I'm Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist at a private environmental consulting firm. I have a Bachelor's Degree in astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master's Degree in physics from the University of California at Davis. I'm the author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience and numerous other scientific and popular publications (https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/author/dana/)!
I volunteer with the Citizens Climate Lobby (http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org), and volunteers at CCL will be taking your questions and posting my answers.
We look forward to your questions!
EDIT: Thanks everyone for your questions and time! We really appreciate your involvement. Stay tuned for another AMA with CCL and another climate scientist, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. EST.
Do all the youtubers planting trees actually have a large impact on the environment?
There’s been a lot of push for planting more trees. Another interesting example was in Ethiopia where a huge group of people embarked on a 1-day planting project. They planted something like 350 million trees in one day! So, what difference does it make? Deforestation contributes in the ballpark of 15-20% of greenhouse gas emissions due to reduction in atmospheric carbon absorption. Stopping deforestation and regrowing trees is helpful, but burning fossil fuels represents more like 60-70% of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Tackling climate change on both of these fronts will be necessary.
Edit: missing word
What are your plans for the future factoring in climate change? If you're currently doing something in your personal life in response to climate change, what is it?
I happen to live in a pretty climate change safe area. I’m in California, so there’s a lot of wildfire risk, but I live in the Sacramento area, where there’s not as much risk. Not in my lifetime do I have to worry about sea level rise. We do have to deal with climate impacts like increased heat, and we get pollution blown in from surrounding wildfires, but overall it’s a pretty safe place to live for the time being, so I don’t have to worry about moving or anything like that.
I do have to worry about what I can do to spur changes and solutions to the problem, though. That’s why I participate in groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I do a lot of local talks around the Sacramento area to educate people about the impacts that are only going to get worse if we don’t solve the problem.
I also do things to reduce my own personal carbon footprint. I drive an electric vehicle. I have solar panels on my home. I try to eat less meat, in particular beef, because there’s a big carbon footprint associated with beef. Basically the whole point of what we’re trying to do with a carbon tax is to reduce the carbon footprint of individuals and entire industries across our economy, so if you’re already reducing your carbon footprint, you’re ahead of the curve.
How do you plan to get big time polluters like China and India to combat this?
Something we could do, and this is what Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates for, is implement a price on carbon pollution with a border carbon adjustment, which would essentially encourage other countries to adopt their own carbon pricing mechanisms to stay competitive and reduce their own emissions. Here’s an analysis from the Washington Post about that concept. Also, here’s a Brookings Institution report about border carbon adjustments by Adele Morris, an economist who also sits on the board of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
But that said, China actually has a higher percentage of power coming from renewable sources. They do have a lot of coal, but they’re also aggressively investing into cleaner sources. They also have over 100 electric vehicle companies in China. One reason they’re so enthusiastic in this regard is because of their horrible air pollution from coal, so for them, the problem is very apparent when people can’t breathe outside safely. Unfortunately, developing economies also tend to weigh coal very heavily. Regardless, their per capita emissions is still less than the US. It’s about on par with Europe, which is about half of what an individual in the US contributes. They are trying to transition away, but it’s challenging in their economic conditions. Nonetheless, they are taking it more seriously than many American leaders are. So, we need to take care of our own house first.
Are we doomed?
This is a common fear. The answer is, no, we are certainly not doomed yet. There is a range of possible outcomes based on a range of human responses to our current level of greenhouse gas emissions. The range can be anywhere from a pretty bad outcome to catastrophic, but we are not guaranteed the worst. If we take no action, the worst outcomes could come to pass. If we do take action and limit the damage, the consequences could be manageable.
Do you believe that market based instruments can be relied upon to solve climate change?
Market based solutions can be part of the answer, e.g. putting a price on carbon emissions that accounts for the damage that they cause. Whether or not this can solve the problem entirely is another question, and we don’t expect this mechanism alone to be enough. To address transportation emissions, the biggest cause of emissions, for example, we need stricter regulations to ensure a reduction in the carbon footprint of vehicles over time. This has of course been a challenge in the current political situation.
What's your experience of the depression and feelings of helplessness that come dealing with foreboding, gloomy, even apocalyptic data and prognosises every day knowing full well that for all your knowledge the politicians and company owners are continuing on and you have no power to stop them? Or is it different for you? I'd like to listen to that.
It's certainly easy to become frustrated with our lack of sufficient action on climate change on a political or national level. I think the way I combat that is become engaged and do what you can to make change happen. So getting engaged with a local grassroots group like CCL, or there are others like Sunrise Movement, 350.org—these are all great groups that empower us to build political will for climate policy to happen.
There’s also been a lot of good things happening that should make us feel somewhat encouraged. For example, the Sunrise Movement has gotten a lot of positive energy in climate policy in the United States with the idea of the Green New Deal. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is supported a bill in Congress for a carbon tax—we’ve been working on it for like a decade, and finally got it introduced to Congress. Now it has 69 members supporting it in the House and more than 1,000 endorsements from across the country. There are also lots of new technologies—EVs are becoming more popular, prices are falling. So, I try to focus on that and not get too bogged down in the political failings, and I try to change those from the grassroots level.
Why are we not building more nuclear power plants ?
This is a common question in a lot of camps. Nuclear power appears to have certain advantages, but the short answer is that building new nuclear power is very expensive and very time consuming. Most existing projects go over budget and run over schedule. Plus, the risk of catastrophes contributes to public opposition to these projects.
A carbon tax could affect the economic picture for nuclear, though. Basically, we don’t pay a price for carbon pollution right now. When you burn coal or gasoline, it emits CO2, and we don’t pay a price for that—we just deal with the damages in the form of climate change. If you put a price on carbon, the price of fossil fuels would increase, whereas the price of nuclear energy and renewable energy (like solar and wind) would basically stay what they are now. So if you had a price on carbon, nuclear would be more competitive in the marketplace.
A 2014 Regional Economic Models, Inc. study found that if this type of carbon tax were implemented, there would still be a significant amount of nuclear staying within the energy mix because it would be relatively price competitive. There are various different options, but the answer to why we don’t have new nuclear now, it’s because it’s not cost competitive in the current marketplace.
What is the single best and easiest thing we can individually do to help reverse it?
Building the political will in the US to combat climate change is the most important thing. So, get engaged with a grassroots group, and vote for candidates who prioritize these issues. At least 2 prominent scientists (James Hansen, Katharine Hayhoe) have mentioned joining Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lobbying for major climate legislation as one of the most impactful things individuals can do. It’s critical that the US, being such a huge contributor to CO2 emissions, change course as soon as possible. So contributing to gathering the political will to do this is absolutely essential.
Why are we scientists not speaking out more strongly to stop activist rhetoric from politicizing a scientific issue?
Scientists’ job is to get the evidence and make predictions about the future. It’s up to policy makers to decide how to enact change based upon that information. Climate scientists often get criticized for their level of communications, but the reality is that not everyone is comfortable being an advocate publicly. We need public representatives to take the provided information and organize government so that we can do something about it.
What small things could we do at home to slow down climate change?
I’m a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonprofit grassroots group that supports a bill in Congress called the Energy Innovation Act. You could join CCL and write to your members of Congress, or call them, and ask them to support that legislation, which will reduce America’s emissions at least 40% in 12 years and 90% by 2050.
Where will be an ideal place to live in 20 years? 50 years?
No place is totally immune from the impacts of climate change. That’s part of why I participate in groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, to work on major legislation to address the problem.
Hi! I want to create a small movement in my city/state here in Brazil to try to be the most effective possible.
I live in the state with one of the biggest cattle herds of the latin america and the world, and one of the world biggest Soy producers... we are in severe risk of desertification if Amazon dies, and with climate change, the risk increase even more.... so you see, my state is extremely dependent of cattle and soy, so it will extremely hard, or even impossible to change our ways and our economy in a meaningful way to avoid climate crisis.
We are doomed, but To be the most effective, I thought about with myself, I should at least give my peers a chance to fight and survive, so I want to create a movement to try to educate our politicians (and media, and others) about climate crisis, and what to do when it comes, and give them knowledge enough to try to vote with conscience, not only with pockets.
And I know that when I talk about this education everything gets very overwhelming:
WHY, WHEN, HOW
I want to answer this questions, but everything gets complicated, what would you suggest as KEY points so I can make a presentation with less than 1 hour that would get their attentions? - How Should i include Hothouse effect and social collapse in a political talk?
Educating politicians, media, and the public about climate change and the solutions that are available is exactly what Citizens’ Climate Lobby does. I really encourage you to check out the organization. We have lots of international chapters and resources to help you communicate good, concise answers to the questions you mentioned.