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June 26, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Sustainability: Third National Climate Assessment Report

  |   Video
  • Climate change is here and how we adapt to it will go a long way in determining the future of humans on Earth. That’s the basic conclusion of the recently released Third National Climate Assessment report by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. The report had the input of nearly 300 authors and is the most comprehensive look at the science and effects of climate change in the U.S. Two of those contributing to the report are Arizona State University life sciences professor Nancy Grimm and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning professor Michael Kuby. They will discuss the report.
  • Nancy Grimm - Life Sciences Professor, Arizona State University
  • Michael Kuby - Professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: sustainability, national, climate, assessment, report, earth, future,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Climate change is here and how we adapt to it will go a long way in determining the future of humans on earth. That’s the basic conclusion of the recently released third national climate assessment report by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. The report is the most comprehensive look so far at the science and effects of climate change in the U.S. Among those contributing to the report ASU life sciences professor Nancy Grimm and ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning professor Michael Kuby. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Nancy Grimm: Thanks.

Ted Simons: All right. The national climate assessment development advisory committee. That's a long name. What's it all about?

Nancy Grimm: That committee is actually a committee of about I forgot the number but something like 65 individuals who oversaw the development of the report, which was actually accomplished more like the ipcc, by a group of 300 authors on the 30 chapters that were in the report.

Ted Simons: And what did the report look at?

Nancy Grimm: It looked at sectors. It looked at eight sectors that are actually required by the global change act of 1990. It also looked at eight regions of the United States. So what were the impacts of climate change, what are the expected future impacts and to some extent what can we do about it?

Ted Simons: And the conclusion is as I mentioned, it's here, we better start adapting. Is that pretty much what it was?

Michael Kuby: Absolutely. It's already happening and it's affecting every region of the country and every sector of society.

Ted Simons: What do we know right now today about climate change? In general?

Michael Kuby: As far as the effects or the causes?

Ted Simons: You name it. What do we know?

Michael Kuby: Okay. Well, we can start with certain facts. There's a massive amount of carbon that is under the ground in the form of fossil fuels that took millions of years to turn into fossil fuels and that has been released, a lot of it in the span of a century or two. And so we know that fact. We know that the parts per million of co2 in the atmosphere has gone from 280 in the pre-industrial era to over 400. Just in the last couple of years. We know that co2 is a gas that keeps the atmosphere warm. And so more co2 is going to make the atmosphere warmer and just right down the line. We know that the effects of increasing the co2 are what we're seeing, almost two degrees warming since the end of the 19th century, eight inches of sea level rise, retreating glaciers, shrinking Arctic ice.

Ted Simons: These are things, these are things we know. These aren't things that look like on a computer model that are going to happen.

Nancy Grimm: These are things that have happened already. This is the "already" part of it. It's predictable to some extent from the changes that we've seen but what is really unknown is how the climate system, climate as a system and how that will actually change. So, for example, you've heard, and I think that the report does a very good job of looking at the latest evidence, the frequency and magnitude of extreme events will change and by extreme events I mean, things like heavy rains which we've already seen in most regions of the country, increases in the frequency of the heaviest 10% of rain events. We also will see changes in storms like hurricanes. We would see increases in storm surge, river flooding, urban flooding and so forth. All those are extreme events. And extreme heat, which is something we think about a lot here.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to that.

Michael Kuby: Higher heat and longer duration heat waves.

Ted Simons: And so in terms of urban planning, everything from transportation to, you know, where are you going to set your house, what do we do? What are the recommendations? What do you see out there?

Michael Kuby: Well, the effects on transportation are going to be direct effects on the travelers, on the infrastructure, on the vehicles, and then there are indirect effects, which crops are grown where. We have this whole transportation system designed to ship wheat from certain areas and they're going to be grown in new areas in the future.

Ted Simons: Like basically moving north you're saying?

Michael Kuby: Oh, sure. Sure. Absolutely. And, you know, energy. The amount of heating, oil going to some places will go down. The amount of energy needed for cooling in the summer will go up. All these patterns will also affect transportation.

Ted Simons: I'm guessing the southwest is where some of that energy to cool? Hotter? drier?

Nancy Grimm: Heat waves are a big concern in the north and the northeast, New York, for instance, very concerned about heat waves and how they're going to prepare for those kinds of things.

Ted Simons: How about us here in the southwest?

Nancy Grimm: Certainly. It's a large challenge and it's compounded by the fact that over 90% of our population lives in cities and so there's this other urban heat island effect that cities produce. On top of that, increases temperature we're going to see, you know, in the southwest chapter I think, some of the projections, some of the biggest projections which are actually, by the way, the trajectory we're on right now, are suggesting that we could see very large temperature changes by mid-century. In the extreme heat realm. So really looking like a not very pleasant place to be.

Ted Simons: And every time we talk about climate change, global warming, we get folks who call and write and they express their skepticism at the very least on this. I've already seen this report being called alarmist, people saying there's not data to know if it's man caused, lots of theories, not so much proof. how do you convince those who just simply will not believe in climate change and global warming and it being man caused, what do you do? What do you say?

Michael Kuby: I would say go look at the report and all of the evidence that underlies every sentence in the report. There's a traceable account of supporting evidence. And you can trace it back to the original scientific articles that were the basis of those statements. It's very exacting.

Nancy Grimm: We're talking about hundreds of scientists who were participating in this and not just academic scientists, people in governments and nongovernment organizations as well as the private sector. And not just the chapter authors but all of the people that contributed technical input to the report. So a large number of scientists, it's an excellent report we worked very hard to make it transparent to anyone. I mean, you don't have to be a scientist to be able to read this. It's very transparent. You'll be able to understand the science and the arguments that are in there.

Ted Simons: So for those who say this is just a cyclical warming or cooling that we had previous, for 30 years. how do you respond?

Michael Kuby: You know, every decade of the last three or four has been hotter than the last. Every year in the 2000s has been hotter than the average in the 90s.

Nancy Grimm: If you accumulate this over the century, the past century and particularly since mid-20th century, you will see every decade increasing in the average temperature. Of course, there's variability in the climate. It's a climate system. It's very complicated. We're not climate scientists so we can't tell you exactly what the information is. But we can say that we have already seen these changes in our climate systems. They are leading to things like in your last segment you were talking about fire. There's a very clear link between the increase in drought, the decrease in the availability of water in systems in the southwest, increases in temperature and the incidence of fire.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind we've got a couple of minutes left here. Recommendations, what do we do with this report?

Nancy Grimm: Well, I think it's time and incidentally I think a nonpartisan report that came out from the Paulson institute is suggesting that the business community also believes it's time to start doing something about climate change. We're already locked into a certain amount of climate change that has happened and that is going to happen because of the amount of carbon dioxide we've put in the atmosphere so we have to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide.

Ted Simons: Is that the basic recommendation of this report?

Michael Kuby: That's one of them, absolutely. You know, even stabilizing co2 emissions at the current level, we're emitting over eight gigatons of carbon a year and the natural environment is only absorbing four. Even if we kept it flat, which is going to be a challenge, climate change will accelerate.

Nancy Grimm: But you know ted this report says quite a lot about adaptation, as well. The kinds of things we can do, knowing that we're going to be seeing the increase in frequency of extreme events, for example, how can we protect our coastlines? How can we protect against fire. Can we actually have a more sensible forest management plan for protecting against increased fire?

Ted Simons: Alright, well, it's good to have you both here, good information. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate.

Nancy Grimm: Thank you.

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Yarnell Hill Fire

  |   Video
  • The one-year anniversary of the Yarnell Hill Fire is approaching. The fire killed 19 firefighters, the worst in Arizona history. Jim Cross of KTAR Radio and Mike Watkiss of KTVK-TV, both of whom covered the fire extensively, will talk about the fire and what happened in the aftermath.
  • Jim Cross - Journalist, KTAR Radio
  • Mike Watkiss - Journalist, KTVK-TV
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: environment, yarnell, hill, fire, anniversary, arizona ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Well, it’s been nearly a year since the Yarnell Hill wildfire Killed 19 firefighters, easily the worst firefighting tragedy in Arizona history. Joining us now to look back at the Yarnell Hill tragedy and its impact on the state is KTAR radio’s Jim Cross, who covered the fire extensively, as did Mike Watkiss of KTVK-TV. Good to see you both here. Thank you both for coming. We should mention that you're here and you're probably going to wind up heading from here up to pine top because we've got a fire breaking out up there don't we?

Jim Cross: That is an unlimited potential fire. It's growing by leaps and bounds. A lot of fuel in front of it.

Ted Simons: Let's get back to Yarnell. Jim, when did you first hear of the fire and was there any indication that anything like what we wound up having was ready to occur?

Jim Cross: No. I had just come back in from Idaho the day before, the texts started flying, tweets and so on about Yarnell, this fire has gone from this much acreage to rapidly growing, and then the tweets and the texts started coming information, they had lost 19 firefighters, and the smoke and everybody hoped that they had just lost them in the smoke, and then it turned out they weren't in the smoke.

Ted Simons: Mike was it initially out of the ordinary in any way?

Mike Watkiss: I've been doing this for about 40 years Ted, and there are a handful of stories where I feel like I got the wind knocked out of me. In 9/11, getting to the scene on 9/11 and Oklahoma City and getting the news that these 19 firefighters had lost their lives, I felt like a body blow. And I think the state still feels that way and it impacted our coverage. I think we were shocked and numbed covering that story. All of us in sort of a state of shock, even covering the firefighters responding. It was an historic event that I think, you know, rocked Arizona and a year after the fact, there's still so many raw emotions.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to that. There's a good point. People still seem to be a little bit in shock. We'll get to that in a second but back to the scene, describe the scene. What was going on up there?

Jim Cross: Well, the firefighters had gone into a canyon and the fire, there was a thunderstorm near the fire several miles away from the fire and it essentially turned the fire around on them. They went back as far into the horseshoe canyon as you can possibly get, they tried to use the chain saws and cut down everything around them to create an area, a safe zone, didn't work, didn't have enough time, too much stuff in that canyon. I remember coming down out of Prescott at nighttime, I went up there after dark and I came down and it was so bright over Yarnell, I thought it was the lights over Phoenix.

Mike Watkiss: And really, the sad truth of it is these young men were in a safe area. And they decided to descend basically into this horseshoe canyon. They’re up top in a black area, safe area, burned area. And they descended down because they're go-getters and they're guys who want to respond and hats off to those gentlemen still a year after I think people's hearts are broken over that but they went down and as Jim said, that fire turned around in front of them and they were completely trapped.

Ted Simons: When you were up there covering the story, when the information was first starting to filter out, confusion, was there chaos at the scene? What was going on up there?

Mike Watkiss: I think that there was utter confusion, and I think that those who have been born out in the aftermath of the reports, communication was poor and, you know, the mission for -- a lot of finger pointing and certainly the state forestry, the result of that industrial commission study. There were a lot of problems there.

Ted Simons: They not only said a lot of problems in management, a lot of problems in terms of communication, in terms of aviation, the whole nine yards and again, and again we talk about the shock factor. I think a year later people are still in shock and it surprises some that we haven't seen some monumental white paper or changed plans. Has anything changed in terms of fighting wildfires?

Jim Cross: If it has and it probably has, we have not been privy to it. We have not been made aware of it. I think the one piece of information I had over the past few months the change that they were talking about was they were going to test out GPS systems on the firefighters' packs along with the forest service, not sure how many firefighters are carrying those in Arizona. I assume some are. That's the one change we’re aware of. Very few changes were made public.

Mike Watkiss: There was a lot of angst and strife at the legislature. We sort of live in a culture of the news cycle and unfortunately with these big dramatic events, there's all kinds of willpower to do something in the immediate aftermath but as the weeks and the months carry on, that willpower on the part of the legislature or people who can really make a difference seems to get sort of diluted. And here we are a year after that, we've got what is as Jim mentioned, a potentially catastrophic fire erupting in eastern Arizona, even as we speak and the history of forest management and how we respond and so many issues. But the bottom line is we're now in the season and the years of big fires and I think they're going to continue.

Jim Cross: For a long time. This is not going to end anytime soon if ever.
Ted Simons: If it's not going to end any time soon and people, they still want answers. We did a number of shows here trying to get answers and it seemed like you got a couple here with communication in these sorts of things, how do people have confidence that something like this isn't going to happen again?

Mike Watkiss: Well, if you have any sort of confidence that it's not going to happen again, you are truly living in a fool's paradise because it is going to happen again. The interface with the communities and the forests and just the status of our forests are so unhealthy at this point.

Ted Simons: Real quickly talk about that, the reaction you had from residents up there regarding this whole situation, from the time you get there to the time you left.

Mike Watkiss: Well, you know, you had people -- you find people evacuated from their homes literally running with the clothes on your back and those are moments of great trauma for these people. Jimmy and I have interviewed many folks like that and you see them again, sort of the arc of the story, I was up there last week with a couple of home-owners, a woman who's now buying a new home in Yarnell, who lost her home, and another couple that lost their home and they're rebuilding. So life goes on and they're stout, strong people up there and the community's trying to move on, the families that lost those young men, the loved ones, I don't know how you go on from that but the headlines we're seeing are about lawsuits and, you know, but I think privately those people are in anguish.

Ted Simons: And again, as far as the residents are concerned, are people starting to understand, clear the stuff away from your house, maybe you don't build so deeply into the forest? The development aspect of this, has that changed at all?

Jim Cross: I hope so. I hope it was a wake-up call because a lot of these homes that went didn't have any defensible space. They had brush pretty much up to their front door. And that's the one thing we've done story after story, year after year, get that defensible space around your house because it can make the difference between losing that home or losing lives just, you know, a weekend of work clearing the stuff away. You know, everybody needs to do that. Mike made a good point. Everything is so, you know, with the state's growth, people wanted to live out in the timber, in the desert and you're putting homes in many cases hundreds of homes in places where there have never been homes, areas that used to burn historically, now the drought is a huge issue right now, we haven't had rain since March. We've had one inch of rain since mid-December in the valley. Very little around the state. Flag staff's snow pack was one third of what it should be this year. It's bone dry. It's bad.

Ted Simons: We have had fires since the Yarnell Hill fire. When you’ve covered these fires, you talked to the firefighters and even talked to the residents, do you sense a little difference? Is it the same as it's always been or is everyone even more on edge?

Mike Watkiss: I don't think that this is going to ever leave the minds of people who were in Arizona a year ago and will be here for some time. The firefighters are aware of this. I think everybody knows that it brought all of us, what a fire can do, it can kill people, it can destroy homes, it can ravage our forests and it was crystallized one year ago. And so I think everybody knows that but when you get on a fire, those guys are all about business and I don't think they’re changing. Those guys do what they do, those men and women who want to go out and fight. We've got four hot shot crews attacking this fire right now. There will be more by the time this show airs and the bottom line is they're all about business and they've always been about business. I love the firefighters. I’m not sure the managers always do a great job. The boots on the ground, they're always good.

Ted Simons: And you know you mentioned earlier, these are go-getters, the firefighters, it's what they do, this is their life. But even so, are they going and getting at the same rate or is this just basically in their DNA?
Mike Watkiss: What do you think?

Jim Cross: I think this is the way these men and women are wired. They're firefighters.

Mike Watkiss: And thank goodness we've got folks like that because we always -- they're the people who run in when the rest of us are running out and I've covered again the persona and thank goodness we've got folks like that.

Jim Cross: Oak creek canyon was a nasty, nasty fire. Steep cliffs, you can't dig in it, you have to air tanker, when you could because it was too steep and narrow to even get a tanker in through it. These 15 hot shot crews are in that canyon. They saved every home from burning, in Oak Creek Canyon and forest highlands and Kachina Village. They were close to being lost.

Mike Watkiss: They've had some success, very minimal but some success in actually going into some forest areas and clearing them out.

Ted Simons: And that helps that they’re healthier.

Mike Watkiss: And they certainly told us that because oak creek canyon is such a gem, it has had some treatment in that forest and that's helped suppress that fire.

Ted Simons: What was learned? What have you learned from the Yarnell Hill tragedy?

Jim Cross: I think there's a lot of lessons. I think it may have changed, you know, whether we're getting the information on how it changed or not, I think it changed the nature of how they fight fires. I still think they're going to fight them aggressively. I think oak creek canyon was proof of that but there is not a firefighter in this country right now that will never have Yarnell in the back of their mind for the rest of the time while they go into these situations to fight wildfires. Communications, whether or not that changed, you know, remains to be seen.

Ted Simons: Mike in the end what was learned from all of this?

Mike Watkiss: Oh I wish I could say there were so many lessons learned. I think there are plenty of things that we should have learned but a year down the road I don't know, honestly. That's the sort of distressing thing about this. I'm not certain what we've learned, and now with another fire raging, I guess we'll see.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And we have a memorial service now coming up Monday. A couple of memorial services.

Jim Cross: Separate ones, one for the families, private service in Prescott. Also, there will be a city memorial, number of other events going on Saturday or Sunday and Monday in Prescott to mark the one year anniversary.

Ted Simons: And I guess the fact that that there will be two memorial services kind of says a lot about the aftermath of all this doesn't it?

Mike Watkiss: This has been an ugly story and, you know, we were up there with people, rebuilding homes and their message to me was, you know, for people who are passing judgment about what's going on in our community, unless you've walked in our shoes, you don't know what we've gone through in the last year and that was an interesting point and number of them made that to me.

Ted Simons: Interesting as well. You guys, great job. Great work both of you. And we wanted to get you in to get your recollections and let's hope we never have to do it again. Thank you both.

Mike Watkiss: Fingers crossed, yeah.