Climate Conversations, Episode 2: The Complexities of Climate Modeling

In episode 2 of Climate Conversations, host Rajesh Kasturirangan is joined by ClimateX team members Curt Newton and Laura Howells.

The team explores the role of market forces in tackling climate change and are joined by special guest John Reilly, who discusses the complex nature of climate modeling, and the challenges faced by the climate science community in the current political climate.



Rajesh Kasturirangan

Curt Newton

Laura Howells

John Reilly


View Comments


See Also

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

John Reilly radio interview: “MIT Researcher To President Trump: Don't Cherry Pick Our Data.” WGBH All Things Considered, June 2, 2017.

John Reilly editorial: “Trump used our research to justify pulling out of the Paris agreement. He got it wrong.” Washington Post, June 8, 2017.

"Limiting global warming: More aggressive measures are needed."  MIT Energy Futures, June 15, 2017




RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Hello, and welcome to Climate Conversation. I'm Rajesh Kasturirangan from ClimateX. And I have in the studio with me two of my colleagues.

CURT NEWTON: Hi. Curt Newton from MIT'S Office of Digital Learning.

LAURA: Hi. And I'm Laura. I'm from ClimateX.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well, it's been a busy week, like every other week. And we have had some great action on ClimateX. So Curt, do you want to say a few things about what you think was the highlight?

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. The post that seemed to get particular traction amongst our community this week was one about whether and how much and in what ways we should be paying attention to market forces and market mechanisms as a way to deal with climate change. You know, sort of the basic question given the nature of the problem and kind of the centrality of market forces and the way that the world operates today. Should we be looking there for the solutions as well?

LAURA: I'm going to ask a very stupid question. What exactly do we mean when we're talking about market forces? Like, what are you referring to here?

CURT NEWTON: It'd be like, you know, incentives for businesses and consumers and how they make decisions about what they purchase or consume. Trying to through those-- say pricing mechanisms and other kinds of financial incentives, yeah? To lead us towards better behavior.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: The government is very much part of those market mechanisms, right? So for example, a carbon pricing mechanism would translate into market responses. But it's also obviously a political and policy decision.

LAURA: So does the onus come from-- should we be focusing on what the government has an impact, enforcing markets to do this? Or are we talking about the market forces themselves, the companies themselves deciding to regulate themselves? Because that seems like a very hopeful situation.

CURT NEWTON: Well, I think that's kind of the root of this conversation. It's not an either/or situation. You know, I don't think anybody is saying the only thing we should do-- even the most sort of market-loving people, the only thing we should do is through that.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Though, I mean, to take sort of an extreme libertarian perspective, you could argue that technology has come to a stage where our liberties and freedoms are best preserved or enhanced by renewable energies.

CURT NEWTON: You could argue that. But Rajesh you, on your post, actually argued quite the contrary. Do you remember?


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Consistency is the hobgoblin of feeble minds.


CURT NEWTON: And that's not you. Do recall what you put there?

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah. I mean, my personal view is that when it comes to issues that are the classic tragedies of the commons, climate change perhaps being the biggest of those, market forces have not been very successful in the past.

CURT NEWTON: For sure. For sure.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So that brings me to one of my key topics, which is that unless you have good data-- I mean, how do you distinguish between company A that says, we are now climate-friendly, but are actually using dirty fuels, and another company that says, we are equally climate friendly and are implementing those policies? Unless there's both a policing mechanism, but also a transparent reporting and analysis.

LAURA: Right. Like an independent review.


CURT NEWTON: Yeah. Yeah. And there's certainly people who are working towards that end. We might even get one of them to come talk to ClimateX at some time in the future.

LAURA: There you go. We've solved the problem.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: There you go. Solving climate by podcast.



CURT NEWTON: That's what we're about.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well, talking about businesses making decisions, businesses make decisions ideally based on forecasts and models. And we have our interviewee. John Reilly is probably one of the world experts on that topic. So Curt, what do you think is really exciting about how John Reilly brings modeling into this kind of public policy debate?

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. Well, I mean, climate change is so complex, and we have to be able to project way out in the future. Our actions today aren't going to be felt for decades to come. We really need the ability to look and understand what's going to happen if we stick with business as usual, and to be able to compare alternatives, different proposals for the transitions that people are talking about with energy systems and our politics. We need a crystal ball, and I think the models that John Reilly and people from his group and people that he works with are the closest thing we've got to allow us to be able to make those kind of predictions.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: It's like the palantir in-- you know? In Lord of the Rings.

CURT NEWTON: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.


CURT NEWTON: Yeah. I'd also say that these climate models, as we've recently witnessed, can be something of a double-edged sword. You know, the models are invaluable tools for those who understand them. And they give you kind of an air of--

LAURA: Dangerous in the hands of others.

CURT NEWTON: But they sure are.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Laura, I have a question to ask you.

LAURA: Yeah, go on.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Right? Which is, if you are John Reilly, is any publicity good publicity, as far as you're concerned?

LAURA: Ooh, good question. Well, it depends, I suppose. Initially, I mean, waking up as John Reilly on the morning that Trump's incorrectly quoting your research is probably quite a scary experience. It depends on how much his rebuttal is being listened to. Like for me, if I were in his situation, I'd be very, very desperate to get my point out there. Nobody wants to be the climate change scientist on the side of Trump. So I think places like this like ClimateX or Climate Conversations, where John can come in and actually say, hey, this is the actual situation, that's the good publicity.

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. I mean, there's no question that in the days following Trump's speech and mischaracterization, there were a number of people who were talking to John, and the word gets out. But it's just tragic how you can't put the alt-fact genie back in the bottle.

LAURA: Yep. That's it. And like, does the word get out to the right people? Like, I'm not sure Fox News are going to be covering the John Reilly comment on his own research.

CURT NEWTON: Most likely not.

LAURA: Yeah.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So we are so happy to have John Reilly, who is the director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which does some fantastic modeling and analysis of these very, very complex challenges that we're facing today. And John, of course, has had some pretty exciting new developments, which he'll be telling us about. But first, John, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you came from, how come you're doing what you're doing?

JOHN REILLY: Well, you know, I came to MIT in 1998 from the Department of Agriculture, actually. So I was with the federal government for a chunk of time. I actually was on some of the committees to set up the US Global Change Research Program that funds a lot of this research on climate. I also worked at the National Laboratories a bit, the DOE Energy Laboratories, and have a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Grew up in Wisconsin on a dairy farm.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: That's sort of a long but very interesting trajectory.

CURT NEWTON: Agriculture is a very important aspect of the climate environmental issues. I think it connects with the food systems and people's-- may be one of their most direct and immediate experiences with what's going on. You carry on all that background and experience you've had with agriculture?

JOHN REILLY: Yes. In fact, we are trying to model the impact of climate change on agriculture, as well as the agricultural contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Which, depending on how you look at it, is bigger than you might think. You know, a lot of the land use change is contributing CO2 from deforestation, but also methane from rice and livestock production and nitrous oxide from fertilizer. So yes, in fact, I do. I have carried that on. I would say that-- I mean, I started working climate change in the early 1980s as part of my PhD dissertation, and originally worked in energy. And then in agriculture, I wanted to think more about the impacts of climate change. And fortunately, I landed at the Department of Agriculture. No interest at first, but then 1998 hit-- 1988 it, and the climate change thing burst on the scene. So it was all luck or fortune or something.

CURT NEWTON: Good. Good.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So a PhD in economics, but tied to climate change in the 1980s? That must be-- I can't imagine ten people doing that.


JOHN REILLY: Yeah. Well, I was one of the very early pioneers, looking at the economic aspects of it. You know, it was the case that the Carter administration had set forth a fairly large program on climate research, because this burst on the scene in the late 1970s. Not unlike today, the Reagan administration came in and cut back a lot of that research funding. But a five-year program to resolve climate change. I laugh now, because five years to resolve the issue? And here we are, almost 30 years later--

CURT NEWTON: Oh, what took you so long?


JOHN REILLY: --issue isn't resolved. But there was the question of, could we improve-- you know, do a better job of the emissions projections that were driving some of the climate models at the time?

CURT NEWTON: What the heck is a climate model anyway? How does it work? What do I see if I look at a climate model?

JOHN REILLY: Well, I've already admitted that I'm an economist, so--


--the next few sentences, you should take with a grain of salt. Our modeling system is an integrated modeling system. So we model the world economy and human activity.

But basically, these models, and particularly the climate components of them, they're models of the circulation of the atmosphere, the circulation of the ocean, and then processes on land such as vegetation growing, and then how the energy and water exchanges occur between oceans and land and those and the atmosphere. So it models the world-- Earth system, like, on a 20-minute by 20-minute time step.

CURT NEWTON: So you start with, say, a set of particular inputs, starting conditions?

JOHN REILLY: Well, some basic equations describing these physical properties, and then a lot of data.

CURT NEWTON: Is there really no mystery left in climate?

JOHN REILLY: Well, the overall idea of greenhouse gas forcing of climate has been around since the late 1800s. In fact, the early estimate of how much temperature would change in response to a doubling hasn't changed much since then.

Where there are big surprises and humongous unknowns that, you know, frankly scare the wits out of us is, are there things in the system that can cause abrupt climate change that we just don't know about? So we have kind of a coarse resolution of the system, even in the most refined models.

And if we don't have the bathymetry of the ocean just correct, and we don't understand just how ice will operate, then there can be these chaotic-- the system is a chaotic system. And so we can go over one of these chaotic cliffs or edges, and that can send us into a different equilibrium. So we don't know where those are. So that's where the-- that's where the surprises lurk.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So tell us, in your current models, what's appearing at the, say, 5th percentile?

CURT NEWTON: That's got you concerned or--

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Or maybe not. Maybe the 5th percentile is not as concerning. So it would be great to find out what's living at that one in 20 chance.

JOHN REILLY: Well, you know, one of the real hard things to describe is, what are the impacts of climate change, because it's so difficult to estimate. I've done a lot of work on agricultural yields estimates. I actually look at agriculture yields, and you just look at the simulation, the median case scenarios. They don't look so bad. There's some CO2 fertilization. One place gets wetter and one gets drier, but we don't think we're really capture-- I just don't think we are capturing the resolution we need to understand what is happening at that level.

But the biggest concern, frankly, is sea level rise, because we are-- I mean, that's one thing we can look at fairly concretely. There are tens of feet of potential sea level rise in the Greenland ice sheet and the west Antarctic ice sheet. And if you take all of Antarctica, over 100 feet. So if we melt all of that, that's a big deal, it seems to me. You know, even my condominium in Watertown that's probably 60 feet above sea level is underwater.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Right. And I was just thinking that if you knew before boarding a flight that it had a one in 100 chance of crashing, you probably would not take that flight.

JOHN REILLY: Exactly. So we deal with a lot of these problems where there's catastrophic risk, and we don't accept one in 100.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah. And one in 100 of the entire planet going through unpredictable shifts seems like an unacceptable risk.

JOHN REILLY: Yes. And we're there-- well, we're on a path where we're close. I mean, where we-- that's the challenge.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Talking about chaotic systems, it seems like the government of the United States is a chaotic system these days. And can you tell us a little bit about your recent experience? Because your work was quoted by President Trump, perhaps not in the way you might have intended it to be.

JOHN REILLY: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, you know, I think he cherry-picked the results or used them selectively, arguing that our analysis showed that the Paris agreement was not-- was going to do very little, and therefore, a reason to get out of it. He actually-- the number he quoted that it would have an additional reduction in warming of 0.2 degrees was a number in our report.

But what didn't-- wasn't clear that that was just incremental to the previous international agreement. Every one of these international agreements are a little step along the way. If you're going to take a long trip and you don't make the first step, you'll never get to the end. But any one of the steps is really small. So we have to think of international climate negotiations like that. We stop stepping forward, and then we're just lost.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So can you tell us a little bit more about your experience of how this political arena plays out, right? Because it's one thing for these abstract mathematical models, but ultimately, it's about decision making by nations.

JOHN REILLY: Well, of course, it's incredibly complex negotiations. I mean, I think those of us who have been working on it-- I've been doing this since 1980, so 37 years or something. You know, we've seen the issue get ever more and more attraction. We thought it was going to be a very long, slow process. It's always, you know, a step and a half forward and a step back, or sometimes two steps back.

So you know, it's not surprising, I guess, that you see this flailing around and backward and forward stepping. It's disappointing, because you'd like to be able to kind of just shake some people and say, let's just move forward. This is really serious here.

But in some sense, it's what-- any issue that's so central and has big consequences has taken a long time. Trying to get to a solution for US health care has gone on forever, and maybe still not resolved. Just dealing with the smoking issue took forever for science to kind of finally come to a clean message. Or international free trade. Again, these issues are with us forever, or seemingly forever, and it's hard to resolve them.

CURT NEWTON: I know that in some of the climate modeling you've done, there are assumptions that are made about not just the science and the technology that's available, but also some policy things that are going on. I was wondering if you might share a little bit about, say, a key policy or two that's within one of these models around which we have such sort of political challenges to deal with? And how the modeling might inform that.

JOHN REILLY: Yeah. Well, the challenge as far as modeling is to-- well, there's a couple of challenges. One is we would like to dream up really simple policies, because they could be implemented very cleanly. And as economists, we think they're really efficient.

CURT NEWTON: Like a carbon--

JOHN REILLY: Like a broad carbon tax.

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. Yeah.

JOHN REILLY: Unfortunately for us, the world is far more creative in thinking of lots of things, many different things that are a little thing here and a little thing there, difficult to represent. Oftentimes, we find they're not as effective.

But it might be a renewable portfolio standard. Then not only will it be just renewables, they'll say, well, OK. We want 30% renewables, but at least five percentage points of that has to be solar. And can't be this kind of wind. It has to be that wind. Now let's have some renewable fuel standard. Oh, but that's only going to be here, and it's only going to apply to this. What about CAFE standards?

So it's just an array of policies, some that aren't really very effective, some that are effective. But that's really the day-to-day work we have, trying to sort them out, trying to indicate whether they're going to be effective as people think, how much they're going to cost, and hopefully, direct people towards something that's a little bit more effective.

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. You mentioned the carbon price, and there's proposals out there that are having, say, like, a fee and dividend-style approach, starting at $10 and raising to $40. Or you've got the Carbon Leadership Coalition starting at $40. What's your view on what an effective carbon price scheme would be?

JOHN REILLY: Well, you know, having worked on this in the early 1990s, we talked then about there being time to think carefully about this. Start out slow and gradually ramp up. I know even at the very beginning of the George Bush, Jr. administration, we did some analysis for them, and it was a slow peak and turn down that they kind of took on.

We've kind of unfortunately exhausted a lot of that time we had to go slow. So I think the $40, starting at $40 and going up from there is kind of the minimum of what we have to do. Even that won't get us to the two-degree target, but at least that's a serious policy that will get us started, and then we'll see where it takes us.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So getting into some of these technical questions, I know you have a recent report out which basically says, we might be hitting the two-degree threshold much faster than we believe we will be. So can you tell us a little bit more about that study?

JOHN REILLY: Well, we looked at it and said, if we're on the Paris track, and we just-- the Paris Agreement track that the president withdrew from-- of course, now we're not on that anymore-- if everyone did that, we'd still be exceeding two degrees by 2050, a little bit before, a little bit after, depending on what the climate system response is within a range of uncertainty.

There are some scientists who've said, we may exceed two degrees in just the next 10 years. And that might not be a permanent two degrees. That might be a very warm El Nino year, and we jump above this two-degree threshold for a while.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So tell us, what does this mean? Because the Paris Agreement was-- I mean, which, as you've already said, the United States has dropped out of. But even if we kept those promises, if the two-degree threshold is going to be breached, what does that really mean for the kind of policies we need?

JOHN REILLY: Well, many of us have thought that we're going to-- unfortunately, the two degrees was already in the rearview mirror a few years ago, just because of the inertia of changing the system. I think one of the concerns we have is that people not focus on two degrees, or else throw up your hands and just give up. Because even if we only stabilize at two and a half or three, that's better than going to four and a half or five and a half or more.

So you know, it'd be nice to get below two degrees. It would be nice to stay below one and a half as the Paris accord even hopes for. But just because it looks like we're not going to do that, don't pull out the champagne and start carbon fires all over the place, because what the heck? We're going to end anyway. There's a lot of disaster we can avoid, even if we don't reach-- even if we don't quite stay under two.

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. I took that one of the takeaways from that-- of your study was just emphasizing how important it was to continue to ratchet down the agreements, that what we got in Paris was just a starting point. And your study made a very clear case for how important it is to keep ratcheting up the commitments. Would you agree with that?

JOHN REILLY: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, now I think, at least at this time, I think there's no question that the negotiators realized that. We had a bit of a concern doing that study as we were leading up, that the negotiators would all have a wild celebration at the end of Paris and say, oh, good. Now we can all go home. And we wanted to make sure that everyone knew that congratulations for that, but the rest of the work is still ahead of you. So don't party-- don't get too happy.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: You're at MIT. You are in an academic role. We want to be as objective as possible. But given the nature of the crisis, do you feel sometimes that you need to put on a more emotional or moral perspective to what you're doing?

JOHN REILLY: You know, I have not tried to do that at all, and I think I have largely avoided it unless my emotions catch me.


But you know, I think it's important to be credible as a science, to be objective about the things and try to describe the good, the bad, what we know, what we don't know. I've interacted with social psychologists and others who talk about how people perceive things, and most people like an emotional connection. So the objectivity of science just doesn't connect.

But I'm trained to be a scientist, and so that's what I want to try to do. And I guess there's a role for other people to maybe be the communicators, although I don't know. At some point, you know, maybe I'll take off my scientific hat and just get emotional. I don't know.



CURT NEWTON: Do you think that there's a role for really sort of pushing the edge of making the emotional case? Like consciously appealing to people's emotions when we're trying to get them to understand what's at stake?

JOHN REILLY: Well, the funny thing is, my very first job, when I was in graduate school, I did an internship at the Department of Energy the first year it was starting. I was in the Energy Information Administration, an office called the Office of Energy Information Validation. So we spent the summer in a little bit of philosophical thinking, what does information validation mean? Data validation is straightforward. But information validation?

Well, the only way you could think that through is, well, you'd want to provide information to people so they made the right decision. So you'd want to kind of contextualize it so they reach the right conclusion. But that meant you'd have to understand what was the right conclusion for them. And then you're just playing kind of a dictator. So the philosophy of shaping people to the end that you think is right just seems not right to me.

But you know, the interplay of people's ideas and thinking I think-- you have to have a discussion. I think it has to be a discussion with people, and I think that works most effectively. If more of us could get out and just sit down and talk to people about it, and everyone could listen and talk about it, and we'd listen back, of course, then I think you could have some understanding. The soundbite sort of stuff just doesn't work, I think.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So how do you, as someone who is bridging the policy and the economics and the geophysics side of things, how do you handle the complexity of these questions? Like, I mean, what's your method? I'm not saying, what's the answer, but what's the method?

JOHN REILLY: Well, we try to model the things we can model and illustrate how the outcome-- what sort of outcomes and levels of these things we get. But in terms of just the acceptance of nuclear power and nuclear waste, I think characterizing the trade-offs out there and letting people debate it is what we can do. And so the more information we can give people about what the implications of each path is, the more they can factor it into their decision making. And then it's the political process that-- you know, democratic political process. Whatever it is that has to resolve it.

You know, in economics, there is a history of coming up with the optimal decision. And if you do everything just right, you can say what's economically optimal. But that doesn't fit very well in the political system, so we've kind of focused more on, what are the trade-offs one might have to make? And then it's up to people to kind of put some value on what trade-off they want to take.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Those are some really fantastic answers. One last technical question, and then we'll move, I think, to our final round. Is there one thing that you've learned from these kind of complex systems modeling that you feel you would not have learned just by doing sort of simple or either paper and pencil or less technical kinds of intervention?

JOHN REILLY: Well, I mean, the aspect of these things is that everything interacts with everything else. So you know, one of the interesting questions is, suppose you were to just estimate how much land we might use to produce bioenergy, right? And you'd make some calculations, you get some.

Well, if you let a market go, you might get a lot more. That might squeeze out land for food, and that might cause food price to go up. And then gee whiz, it might cause some deforestation, so that might change the carbon. That will also change the surface of the Earth, so that changes the hydrologic and radiation balance of the Earth.

So it's hard to make all those calculations on a piece of paper, because each of those interactions have to be quantified. And then the change in climate might come back. In fact, how much bioenergy you can actually grow in the first place, and how much land you need for food.

We did have ones where we looked at a high-emissions path, and ozone damage was so great that we had to expand agriculture greatly. We cut back the-- we did a policy which cut back emissions. And all of the sudden, you needed less land for food, and you actually had more room for bioenergy. So lots of surprising interactions can occur when you have these nonlinear systems that are highly interactive.

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. So one of the key things, and a reason why we should be very glad we have these models, is there's nothing in isolation. Everything affects everything else. And if you think you've got a silver bullet, it's going to hit a lot of other things before it makes its way through, yeah?

JOHN REILLY: Yeah. And people ask, should we believe these crazy models? Well, if we had several thousand sister Earths which we could experiment with, then we'd do that instead. But unfortunately, we only have the one planet. And so the only way we can ask what if questions is through computer models that represent it to some degree. And we try to do as well as we can.

But we even-- we're more than happy to admit, or we know we have to admit, that there remain uncertainties in it. I think some of the big directions, we're pretty sure of. But the details, not so much.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well, talking about silver bullets and only one Earth, we are now at our final question. So suppose that you had a magic wand and you could wave it, and it would do one thing that you feel would be the most effective intervention that you could do something about. What would that be?

JOHN REILLY: Well, the global carbon price at, like, $40 a ton rising through time. There's lots of details you'd have to fix out. I think something like the cap and dividend, where everyone gets a check back makes some sense. The issue you still have to resolve, how do you kind of-- how do you kind of bring along the poorer countries in the world in that? Is there some help there, or what's the role there?

But you know, that would be the most effective. Otherwise, we find many of these other little-- well, I used this analogy before. My favorite technology is a little bit like those late night infomercials, where some devices, if you just use 10 minutes in a day is going to cause you to have abs of steel and lose 40 pounds. And then you get it home and it says, well, you also have to go on a diet.


That's a little bit-- yeah. So all these little technological gimmicks could get you somewhere. But in the end, you have to--


JOHN REILLY: Go on a diet, and you really have to do some serious, big-scale policy like a carbon price.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well, with that thought, thank you so much, John. It was a wonderful discussion. We are so glad you were here with us, sharing your thoughts.

JOHN REILLY: Thanks. I enjoyed it.


CURT NEWTON: Thank you, John.



--boy, that was a great conversation. And it made me feel deja vu all over again.


CURT NEWTON: Sure. Me too. Me too, Rajesh. Yeah.

LAURA: You're going to have to fill me in on this one. Why have you got this deja vu?

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Oh, well, you know, when John mentioned that way back when, Jimmy Carter and maybe post-1973 OPEC crisis, there was so much more attention being paid to renewables. And then Reagan came, poof! All went away. And I have a feeling that that is a little bit similar to where we are today.

CURT NEWTON: Yeah. John has seen parts of this movie before, it sounds like.


--from the late '80s and into the '90s.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: One step forward, two steps back.

LAURA: Though I wonder whether it is the same in that what seems different to me is possibly, you know, Reagan brushed it under the carpet. The conversation went away. It doesn't feel like the climate conversation is going away this time. It feels like it's become louder and angrier since this change in government. It feels like maybe it's actually, you know, lighting a fire beneath people a little bit.

CURT NEWTON: Citizenry is definitely getting more engaged.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And there's a lot more carbon in the atmosphere--


--than in 1980.

LAURA: It's a lot more of a problem.


LAURA: The urgency is real.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yes. And so you know, we want to stoke that urgency. And if you, our listeners, are feeling the same urgency that we are, please write to us. You can look us up on the web at, or write us an email.

LAURA: You can email us at Curt, Rajesh, and I are all on ClimateX ourselves as members, so you can actually directly message us there. And look, if you've got a question, you want to start a thread, you want to start a conversation, join up on ClimateX. And we're always-- we're on there pretty much every day. So we're happy to discuss some ideas, questions.

CURT NEWTON: Yep. You can even go straight to us through social media. Tweet us at @ClimateX_MIT.

RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And we're also on Facebook.

LAURA: Yep. We're everywhere.


RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Indeed. Like the climate.


CURT NEWTON: All right.

LAURA: Awesome.

CURT NEWTON: Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Rajesh.

LAURA: Thanks, guys.







Diana Chapman Walsh's picture

Thanks for the good

Thanks for the good conversation, Rajesh, Curt and Laura. I'm grateful for your work. This second of your conversations provided fascinating food for thought about "modeling" of two kinds -- statistical and role (as in being a role model). John was a role model in this conversation with you --the scientist in society who hews to the facts and the findings while also struggling to communicate the urgency of this moment. He didn't mention, but hinted at, the NPR interview he did immediately after Trump appropriated and distorted his work. I agree that we need our scientists to stay with their science but when its integrity is being undermined, I think its valuable for the rest of us to feel them pushing back, in controlled anger and frustration. I wrote a blog post about that interview, and a more recent one that touched on the burden scientists carry and should not have to carry alone. Here are the links in case they're of interest.

Rick Shankman's picture

Rajesh, the déjà vu you are

Rajesh, the déjà vu you are feeling regarding renewables investment may be by design. Money is spent, a few get rich, but in the end with these recurring political cycles... a zero-sum game and maintenance of the status quo (a fossil fuel-based world economy).

Curt Newton's picture

I really appreciate the

I really appreciate the segment where John talks about emotion vs. pure scientific objectivity, and the need for scientists to have more follow-through conversations with communities as modeling data makes its way toward policy (starting around 22:10).

Rajesh Kasturirangan's picture

I love it when John reminds

I love it when John reminds us that way back when the Carter administration started the first burst of investing in renewables and then Reagan's election ended that boom. Deja vu all over again.