Transcript

495:

Hot In My Backyard
Transcript

Originally aired 05.17.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/495

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Well, now it almost feels like a distant memory. But there was a moment this past fall when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast during the hottest year on record with a drought that covered two-thirds of the country, and wildfires, and floods. Lots of people seemed to be saying, all right, global warming. This is it, right? Not far away, at the polar ice caps, but right here at home. It's finally shown up.

Chris Matthews

Simply put, when you look at Hurricane Sandy, do you see climate change, man-made climate change--

Ira Glass

On TV, guys like Chris Matthews were asking the question, while over at CBS This Morning, a scientist named Michio Kaku was saying, sure, he once doubted that global warming was real.

Michio Kaku

But then you look at the indicators, the fact that all the glaciers are receding. We have 100-year storms that are now the, quote, "new norm." We could be seeing a new way of life.

Ira Glass

And of course, it's been amazing to see, since then, public opinion went through a massive turn. Broad, comprehensive legislation was passed to deal with climate change. Oh, right. That didn't happen.

Because the conversation about climate change is stuck. It's stuck. It's stuck in the same utterly tiresome place that it has been stuck for years. There are the people who believe that global warming is happening, and there are the people who don't believe that, going back and forth with the same retread arguments over and over. According to a recent Gallup poll, just over half the country thinks that climate change is real and is man-made-- which, despite the crazy weather last year, is more or less exactly where it's been for most of the last decade, give or take a couple percentage points.

And today on our program, after a year that seemed like a dramatic preview of what climate scientists are predicting for all of our futures, we ask, why in the world is the conversation so stuck? That's going to be the first half of our show. And then in the second half of the show, we have found some places where it feels like battle lines are, in fact, shifting a little bit. We've found completely fascinating efforts by people who are consciously trying to lift us out of the mire and muck that we have been caught in, to end the standoff, to reinvent the exhausting, stupid climate change debate.

In short, we have tried to assemble an hour on climate change that is not stuff that we have all heard before. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Please stay with us.

Act One. The CO2 in CO

Ira Glass

Act One, "The CO2 in CO." You know, if you're looking for a place where people have been seeing extreme weather in their own backyards lately, Colorado is about as good as you're going to get. And we begin our program today with the story of a guy who is supposed to explain the climate there to the people who are most affected by the weather. That guy is the state climatologist, Nolan Doesken, and the story is about what a difficult job he had last year, for reasons that reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin will explain.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Before I get to Nolan, a word about just how weird the weather was here last year. I moved to the state in April, and at first, the stuff I was hearing about was kind of subtle. One woman started noticing squirrel roadkill near her house, for example.

Colorado Resident

Three roadkill squirrels. And I can't say that I've ever remember seeing a squirrel on our--

Julia Kumari Drapkin

The short winter meant squirrels were reproducing in greater numbers, spreading out to places they had never been before. Flowers bloomed weeks earlier than normal, way before farmers' markets even opened for the season. So people who sell flowers for a living had no place to sell.

That's because spring came early, throwing the entire agricultural growing season and pollination all out of whack. March, usually Colorado's snowiest month, had brought the lowest recorded snowfall in history. And in Colorado, snow equals water supply. By the end of May, things were starting to feel dire.

Marla Bear Bishop

[FRUSTRATED SCREAM]

Julia Kumari Drapkin

That's rancher Marla Bear Bishop freaking out when she sees her stunted hayfield.

Marla Bear Bishop

I know what I-- I know what looks right to me. It's not right. Nothing about this is right.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Her hayfield-- it's alfalfa-- is water-starved. The plants should be six inches taller than they are right now. If they don't grow, she's got no feed for her animals. Her neighbor Pat Polson had 80 head of cattle, but only enough hay for 20.

Meanwhile, bears were killing off livestock like crazy because they didn't have enough to eat in the woods. Because there weren't enough acorns. Because the oak leaves froze. Because they came out too early.

Nolan Doesken

Colorado Climate Center.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Hi, is this Nolan?

Nolan Doesken

It is, with a carrot in his mouth.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Oh, that's OK.

So at the end of May, I called the guy this story's about, the state climatologist, Noland Doesken, to talk to him about all the weirdness. I got him at lunchtime. I asked him, what are you telling people? Are you telling them the extreme weather they're seeing is climate change?

And he said, no. Nolan believes in climate change, but he said there's no way to tell if any particular hot spell or drought happened because of it. And for almost every bizarre weather scenario happening now, he can find a year just like it. Take 1910. Warm spring, barely snowed in March.

Nolan Doesken

So about the time you think, wow, this is unprecedented. We've never had anything like this-- lo and behold, we have had something sort of like it, and it was fully 100 years ago. So what it does point out is that our climate is variable. Variability wins.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Variability. That's the word climate scientists use when they mean it can get hotter, it can get colder-- it's normal. No reason to panic. Nolan said this in May.

By June, panic started to seem like a reasonable option. Temperature records kept breaking, not just in Colorado, but nationwide. Mosquitoes descended. The worst West Nile virus outbreak in the state hit the county where I live.

The land turned brown. Everywhere you stepped felt crunchy, like the whole state was one big tinderbox. Everybody was praying for rain, but the first storms that came were practically rainless, just flashes of lightning like giant matches hovering over people's houses. It was terrifying.

And then the fires came and stayed. 2012 was the most destructive wildfire season in Colorado history, burning over 600 houses. Hugh Carson was fighting the fires from the air over Fort Collins, and later, in Idaho. He'd been doing this work for decades. But last summer's fires were different.

Hugh Carson

The first time I heard it described, I think, was about the 16th of June. And one of my air attacks down at Jefferson County Airport said, Carson, you would not believe what we're seeing out there. I said, what? He says, I saw a sheet of flame approximately half a mile long and 1,000 feet high, and all it was doing was sitting there and shimmering at me.

And he said it in exactly that tone. It was sitting there shimmering at me. And I queried other air attacks, and they said, yeah, we're seeing stuff out there like that weird stuff, that we've never seen before in the last 25 years, since this burn-down in the West started happening.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Nobody could escape what was going on, including the state climatologist, Nolan Doesken. Every day the phone was ringing in his office, people asking him, is this climate change? Is this what the future is going to look like? And he gave them the answer he always has-- variability.

But the summer changed him. Just a week after we had first spoken, Nolan left for a vacation with his wife to Michigan, and that's when the biggest of the wildfires broke out, a few miles from his house in Fort Collins.

Nolan Doesken

And then we drove home into the heat and into the smoke. 400 yards from our office, we went past a National Guard checkpoint every day. Helicopters flying, smoke plumes. Having close friends whose homes burned or who were evacuated for many weeks, it's just-- it hits you so hard.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Most upsetting was what happened to his neighbor's daughter from the nearby dairy farm. The fires had died down some, but the river near their farm still had tons of ash in it.

Nolan Doesken

Probably because of the pump clogging, probably because of the ash from the wildfire in the irrigation system, the young girl was electrocuted. That was about as painful as anything about the whole summer season, just knowing their precious daughter was lost to a situation beyond their control.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

His neighbor's death was one of the things that made him start to think differently about the data. The important question wasn't, is this particular drought caused by climate change? Whether it was or wasn't didn't matter. Because either way, he realized, if the climate models are right, he was seeing the future. Seeing were Colorado was headed-- droughts and dead crops and fires-- and it was horrible.

Nolan Doesken

You just sort of used to be able to say, ah, that's just a computer model. And then you get to see, and this is what those numeric outputs from that model feel like. Say, ooh, I don't want to have to live through year after year after year of this. This will be a different place if that is what our climate will be like.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Nolan's the person Colorado farmers and ranchers turn to, the one they trust to tell them what the weather has done, what it is doing, and what it will do. That's been his job for 36 years. Now that he was seeing cause for alarm, would he tell people that?

In reporting on climate change, I found that scientists don't always level with people that way. I've interviewed three different scientists who are already preparing for the worst. They've bought second homes high above sea level. They'll confess stuff like this to me in private, but never to the public.

And sure, it's not scientific information, but it's telling. Saying emphatically, this is what the climate models predict for your land and your livelihood-- that's information people would probably take seriously as they decide their own long-term plans. So would Nolan start telling people, I believe 2012 is a sign of where Colorado is headed with climate change, and we're in trouble?

In September, I asked him to come to Paonia, in Western Colorado, where I'd been reporting, to meet with a few of the people I'd met who'd had trouble last year. One of the sheep ranchers, Brian Farmer, invited us up to his place.

Brian Farmer

Howdy.

Nolan Doesken

Hello there.

Brian Farmer

Brian.

Nolan Doesken

Brian, I'm Nolan Doesken.

Brian Farmer

Nice to meet you.

Nolan Doesken

Have we met before?

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Brian comes from a pretty conservative family, one of the first to settle here in 1890. He's got one of the bigger operations in town-- 300 cows and up to 8,000 sheep. This year Brian had a terrible time finding pasture for them all.

Without irrigation water, Brian's ranch reverts to the desert it actually is. Brian and Nolan begin talking about all this, speaking a dialect that I like to call Almanac. Anyone who's been here long enough can do this. They rattle off the hot years, the wet years, the bumper crop years.

Brian Farmer

And then it didn't dry up for another 17 to 20 years. And then it dried up for another three years in a row.

Nolan Doesken

And then the '80s and '90s were all really darn good years.

Brian Farmer

Pretty good. I was--

Nolan Doesken

Until the late '80s.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

I kept waiting for Nolan to lay it out for Brian, to tell Brian that climate change is either here or on the way, and that this year, 2012, is what it's going to be like in the near future. But this is what Nolan said.

Nolan Doesken

The year that we just experienced that was way unusual to us now, they're saying may be the norm 30 to 40 years from now. And I wrestle with that and say, well, I don't know.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

"I don't know"? Finally, I raised the subject with Brian.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Do you believe in climate change at this stage of the game?

Brian Farmer

No, not enough to affect us. And secondly, there's nothing we can do about it, or I can do about it myself, personally.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Here's what Nolan says when he hears that-- nothing. Back in the car, Nolan shrugged.

Nolan Doesken

I'm not that surprised that he wasn't that aware or concerned about temperature changes.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Should he be?

Nolan Doesken

Probably.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Why didn't you tell him to worry?

Nolan Doesken

Because I have found that there's no-- you know, telling people to believe something different than what they do hardly ever has an impact. And if anything, it just is a reason for alienation. For me to just to make a bold statement, that's not going to serve any good purpose.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Which makes a lot of sense. The fact is the people most directly affected by climate change around the state are also the most likely not to believe it's real. And they say all the reasons you've probably heard.

It's a liberal conspiracy. Or God's in charge. Or the science is wrong, or rigged, or inconclusive. Even the word "environmentalist" can trigger outrage, like when this rancher, Larry Moore, charged at me with his four-wheeler.

Larry Moore

You know, I'm kind of pissed off. You didn't tell me who you were, who you represented. That you were one of these environmentalists that are giving us so much [BLEEP] out there.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Wait, I'm sorry--

Larry Moore

I oughta take that damned recorder and smash it to smithereens.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Wha-- oh-- oh, I'm just-- I'm reporting for KVNF. But why are you so upset-- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--

Larry Moore

Shut that thing off.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Oh, I'm s---

He felt bad about losing his cool. Invited me up for cookies and coffee after. But you can understand why any message about climate change is the last thing a lot of farmers and ranchers want to hear. They stand to lose so much if climate models come true.

Water is simply worth more, in Colorado, servicing a condo than it is irrigating an alfalfa field. If water's scarce, agriculture will shrink. Water will be diverted to cities and suburbs, which are growing in the state. Nolan and I talked about this for a while in the car, back at Brian's ranch. Finally, Nolan told me he was thinking about being more frank with his constituents.

Nolan Doesken

At the Colorado Farm Show in 2013, I will tell the farmers that I-- my level of concern, based on my personal experience with the hot summer, will change the way I communicate the problem.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

So you're going to tell a group of farmers in 2013?

Nolan Doesken

I didn't say that, but I might. It all-- I don't script what comes out of my mouth.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

I'll be there. When is it?

Nolan Doesken

Late January, in Greeley, Colorado.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

I'll be there. With my mic.

Nolan Doesken

With your mic.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Every year at the end of January, Nolan delivers the weather report at the Colorado Farm Show. It's like the State of the Union address for farmers and ranchers. Hundreds of them come, some of them just to listen to him.

Nolan has been giving this talk for 12 years, and in all those years, he's never once brought up climate change. Not once. But every time, the first or second question he gets asked in the Q & A is, what do you think about climate change? And every time, there's been a local reporter in the front row with a notebook.

Nolan Doesken

And he would immediately begin taking notes the minute I started to speak. And I always found that a little bit intimidating. And the audience, the vast majority, were climate change skeptics, and they sort of wanted me to embarrass myself in front of them and the newspaper reporter.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Taking a stand can be dangerous. In recent years, climatologists in four states have lost their positions because of what they said publicly about climate change-- Oregon, Virginia, Delaware, Georgia. Democratic governors got rid of climatologists who didn't embrace climate change, and a Republican fired two who did.

Nolan Doesken

We think there'll be a few more chairs delivered in a minute or two.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Nolan's talk is in a side room. It's packed. They bring more chairs in, but it's still standing room only by the time he starts. There are about 200 people from Colorado, and also some from other drought-stricken states-- Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma.

Nolan's talk is a PowerPoint. He starts with data from 1890.

Nolan Doesken

Then we had the drought for years of the 1900s into the late 1920s. The Dust Bowl, the '30s--

Julia Kumari Drapkin

And that was just the beginning. He showed 187 slides. 187 slides. 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour-- it was so long, there was an intermission.

Nolan Doesken

There may be some donuts left. There might be some coffee left. Stretch.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

After the break, he's still going full steam. Soon, we're an hour and 40 minutes in, and no mention of climate change. 20 more minutes pass. And then, right at the end.

Nolan Doesken

OK. I have one minute left.

[LAUGHTER]

Nolan Doesken

One minute left to tell you a story.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

He shows a slide that says, "Do I have time for a little story?" That's all it says.

Nolan Doesken

And that is a story of a climatologist grappling with the question that all of you wanted to ask me today, and some of you have asked me every year. When I finish my talk, you'll end up saying, well, tell me about climate change. What do you think? Or some of you have told me exactly what you think.

[LAUGHTER]

Julia Kumari Drapkin

And here's where Nolan tells them. Scientists are not 100% certain, but they are, he says, pretty darn confident that the globe is warming, and that's it's our fault.

Nolan Doesken

2012 told me something that I hadn't been able to come to grips with that well until 2012 came along. The temperatures we experienced this year, which were pretty extreme, yeah, they happened before. 1934, it happened before. So natural variations can cause it.

But if the computer models are anything close to right-- and I'm not a computer modeler. You can't shoot at me. But if those models are anywhere close to right, 2012 will be an average year in just a few decades.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

So that was it. Kind of soft, but he said it. And then he got nervous, changed the subject, toggled back a few slides, and started talking about flooding.

Nolan Doesken

Flooding.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

And then it was over.

[APPLAUSE]

I wondered if people even got what he was saying. So I asked around in the crowd afterwards. I met Dave Sharman, who raises cattle.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

What about that last story that he just told?

Dave Sharman

What was it on? Oh, on floods?

Julia Kumari Drapkin

The one where he talks about climate change.

Dave Sharman

On the flood parts, you mean?

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Well, yeah, and his little story about climate change. You don't remember that part?

Dave Sharman

No. I sure don't. I know he talked about something there, but I don't remember the specifics.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

As for the newspaper reporter Nolan always worried about, from Greeley Tribune, he left before the end. He had a basketball game to go to. So he missed his scoop. Nolan's big warning wasn't even on the record.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Does that give you a sense of relief?

Nolan Doesken

Yeah, this time around, I would say disappointment. Because in the past, I dreaded the story being written about, Doesken speaking about climate change. And I don't dread that anymore. That's a change. And when I said that, there was a lot of nodding of heads, more than ever. It was amazing to see.

Julia Kumari Drapkin

Measured against the damages from the weather last year, billions of dollars of lost property in revenue nationwide, and measured against the massive changes climate models predict for the coming decades in Colorado, what the state's top climate official took was a tiny step. But at least it was a first step.

Nolan spent so many years being afraid, feeling like a conversation about all this was impossible. But 2012 made it possible. And now he feels like it's OK. It's time to talk about it.

Ira Glass

Julia Kumari Drapkin. Her climate reporting project at Colorado's KVNF is called iSeeChange. The website-- thealmanac.org. Coming up, secret things that Republicans on Capitol Hill say to each other about climate change, but only when microphones are off. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. The Right Man for the Job.

Ben Calhoun

Bob Inglis spent a total of 12 years as a Republican congressman in South Carolina. And here's how conservative he was. These are the numbers. Christian Coalition, 100% lifetime rating. National Right to Life, 100%. American Conservative Union, 93. An A with the NRA.

Ben Calhoun

What are some of the things that you've been called since you've been pursuing the climate change issue?

Bob Inglis

Unpredictable, unreliable, unfaithful. A heretic, you know. I've been called the Al Gore of the Republican Party. And that was not meant as a compliment. [LAUGHTER]

Ben Calhoun

I mean, of any of the things that you've been called, are there any that have really gotten under your skin at all, or been particularly frustrating?

Bob Inglis

I think when I was called a traitor on the internet by one of my son's friends, who grew up with him. That-- that hurt. .

Ben Calhoun

Bob Inglis got taken down in the Tea Party wave of 2010. And he's now talked about as this textbook cautionary tale for Republicans about how dangerous climate change is for conservatives. Going into the election, Inglis had taken a few votes that annoyed staunch conservatives-- voting for the bank bailout, against the troop surge. And Inglis says, sure, those votes hurt him. But, he says, climate change was what did him in.

[APPLAUSE]

For instance, at a debate during the Republican primary, Bob's on stage with four Republican challengers. One by one, they say climate change hasn't been proven, or that it doesn't exist. They mock Inglis about climate change.

At one point, a South Carolina state senator named David Thomas stands up. Thomas had actually supported Inglis in previous elections. But now he was running against him, trying to take his seat.

David Thomas

Bob has gone astray. And I love Bob, but his insistence on the idea of catastrophic man-made global warming has taken him down a wrong path.

[APPLAUSE]

Ben Calhoun

Bob Inglis's eventual defeat was humiliating. He ultimately lost to a Tea Party-backed challenger, 71% to 29. I just want to say those numbers again. Bob Inglis, in a district he won six times, lost 71% to 29.

After that, Bob spent some time thinking about what to do next, and decided what he'd do would be to devote himself to the very issue that got him unelected. Double down on climate change. So he started a nonprofit called the Energy and Enterprise Initiative.

And now he spends his time making the case for climate change in front of the most conservative audiences in the country, trying to build a conservative coalition on the issue. Trying to remove some of the political stigma that the issue has with people on the Right. I know. Could not be easier.

Paul Gallo

Every fiber in my body's saying you're a conservative. You can't believe this.

Ben Calhoun

This is SuperTalk Mississippi, the top conservative talk network in the state of Mississippi. This is the morning host, Paul Gallo, interviewing Bob. Just to be clear, this was the first question, right out of the gate.

Paul Gallo

You're asking me, as a dyed-in-the-wool, native-born Mississippian, will die here, to believe that humans are responsible for global warming, and we must admit that. Mic's yours, sir.

Bob Inglis

Well, yeah. I think that it is. The challenge here, Paul, is it's a conversation started by liberals, right? We have liberals that basically started the conversation, and what we're used to as conservatives is they gin up hysteria, and then they drive through some regulations and some tax increases and grow government, right? And so it's natural that we respond with no, we don't want to do that. But what we're saying is, OK, what if we change this conversation?

Ben Calhoun

Bob believes the conversation about climate change is broken. Partly because the Left and the Right are incapable of talking to each other about the issue. On the liberal side, he doesn't think liberals understand what they look like when they try to argue climate change to conservatives. How because the evidence is on their side, they often overplay their hand, and they come off scold-y and condescending.

Bob also says he doesn't think liberals understand that conservatives see climate change as what he calls a, quote, "lifestyle issue." He says conservatives feel like their version of the American dream is under attack, that somehow, parents driving their kids through the suburbs in SUVs to soccer practice are being blamed as the cause of global warming, when in fact, everyone uses a lot of electricity and gasoline. Everybody flies on planes.

Bob thinks he can win conservatives over more effectively by saying to them, I share your values. I know you're not a bad person. But I think we got this one wrong.

Bob Inglis

If you believe in taking care of this part of Eden that's left, and you believe in creation care--

Paul Gallo

OK, in all due respect, the people of South Carolina apparently disagreed with you, as far as global warming.

Bob Inglis

That's right. At this point, they do.

Paul Gallo

I don't believe that humans are creating this. Because-- and neither do, apparently, a vast majority of climatologists out there.

Bob Inglis

No, I was tracking--

Paul Gallo

That humans--

Bob Inglis

I was tracking with you until that last part. You're just wrong on that last part.

Paul Gallo

I-- I do a lot of reading on this. You find me your meteorologist guy, and I'll find you mine.

Bob Inglis

No, no, actually, you have to go look for the folks that you're looking for. Because it's basically like this. 98 doctors tell you to treat your son this way. Two say this other. It's not conservative to go with the two. You're talking about the two climatologists. You're not talking about the 98.

Paul Gallo

No, no, no--

Bob Inglis

I mean, those are the numbers.

Ben Calhoun

In the end, Bob doesn't convince the host. But the conversation's civil. He hears him out. Seems like he might even think about it.

Which for now, is the point. For the last year or so, Bob's been getting into conservative publications-- Forbes, the Washington Times. He's also been crisscrossing the country, going to DC and business schools, universities. Pretty much going anyplace in the US where he thinks he can get Republicans to listen to him.

If you look at the polling of Republicans on climate change, one of the first things you notice right away is this huge gap between how Republican citizens feel and how Republican politicians vote. A recent nonpartisan poll by Pew found that 44% of Republicans believe the climate's changing. Another by Gallup found that 40% of Republicans are actively worried about climate change.

With that in mind, consider a vote just a couple years ago on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. All 31 Republican members unanimously voted down symbolic language that would have simply acknowledged the climate's changing, and humans are contributing to it. That gap-- 40% of Republican voters worried about climate change versus 0% of that committee-- that's Inglis's target.

That's his business opportunity. That's what makes his mission seem realistic. It's like 40% of Republicans want ham sandwiches. Surely you can persuade a few more Republicans to sell ham sandwiches.

Inglis's group has counted all the Republicans in the House and Senate who have ever publicly acknowledged that climate change is real. There's 20 names on their list, out of 278 Republicans. The hunch you start to get is that there must be Republicans who believe the science but are just afraid to stick their neck out for the issue.

Ben Calhoun

Do you know, personally, Republican members who find the science credible but would never say so publicly?

Bob Inglis

Oh, yeah.

Ben Calhoun

Can you name them?

Bob Inglis

No, I'd better not do that. [LAUGHTER] I can't out 'em. But so yeah, there are members of Congress, Republicans, who know better, but they're afraid of crossing what's become the orthodoxy. This winter, I was visiting the gym, the House gym in Washington, a couple months ago. And a friend, a member of Congress, and I were talking, and--

Ben Calhoun

This is a Republican member?

Bob Inglis

Republican member of Congress. We were talking, and we had some discussion about what's going on Congress. And then he asked me at the end, now, what are you doing again? And so I told him, you know, I'm doing this thing of trying to convince conservatives there's a conservative answer to energy and climate.

Ben Calhoun

Bob says at that moment, the Republican congressman he was talking to paused. Then he looked back over one shoulder, and then over the other. And then he turned back to Bob.

Bob Inglis

He says to me, yeah, we got to get it right on that, don't we? And he sort of gave me a knowing nod and a wink, and just walked away.

Ben Calhoun

I talked to Republican staffers from both houses. Some said Bob's right, that more Republicans believe the science than will say so publicly. People are scared. I talked to one staffer in the House, an energy advisor to a very conservative Republican representative. He agreed to talk to me only if he was anonymous.

He told me Republican staffers tend to buy the science more than members, because they're younger. But he estimates there's at least a few dozen Republicans in the House who agree with the science but who would never say so. He also said something that Bob said, that if Republicans could vote their conscience on climate change, not have to worry about politics, you could pass climate change legislation today.

The very hypothetical math here is that if you got all the Democrats to agree on something, you'd only need 17 Republicans to get a majority in the House. But here's how far we are from that "Kumbaya" day. This House staffer told me that personally, he feels passionately about climate change. But he's never told his boss, because he thinks he'd get fired.

I said, fired? Do you really think you'd get fired? He told me, look, I'm a good employee. Maybe I'd get one strike.

But if people in our district knew I believed in climate change, and I'm his energy advisor, they would freak out. I'd be a liability. If that got out, the smart thing for my boss to do would be to fire me.

Inglis does have a small but growing list of allies. His group's website showcases some of this stuff. In general, it's people with solid conservative credentials but nothing to lose. Like there's this video of Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, George Shultz, showing off his new ride.

George Shultz

And I have my electric car, running on electricity from the sun. So I'm driving on sunshine. Take that, Ahmadinejad.

Ben Calhoun

Some other notable folks on the site-- a top economics advisor to Mitt Romney, two from the McCain campaign, Ronald Reagan's economics advisor, and conservative icon Art Laffer. But Inglis is the first to say, the thing he's trying to do, it's lonely. Like being in an ongoing, nonstop search for friends.

Bob Inglis

Hey, how are you?

Audience Member

Greg Langworthy, glad to meet you.

Bob Inglis

Bob Inglis. Craig?

Audience Member

Greg Langworthy.

Bob Inglis

Greg.

Ben Calhoun

Recently I joined Inglis on a trip to the University of Kentucky.

Bob Inglis

Oh, there is chicken available. That's why people are here.

[LAUGHTER]

Ben Calhoun

Watching him in person, what's totally apparently is just how hard he's trying. In just this one day that I'm following him around, Bob's schedule includes an appearance on conservative talk radio, a visit to a newspaper editorial board, several media interviews, a presentation at the University of Kentucky's law school in front of the UK Federalist Society, and then a big nighttime event with him and two other speakers. Bob and his staff said this Kentucky trip, this was the kind of event they really look forward to. A red state, a Southern state, a coal-producing state. This was the kind of place and the kind of audience that he's trying to reach.

Emcee

Good evening, and welcome to the University of Kentucky.

Ben Calhoun

The evening event's in the university's Grand Ballroom. It's this huge room. And there's a good-sized crowd, easily over 200 people. And the program, from start to finish, is custom-tailored to appeal to conservatives in pretty much every way you could possibly imagine. It starts with a respected climate scientist named Katharine Hayhoe, who also happens to be a devout Christian.

Katharine Hayhoe

So science can give us a lot of facts. But in order to decide what to do with those facts, we have to look to our values. And my values come from my faith.

Ben Calhoun

After her, there's a retired army general from Tennessee, a self-described conservative Republican who makes a case that climate change and fossil fuels, they're a national security risk. Bob is the closer, with a speech designed for climate skeptics. At the center of his speech is this pitch to do this thing that all kinds of economists, liberal and conservative, say would reduce greenhouse gases, and that's to tax carbon. Tax CO2 emissions. Bob clearly knows this isn't an easy sell to conservatives.

Bob Inglis

Now there's a real problem with saying carbon tax. If you say it to a conservative audience, which is our target audience, conservatives break out in hives when you mention the word carbon, and they go into anaphylactic shock when you mention the word tax. And so you need EpiPens available to revive them, get them back breathing.

But hang with me now. After the second point, which is attaching a cost to carbon, comes a third point, which is, cut taxes somewhere else in equal amount. Dollar-for-dollar reduction in some other tax. So there's no growth of government.

Ben Calhoun

There's more to it, but that's the gist of it. Tax pollution, and then cut taxes on income. Bob says even if you're a conservative who doesn't believe the scientific evidence for climate change, that idea makes sense. You should still be able to get behind it.

The thing you want more of, tax that less. The thing you want less of, tax that instead. So cut income taxes. Tax pollution instead.

At all his Kentucky events, Bob says all kinds of things to remind conservatives, I'm one of you. He bashes unions. He calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme. Name-drops Milton Friedman. Talks about his Christianity.

For over an hour, all three of the panelists hustle, like they know they're underdogs. Like they know the crowd's against them. Bob wraps it up at about 8 o'clock, the end of a 14-hour day for him.

Bob Inglis

Give me an amen. I'll stop preaching. Thank you very much.

[APPLAUSE]

Ben Calhoun

After all three speeches, they open it up for questions. And this is when things change. One student makes a comment to the general about how the US should get out of Afghanistan, and the room cheers.

A few questions later, Bob's urging the Kentucky crowd to call their senators-- Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell-- to make the kind of pitch he's talking about, conservative to conservative. And the audience responds like those guys are some sort of joke.

Bob Inglis

Talk to Rand Paul.

[RAUCOUS LAUGHTER]

Bob Inglis

Let me tell you--

[LAUGHTER]

Ben Calhoun

And at around this point, I was just, like, oh, this isn't a bunch of conservatives. This is a room full of liberals.

I followed Bob afterwards as he walked around, meeting people from the audience. He was visibly tired, but he kept a smile on his face, shaking hands and being friendly until the last person had left the room. It felt a little mean to point out that this wasn't the crowd he expected. So I said, instead--

Ben Calhoun

So how do you feel like that went?

Bob Inglis

Um, I wish we had a lot more conservatives. We're hearing mostly from left of center.

Ben Calhoun

Of course Bob knew. It wasn't the first time this had happened. Turns out to be a recurring problem for him.

Bob wants to have difficult conversations with conservatives about climate change. And he's doing that, for sure. But often he finds there's another audience out there, an audience eager to hear a conservative say, conservatives are wrong about climate change. They love it. And that audience, his natural fan base right now, a fan base he's not super interested in, is liberals.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun. He's one of the producers of our show.

Act Three. Find an Enemy.

Ira Glass

Act Three. "Find an Enemy." So now we move from the Republicans to the Democrats. I would argue that the guy on the Left who is doing more than anyone to reinvent the politics of climate change, to give our entire national conversation about it a good hard shove, is named Bill McKibben.

Last summer, McKibben published an article in Rolling Stone Magazine that was basically a manifesto for how to do this. He notes that there is a weird science about the subject of climate change. It's back-burner. Over half of all Americans tell pollsters that they are worried about global warming, but that worry is not getting channeled toward any particular action to fix things.

McKibben says the problem with the political strategy so far is that it's mostly asked people to do something that they feel very ambivalent about-- to go green. To produce less carbon dioxide personally. As he points out, we all like cheap airfares on airplanes that spew emissions.

He writes, quote, "Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself. It's as if the gay rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers or the abolition movement from slaveholders."

And he says, those of us who bite the bullet-- actually buy a hybrid car or those coil-y light bulbs that use less electricity--

Bill Mckibben

You can't help but look at your new light bulb and think, you know what? I don't think this is going to solve climate change. And you're right to think that.

Ira Glass

You write in your article, "People perceive-- correctly-- that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2."

Bill Mckibben

Yeah. You can't make the math add up that way.

Ira Glass

He says the other thing that should be clear to everybody at this point is that trying to explain the problem better-- sending scientists to Capitol Hill, making a strong case for action, trying to win over the doubters-- that has not been effective at getting legislative action. And he says it hasn't been effective because of political opposition. And he says the people who are pumping huge rivers of money into the opposition, funding studies to confuse the issue, and funding anti-climate change organizations, and especially funding politicians who do not budge, still, on climate change, are the oil and gas and coal companies-- whose products, of course, produce lots of CO2.

Their role is well documented and not a secret at all. Those industries fought to kill the 2009 cap and trade bill. They funded a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort that successfully kept the Senate from ratifying, or even voting on, the Kyoto Protocol, which was the first binding commitment on greenhouse gases in international law.

But-- and this is what's new about McKibben's approach-- McKibben says that having an enemy like this is not a bad thing. He wrote in his manifesto that rapid political change requires a true political movement and, quote, "movements require enemies." As John F. Kennedy put it, he writes, "'The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He's helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.' Enemies," McKibben writes, "are what climate change has lacked."

And last fall, McKibben hit the road to sound the alarm that climate change in fact does have an enemy, and to organize an army against that enemy. His goal-- to turn the oil and gas and coal companies into pariahs, like cigarette companies, as a way to destroy their political clout.

[APPLAUSE AND CHEERING]

Bill Mckibben

Wow. Thank you all enormously.

Ira Glass

Boulder, Colorado-- stop 21 on a 22-city tour. An 1,100-seat hall that, like usual on this tour, has loads of college students and, like usual, is sold out. McKibben himself is a 50-something with a runner's build and wire-rim glasses. On stage, he looks perennially like he is just about to get comfortable. He chops his arms up and down to punctuate his sentences.

Bill Mckibben

You can tell, from watching me, that I'm not really a trained orator or activist or something. This is not what I'm great at, OK? I'm a writer, which is almost the opposite. Um, um, um--

Ira Glass

His road to the stage began in the 1980s. As a young reporter for The New Yorker Magazine, he wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming-- it was called The End of Nature-- and published a long excerpt in the magazine.

Bill Mckibben

When I was 27 and I wrote The End of Nature, my theory of change was people will read my book, and then they will change.

[LAUGHTER]

Bill Mckibben

Which turns out not to be how it works.

Ira Glass

How it works, of course, is old-fashioned politics. Organizing people. And McKibben started to switch roles from reporter to activist in 2006, when he noticed that nobody else seemed to be doing this when it came to global warming. He says he set out on this current campaign after he saw some numbers that were sobering even for him, somebody who's followed this issue for decades. He tells his audience that everything they need to know about the climate issue just comes down to these few key numbers.

The first is two degrees Celsius. The world's governments agreed, in 2009 at the UN Climate Meeting in Copenhagen, that if the Earth's temperature rises two degrees more than it was before global warming kicked in, we're screwed. Just exactly how screwed, of course-- how quickly the ocean rise, how bad the hurricanes and droughts and food shortages-- that's all a guess. But two degrees is the red line that the world agreed on.

Bill Mckibben

Everybody signed it. The EU, Japan, Russia. Countries that make their living selling oil, the United Arab Emirates. The most conservative, reluctant, recalcitrant-- China signed. Even the United States signed on to this thing.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

When you calculate exactly how much carbon dioxide it would take to drive up the planet's temperature two degrees-- and there's a famous and frequently cited 2009 study which does just this-- you learn that if the world keeps producing carbon dioxide at the rate we're going now, in just 14 years, we'll produce enough to send the planet up two degrees.

Bill Mckibben

Which is very bad news, of course.

Ira Glass

And, McKibben says, even more frightening is when you look at all the coal and oil and gas that has already been discovered, that we know about and is sitting there right now, waiting to be pumped out and used, when you calculate how much carbon dioxide that stuff will release, it is five times more than the amount that would get us to two degrees. Five times more.

And this, says McKibben, is why the companies sitting on those reserves should be branded as pariahs. As an international global menace. Because they do, in fact, plan to pump that stuff out and sell it. In fact, the financial markets are counting on them to do that. Their stock price is based on turning those underground assets into revenue.

Bill Mckibben

I mean, if they carry out their business plans, the planet tanks. Exxon alone, one company, has 7% of the carbon in its reserves necessary to take us past that red line. What these numbers show is that the fossil fuel industry is now a rogue industry, determined to do things that everybody who studies this knows are unwise, unsafe, crazy.

Ira Glass

At the end of every talk on his 22-city tour this fall, McKibben asked the students in the audience to rise to their feet and join a divestment campaign to get the colleges and universities to sell off their fossil fuel stock. It's a strategy modeled on the campaign against South Africa's apartheid government in the 1980s, which South African leaders have said was instrumental in helping push the regime into negotiations to end apartheid.

Bill Mckibben

Look around at each other.

[CHEERING]

Bill Mckibben

This is what movements look like.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

Ken Cohen

The idea that divesting of a company stock, particularly our stock, speaking as a long-time employee of ExxonMobil, to me that is not a very wise decision. We're a very good investment.

Ira Glass

When I called ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company and the world's most profitable company of any kind, they seemed positively happy for a chance to comment about McKibben's campaign. The press office set me up with Ken Cohen, who's in charge of governmental and public affairs for ExxonMobil worldwide.

Ira Glass

Can I ask, when you read something like this Rolling Stone article, where he's trying to make the case that the oil companies should be treated like the cigarette companies, do you kind of roll your eyes and feel, like, seriously?

Ken Cohen

That's a very good-- yes, that is how I feel. It is. It's trying to make a very complicated subject trivial. And to me, it's insulting, particularly in a university setting, to students and faculty. It is not getting at all at what the debate and discussion should be about.

Ira Glass

These days, it's important to note that ExxonMobil acknowledges that climate change is real, and that mankind's emissions have an impact. And this may surprise you-- since 2009, ExxonMobil has supported a carbon tax. The same type of carbon tax that McKibben calls for.

But Cohen says that McKibben oversimplifies when he acts like, oh, let's just switch from fossil fuels to something else, and we can do that in 14 years. He says that even if you make a heroic increase in the amount of electricity produced by wind and solar power, it won't be enough by then.

Ken Cohen

It is totally unrealistic to think that we would have substitutes for the current energy sources. They just do not exist.

Ira Glass

But when it comes to the numbers at the heart of McKibben's argument, the numbers showing that if Exxon and other companies simply sell what is in their reserves, they will drive up the planet's temperature far more than two degrees, I asked Cohen and his PR guy, and the press people at the oil industry lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, several times for anything they might have that would dispute those numbers. And they didn't come up with anything. Finally, Exxon sent me to an industry-funded expert at MIT who told me not only that McKibben's numbers were solid but that in fact, at current rate of emissions, by the end of the century, we'll probably raise the planet's temperature five degrees.

So McKibben issued a call to war. How's it going? Well, even if the oil companies don't seem scared in the slightest just yet, in the six months since McKibben's tour, divestment campaigns have sprung up on over 300 campuses. Five small schools have divested.

This is remarkably quick, compared to the South Africa divestment movement. It took seven or eight years to organize and get schools to divest in those pre-internet days. But calling around to student organizers, I found that at most schools, they are still in the very early stages. Way too early to show any results. Maybe getting a few hundred signatures on a petition, or they've approached their administrations for the first time and asked them to divest, and been politely told no. Or not yet, which is a typical first step.

Emma Beede

I've met with John Maeda, the president, Bill Decatur, the finance VP.

Ira Glass

Emma runs the student divestment campaign at RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, where she's a senior. She's met, by the way, with a handful of other administrators and board members there. She says until she saw Bill McKibben speak this fall, she had never been politically active in anything.

If there ever was a school that you would think would divest quickly, it would be RISD. In March, when Emma raised the issue at a faculty meeting, the faculty didn't just vote for divestment, they were unanimous. This, after all, is a school of artists and designers. There's no economics department. Barely a conservative on campus, everybody told me.

And Emma's first meetings were promising. The administrators were saying--

Emma Beede

You know, this is really great to see this kind of activism on campus. The students should be more involved. So glad you're bringing this up. And you're right, this is an incredibly urgent issue, and we should look into this right now.

Ira Glass

Were you getting a little bit of, like, being patted on the head, like, oh, it's so good that you young people are being active and thinking about the issues?

Emma Beede

Yeah. Basically saying, you know, I was an activist in Divest in Apartheid. You know, I'm as liberal as they come. And so I left feeling over the moon. It was, this is going to be easier than I thought. We're going to divest within a month. [LAUGHS] And it's easy as that.

And so I waited to hear back from them, and I waited and I waited. And I eventually heard back. They said well, we've looked into it, and it's going to be basically impossible to do.

Ira Glass

RISD officials declined to be interviewed for this story. But Emma says that their reason for saying no was this-- that RISD's $300 million endowment is managed by a firm that mixes it in with other universities' money. Emma said she was told there was no way to separate out the RISD money from the rest and just sell off RISD's fossil fuel stock. This kind of response is something that lots of kids are hearing around the country, that stocks can't be sold off for some technical reason, or that doing so might put the school's finances at risk. This was said to divestment activists in the '80s as well.

Emma went to New York City and met directly with the firm that tells RISD how to invest its money, a firm called Summit Rock. She says she was told, basically, RISD is the client. If RISD wants to divest, they'd do it. Summit Rock declined to comment for this story.

As for the financial risk, in RISD's case, fossil fuel companies are just a tiny part of their portfolio, which organizers around the country say is not unusual at schools. Emma was told it was just $9 million of the $300 million. Which means that even if RISD loses a little money by switching to other investments-- makes, for example, 1% less per year off the investment than they do now-- their total loss will be--

Emma Beede

$90,000. Which is the equivalent of two years of my tuition.

Ira Glass

And so with low financial risk at a school full of liberals, with former divestment activists in a number of key decision-making spots, at a school that prides itself on being iconoclastic and an innovator-- even here, in a situation that seems like it could not be friendlier, Emma still could not get traction.

What this says about McKibben's movement is that it will take time to percolate. And one of the big obstacles I haven't even mentioned yet is student apathy. Yes, there are a handful of campuses with super-motivated, super-political kids who love being politically active. But many schools are like RISD, where it's hard to get most of the students very worked up about divesting from fossil fuels. Only half the students at the school where Bill McKibben teaches, Middlebury College, wanted divestment in a big student survey.

What happened next as RISD was a weird turn of events that is probably not typical of what is happening around the country. Emma says that one of the people who runs the school, a high-level person who would be in on any divestment discussions, told her, if you want us to say yes, you have to make us.

Emma Beede

Make us pay attention to you. Rock the boat.

Ira Glass

What did that mean?

Emma Beede

That I needed to amp things up. Why am I so afraid of pissing people off? Why am I so afraid of causing trouble? You need to cause trouble.

You need to make us pay attention to you. You need to make us talk about divestment. You need to make us divest.

Ira Glass

So she made a plan to make everybody pay attention-- the board, her fellow students. They would occupy the university president's office. They arrived there first thing on a Monday morning.

Emma Beede

Hi.

Marina Mihalakis

Oh, hi.

Emma Beede

Is John Maeda here?

Marina Mihalakis

He's not.

Ira Glass

With the president not there, Emma reads the statement that they had prepared to the president's assistant, Marina Mihalakis, who crosses her arms and waits patiently for it to end.

Emma Beede

We will stay until President John Maeda and Board Chair Michael Spalter commit to presenting the case for divestment at the board of trustees meeting in May.

Marina Mihalakis

Thank you. Oh, stay-- you mean you're going to sit in my office?

Emma Beede

Mm-hm.

Marina Mihalakis

OK. Hi, Matel.

Matel

How are you?

Marina Mihalakis

I'm fine. I have a lot of work to do. I hope you don't mind if I just continue working.

Emma Beede

OK.

Matel

Please go ahead and work.

Ira Glass

This is nothing if not a remarkably polite, respectful, and well-mannered sit-in. 11 students plop themselves around the edges of the room and try not to make much noise, so that normal business can continue in the office. RISD's president doesn't show up until the next day, so they sleep there that night.

The next day, the school gives Emma what she wanted. They agreed to put divestment on the agenda of the next board meeting. On the phone telling me this, she was thrilled. She declared victory. But there was another victory, just as important, that happened outside the administration building while Emma an the others were upstairs.

[CHEERING]

It was easily 150 kids, and maybe a lot more. Color-coordinated banners that Emma's team had made were hanging from most of the school's big buildings-- it's art school, after all. People came out of their studios to see what was going on. And suddenly, climate change was the thing that everybody was talking about. Which is the other part of McKibben's plan-- to get everybody talking.

Bill Mckibben

There couldn't have ever been more than 2% or 3% of Americans who actually were physically involved in the civil rights movement, right? Marching, or sitting in, or whatever. But watching those who were, seeing it, was enough to change the mood of the country.

Ira Glass

If McKibben's plan works, divestment is just a means to a greater end. To shift the politics of climate change by putting the issue on the front burner, by nudging people off the sidelines and into a political fight. For so long now, the climate debate in our country has been a tired standoff between believers and doubters. If nothing else, if McKibben's successful, the discussion will pop out of that rut, and soon, we will all be arguing with each other about whether or not the oil companies are going to destroy the world.

If enough people get engaged with that fight, and the financial markets come to believe that Exxon will never be allowed to pump all the oil that it has found, it could drive Exxon's stock price down. But even if it doesn't, if enough people are yelling about all this, other things might become possible. A carbon tax, or any of the other proposals that would deal with climate change on more of an urgent, wartime footing.

Mckibben Team Member

So I don't know, what do you guys think? Does it feel like there's not enough in the background to back up what Bill's saying?

Ira Glass

There was a moment back in October when I visited McKibben and his team of organizers, before all this began, in Vermont. There were 14 of them, nearly all of them in their 20s, sitting around a big room, typing on laptops. And watching them, the thought occurred to me-- if they're right, and they pull this off, then this is a historic group. Right?

These are Freedom Riders. They're the early suffragettes. Which, of course, is such a long shot, it's such a crazy long shot, they would have to go viral in a way that few things ever go viral. It's such a crazy thought that they could pull it off, even to them. They're the first to admit it.

But they're running at it. Hard. 'Cause they're not sure what else to do.

Credits.

Larry Moore

I oughta take that damned recorder and smash it to smithereens.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - "TOO HOT TO HANDLE" BY HEATWAVE]

Announcer

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