Climate Cast MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner with the latest research on our changing climate.
Climate Cast

Climate Cast

From MPR News

MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner with the latest research on our changing climate.

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Minnesotans in the mix at UN climate summit in Madrid

Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa kicked off this final week of the COP25 climate summit in Madrid by urging delegates to lay the groundwork needed to make progress on the Paris climate goals starting next year. "Each year at the COP, we're told that window of opportunity could close soon. Ministers, the window of opportunity is closing now," she said. "We need your decisions. We need your leadership. We are out of time." The summit comes on the heels of new research showing the earth has continued to warm, and just ahead of 2020, when signatories on the Paris accord promised to reverse emissions trends. So what kinds of decisions do leaders need to make at this summit? Sarah Goodspeed is the youth and policy manager at Minnesota's Climate Generation, and spoke with Climate Cast from the meetings in Madrid. "Well, there are a lot of different working groups trying to work out the rule book on the Paris agreement," Goodspeed said. "So this includes how countries will be counting their emissions reductions, what kinds of projects count, and what kinds of regulations those projects need in order to safeguard communities and to effectively reduce emissions, rather than just counting projects that folks may already be doing."

Doctor's advice: Forget the climate change deniers, focus on the 'passive allies'

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres upped the urgency for reducing global emissions this week. He told attendees at the COP25 climate meeting in Madrid that stalled progress means countries now need to be even more ambitious than what's outlined in the Paris climate agreement. So how can climate advocates get that message out to climate change deniers? Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni says, "Don't." She's a doctor at the University of Minnesota and a member of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate. She recently wrote on the nonprofit climate news website Ensia about motivating "passive allies" instead. "I am an internist and so the 'why' of any action is central to my practice," she told MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. "So I started thinking about why we would want to convince someone [that climate change is human-made]. And if the answer is because we want them to take action, then we need a different strategy." Surapaneni argues climate advocates should instead focus on the people who don't need convincing that their actions play a role in climate change. She likened the problem to a doctor helping someone quit smoking. "Even when we start in a shared reality that smoking is bad for our health, it takes a long time for someone to go from what we call the pre-contemplative stage, where people are not even thinking about quitting smoking, to the action phase," she said. "So when we translate this to climate, first we have to convince people it's real, then we have to convince them it's man-made, then we have to convince them to take action, which basically requires them to overhaul their lifestyle." Surapaneni said it's a better use of advocates' time to skip past the pre-contemplative stage and identify those who know there's a problem but have yet to act. A Yale study estimates that represents some 47 percent of Americans. Surapaneni suggested focusing conversations with these "passive allies" on the concrete, immediate steps they can take.

Doctor's advice: Forget the climate change deniers, focus on the 'passive allies'

Trade dispute with China could slow transition to low-carbon power

In his article this month in Science, Jonas Nahm says China — and improving trade relations with China — is critical to meeting global emissions goals. China manufactures much of the world's low-carbon energy technologies, including solar panels, wind turbine parts and batteries. Today, it produces 66 percent of all solar panels. That's up from 1 percent in 2001. "We need to reduce carbon emissions very quickly if we have any hope of meeting the Paris targets," said Nahm, an assistant professor of energy, resources and environment at Johns Hopkins University. "China can help us meet these goals, and we won't be able to do it without them." Nahm said while U.S. companies can develop low-carbon technology, the labor market here lacks capacity to mass-manufacture that technology at the scale and price needed. He urged U.S. elected officials and companies to overcome existing conflicts and partner with China. "The trade situation right now is not looking great from a climate perspective. If we are not buying Chinese solar panels or wind turbine components or batteries, these technologies are going to be more expensive here, which is going to make it harder for American consumers or American utilities to decarbonize," Nahm said. "On the Chinese side, the unsettled trade relationships are causing problems in the economy domestically, and so China is also being more cautious about investing in new kinds of technologies. "And the latest plans from the Chinese central government show that there might be a possibility of China shifting back to coal because it's worried about the economy," he added.

Tech to pull existing carbon out of atmosphere is closer, more important than you might think

Technology to draw existing carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change may seem far off, but a project that would capture a million tons of carbon a year is scheduled to open in Texas in 2022. Carbon Engineering and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, announced the project earlier this year. Brian Crabtree, vice president of carbon management at the Great Plains Institute, an energy-focused nonprofit, said several models for reaching the United Nations climate goals rely on direct carbon capture, as well as carbon capture technology for power, steel and other industrial plants. "To the extent that we want steel and cement in the modern world, we have to be capturing the CO2 from those processes," Crabtree told MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. "In steel production, over half of the emissions are a result of the chemistry of the steel production process. The same is true with manufacturing Portland cement."

Tech to pull existing carbon out of atmosphere is closer, more important than you might think

Minnesota, other states pledged to meet Paris climate goals. Can they after U.S. withdraws?

The United States moved to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement this week. The 2015 United Nations agreement commits nearly 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a rate that will keep the global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. For the U.S., that requires reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Many states, including Minnesota, pledged to continue the work when President Donald Trump signaled earlier in his presidency that he would pull the U.S. out of the agreement. But are their efforts enough to counter the president's move? Climate Curious: What's your question about climate change? 2017: What's the impact of pulling out of Paris agreement? "What I think is more significant are this suite of actions that the administration has taken in the last two to three years," said Julie Cerqueira, the executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. "The withdrawal from Paris is significant in that it is sending a signal internationally that the U.S. federal government doesn't believe climate change is a priority. But what we're looking at domestically is an unraveling of all of our major national climate policies. "That, to me, is much scarier," she said. The U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of 25 governors who have committed their states to meeting their share of the U.S. greenhouse gas reduction target. Minnesota joined the alliance in 2017 under former Gov. Mark Dayton. Related: MN conservatives praise Clean Power Plan rollback Cerqueira said the Trump administration's rollback of Obama-era clean power rules and of federal car emissions standards, as well as its attack on California's own, stricter emissions standards, is limiting states' abilities to make good on their climate promise. "What we've seen when we look at the states that are part of our coalition is that has had a significant impact on their ability to meet both their own targets, but also the commitment they made to meet their share of the U.S. national greenhouse gas target," she said. As Trump fights CA in court, Walz proposes 'clean car' rules MN to EPA: Reconsider rollback of car emission standards 2017: Minnesota on track to hit Paris climate goals While there is still hope for meeting the Paris agreement's target, Cerqueira said Trump administration policies are more than a speed bump. "So the thing to keep in mind is, even if today you put back in place all of those regulations, it still takes several years for those to enter into effect, several more years before industry has picked that up and started implementing the solutions, and you actually start to see those reductions," she said. "And so to some degree, we have already baked in the future emissions because of three years of a lack of framework." Cerqueira and the alliance are in the process of pinpointing just how much progress their member states have made. That report is expected to come out in December. To hear more of Cerqueira's conversation with CLimate Cast host and MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner, hit play on the audio player above.

Minnesota, other states pledged to meet Paris climate goals. Can they after U.S. withdraws?

Regenerative farms 'producing more, opening new markets' while fighting climate change

A United Nations report released this summer warns the world must drastically change the way it produces food in order to meet emissions reduction goals. Some Minnesota farmers have already heeded that warning by adopting regenerative farming practices. Mike Bredeson is an agroecologist with the Ecdysis Foundation. The agricultural research foundation is working with those farmers and large food companies to study and lift up regenerative techniques. Bredeson told MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner the approach is more of a mindset than a prescriptive set of rules. "When you think of terms such as organic farming, it's easy to point to a designated list of characteristics [and] say, 'This farm is certified organic and it meets these criteria,'" he said. "Regenerative farming, instead of a certain bar to be reached, they're on this pathway of always improving the land that they're managing. They know that if they're using two pesticide applications right now, their goal is to reduce that to one application and eventually eliminate that application totally." The approach also includes planting cover crops, which take the place of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans during the off-season. Plants capture carbon when they photosynthesize, so cover crops put the land to work fighting climate change when it typically wouldn't. They also help keep the soil intact, which also stores carbon. Bredeson said regenerative agriculture pays off for both the environment and the farmer. Land farmed with regenerative practices does a better job of capturing rain water and holding on to nutrients, meaning less cost for the farmer. "They're not only producing as much or more, they're seeing that by producing and using cover crops, they're opening up more markets," Bredeson said.

Regenerative farms 'producing more, opening new markets' while fighting climate change

What indigenous communities can teach about climate change solutions

Climate change often impacts disenfranchised communities more directly, and that includes indigenous communities. But these communities can also teach us a lot about how to move forward. That was the topic of a talk by Chiefs of Ontario Environmental Director Kathleen Padulo at the University of Minnesota this week. Padulo also stopped by the MPR News studios to talk with meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner.

Damage related to climate change will only grow — who's liable?

Climate change liability. It's a term you'll be hearing in the coming years, as damages attributed to climate change continue to grow. But how will lawyers and the courts assess liability in this new territory? "In some ways, these are new lawsuits but they are sort of in a long line of other lawsuits that deal with these types of harm," said Alexandra Klass, who teaches environmental and property law at the University of Minnesota Law School. She said state and local jurisdictions who are suing fossil fuel companies for damages related to climate change — think hurricane and wildfire recovery, or updating storm water and transportation systems — are using the same sections of law Minnesota and Lake Elmo used in lawsuits against tobacco companies and 3M. "Public nuisance is an old common law theory. It basically says that if someone has engaged in conduct that harms the public, it's either a state or local government, for the most part, who then brings action on behalf of the public," Klass said. While the public has used an benefited from gas and oil, the lawsuits rest on the fact that fossil fuel companies knew the impacts their products would have on the climate and sought to hide it. "[The defendants] will say that fossil fuels have been used by the public and by the same state and local governments to power the economy and drive our cars. They'll also say they're not responsible for damages," Klass said. "They are also arguing that the way to deal with this is through legislation, not litigation, and that we should provide a carbon tax and sort of move forward." How these cases, particularly a Rhode Island case against Chevron, play out will help lay the groundwork for sorting out liability in the future, Klass said. But she expects most litigation will remain at the hand of governments. "It's very difficult for individuals to have the ability to bring lawsuits, whether it's against the power companies or oil and gas companies, which I think it why state and local governments have stepped in here."

Hydrogen power, modular nuclear and the other technology Xcel Energy has its eyes on

Xcel Energy says it should have no problem reaching its goal to cut carbon by 80 percent by 2030. It's that last 20 percent that will require some still-nascent technology, Xcel CEO Ben Fowke told MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner in this week's Climate Cast. "If we start to nurture these kinds of technology, I think they'll be there when we need it by 2050," he said. One technology Fowke is keeping his eye on is modular nuclear reactors. He said they would bring the same carbon-free power existing nuclear power plants do, but without some of the problems. "They're smaller, so they're not these massively big power plants that cost billions and billions of dollars," Fowke said. "And the reason they're called modular is because they're developed in the factory and not designed on the fly, as the history of what our nuclear industry has been. "So the promise is [they'll be] much more predictable; they have passive safety systems, which means they automatically shut down without the need for cooling, in the event they need to be shut down; and they're better at integrating renewable energy, so they move up and down with load better than the existing technology," he said. Fowke also said he's excited about the potential of hydrogen power. "I would have laughed 10 years ago if I thought we could move to a hydrogen economy," he said. Through a process called electrolysis, Fowke said, utilities can use renewable energy to extract hydrogen from water. That hydrogen is then able to be stored, which means developing batteries that can store renewable energy long term becomes less of an imperative. Xcel's plan has been celebrated, but also critiqued because it requires the utility to rely more heavily on legacy natural gas and nuclear power plants to offset the closure of Xcel's coal plants. Much of the country's natural gas now comes from fracking, which takes a heavy toll on the environment. Natural gas also emits methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas emission. Fowke said Xcel and other utilities recognize the downsides of natural gas and are pressuring the natural gas industry to be as sustainable as possible. "Our industry, the electric utility industry, is going to make a push to say, if you want us to use your product, you gotta help us make it worthwhile to use," he said.

Hydrogen power, modular nuclear and the other technology Xcel Energy has its eyes on

Climate Curious: Ask a climate expert

As part of our Climate Curious project, MPR News asked listeners what they want to know about climate change. People wrote in with a wide breadth of questions, including what kind of trees to plant to fight climate change, how much the effects of a changing climate will cost and how to assess the accuracy of climate predictions. MPR News Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner sat down with a climate reporter — MPR's own Elizabeth Dunbar — and a climate scientist — Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist for the State Climatology Office at the Minnesota DNR — to answer some of the questions listeners submitted. More from Climate Curious What are the best carbon-capturing trees to plant? What's the difference between weather and climate? Here's a look at what they had to say. How much will climate impacts and adapting to climate change cost? Who will pay these costs? — Kate Knuth, Hennepin County, Minn. It's not possible to calculate an exact dollar amount as we're still figuring out the true impact of climate change on our lives. But there are a few main areas we can focus on. One is public health, Dunbar said. Increased air pollution will have an especially large impact on people who have asthma or issues breathing. Related Minnesota's generally clean air still contributes to thousands of deaths Damage to and improving infrastructure will comes with a large cost, too, Blumenfeld said. More rain means the need for more effective draining, roads damaged in extreme weather conditions require time, labor and equipment to fix and rising sea levels will create the need to move whole communities. It's important to keep in mind that much of our infrastructure was not built with climate change in mind, Huttner said. How extensive is crop failure in Minnesota and the Midwest due to flooding and extra wet conditions? I have seen a lot of standing water in cornfields. How unusual is this? — Mina Leierwood, Minneapolis "It's been incredibly wet and we have to remember it's not just this year," Blumenfeld said. Unfortunately, we went into last winter with very wet soil which then froze. We didn't get much of a winter in terms of snowfall until late January through March. That snow added to the amount of moisture on the ground plus the heavy rains that followed in spring. That same pattern has been observed over the past few years. Except for northern Minnesota, "it's going to be the wettest decade on record" for most of the state, he said. We'll start to understand the real impact of this once farmers start their harvest, Dunbar said. How accurate have past climate change predictions been? I seem to hear more about things occurring faster than predicted. — Erland Lukanen, Eagan, Minn. To answer this question, Huttner pointed to the words of Penn State University professor Richard Alley. When scientists were making these kinds of predictions 30 years ago, Alley said, they had to do a bit of guessing when it came to how much humans were going to do when it came to producing or curbing carbon emissions. Even so, Alley said the predictions on increased surface temperature, vapor in the atmosphere, increased rainfall, warming of nights and melting of sea ice were all pretty spot on looking at where we are today. And the rate at which sea levels are rising are actually faster than what was predicted. It depends on the study, but for the most part earlier predictions have come within a tenth of a degree Celsius for how much the global temperature has increased, Blumenfeld said. If you're looking for predictions by region, things get a little trickier. There weren't as many models on how Minnesota might be impacted by climate change individually. Looking at what's happening right now we are warming at about half a degree Fahrenheit per decade and rainfall has increased by about 4 inches in that same time period. Those may not seem like large numbers, but it's important to remember those are averages over time, some areas are seeing larger increases and those statistics are likely to keep increasing, Dunbar said. What can I/we do to combat climate change? This question was asked in different forms from many of our listeners. Here are just a few things mentioned on the show: Scientists do point to lifestyle changes as major ways to combat climate change — which can get controversial fast. A large study last year pointed to eating a plant-based diet as a way of shrinking your carbon footprint. In Minnesota, agriculture is the third largest producer of emissions, behind transportation and electricity production. But, Blumenfeld pointed out, these kinds of decisions don't need to be all or nothing. Instead of eliminating all meat from your diet you can also choose to eat foods with a smaller carbon footprint, like chicken over beef. Paring down your consumption of any one product in general is key, too. One caller in Minneapolis mentioned that because she lives in a community of apartments and town homes she cannot install solar panels. If certain strategies for combating climate change are out of reach, focus on what you can change, Blumenfeld said. Make sure you're turning off your lights and electronics when you leave your home, use energy efficient bulbs, seal your windows in the winter to cut back on heating and buy used instead of new whenever you can. From our environment reporters How to be less of a jerk to the environment How do I talk to skeptics? This is another question we've received from multiple listeners. Dunbar and Blumenfeld's suggestion? Combine facts with empathy. "One of the keys is to maybe not refer to them as skeptics," Blumenfeld said. "I think we need to move beyond it, honestly." And instead of focusing on convincing them, try to understand where they are coming from, ask them what their concerns are, relate it to things they care about and try to help build connections to the trends we are seeing in the facts, Dunbar said. That empathy combined with being knowledgeable on the science — Huttner pointed to SkepticalScience.com as a good resource — will likely lead to more productive discourse. Is it true that 98 percent of scientists agree with climate change? — Michael It really depends on what you mean when you talk about climate change. Because it's more like 100 percent of scientists who study the atmosphere recognize that greenhouse gases absorb radiation and in-turn warm the planet. Nobody disputes that, Blumenfeld said. Where the debate is happening is how much of the warming we're seeing can be attributed to those greenhouse gases. Click the audio player above to hear even more questions and their answers. And check out all our climate change coverage here.

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