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

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-three 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.


AMY GOODMAN: So, if we can talk to you, you are the now resigned science envoy of the State Department, but if we can talk to you about what is 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 are seeing, and whether you think it is related to climate change and global warming?

DAN KAMMEN: 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 as 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 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 cost for us, the rest of the planet, that we are paying, and we are 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 — under the so-called two degree target. That’s about an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s herculean task, and every day 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 have already seen tremendous job growth in the cleantech sector in the United States — a number of countries. These are lost opportunities, and they’re also costs where they 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 Marrakesh 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 US from the landmark Paris Climate Accord that was signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015. This is what he said.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP: As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding 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 US will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. Dan Kammen, the significance of this now?

DAN KAMMEN: Well, there’s a couple of 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 job benefit of investing in the green economy is really very large. And we have 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 US 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: 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 are the science envoy. But, what is happening? What is his position, does it matter, given President Trump’s position? And academia, have you seen science and climate grants cut? You’re a professor at University of California Berkeley.

DAN KAMMEN: Right. So just — so just to walk through those, in the State Department, there is 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 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 that have been reported in the news. 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 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 rain forest 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 rain forest the size of Denmark, paving the way for road building, mining, and logging. Talk also about what this could mean, Daniel Kammen.

DAN 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 have 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.