Climate Watch

Bear tracks in the mud at Shasta Lake in early Fall, 2013.

Last year was the driest year on record in California — and not much rainfall is expected in the near future. Leading lawmakers and farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are calling on Governor Jerry Brown to officially declare a drought, which would trigger conservation measures. We discuss the implications of drought conditions and what should be done.

Steven Chu

Steven Chu made history as the first Asian-American — and the first scientist and Nobel Prize-winner — to head the U.S. Department of Energy. Chu served during Obama’s first term, where he oversaw a $35 billion-plus government investment in clean energy, before returning to work as a physics professor at Stanford. He continues to speak out on the dangers of climate change, and he joins us to talk about his time in Washington, his current work on sustainable energy and the intersection between science and public policy.

Michael Levi

Michael Levi heads the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. He joins us to talk about his new book, “The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future,” which investigates the growing energy revolution in the U.S.

Bill McDonough

A decade ago, William McDonough co-wrote “Cradle to Cradle,” a manifesto advocating the design of products with many lifecycles, such as bottles made solely from biodegradable materials. His new book “The Upcycle” expands on these ideas by applying design solutions to global environmental challenges like food scarcity, clean water and climate change. McDonough urges us to think beyond simply minimizing our impact and to envision a world in which everything we do actually improves the environment.

Tom Steyer

San Francisco billionaire, investor, philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer has emerged as a political force in California in recent years, backing two successful environmental ballot measures. Now the former hedge fund manager is taking a greater role on the national stage, particularly in the fight against climate change. He was even in the running to become President Obama’s next energy secretary.

Al Gore

“There is no prior period of change that remotely resembles what humanity is about to experience,” writes Al Gore in his new book “The Future.” And he’s not just talking about climate change. Gore explores the six forces he says will reshape our world in the years to come. The former vice president, Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmentalist and entrepreneur joins us in the studio. We’ll talk about the book as well as the controversial recent sale of his cable network Current TV to Al Jazeera, for which he reportedly earned $100 million.

Barbara Kingsolver

Every winter, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico. But what if climate change altered their course and redirected them to a small town in Tennessee? That’s the story of Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, “Flight Behavior.” The author of “The Poisonwood Bible” joins us to talk about her background as a scientist, and to share her thoughts on climate change.

Interview Highlights

On the Question at the Center of 'Flight Behavior'

The question was this: How is it that we can all look at the same set of facts and come away with different ideas about what we've seen, different ideas about truth? This is a novel about science versus, faith, truth, belief and non-belief, rural and urban. It's about all kinds of divides and the difficulty of conversing across these divides. How can we do that, I suppose is the question.

On Farmers and Climate Change

I live in southern Appalachia, in the place where this book is set. I live among farmers who are getting socked year after year now with unprecedented weather events and farmers are the first to suffer from unpredictable weather. We are already suffering grave economic losses in our region and these same farmers are perhaps the people in our country who are least prepared to understand or talk about or even believe in climate change. That is a conundrum that I have been looking at every day of my life where I live.

On Humans' Irrationality

All of us that are human are perhaps less rational than we would like to think. We think that we look at the evidence and then decide what's true. What we really do, I think is decide what's true and then look for facts that support it. Then how do decide what's true and fundamentally.

On Where People Get Information They Trust

I think we absorb our truths from people we trust. We get them from our families first, from our spiritual communities, from our book clubs, our Facebook friends, our sort-of preselected group of people who we feel are on our side. And from them we sort-of absorb our truths, especially [from]the leaders of these tribes.

On Loaded Words and Teaching Evolution

So many words are loaded. Years ago when I was a biology teacher,I found when I was teaching evolution that I could spend three class periods talking to my students about natural selection, about genetic diversity, about [how] there are more offspring than survive, why some survive and some don’t, and I could teach the whole thing without using that word. And then when we’re done you say “Guess what this was?” And then half the class will stand up and say, “Oh, I’m not supposed to believe in that?” And then I would say, “But, do you?”.

California is taking a closely watched step to cut greenhouse gas emissions through a new cap-and-trade program. On Wednesday, the state will open a carbon market that forces its biggest polluters to buy and sell permits to emit carbon dioxide. Some say cap-and-trade here could become either a model or a cautionary tale for others.

Recent studies show that coral cover along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has shrunk by half since the mid ’80s as warmer seas, storms and starfish colonies kill off organisms. We’ll discuss the health and preservation of these fragile ecosystems.

Exploring Corals of the Deep by KQED Quest

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A farm in Dixon, California.

From citrus groves to tomato fields, California is home to a $30 billion agricultural industry. But rising temperatures and lower water levels, which some attribute to climate change, are hitting crops hard. The cherry industry alone lost $22 million last year. How are these changes affecting our farmers? We get an overview of the new documentary “Heat and Harvest,” a co-production of KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Federal funding for clean technologies reached an all-time high in 2009, but a new study finds that money will dry up over the next two years. As a result, the report predicts more clean-tech companies are likely to go bankrupt or be consolidated. We talk to the report’s authors. What impact is this economic uncertainty having on green innovation, and how will it affect the Bay Area’s economy?

San Francisco's Ocean Beach

Parts of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach have been sliding into the sea, and with climate change, the erosion is expected to get much worse. We discuss a new plan to protect San Francisco’s coast.

California water officials, farmers and others who track seasonal snow and rain levels are beginning to worry about how dry it’s been. Officials say they’re not ready to declare a drought, however, because the rainy season isn’t over yet — and many reservoirs are still full of runoff from last year’s heavy snows.

We discuss the potential for a drought, and what might be causing the unseasonably warm temperatures.

A leading expert on energy policy, Daniel Yergin joins us to discuss his book, “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.” Yergin looks at the recent history of the energy industry, emerging renewable technologies and the notion of “peak oil,” which posits that we are rapidly approaching the end of Earth’s easily accessible oil supply.

Yergin won the Pulitzer Prize for his work “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.”

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