Ask the Expert: Jake Caldwell

Jake Caldwell on Global Warming and the U.N.

The Action Fund’s Mic Check Radio asks about the U.N. and the Bush administration’s competing conferences and how to tackle a growing crisis.

This interview is from the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Mic Check Radio.


Listen to the interview:


Christy Harvey: This is Christy Harvey, editor of, which as always is brought to you by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. This week the U.N. is getting very serious about global warming. So we thought we’d talk to the very smart people we know about the issue. And for this segment we have Center for American Progress resident expert and very smart guy, Jake Caldwell, to walk us through the oh so real impending global crisis. First of all Jake, how bad is the problem?

Jake Caldwell: It’s an important week up at the United Nations in New York as the Secretary General tries to draw attention to perhaps the most critical environmental, social, and economic issue of our time, global warming. Let’s step back and see what we know. The science has been pouring in all year, in fact, over the last decade or so in terms of the reality of climate change. What we know at this point is that the human-induced climate change, or carbon emissions, are at their highest rate and concentration in over 3 million years. Never before have we put as much carbon into the atmosphere than at this time. In fact humans are dumping at about a hundred times faster than we ever have before. And all of this, you’ll often hear the term "feedback loop," all of this sort of feeds on itself and compounds the problem and we keep getting warmer and warmer and major changes to our biodiversity.

CH: My big question I think for this week was, I understood why the United Nations were concerned and why they decided to basically call the world together and take a global look at this global problem. But it seemed to like President Bush packed up all his toys and went home and threw his own party instead. What’s with the two different conferences in the same week?

JC: Yeah, it’s very interesting the Bush administration’s response to the United Nations efforts. What’s happening is, the Kyoto Protocol that everyone has heard about in terms of the international rules that govern mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and all greenhouse gasses. That is really the template for the international response and international cooperation. I mean, global warming is a global problem and it needs a global solution. The Kyoto Protocol though, the first part of the Kyoto Protocol, it was set to go in stages and it actually, the first commitment period, as they call it, expires in 2012. So the United Nations is engaged in trying to ask itself, "What comes next?" The United States is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol. We have some issues with some of the developing countries and their involvement and what can we do to get them involved, countries like China, countries like India. So the U.N. and at the leadership of the Secretary General, Ban, this week is trying to bring to the General Assembly meeting the urgent issue of global warming.

CH: What is the Bush response really trying to do? He says he’s getting together the fifteen emitters and on paper, I don’t know, it sounds kind of good, but what’s he really trying to do here and how does it work in with the whole White House global warming strategy?

JC: Well I think what the Bush administration is doing, is fairly cleverly in the absence of wanting to join the party and wanting to get off the sidelines and get into the Kyoto Protocol process and the U.N. process, they’ve decided to, as you say, sort of pick up the ball and go home and start their own game in their own backyard. The problem is the game that they’re playing is really not going to involve the rest of the world. It’s not going to involve the key countries. And, sort of the goals are very different. It’s sort of like playing football, I guess, without end zones in terms of–most of the top fifteen emitters will issue very nice statements about the urgency of the problem, but they’ll put all of their faith in sort of voluntary measures, nothing that will be required of anybody to do anything, and they’ll put their faith in technology and that technology will set us free and solve this problem all on its own.

CH: So let’s solve it. You, me, right here, right now, sixty seconds, how do we solve the problem of global warming?

JC: Well, I think, I mean [laughs]

CH: [Laughs] Go!

JC: Well, we can give it a shot, Christy, if we had the answers, complete answers, we’d be very popular human beings right now. But seriously, I mean, I think the American public is behind this issue and they are aware of this issue. And I think the Bush Administration runs the risk, or any political candidate in the next election, frankly runs the risk, if they ignore this issue, in terms of a public backlash in dealing with global warming.

But some of the first things we should do, we need to seek prompt, mandatory, binding cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. And we’re talking in most of the rich countries in the world, the industrialized countries, as we call them, 60 to 80 percent cuts of carbon dioxide by 2050. California and Florida have signed on to that. The United Kingdom has signed on to that. There’s no reason why the United States as a nation cannot sign on to a 60 to 80 percent reduction.

The other thing we need to do is clean energy and renewables. That means wind, solar, sustainable biofuels. You’ve heard a lot about ethanol. We need to move beyond corn. That’s the major way we make ethanol in this country and go towards things called cellulosic biofuels, produced in a sustainable manner, and with a focus on, "Are these biofuels really reducing our greenhouse gas emissions?" If they are reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and they are much better for the land and our water use, then we should go for it.

CH: This has been Christy Harvey, talking with Center for American Progress resident smart guy, Jake Caldwell. And if you’re still hungry for more, check out all of our global warming work at and Jake, thanks.

JC: Thanks very much, Christy.

This interview is from the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Mic Check Radio.

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