenhouse gas emissions, as you've been discussing with your previous guest.

FLATOW: And what kinds of things should we expect from the continuation and the worsening of global warming?

Ms. ARROYO: Well, for example, in North America, we can expect decreased water availability in the West, forest disturbances from fire and pest and insects as trees are more vulnerable, more heat waves in cities. Coastal systems are vulnerable, and that's both the natural systems and the seafood that we rely on from the wetlands but also the communities and huge infrastructure that we have on the nation's coast. They're vulnerable both to sea-level rise from climate change, because the water literally expands with the warming globe, and then also because of the melting glaciers and ice around the world. And then also they're vulnerable because more intense storms that could be associated with warming of the waters.

FLATOW: What's your reaction to the Supreme Court ruling this week?

Ms. ARROYO: Well, we're happy to see the Supreme Court acknowledge that greenhouse gases are a problem, and it was a very sweeping strong statement by the Supreme Court. But I do think that this outcome is going to lead to more discussions here in Washington of what a more comprehensive climate change policy should look like. As your guest stated, this was really about one sector - at the moment, the transportation sector - and limited greenhouse gas emissions that are from cars.

We, in fact, have several sources of greenhouse gas pollution in this country and other greenhouse gases. And so there are a lot of bills pending in Congress and we think that this will serve to stimulate more movement on that front.

FLATOW: Linda Mearns, what's in this IPCC report that's so different from the last one?

Ms. MEARNS: Well, first of all, let me let you know that I was a lead author in the Working Group One reports, specifically on regional projections of climate change, and then again in the Working Group Two report on methods and these statements. So I think Vicki definitely named a lot of the main messages of the report. I think the burgeoning evidence on seeing observed effects of the climate change that we've seen already is really very striking. There was a bit of that in the 2001 report, but the evidence is much, much stronger now that we're seeing effects on our biological systems and our resources.

FLATOW: In other words, it's really upon us. We're not waiting for it anymore.

Ms. MEARNS: Oh, yes. In other words, climate change is now. This is no longer a future problem. This is now a now problem, and I think that really will shift people's perspective on this. It pretty much has to.

FLATOW: But are cities willing to do what they must to not just prevent more CO2 - let's put that aside - but understand that the levels of the oceans are going to rise on the coasts, they're going to get more fired in the, let's say, the Southwest, or drier climates and crops? Are they willing to take action? Are they going to take action already to do something about it?

Ms. MEARNS: Well, Ira, they already have, really. I was quite impressed that a - well, let's say a pact among the U.S. mayors - mayors representing over a third of U.S. population has been formed - and they are committed to meeting the protocol standards for their municipality, which would be to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions by seven percent below the 1990 level in the next decade. And that's really quite impressive that these cities are really moving forward. And so those types of plans are now being actively written and actively implemented.

FLATOW: On the other hand, there was a report out this week, an online version of the journal Science, which talked about the tremendous drought that's predicted for the Southwest United Sates returning to the dust bowl days of the '30s.

Ms. MEARNS: Yes, I read that report, and those results - they go into more detail, but they're completely in agreement with what we wrote in Working Group One for that region, the projections. It's already experienced a droughty period, and from our analyses, that will continue into the future. And I think there's definitely a nontrivial chance of having mega droughts again as they occurred thousands of years ago.

FLATOW: Well I guess the point I'm trying to make is that's the fastest-growing part of the United States.

Ms. MEARNS: Yes, and that's another aspect that is really brought out in this report more, which is that in the future there's really going to be a combination of factors that will be difficult to handle. This is known as multiple stressors.

So it won't just be population, although that will be a very important driver of resource use, but it will be population increase, land use changes, on top of the climate change. And we'll have to be dealing with all those problems together. And that's certainly very important for a system like water resources in all of the west.

FLATOW: Let's go to Dennis in Rochester, New York. Hi, Dennis.

DENNIS (Caller): Yes.

FLATOW: Hi. Go ahead.

DENNIS: Okay. Well, I've read the Supreme Court opinion and - on climate change and what we can and cannot regulate. And it's obvious from reading their opinion that the justices are not deciding this on a legal basis. They're deciding it just on their own political views.

And, for example, if you look at Roberts' dissention, you could use the logic that he uses to say that we ought to build all of our power plants on the east shore. And then at the - as their effluence and the toxic gases go away from the United States, since we're only 20 percent of the greenhouse gases, why, no one has any standing and nothing to worry about.

FLATOW: Michael Robinson-Dorn?

Mr. ROBINSON-DORN: Well, I understand the caller's point. I think, some people do look at this and think that it's purely politics. I think, for the standing proposition, Justice Roberts' has had a long-standing interest in this very issue, standing who can bring a case or not. It's consistent with his writings in the past. Consistent with where, certainly, Justice Scalia has been in the past, and really not a surprise.

We knew that it would be close. We - last time we spoke on your show, we thought 5-4. We didn't know quite where Justice Kennedy would come out. And the fact is he was with the majority, allowing for the plaintiffs to bring a case like this.

FLATOW: All right. Thanks for calling, Dennis.

DENNIS: You're welcome.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. You mentioned that you think that Congress might take the next actions and that they're going to be conducting hearings? They seemed very proactive on this now, and they have a good - and now have a good incentive to do so.

Mr. ROBINSON-DORN: I think the incentives are just building. Even looking at this case and then taking it to the next level, if in fact this were to be applied to other stationary sources, I think, most people recognize that it's not a very efficient manner to go about regulating. As Vicky mentioned, you're looking at sector by sector. And even business will probably join with environmentalists realize that a more comprehensive way to take this on is, in fact, needed and necessary.


Vicki Arroyo, will people be waiting in line now upon Capitol Hills to conduct hearings.

Ms. ARROYO: Oh, I think so. I think there are a lot of lawyers' offices and lobbyists' offices where the phones are ringing off the hook this week. But having said that, even before we've really seen in recent months, escalating pressure on Congress to do something.

And really, surprising support from a number of CEOs including some who joined with our organization, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and other NGOs in U.S. Climate Action Partnership earlier this year, which announced recommendations for mandatory climate policy.

There've been other surprising changes in terms of the national trade associations going from a negative position to a more neutral or proactive position on this issue. I think the other thing that's a factor is, you know, we're seeing a variety of states including those led by Republicans like, you know, Governor Schwarzenegger, obviously, in California is a leading example.

And more and more companies are not wanting to see that patchwork of regulation from state to state. They would really rather see a comprehensive central policy that makes sense. And they'd rather be at the table than left out of the room for those discussions.

FLATOW: Do you think the states now can call the tune…

Ms. ARROYO: Well, the…

FLATOW: …on environmental policy now?

Ms. ARROYO: It's really interesting because, I think, that this court case gives real ammunition to states like California who wanted to show leadership and were declaring CO2 a pollutant. And I do think that they are going to move forward. And we see, you know, some of the cases moving forward not just out west but also in Vermont now because of this ruling.

And I do think it will be both ammunition for states to move further. But also, I think, that there will be this concern about a patchwork and it might really boost the federal activities that would then make a lot of states feel comfortable that they don't need to take the lead.

This is not an issue that it really makes sense to handle state-by-state or city-by-city. It's a global problem. These pollutants are not the kind that you'd worry about, their local effects, you'd worry about their warming effects no matter where they are admitted. So it makes sense to have a national and an international program.


Ms. MEARNS: Ira…

FLATOW: Yes. Go…

Ms. MEARNS: …can I add something here?

FLATOW: Absolutely.

Ms. MEARNS: I agree with Vicki, but I think the U.S. and the states in the U.S. and the localities, the municipalities, deserve a lot of credit because, I think, we can say that there hasn't been a lot of leaderships on this issue on the national level.

Ms. ARROYO: Oh, absolutely.

Ms. MEARNS: And so I think in this - in an ironic way that left this very big gap, which was very nicely sealed by municipalities and by states. I agree with you. Now it would be good to move to a national policy.

But given the number of hearings that they've had on the Hill both from the climate science work that was released in February, and now what will be happening a couple of weeks from now on the second report on the impact, I certainly expect that there will be national legislation within the next year.

FLATOW: And you think that legislation will aim to cap or cap-and-trade CO2 emissions?

Ms. MEARNS: Well, I - Well, that's not my expertise, but I would say that this kind of problem - yes, it's nice if you can just motivate people with a carrot, but at some point, I think, some mandatory taxes on something about it will probably be necessary.

It also depends on how much people's opinions changed. If people really become motivated themselves maybe that won't be necessary. But it probably will, at least, initially.

FLATOW: There's also going to be have some help, I would think, from the federal government for states that want to mitigate the effects. You know, the borderline states - the states where the crops and that people are living in areas that are going to be a desert in 50 years.

Ms. MEARNS: Oh, absolutely. I think - particularly, let's take some place like the Northern Plains, the North Central Plains. They're not wealthy. They will have some benefits from climate change in terms of agriculture, but they will also have to adapt things like using different crop types. And they don't have really the resources to be able to do that.

So I would say, typically in poorer areas, they would need help. But I think what we're going to need is both mitigation plans and adaptation plans. We need a combination of those two to really control this problem.

FLATOW: All right. We have to take a short break. Michael Robinson-Dorn, We have to say goodbye to you. I want to thank you for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. ROBINSON-DORN: Terrific to be with you, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Assistant professor of law at the University of Washington.

We are going to take a short break, come back and talk lots more about this U.N. panel on climate changes recommendations. Your thoughts on where to go from here. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about climate change and the new report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just came out today. If you're just joining us, the report predicts increased hunger, water shortages, massive floods and many on the world's people - in fact, some of the people hit the most hardest around the world are predicted to be the people who can least afford it. The people - most hungry people and people ill-suited to be able to cope with that.

The wrangling over the IPCC report continued late into the night yesterday in Brussels as scientist and a government representative disagreed on what should be included in the report and my next guest Darren Samuelsohn, writes in his own blog on Greenwire that he - there was some point where it may not have come out, Daniel, right - I'm sorry, Darren, that the report may not have seen the light of day today.

Mr. DARREN SAMUELSOHN (Environment Reporter, Greenwire News Service): That's right. So they were there all night last night. They were working late into the night. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but - I'm sorry, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they actually stayed in all night. And it was a closed door discussion, so you're - as a reporter you're not standing in the room. So you're relaying on people coming out to talk you about it.

But what I was able to learn in talking to some of the scientists was you had three: - two Americans, one - I'm sorry, one American from the NASA Goddard Center in New York City; and then an Australian, who - a meteorologist, who is actually based now at University of Oklahoma; and a third, a glacier scientist from Chile, who all objected when Saudi Arabia and China wanted to take out some of the percentages of certainty that had been put into a draft that was proposed earlier in the week, the initial report that went before this team of government scientist. Set of government experts, I should say.

FLATOW: So they wanted - they did not want the heavy language included. They wanted to water it down a little bit.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Yeah. Well, that's what ended up happening. The Chinese and the Saudi Arabians, this whole process works by consensus.

FLATOW: That's right.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: And what happens was if anyone wants to - any government wants to speak up and say, you know, that they disagree with something they can question the scientists who are sitting there, kind of, like, you might sort of defend your thesis. These scientists who have written this report over the last three, four years sit up in a table and are defending it from questions from the government officials. And so the government officials were questioning.

Basically there was a comment right up in page two of this report, sort of, the very, very first bold - sort of, jump-out-at-you-and-grab-you paragraph - had said originally that the evidence from the science over the last many years showed that there was a high level of confidence that what you are seeing, what you're seeing in all continents on the globe and from the oceans, you're seeing changes related to global warming at a regional scale. And that high confidence number that was in there would have been an eight in 10 share - or an eight in 10 probability of it. They took up the eight in 10 and left the paragraph in, but without that eight in 10 percent number.

FLATOW: Talking with Darren Samuelsohn, senior reporter for Greenwire, who is covering the IPCC meeting in Belgium. You're writing your story quoting Stephen Schneider at Stanford, saying, "overall, most of it was all right. There was just some really unusual egregious examples when phony science was used as an excuse to cover national politics and that just gets the dander up on scientists."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: That's true.

FLATOW: It sounds like something that was happening here. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That this administration was being accused of now, you know, that this knows no geographical boundaries or political boundaries.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: It's kind of funny actually. I talked to Gary Yohe, who's from Wesleyan University, and he was telling me that the United States actually in this situation was trying to broker a deal so that this report didn't come falling apart last night. So it was an example where the United States was, I think, talking with the Saudi Arabians and the Chinese trying to at least get something together in this report.

And I guess the interesting thing as well here is that Schneider did say, you know, the report - ultimately he's happy with it. He's upset with the fact that this got pulled out. But also, an important thing to keep in mind is the original paragraph, the one that was in the draft, will be in the final document. That's, sort of, more detailed and most people are going to really try and read. So there's multiple reports here.

FLATOW: Joining Darren Samuelsohn is Linda Mearns, senior scientist, director of the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Joining Dr. Mearns is Vicki Arroyo, director of Public - I'm having trouble speaking - Policy Analysis at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. It must be Friday. Welcome back to the program. What is your reaction, let me ask you both Linda and Vicki, what are your reactions to what went on with the, you know, with the scientists or what they're wrangling over?

Ms. MEARNS: Well quite frankly - this is Linda Mearns speaking - quite frankly, it's quite common. I was at the final plenaries for Working Group One and Two the last time around, and it's very common for these things to become somewhat of cliffhangers by the end of the day.

I must say the fact that these, my colleagues, had to work pretty much through the night was really stretching it to a cliffhanger, but there's always some tension around that. I think the reason why there was more tension this time is because the stakes have gone up.

Because the whole issue is being taken more seriously, it's not just sort of a lawyerly game anymore because we're now looking at what are we going to do about this problem. So it makes sense to me that this report in particular would be more difficult.

I'd like to say that the reduction in the confidence - okay, that did happen, but I really doubt that it's going to significantly change policymakers' perception of the state of the climate-change issue.

FLATOW: Vicki Arroyo, what has been the White House reaction to this?

Ms. ARROYO: Well, listening in on an earlier press conference they had today, it's - this doesn't really change their policy, because they think the policy of, you know, voluntary efforts by the administration and support for technology is enough, and it's certainly not enough from a standpoint of what's happening with greenhouse-gas emissions and the continued growth in those emissions.

But unfortunately, we don't see a real change in their willingness to accept mandatory climate policy in this country.

FLATOW: Where did the auto industry hang its hat on this one?

Ms. ARROYO: Well, the auto industry is evolving on this, I mean, especially with the Supreme Court case that we just spoke with your other guest about. Now that it's very clear that EPA already has the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions, I think you're going to see even more willingness for them to go up to the Hill and engage on what would be a more comprehensive approach that wouldn't just single out the transportation sector.

And they have already, even before this decision, in recent months been up on the Hill and been talking, you know, somewhat more constructively than in the past.

FLATOW: You know what happens many times in the history of this country, is people may want to do something that Congress may want to change, but who really controls what happens is the insurance industry. You know, if the insurance industry decides they're not going to insure your home because you're living in a soon-to-be desert, people may not live in - may not be able to get an insurance policy to move there, or you're going to be in a floodplain on the East Coast someplace underwater in 100 years. Where does the insurance - don't you think the insurance industry - you know, they had a lot to say about the future of nuclear power after Three Mile Island.

Ms. ARROYO: Well, I think it's certainly a factor, and I'm a New Orleans native, and I've been spending a lot of time there lately, and if you see what's going on with the rebuilding, I think it's an example of how adaptation is not necessarily all that easy. It's more like coping and muddling through when you have these kinds of events, but you do see insurance companies in some cases pulling out, and in certainly in many cases really raising their rates dramatically.

It's not preventing people from rebuilding, but it's obviously more of a challenge than it is. But I point to that also as an example of where if there's anyplace that it would make sense to look at the projections of sea-level rise and storm intensity, it's New Orleans, and yet I don't really see a lot of awareness, as you were saying, Ira, earlier, on the part of local officials about looking at these expected impacts and these projections and figuring out how, when they do rebuild, they build with climate change in mind.

FLATOW: So they're still - what's the right word to phrase it? They're still in denial about…

Ms. ARROYO: Well, and I think they're just coping, and they're muddling through, and for a lot of people, it's just a matter of sort of, you know, trying to rebuild with what you have, and some people are building much higher, and some people aren't, and they're in the same neighborhood, and it looks sort of funky. But unfortunately, they're not getting a lot of guidance on this front.

Ms. MEARNS: Ira, let me add that in the - this is Linda Mearns - that the insurance people were really the first, as we call them, stakeholders, to be concerned with climate change. I mean, if you look back at what kind of people were concerned about this 20, 25 years ago, it was indeed the insurance industry, and in particularly, the re-insurance industry - particularly those companies that were insuring properties near the coasts.

So they were among I'd say the vanguard of stakeholders in that regard.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's see if we can take a call from Chris(ph) in Carthage, Illinois. Hi, Chris. Sean(ph), I'm sorry. Sean. Sorry.

SEAN (Caller): Okay, good afternoon. I just have a question about how they come to the percentage of certainty in this kind of a document. I mean, I'm wondering how do we know that this is a man-made phenomenon and not something that's just naturally occurring? How do we know…?

CONAN: So you're still not convinced, Sean, is that it?

SEAN: I'm not entirely. Global warming's been pretty good to the state of Illinois in that we're not under a glacier now.

Ms. MEARNS: I'd like to field that, Ira.

FLATOW: Go for it.

Ms. MEARNS: The specific levels of confidence that are referred to - there were two reasons for doing this, first of all so that these words saying very likely, likely or high confidence, would be used to indicate a similar level of confidence across the different chapters and across the different working groups, and these were tuned to, for example, you know, very likely 90 percent confidence or whatever.

Those confidence levels are arrived at through consensus, and I would say it's done in the form of an expert judgment. In other words, these scientists know a great a deal about the problem in their particular chapter. They look at all the evidence, and they come up with - they discuss it a lot, they argue, and they come up with a final expert judgment and then give this quantitative or rather qualitative word associated with quantitative.

And very often in each chapter, they will have a very specific set of criteria that leads to whether they say something is likely versus very likely.

FLATOW: All right, thanks (unintelligible), hope that answers your question, Sean.

1-800-989-8255. Darren Samuelsohn, is this is the last IPCC report, or are there more to come?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Now there's two more to come. One will be coming out in May in Bangkok, and that's on mitigating climate change. So you're going to be seeing I think a different - all the different solutions that are out there for climate change, from carbon capture sequestration from coal-fired power plants to how agricultural reforestation can play roles, and then there will be a final wrap-up report in Valencia in Spain. And I think that one is later this fall, and that'll sort of wrap together the first report that came out in Paris, this one that came out today in Brussels and then the one that comes out in Bangkok in May.

FLATOW: Talking about global warming this hour on TALK OF THE NATION Science Friday from NPR News. And so that will be it for the year, then, and that will be it for good?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: No, no, no, there'll be another report in five years. These come out every five years. The last one was 2001. Prior to that, the one in 1995, a lot of people say it was a strong precursor to the Kyoto Protocol that the United Nations adopted in 1997, so two years later.

It was actually published in '96, and then a year later, the first-ever mandatory emissions treaty was passed by the United Nations, and then the first one in 1990, often people refer to that one and say that that led to the underlying framework that sort of got the whole United Nations process moving and led to the Kyoto Protocol. And now the United Nations is going to be meeting in Indonesia later this year, as well, and that meeting will be trying to determine what to do when the Kyoto Protocol expires in the year 2012.

Businesses want to know what's going to happen off into the future. I'm actually here in Europe right now doing a whole series of stories trying to figure out what the Europeans are planning to do, and a lot of them are looking over to California, to the United States, to the Northeastern states, to give a signal of what kind of emission cuts can be expected out in the end of the next decade.

FLATOW: That's interesting. They're not looking to the federal government. They're looking toward the states.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Well right now, the states are the only ones that are interested in capping emissions. I mean, you're seeing it from the Democrats in Congress, but right now, California and its neighboring Western states - five of them altogether, and then British Columbia - have all agreed to cap and trade their emissions starting later this decade. And then you have the nine Northeastern states and Maryland capping their emissions.

So there's actually, you know, laws and regulations in place for these states. And actually earlier this week, I was with the California EPA secretary, Linda Adams, who works for Governor Schwarzenegger. They bounced around from Bonn to Brussels, and then I was with them in London earlier this week where they were meeting with all sorts of U.K. officials trying to line up and match up their emission targets, and maybe at some point link up their systems, even without the U.S. government involved.

FLATOW: So is it possible, Vicki Arroyo, for them to make an end around the federal government?

Ms. ARROYO: Well, it's somewhat complicated for states to engage in trading with the EU, for example, because Kyoto really precludes trading with uncapped countries. So they'll have to figure out how to get around some of the barriers to doing this at sort of a sub-national level, but I should say in response to what Darren said about the support of the Democrats in Congress, the truth is that one of the leaders on this issue was McCain.

There's been a McCain-Lieberman bill for some time about capping U.S. emissions or limiting emissions to a certain level and then allowing for trading, as we've done successfully here with the acid rain program, as they're doing with the EU successfully.

And now, several other senators and even folks in the House have similar proposals. So I do think that we're likely to see much more debate and hopefully passage in the next couple of years of a federal scheme that then can link up with some of those global programs.

FLATOW: Certainly for McCain, if not for the other presidential candidates, something to run on.

Ms. ARROYO: The presidential candidates are talking about climate change. That's for sure.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: All three of them, actually, are on one bill together. Obama, Clinton and McCain are all co-sponsors of one of the many bills that's up there on Capitol Hill.

FLATOW: Who would've thunk it two years ago?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I remember a couple of years ago asking Senator McCain, you know, whether President Bush was on the same page as he was, and he said - I said anybody talking to the president? He said Tony Blair was, and that was maybe the end of it as far as, you know, he thought the influence he had with the president.

We've run out of time. I want to thank you all for taking time to be with us today. Linda Mearns, senior scientist and director of Institute for the Study of Society and Environment at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Vicki Arroyo, director of policy analysis at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; and Darren SAMUELSOHN, who is senior reporter for Greenwire. Thank you for taking time out of your busy weekend schedule for being with us today.

Ms. MEARNS: Thank you.

Ms. ARROYO: Thank you very much.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Thank you very much.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

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