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PBS Frontline: 'Hot Politics'

Deborah Amos
Correspondent
Wednesday, April 25, 2007 11:00 AM

Frontline correspondent Deborah Amos was online Wednesday, April 25 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss her film " Hot Politics," which investigates the political decisions that have prevented the United States government from confronting global warming.

Frontline's " Hot Politics" airs Tuesday, April 24, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

The transcript follows.

Amos covers Iraq for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Thanks for discussing this important issue. Why did you feel it important to include the comment by Frederick Seitz about scientists being 93 percent Democrats, which seemed to go unchallenged? While Mr. Seitz was working for R.J. Reynolds in 1989, the CEO of R.J. Reynolds, William Hobbs, concluded that "Dr. Seitz is quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice" (from a RJR memo). Is Mr. Seitz representative of most global warming skeptics? Thank you.

Deborah Amos: Frederick Seitz was very influential in the 1990's - as the head of one of the premier science establishments in the US - his opinions were noted. I didn't challenge his claims on science party affiliation - I assumed that the audience would see his logic and judge for themselves.

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Bogota, Colombia: This month, upon initiative of the U.K., the U.N. Security Council discussed for the first time the security implications of global warming. Some countries would like to see action by the S.C., which would require a previous determination that global warming constitutes "a threat to peace and security," while others (G-77) would like to continue to treat it as a development problem only. Given the U.S. stand on global warming, one would have thought that putting this issue on the S.C.'s platter would not have been in the interest of the U.S. Any thoughts on why the U.S. allowed this Security Council discussion to go ahead?

Deborah Amos: there appears to be a changing attitude about the topic. I listened to a news conference when the topic was introduced at the UN -- and many reporters asked the question you posed -- why would the US want this to go forward? The answer from officials was -- well, they did.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of the sponsors of the non-binding resolutions on Kyoto, now wants a National Intelligence Estimate on climate change.

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Houston: Ms. Amos: Based on what you know about the candidates for the 2008 Presidential Election, is there any one candidate who stands out for his or her commitment to reducing this country's greenhouse emissions to pre-1990 levels? Is there one candidate who truly understands the significance of this issue and is not just paying political lip service to it? Thank you.

Deborah Amos: I don't have a favorite -- but I think it's important that the public and the media are sure of each candidate's position -- and in the next presidential debates -- this has to be a topic

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Houston: The far right has successfully cast this debate in terms of "it's warming" versus "no, it isn't." Isn't it more accurate to say we should change the debate to discuss if we humans are having a negative effect? After all, nearly no reputable scientists argue the fact of global warming. What should be discussed are the origins and implications.

Deborah Amos: Have a look at the U.N. panel report ... the human impact is pretty clear. I think the discussion is going to move toward solutions.

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Uppsala, Sweden: Isn't it all in the end a lifestyle and culture matter we have to deal with? Today it's like standing at the bridge at Titanic and seeing the iceberg get under the bow ... you know there will be problems but you don't know yet what the problems will be. The speed was the problem to start with, so economic exponential growth as we in our culture see it is to blame. In the end the only thing that would seem to be a hope for a future, is a $500/barrel oil price this year...

Deborah Amos: we have some serious thinking to do on the issue of "lifestyle" -- for example, many Americans commute to work. They could do more to reduce a carbon footprint by eliminating the commute rather than refitting the light bulbs. We don't have to sit in the dark to address the problem, but we do have to rethink "lifestyle" choices.

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Rockville, Md.: Is there room in the debate for more than two positions. I see lots of "it is warmer" and fewer "it is not warmer" and none of my position -- "it is warmer and that may be good"? I think we need more than one question to examine and my question would be: What are the factors involved in warming and cooling that will decide the benefits and cost of a warmer Earth? Even at this "late date" I am not convinced that we have a complete and full list. By the by -- I'm a retired science librarian with education in physics, engineering and mathematics and a Ph.D. in library science. I am not a paid employee of anyone.

Deborah Amos: we decided early on in the production of "Hot Politics" that we would stay away from the "science" of global warming ... and so I don't want to get into science arguments, however, the recent Newsweek has a very good spread of articles about the winners and the losers of a warmer planet. It appears there will be some winners -- beach front property in the Baltics, for example. But the losers are a worry because there are national security implications in a world that is dryer and hotter.

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Detroit: I understand the difficulty some people have comprehending the consequences and the rate of global warming. What I don't understand is some people's unwillingness to accept what all respected scientists are saying on the subject. To what do you account, in particular, Sen. Inhofe's almost emotional denial of its existence ("greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people")?

Deborah Amos: Senator Inhofe views are a puzzle. He does have a very emotional approach to this topic rather than a logical one.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do you see a way in which conservatives could embrace the issue of global warming? A few (like Newt Gingrich) have done so, but most conservatives whose voices are heard in the media seem to belong to the camp of denial and delay.

Deborah Amos: more and more conservatives have embraced the "earth stewardship" argument. Conservation is a conservative concept.

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Ossian, Ind.: Your PBS program was highly enlightening. It seems to me that as some lobbyists and politicians soften their stance as skeptics, others have not, i.e. Inhofe. What do you see as the political/societal/ecological ramifications of maintaining strident (and influential) skepticism? It concerns me that the skeptics may have done too good of a job in convincing a significant portion of the public.

Deborah Amos: As Barbara Boxer said in her remarks to Senator Inhofe on the day that corporate American came to capital hill -- "elections have consequences"

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Seminole, Fla.: Sen. Warner startled me with his comment " now you have my attention" when corporate leaders were calling for action. What do you think we must do to get and sustain the attention of the government and this administration so that they finally take some action?

Deborah Amos: Perhaps if global warming becomes an issue in the next presidential elections -- that will galvanize thinking.

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Rockville, Md.: For years I have proposed moving workers closer to work, moving work closer to workers, or moving both to be closer to each other. Not only do I get no agreement, but I don't even get seen in print (online) very often. So, I said, how about tax incentives for closer moves if it reduces commuting to work? This is a difficult subject to get people aware of and lots of resistance to even considering it. I got lots of anger from people who thought I wanted them to move to Washington. (My situation? In 2004 I moved to a metro stop and only have driven one day a week ever since. I try to do what I say.)

Deborah Amos: At a screening for "Hot Politics" last night, one environment reporter pointed out to the audience that a 20 mile a day difference in commuting would make a big difference in carbon emissions -- but Americans haven't taken this on board yet. I live in New York -- and mayor Bloomberg has set out an aggressive policy by proposing a congestion tax for the city of New York. Let's see what happens.

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Elkins Park, Pa.: One of the extraordinary political initiatives under way is the actions of many governors and mayors throughout the country to establish global warming policies in spite of the lack of leadership at the federal level. What difference do you think these efforts by states and cities can make without a strong national effort in significantly reducing carbon emissions? Do these local initiatives take the Bush administration off the hook or add pressure to act?

Deborah Amos: The state initiatives are important -- California also took the lead in the 1970's in stepping out ahead of the federal government in environmental legislation. The business community is well aware of the prospect of 50 different sets of regulations -- which is why some have been pushing for federal regulations.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Deborah. I really enjoyed the program last night and found the investigative reporting to be top-notch. I'm wondering what your opinion is on the plans to build additional nuclear reactors when there is still no firm plan for what to do with the already-in-existence spent fuel from currently operating reactors? Also, do you think the U.S. can meet future energy needs and reduce the impacts on global warming without using nuclear?

Deborah Amos: Nuclear is certainly on the table -- but there are key questions to answer: Will the American public support it? Can nuclear power plants come on fast enough to fill the energy gap? Are they safe? Those are pretty big questions.

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St. Simons Island, Ga.: The political dividing line in the debate on global warming (or climate change to use the neutral term) is very clear: to remedy the cause of global warming will require a massive shift of power from the private to the public sector. Skeptics (including many libertarians) may believe in good faith that global warming is simply an excuse to make the shift; cynics (including, perhaps, the big oil companies) may simply not want to relinquish the power regardless of the consequences. In my view, the real debate isn't about global warming per se but the remedy to combat it. Until those who want to adopt government-mandated remedies are willing to compromise with those who want to adopt market-based remedies, nothing of consequence will happen.

Deborah Amos: There are some compromises already. Opinion is moving as the science becomes clearer.

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Freising, Germany: I was surprised to read on your online interview with Newt Gingrich that some people in the States had considered the Kyoto Treaty as being anti-American. Gingrich mentioned carbon sequestration by farmers and by forests as being hurtful to America and helpful to Europe. But if this was such a large obstacle, then I'm surprised that the U.S. didn't fight, together with signatories Russia and Canada -- both of which have huge tracks of forests and farms -- to have sequestration included in the treaty.

washingtonpost.com: Extended interview with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (Frontline, Feb. 15)

Deborah Amos: There are many in the U.S. who believe that the treaty was "anti-American" -- not all of them republicans

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Washington: Fantastic piece, Ms. Amos. I work on global warming issues and you captured the issue and politics quite well. As a former low-level Clinton administration person, I have to take some exception with Eileen Claussen's criticism of the administration not submitting the Kyoto Protocol for ratification before the Senate. It didn't have any chance of passing, and Clinton's political capital after the Lewinsky scandal was quite low. I wish they had submitted it and fought for its passage, but I also can understand thinking it would be better to wait until after the election, which we all hoped Gore would win. (Oh wait he did.)

Also, on the BTU tax, Ms. Claussen (I think) also seemed to imply that it didn't pass Congress because of a lack of political will by the Clinton administration. Hard to say -- the Clintons really really wanted health care reform, and that failed. I think a better explanation is political naivety during the first two years of the Clinton administration when Arkansas friends were advising and not Washington insiders who could have crafted a better win strategy for the BTU tax. Thanks again for a thoughtful piece. I'm glad Reilly and Whitman were willing to be interviewed -- especially Whitman!

Deborah Amos: Thanks for your insights on the Clinton administration.

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Arlington, Va.: I was disappointed in this report. You didn't talk about the big split in the environmental community over whether or not to turn to nuclear power to deal with this problem, and I would have liked to have the coal industry give more of their point of view. Pictures of windmills and solar panels is great, but something is going to have to power electricity grid at night -- a period of very high demand in for air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. The environmental concerns on dirty and polluting batteries also was neglected.

Deborah Amos: You can't do everything in an hour. We decided early on to focus on the politics.

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Ottawa, Canada: You seem to be pessimistic about any change in U.S. policy while the Bush administration is in office. Given the weakened political state of president, is it not possible that he could surprise everyone and change course? Perhaps this is one area where his legacy can be improved.

Deborah Amos: There is some legislation moving thru Congress -- but most experts I talk to say that 2008-2009 is when there will be concrete policies.

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Higganum, Conn.: What a fantastic show. I assigned it as extra credit for my eighth-graders, hope that some of them watched and wrote about your show. Do you know of any scientific studies that were done that attempted to disprove that humans directly have impacted the degree of climate change that we are going to experience?

Deborah Amos: Have a look at the IPCC report -- a comprehensive look at the state of the science today.

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Columbia, S.C.: The program last evening was outstanding! The program was quite balanced and thought-provoking. How were you able to gather all the major "players" for the program?

Deborah Amos: We just kept calling them -- for 8 months!

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