Physicist Says The Earth Needs To Reduce Carbon Pollution Now

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This week, Here & Now is taking a look at climate change.

In the first story of the series, Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Joseph Romm, a physicist and author of the book, “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.” He says changes in climate will affect us more than the internet has.

Romm says that we’re seeing more extreme events — things like more super droughts and more super storms — and argues the U.S. and other nations have to deliver on their commitment to reduce carbon pollution.

Interview Highlights: Joseph Romm

On the future impact of climate change

“Twenty-five years ago, if you could’ve known what we know today about the internet, you and your family could’ve made a whole lot of decisions about what to study, and where to invest, and all that would’ve transformed your lives. And we have, with a pretty high degree of certainty, an understanding of what’s gonna happen over the next 25 years, both on the impacts of climate change, as well as the energy revolution that we’re now undergoing, that is gonna transform people’s lives.”

On the current state of climate change

“We’re seeing more and more effects. You know, we’re seeing droughts that used to maybe last one or two years. We see California having this worst drought in 1,200 years and it’s lasted into its fifth year. More super storms, more super blizzards, more super droughts, super heat waves like we saw this summer. This is going to be the hottest year on record. NASA just announced that August was — not only the hottest August on record — it was the hottest, tied with July for the hottest month ever on record. So, we’re entering a period of accelerated warming, and I think in the coming years we will see more and more of these extreme weather events become more frequent.”

On the Paris Agreement and the fight to mitigate change

“Right now, if the world aggressively pursued the plan that was embraced last December by 190 nations unanimously in Paris — each country came in setting targets in how much they were gonna control carbon pollution, but the agreement also says every five years we’re gonna ratchet that down. So if the world follows through, then I think we are gonna moderate the impact. We’re still gonna see the kind of weather and droughts and a moderate amount of sea level rise, but we’re gonna keep the change at the low end of the dangerous level and it’s gonna be slower. On the other hand, if the world were to not follow through and keep ratcheting down emissions, then I think you’re gonna see impacts that will last for centuries that are gonna transform the lives of your children and grandchildren.

“We’re sitting here and we have to deliver — the U.S. has to deliver on its commitment to reduce carbon pollution about 26 to 28 percent by 2025 compared to recent levels, and the other nations have to deliver their commitments. And then we have to make further commitment for 2030s and 2040s and 2050s. Now, I want to be clear: the droughts and the super storms that you’re seeing, we’re gonna continue seeing them. The question is whether we’re gonna see, let’s say, Hurricane Sandy every 20 years versus every other year, which is where we are headed according to the science.”

On past precedents for fighting environmental crises

“The United States unilaterally banned all chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol spray cans before the rest of the world acted. That was a very big deal. Nowadays, people say, ‘Oh, unilateral action. You’re weak,’ or ‘That’s not the way countries act.’ The fact is that we set the example then — the nations of the world started to discuss ‘Will we act?’ Then scientists found this ozone hole, which just stunned them. And that led to a series — the Montreal Protocol — and that led to a series of ratcheting-downs. And, by the way, the rich countries went first. That was the deal in the Montreal Protocol. So, here we are today. The nations of the world are — I think — at a similar point to where 1985 was, which is, you know, it’s pretty clear that what the scientists said would happen were right and therefore we better listen to them about what the future holds.”

On the feasibility of an energy revolution

“You may recall during the debate over the Montreal Protocol, industry said ‘Oh, we can’t change it. These are wonder chemicals. There’s nothing that can possibly replace them.’ And then ultimately, when they were force to, they said ‘Oh my. Look, there’s all these substitutes, some of which are cheaper and superior.’ So, 20 years ago, people said ‘Oh, you can’t replace fossil fuels.’ Well, you know, I was the acting assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable energy, and we knew that if you invested in solar, and wind, and batteries, and electric cars, and LED lighting, that you would get these transformational technologies, and here they are. And we are in the midst of an energy revolution. … So we’re in the midst of a transformation that gives us the technologies needed to keep ratcheting down emissions. Whether humanity chooses to continue and accelerate the processes to a) use the clean technologies, and b) start an orderly process of shutting down coal plants and moving off fossil fuels, that is still in the political realm. I’m just here to tell you we can definitely do it, but aggressive action is needed.”


Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, founding editor of Climate Progress and author of “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.” The center tweets @amprog.

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