Aug 9, 2021 - Podcasts

Scientists' strongest stance yet on climate

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on climate change this morning. It shows that warming is happening more quickly than we realized, and calls the connection between human activity and global warming "unequivocal." It's the strongest stance by global scientists on climate we've seen yet.

  • Plus, the pandemic has changed our relationship with trash.
  • And, Ina Fried’s big takeaways from covering the Olympic games.

Guests: Axios' Andrew Freedman, Hope King, and Ina Fried.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday August 9th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the pandemic has changed our relationship with trash. Plus, Ina Fried’s big takeaways from the Olympics.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: global scientists’ strongest stance yet on climate change.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its latest report this morning on global warming and it's troubling. To give you an idea of why this report matters - in 2018, it galvanized one Greta Thunberg and an entire youth movement around climate change. Axios’ Andrew Friedman is here to catch us up on this report.

Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: Good morning.

NIALA: How does this report speak to the moment that we're in right now?

ANDREW: So this report arrives right as we're watching raging wildfires in the Western US, in the Mediterranean region of Europe, in Siberia. It arrives when we have all these heat waves going on and it basically seals the deal on the question of whether human caused climate change is having an influence on extreme events. And it just says essentially yes, and every single increment, every 10th of a degree of global warming makes those extreme events much worse, particularly when you're talking about heat waves and extreme precipitation events, as well as drought and wildfire as well.

NIALA: So that's strong language in that report. That's a first calling the connection between human activity and global warming “unequivocal.” Why is that language important?

ANDREW: So that language is the most heavily argued language in this report and this means that 195 country representatives agreed that the human influence on climate change is unequivocal, that essentially the argument that anything other than human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation - anything other than that causing climate change doesn't hold water anymore. That they're really finally saying, this is us, this is all happening faster than we thought and there is still some time left and actions left in our toolbox to do things that will significantly lessen the impacts.

NIALA: If you looked at this report like an MRI or a CAT scan of the earth’s system, what would it show?

ANDREW: it would show a planet where the impacts of climate change are now evident in every part of the globe that is populated. Whether that is surface air temperatures increasing, ice melting, heat waves happening, wildfires happening, everything is observable, detectable, and happening in the direction that would be expected due to human activities. If I were to liken it to a doctor's checkup, this is when they would be sitting you down to give you some bad, but not yet fatal news.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman is a climate and energy reporter and also co-writes the Axios Generate newsletter. Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: how startups are capitalizing on all the garbage we’re making.

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NIALA: Welcome Back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. I always have this fear when I see trash on the ground, like all the paper masks that are on the streets in D.C., that we're turning into a world like in the movie Wall-E. Yes, but... while the U.S. has been generating a lot more household trash since the pandemic started, there's also a group of startups trying to fix this. Axios’ business reporter Hope King has been diving into this. Hi Hope!

HOPE KING: Hi Niala, how are you?

NIALA: Hope, I'm good. How much waste do we actually create every day?

HOPE: Well, before the pandemic, the average American was producing around five pounds of trash per day. So if it's from the package that we have to hold our new bedsheets, or all those little sugar cubes that come with our coffees, I mean, there's just … an enormous amount of trash that we sometimes don't even realize we're putting.

NIALA: And… are other people like me? Do Americans care about this?

HOPE: I think they do, and they're starting to. And that's because when you are at home, you see how much trash you're producing. You know, when we used to commute, we would throw our trash into the waste bins on our way to the subway, or in a parking lot somewhere, or at work, they would all be taken care of by somebody else. But when we are home and we see the boxes piling up, we really are beginning to see just how much we're producing.

NIALA: So what solutions are we seeing from companies on this front?

HOPE: What startups are really able to do right now, what investors are really excited about, are solutions that increase at a mass scale. So one example is a company called Ecovative. They have produced a type of material based on the root structure of mushrooms, and they produce a type of product that can be manufactured for all kinds of things like packaging. They can even be used for things like textiles. Those products can actually be biodegradable and break down. Even if you have plastics that are compostable, those plastics never fully break down, they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces. So we need solutions like this, where we're actually producing materials that are going into everything that we buy versus just buying less or having reusable containers.

NIALA: We started this morning's podcast with Andrew Friedman about the dire climate report. Is this maybe a hopeful part of how we're dealing with the environment?

HOPE: I sure hope so. I think the more people are aware that even some of the things that they buy that are quote, unquote, “compostable,” are actually not going to break down ultimately. I think this will drive much more change at a broader level. The other exciting part about this is that because consumers are more interested and are buying into these products, venture capital wants to go there. They want to make money off of mass consumer trends. And so the more that we are doing this, we give them the reason to fund more of the change, which I think will of course benefit everybody, and of course, the earth.

NIALA: Axios business reporter, Hope King. Thank you, Hope.

HOPE: Thank you.

C BLOCK [slug] [time]

NIALA: All during this Olympics we've had the privilege of hearing from Axios’ Ina Fried with regular dispatches from Tokyo. Well last night was the closing ceremony, so to wrap things up, we caught up with Ina before she left Japan to talk about her Olympic experience. Hey Ina.

INA FRIED: Hey Niala, great to talk to you.

NIALA: Now that the Olympics have wrapped up first, I just wanted to ask what your big takeaway is of these Tokyo games.

INA: I mean, I think the question was going to be were the Olympics produce some other moments that weren't COVID related? And I think to that degree, the answer was yes.

NIALA: What was the strangest part of these Covid games?

INA: I think it was not just that there weren't fans, because we all knew that, but just there was no interaction with the Japanese people, you know, they weren't allowed to be where we were and we weren't allowed to be where they were, which made sense. It was important to making these games as safe as possible, but it was, you know, very, very strange.

NIALA: And the times that you were able to interact with Japanese people, they were really appreciative that you were there.

INA: They were, you know, I think the attitudes towards the games did shift some over the games when it became clear that the Olympics themselves weren't bringing in this massive amount of Covid, or at least don't seem to have, which I think would be very unfortunate for Japan which is already going to be left with a huge bill. It would be so unfortunate if they were also left with greater Covid from the Olympics.

NIALA: Yeah I’m remembering your tweets about giving your Olympic pin out on the subway, when you were finally allowed to explore Tokyo. That seemed special.

INA: That one woman certainly was. It was beautiful, you know, when she started singing, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco,” when I told her I was from San Francisco and I loved that moment. I loved being able to give a Japanese person a little something from these games cause I think most don't really have anything to hold on to. They don't really get anything out of these games, which is really unfortunate because you always pay a lot, but you should get something. You should get an experience. And the people of Tokyo really get that.

NIALA: Axios’ Ina Fried. Thank you and have a safe trip back home.

INA: Thanks. Talk to you soon.

NIALA: That’s it for today -- You can reach our team at [email protected] or reach out to me on Twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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