What is the climate innovation gap?

Are we investing enough resources in science and climate research? Over the last decade, federal spending on research and development as a percentage of our country’s GDP has been declining. Peter deMenocal, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate and Life, argues that the shortfall is creating an innovation gap that could impact the security of our food, water, and shelter.

TRANSCRIPT

ARE WE INVESTING ENOUGH RESOURCES IN SCIENCE AND CLIMATE RESEARCH?

OVER THE LAST DECADE, FEDERAL SPENDING ON RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AS A PERCENTAGE OF OUR COUNTRY'S GDP HAS BEEN DECLINING.

PETER DE MENOCAL, DIRECTOR OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S CENTER FOR CLIMATE AND LIFE, ARGUES THAT THE SHORTFALL IS CREATING AN INNOVATION GAP THAT COULD IMPACT THE SECURITY OF OUR FOOD, WATER, AND SHELTER.

SO, WHAT IS THE CLIMATE INNOVATION GAP?

SO, THE CLIMATE INNOVATION GAP IS REALLY, SIMPLY PUT, THAT WE'RE NOT UNDERSTANDING HOW CLIMATE IS GOING TO IMPACT THE THINGS THAT MATTER TO US MOST.

WHILE THIS YEAR JUST ANNOUNCED -- OR WE ANNOUNCED LAST YEAR THAT THE GLOBAL TEMPERATURE WAS THE HIGHEST EVER RECORDED BY ACTUALLY A VERY SIGNIFICANT MARGIN, THAT'S REALLY NOT WHAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT.

WHAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT IS HOW IT'S GOING TO IMPACT THINGS THAT MATTER TO THEM.

THIS IS THE CLIMATE INNOVATION GAP, WHICH IS THAT WE REALLY DON'T HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE TO INFORM HUMANITY OF HOW CLIMATE IS GOING TO IMPACT THE THINGS THAT MATTER TO THEM MOST -- FOOD, WATER, SHELTER, AND ENERGY.

SO, WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT INNOVATION, THERE ARE SOLUTIONS THAT ARE BEING CREATED FOR SOME OF THESE PROBLEMS.

I MEAN, BESIDES THE CAUSES, JUST THE EFFECTS, RIGHT?

AND ARE YOU SAYING THAT WE'RE NOT INVESTING IN THE RESEARCH TO FIND THOSE SOLUTIONS, THAT SOMEBODY ELSE IS?

WE'RE JUST NOT FOCUSING OUR ATTENTION ON THAT.

WHAT WE'VE BEEN FOCUSING OUR ATTENTION ON IN THE CLIMATE SCIENCE COMMUNITY HAS BEEN THE SORT OF MORE THORNY PROBLEMS OF THE DYNAMICS OF HOW CLIMATE IS CHANGING, BUT THE TRICKLE-DOWN IMPACT OF GLOBAL WARMING, IF YOU WILL, IS THAT IT WILL BE IMPACTING HOW MUCH RAINFALL SPECIFIC REGIONS GET, HOW MUCH -- HOW MORE FREQUENT HEAT WAVES WILL BE IN AGRICULTURAL REGIONS, HOW SEA LEVEL WILL BE IMPACTING URBAN CITIES AND COASTAL INFRASTRUCTURE.

SO THESE ARE REALLY FUNDAMENTAL FIRST-ORDER QUESTIONS THAT WE HAVE ABOUT HUMAN SUSTAINABILITY THAT WE -- THAT THE SCIENCE COMMUNITY REALLY DOESN'T HAVE ANSWERS TO.

SO, HOW DOES FILLING THIS GAP TURN INTO KIND OF AN ECONOMIC BENEFIT FOR US?

SO, THERE WAS A REPORT THAT CAME OUT JUST LAST YEAR CALLED 'RISKY BUSINESS,' LED BY MICHAEL BLOOMBERG AND OTHERS.

AND THAT WAS AN AMERICAN RESPONSE TO A STUDY THAT WAS DONE IN THE U.K. RECENTLY TO ACTUALLY EXAMINE THE ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

AND AGAIN, THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ARE NOT REALLY TIED TO THE SORT OF GLOBAL MEAN TEMPERATURE THAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT.

IT'S VERY REAL THINGS -- YOU KNOW, THE PRICE OF THE WHEATIES ON YOUR BREAKFAST TABLE, THE AVAILABILITY OF WATER IN A HOUSING DISTRICT, THE SECURITY OF SEA-LEVEL RISE AND COASTAL DEVELOPMENT.

SO THERE ARE REAL PRICE TAGS ATTACHED TO THIS.

I MEAN, SOME OF THE STATISTICS ARE JUST AMAZING.

FOR EXAMPLE, CROP YIELDS DECREASE BY 5% TO 15% IN THE COMING DECADES DUE TO INCREASED HEAT EVENTS.

SO HOW DO YOU GET, YOU KNOW -- SO HOW DO YOU MAKE THAT CONNECTION BETWEEN WHAT'S HAPPENING IN FEDERAL FUNDING AND WHAT THESE EVENTS ARE LIKELY TO DO TO OUR ECONOMY?

RIGHT, SO THIS IS WHERE I THINK THE OPPORTUNITY IS, IS THAT IT'S CLEAR IN THIS COUNTRY AT THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME THAT HAVING THE GOVERNMENT COME TO THE RESCUE IS REALLY NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

AND I THINK THIS IS WHERE THE OPPORTUNITY IS, IS THAT THERE'S A LOT OF MONEY TO BE MADE IN UNDERSTANDING WHERE RISK IS IN TERMS OF HOW IT IMPACTS THE U.S.

ECONOMY, AND THERE'S ALSO A LOT OF MONEY NOT TO BE LOST BY KNOWING WHERE THE RISKS ARE.

AND SO, BY RECOGNIZING OPPORTUNITIES AS WELL AS RISKS AND BASICALLY PLACING BETS ON THOSE, THE WORST THING THAT WE CAN DO IS TO BET AGAINST PHYSICS.

THE PHYSICS ARE GONNA HAPPEN.

THE KNOCK-ON EFFECTS RELATED TO THE GENERAL GLOBAL WARMING, IN TERMS OF HOW IT IMPACTS THE THINGS THAT MATTER TO HUMANITY, THOSE THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN.

THE WORST THING THAT WE CAN DO IS BE REACTIVE TO THOSE CHANGES, JUST USING OUR ANIMAL BRAIN, IF YOU WILL, TO JUST BE THINKING QUICKLY BUT INCOMPLETELY ABOUT THE PROBLEM.

THE BEST THING WE CAN DO IS TO REALLY COME UP WITH A VERY DETAILED, RATIONAL, THOUGHTFUL PLAN THAT ALLOWS THE BUSINESS SECTOR TO BASICALLY COME TO THE RESCUE, AND I THINK BUSINESS AND FINANCE CAN ACTUALLY LEAD THE WAY INTO THE FUTURE.

SO, YOU'VE ALSO WRITTEN BEFORE THAT IT'S ALMOST LIKE THERE'S A COUNTERPRODUCTIVE NATURE TO THE DOOM AND GLOOM...

ABSOLUTELY.

...RIGHT, THAT IT DOESN'T HELP PEOPLE TURN A CORNER AND SAY THAT, AS YOU JUST POINTED OUT, THAT THERE'S ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS PROBLEM?

YOU KNOW, HARI, I'M REALLY GLAD YOU BROUGHT THAT UP.

I MEAN, I THINK THAT'S THE BIGGEST MISSTEP THAT I THINK WE'VE MADE IN THE PAST COUPLE OF DECADES, IS REALLY FOCUSING ON THE DOOM AND GLOOM MESSAGING TIED TO CLIMATE CHANGE.

YES, A LOT OF THE STUFF IS ALARMING, AND ONE CAN SAY ONE'S ALARMIST TO TALK ABOUT THOSE ISSUES.

BUT THE BIGGER ISSUE IS THAT PEOPLE BECOME PARALYZED BY FEAR.

AND THAT'S NOT THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO THIS CRISIS.

THE WAY TO DEAL WITH IT, IN MY OPINION, IS TO COME UP WITH THE BEST SCIENCE POSSIBLE TO TELL US WHAT THE BEST STEP FORWARD IS, AND USE THAT KNOWLEDGE TO MAKE WISE CHOICES.

THE CLASSIC EXAMPLE WOULD BE, YOU KNOW, THE APOLLO MISSION.

YOU KNOW, WE DIDN'T JUST GO UP THERE ON A WHIM AND A PRAYER.

WE WENT THERE WITH OUR BEST ENGINEERS, OUR BEST SCIENTISTS, AND AS A RESULT, WE WERE SUCCESSFUL.

WE NEED TO HAVE THAT SAME APPLICATION TOWARD THIS VERY REAL EXISTENTIAL PROBLEM.

ALL RIGHT.

PETER DE MENOCAL FROM COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S CLIMATE -- CENTER FOR CLIMATE AND LIFE, THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME, HARI.