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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
The Road To Change: America's Climate Crisis. Aired 10-11:30p ET
Aired August 8, 2020 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: They say there are only three kinds of stories. Man versus nature.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One small step for man.
WEIR: Man versus man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First you duck, then you cover.
WEIR: And man versus himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a crook.
WEIR: The story we're about to chase has all three. Several billion times over. The cast includes you, everyone you'll ever meet and every living thing. The stage is the entire planet and the stakes, 100 miles. Only the end of life as we know it.
But this is not a show about the end of the world. The world will be just fine. The world has been spinning through fire and ice for over 4 billion years. No, I'm talking about us, life as we know it. The modern human world. That could only be built on a living planet with a Goldilocks climate, not too hot, not too cold.
But now the world's scientists are urgently trying to tell us, Goldilocks is dying. So this is a road trip into American's stories of man versus nature, his neighbors and himself as seas rise, mountains burn and economy shift. And it's a search for ways to turn our denial or depression into action.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is only the beginning.
WEIR: Save the lives of millions we will never meet, and a few we know really well. This is "The Road to Change".
Let's start with a confession. For years, I considered myself the luckiest SOB in television news. Got to chase stories all over the globe. But --
Everything God made is gone. Look at this. Each trip brought fresh insight. It's like a Lonemore and the sky came down. And how much we're losing, and how much we have lost.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: 50 years ago, 60,000 acres might burn in a year. Last year it was almost 2 million acres.
WEIR: And now with every unnatural disaster --
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: A report out today from the United Nations warns that climate change is having a devastating impact.
WEIR: Every horrifying warning from science.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This report paints a deadly picture for people right here in the United States.
WEIR: And every willfully ignorance shrug from the people in charge.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of this with the global warming and that a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax.
WEIR: My wonder and gratitude turned into worry and grief. And I'm not alone. Since so many share this feeling, the American Psychological Association came up with a name for it -- eco-anxiety.
RENEE LERTZMAN, CLIMATE, ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST: What we're not doing is acknowledging the bigness of it.
WEIR: Renee Lertzman studies the psychology of the climate crisis.
LERTZMAN: Suddenly we're coming along and saying guess what, everything that you thought was really amazing about being humans, all these incredible developments, travel, food production, industrialization that humans have benefited so much from and are very proud of. It's like all of a sudden, the narrative changes and it's like, this is all actually destroying our planet. Destroying lives that you care about and destroying the beings that we love. So that's a pretty intense message.
WEIR: It's big enough to short circuit our brains in a way, right?
WEIR: Our emotions.
WEIR: But how did we get here? How did good people with good intentions pave our road to hell? Maybe we should start on Highway 1, a prime example of nature versus human nature. I mean, look at this, I'm driving on a highway over the ocean. The question now though is for how long.
You know, this was originally the overseas railroad, built by an oil man named Henry Flagler, driven by the audacious vision, a turning sea and swamp into paradise. Man, if he could see it now. But 20 years before Flagler found Florida, a woman in Upstate New York discovered something even more profound. Her name was Eunice Newton Foote, she was a founding feminist, artists and scientist. Who discovered that when you fill glass cylinders with different gasses and put them in the sun, carbon dioxide traps the most heat and atmosphere of that gas would give our earth a high temperature, she wrote.
Go back then, nobody paid attention to scientists in skirts. And even at countless men duplicated her discovery, there was no stopping the industrial revolution. Coal and oil transformed humanity, built the modern world, complete with overseas highways. But all that burning also built an invisible greenhouse in the sky. And thanks to all that heat trapping gas, just the oceans are absorbing as much extra heat as five Hiroshima-size atomic bombs every second of every minute of every day.
Eunice Foote was right. And 163 years later on Independence Day 2019, anchorage was hotter than Key West.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole lake was -- there was no lake in the early 1950s. So the ice went all the way down to the --
WEIR: Right, to end of the lake.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: End of the lake down there. Right.
WEIR: This is what is left of Alaska's spencer glacier. What took thousands of years of snow to grow has melted away in mere decades.
BRIAN BRETTSCHNEIDER, CLIMATE SCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA: The ice that we're standing on is probably about 5,000 years old. Once this water melts off and goes into the ocean, as long as we have all this carbon dioxide in the atmosphere --
BRETTSCHNEIDER: -- it's not coming back here.
WEIR: And if you count Greenland and the polar caps, since 1961, earth has lost the equivalent of a block of ice, the size of the United States 16 feet thick. Satellites and computer models get better by the year. New science shows that predictions of sea level rise have been wildly conservative. From Bangkok to Boston, Shanghai to Charleston, it is now projected that 150 million people will be living below high tide by 2015.
BEN KIRTMAN, PROFESSOR OF ATMOSPHERE SCIENCES UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI ROSENSTIEL SCHOOL: We're committed to about 1 foot, maybe 1.5 foot of sea level rise here.
WEIR: And by the end of the century, by 2100?
KIRTMAN: By the end of 2100, it could be anywhere between 3 feet and 6 feet.
WEIR: Some of your colleagues, they're predicting 15 feet of sea level rise.
WEIR: Which means Miami's gone, right?
KIRTMAN: Yes. 15 feet is a serious problem.
WEIR: Are they doomsayers? Are they overly pessimistic?
KIRTMAN: What they're trying to tell us is if we remain on this trajectory, then there's a real possibility what they're suggesting could happen. It's not out of bounds. It's not a radical state.
WEIR: Next up -- Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI, FL: How are you doing?
WEIR: We'll check with the movers and shakers.
SUAREZ: The fear is palpable here in Miami.
WEIR: And builders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to have pervious materials below flood.
WEIR: To see how well they're prepared, and how neighbors of the future might survive.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): I do solemnly swear that I shall faithfully serve Underwater Homeowner's Association.
WEIR: This was supposed to be a road trip into the future. With science as my map, I set out to imagine how America would be transformed by the climate crisis.
But I quickly learned that the future is now because we are the first humans ever to walk on a planet this hot. So nobody knows what comes next.
DAVID WALLACE-WELLS, AUTHOR, "THE UNINHABITABLE EARTH": Even if we take dramatic action and avoid some of the worst impacts, the world will be so totally transformed by the action that we do take. That the planet will be unrecognizable.
WEIR: One way or another.
WALLACE-WELLS: One way the other.
WEIR: We're not going back to Goldilocks. WALLACE-WELLS: Even if we managed to avoid really dramatic warming, that will mean solar arrays everywhere you look. Carbon capture plantations, miles wide, a whole new way of growing food, a whole new kind of airplane, whole new kind of concrete. Every single building on the planet will have to be retrofitted, every single one. If we do nothing, our world will be transformed. And if we take action to solve it, our world will be transformed too.
WEIR: When I realized we're living through the end of as we know it, it began to feel like a road trip through the five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Miami shows signs of all five at once.
SAM PURKIS, PROFESSOR OF MARINE GEOSCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI ROSENSTIEL SCHOOL: So 125,000 years ago, all of South Florida was underwater. What these hills are, are marine sand chunks and the valleys of the tidal channels which cut between them. But the irony is, is what happened back then 125,000 years ago is going to dictate what happens to your house now.
WEIR: Today around the U.S., close to 100 coastal communities face chronic flooding due to sea level rise. The Union of Concerned Scientists says that number could jump to 170 just in the next 15 years. Meanwhile, in Miami, everybody knows they're living on porous limestone. Everybody sees how saltwater bubbles up at King Tide. And the University of Miami study says flooding events have gone up 400 percent since 2006.
But between the floods and storms, it's freaking gorgeous. It's estimated that the population of Florida is growing at about 38 people an hour. And it's hard to find a developer or politician eager to sound the alarm that the water will come.
JEFF GOODELL, AUTHOR, "THE WATER WILL COME": Their basic message is that we can deal with this.
GOODELL: We --
WEIR: Nobody can.
GOODELL: Not in the long run, whether it will be a floating city, whether it will be an abandoned city. I don't know what it will be, but it will not look at all like this city.
WEIR: But it's a short drive from denial downtown to bargaining, depression and acceptance in Pinecrest. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I live in Pinecrest. I'm at 11.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm 8.54 feet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Celvit (ph), I'm nine.
WEIR: Where neighbors have formed America's first Underwater Homeowner's Association.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm at 7 feet, lower than I thought, to be honest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Judy (ph), and I'm here for hope and for inspiration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was some really negative response where people recoil and say, why are you doing this? You're going to hurt us and hurt our property values, which I found to be part of the cancer I'm trying to cure.
WEIR: It is the brainchild of artists and activists, Xavier Cortada.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's happening in our community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before water covers the street in the next century, there will be an aquifer below it that will not give you the fresh water that you drink in these homes. And before that happens, there's going to be a flood insurance rise. As that happens, there's going to be property devaluation because all of a sudden the psychology of a house being an investment is going to be starting to turn on its head.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now my home is in danger, a whole bunch of homes next to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fear is palpable here in Miami. So what I wanted to do is give people a mechanism for coping and dealing with that fear and preparing for the inevitable.
WEIR: But they all know they can't do it alone. They need help from people in power.
You are Republican.
WEIR: What is it like being associated with a party in which climate change denial seems to be a main plank in the platform?
SUAREZ: Well, I'll tell you, for me denying climatic events is just not an option because I live it. We want to push back on what people are trying to brand us with, which is not accurate,
WEIR: Which is what?
SUAREZ: Which is that we're going to be underwater in 1,500 years when we know that that's not going to happen. [22:20:00]
WEIR: But how can you say that for sure?
SUAREZ: Because we're planning for it and we're making significant investments hundreds of millions of dollars, and hopefully billions of dollars into the future to make sure that doesn't happen.
WEIR: They've raised their wastewater treatment plant to handle 3 feet to 4 feet of sea level rise. And in 2017, voters raised their own taxes. The Miami Forever Fund devotes 400 million bucks to higher streets, bigger pumps and better drainage. But that's just a drop in a smelly bucket when you consider that Miami-Dade County needs over seven times that amount to fortify all their septic tanks. And if they fail, it's everyone's mess. Even those on ultra-ritzy Fisher Island.
What does it say about the human condition that the most expensive zip code is also one of the most vulnerable to a changing planet.
JAMES F. MURLEY, CHIEF RESILIENCY OFFICER, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: People at that income level have a lot more options than a lot of the rest of us. They can invest in upgrading their sea walls, their buildings.
WEIR: A sweeping new report by worldwide consulting giant McKinsey found that flood prone homes could lose 5 percent to 15 percent in value this decade and up to 35 percent by 2050. Which has some scrambling to protect their investment.
The plan is to raise the sea wall to here.
MURLEY: It will be about this high.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Traditionally, you would build at FEMA base flood, and one foot of freeboard. And in Miami Beach, what we're saying is you can actually build 1 feet to 5 feet higher.
WEIR: So do you worry about banks or insurance companies at some point decided, you know what, we're not going to write 30 year mortgages.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're having those conversations.
WEIR: As a developer, do you now have an ethical obligation to try to convince a customer to build higher?
TODD MICHAEL GLASER, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: We have those conversations, and it's also $1.1, because the higher you go, the more money it is.
WEIR: But as the haves (ph) decide between luxury appliances and altitude, the have (ph) nots in Little Haiti are worried about something else.
MARLEINE BASTIEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAMILY ACTION NETWORK: This one is a Haitian church. He's being pressured every day, sell, sell, sell, sell. WEIR: The descendants of the workers who built Henry Flagler's railroad and immigrants who could only afford to buy on the wrong side of the tracks are now 3 feet higher than their rich neighbors.
BASTIEN: They are being pushed out from their homes, from their businesses. We are now --
WEIR: Because high ground is valued property now.
BASTIEN: Believe it or not, we didn't know that.
WEIR: But even a few extra feet of altitude, may not save you from a next level hurricane.
Next up, how the fingerprints of an unnatural storm could be used to challenge the fossil fuel giants.
KIRTMAN: This is a unique, one in the world, air sealed (ph) action tank.
WEIR: In a big moist room at the University of Miami, there is a box full of hurricanes. Wow, that's incredible.
A multi-million dollar storm simulations built to better understand the power of wind, water and heat.
KIRTMAN: The amount of moisture that can evaporate from the surface of the ocean is very, very sensitive to temperature. So small increases in temperature lead to large increases in evaporation.
Evaporation is the fuel that drives the storm. If you warm up the ocean a little bit, get a big response in evaporation that gives you a big response in the intensity of storms.
WEIR: At least one study predicts that by century's end, the number of cat 4 and 5 storms in the Atlantic basin will increase by 45 percent to 87 percent.
But while they can predict the behavior of nature during a hurricane, it's much harder to predict human nature after modern storms past. Wow, look at that. See right into that kitchen.
MAYOR AL CATHEY, MEXICO BEACH, FL: Yes.
WEIR: Wow. This was Mexico Beach, Florida, three months after Hurricane Michael. Once known as Mayberry by the Sea. The Panhandle town lost three lives, 90 percent of its buildings were damaged, and there's no telling how many residents left that will never come back.
CATHEY: It's hard to ignore what the data that is being put out about global warming and the oceans around our continent and the rise of those. WEIR: Yes. And knowing that though, would you invest here? Would you build right here?
CATHEY: No. My house is over there. OK? No.
WEIR: But at what point is there a moral obligation from leaders, from business to say, I'm sorry, you can't build there anymore. Unless you take all the risk.
CATHEY: You have to think of the economics of that. What becomes of the most valuable tax base lots in not only Mexico Beach but along the coast?
CATHEY: Is the state willing to buy your property?
WEIR: Because the value of that lot pays your cops, your teachers?
CATHEY: That's right, they pay it all. Sugar sand (ph). That's exactly right.
WEIR: The Mayor tells me he has an annual budget of $3.5 million. But just the clean-up from Michael is estimated to cost up to $60 million.
So in a future of storms made bigger, stronger and wetter, by the burning of fossil fuels, some wonder whether fossil fuel corporations like this one should help cover the tab. The Motiva refinery is the biggest in North America and it's owned by a Saudi Arabian company that made $111 billion profit in 2018, almost twice as much as Apple.
Meanwhile, their neighbor who lives here was driven out by the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey and almost two years later, can't afford the repairs to move back in.
Motiva and 20 other fossil fuel companies are being sued by Rhode Island for their partial responsibility for our once and future climate crisis. And while the companies are fighting the first ever liability suit of its kind, Motiva's parent company acknowledged in a recent financial disclosure that claims such as these could grow in number.
JOHN SUTTER, CNN CLIMATE CHANGE ANALYST: So climate attribution science, I think, is one of the biggest advances in our understanding of climate change in the last 10 years.
And basically this is researchers looking for human fingerprints on the storms. I also think it'll become important in courtrooms in the future as people continue to sue fossil fuel companies and governments that are supporting these industries that we know are making the planet more ExxonMobil dangerous.
WEIR: That's the thing that's so controversial, right?
WEIR: A day when you could sue ExxonMobil for 50 percent of your losses to that storm.
SUTTER: That's already happening to some degree.
WEIR: After Rhode Island, New York State did sue ExxonMobil for allegedly defrauding investors about the true cost of climate change. And while the judge ruled New York didn't show enough evidence, he wrote that nothing in this opinion is obtunded to absolve ExxonMobil from responsibility, for contributing to climate change.
And while a federal appeals court ended the climate kids bid to sue the federal government for lack of climate action, court fights over liability have only just begun.
I think that this is a growing area, very litigious area, because someone is to blame for these losses that are occurring. And everyone's trying to figure out through the legal mix of who and how and how much.
Do you see your town as a victim of this new normal, as a victim of a changing climate? No?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't. I see us as a victim of Mother Nature in terms of Hurricane Michael. I've been here 65 years. And for 64 of those years, we have been just fine.
WEIR: That, my friends, is human nature. Even for those like the mayor who acknowledged the science. The attitude is never surrender. Always rebuild. Hashtag my town is strong. But it's not just beach towns doing the grim math of resilience these days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy mighty God, we thank you for this time to come together that we can put our faith into action and address climate change.
WEIR: Next up, we head to the heartland for the people who grow our food are hoping, praying, and rethinking everything they know about farming.
WEIR: It has been said that once in your life you may need a doctor or a lawyer, but every day you need a farmer. When they hurt, we hurt. And if you make a living with soil, seeds, and sun, few things hurt more than unpredictable weather.
MATT RUSSELL, FARMER, COYOTE RUN FARM: And I'm checking cattle with snow blowing into my face and I come around the corner and I'm hearing the frogs chirping in a snow blizzard. It was just weird. I'm like, this is what climate change is, the wrong weather, the wrong time with devastating consequences.
WEIR: Matt Russell works Coyote Run Farm in Southern Iowa with his husband and adopted sons.
RUSSELL: This spring, we just got hammered with rain, just hammered.
WEIR: And like their neighbor, Justin Jordan. They are still reeling from the wettest 12 month period the United States has ever recorded.
RUSSELL: And you also see how short this corn is. Normally, this tassel will be at the top of my fingertips, eight feet tall.
WEIR: He took a 20 percent hit, but at least he had a crop. Thanks to freakish balms cyclones and levee smashing floods, a staggering 19 million acres went unplanted across the country. And almost a third of farm income came from federal bailouts or insurance.
RUSSELL: Holy Mighty God, we thank you for this time to come together.
WEIR: So you can't blame them for praying. But this is a different kind of devotional.
RUSSELL: Then we can put our faith into action to address climate change.
WEIR: Interfaith Power & Light is a national organization devoted to using faith to fight the climate crisis.
RUSSELL: We need to be a leader in that.
WEIR: Farmer Matt heads the Iowa chapter.
RUSSELL: I'd say the majority of farmers don't believe it. And, yes, it's a sensitive issue. And it's tied back to politics to it.
WEIR: And that's the sad part is this isn't rainbows and unicorns. And I think this is proven stop.
RUSSELL: The question we asked then is, as a farmer, how does God call you and your vocation? And so they'll talk about, we feed people, we steward our land, and then we'll shift too. In this climate crisis, what are you seeing? That's an invitation to talk about how they can solve it. We've been so divided politically on the issue of climate change.
WEIR: That even if people believe in it and want to help, they're afraid to say anything.
WEIR: Sort of, you know, being judged by the neighbors or something, right?
RUSSELL: Yes, by other farmers, by groups.
I know that some of my neighbors kind of, well, I don't know if they laugh at me, but they probably do. But at the same time, I still love my neighbor. I'll still do anything for my neighbor. But you just, I hate seeing this polarization keep people from doing things that would be beneficial.
WEIR: Meanwhile, farm debt is the highest in decades. And for the first time, America's farm bill includes $50 million for rural mental health care and suicide prevention.
So it's a fair question to ask who in their right mind would possibly want to get into this business and feed the world in the next generation. But here's the good news. Right now, every corn plant in this field is pulling carbon out of the sky and putting it in the ground. And with the right financial incentives and the right innovation, they can keep it there and still feed the world.
Iowa and Nebraska could be giant carbon sinks. And unlike drillers and miners and frackers, these farmers won't have to change careers in order to help save life as we know it.
It is called regenerative agriculture or carbon farming. It involves less tilling and chemicals, more cover crops and natural microbes, less monocrop factory farms, more trees and wild prairies and biodiversity.
RUSSELL: Just listen to all the birds too, something you don't hear when you walk out in a cornfield. I mean, there's just so much more, not only the plant biodiversity, but the wildlife diversity.
WEIR: Life, life.
RUSSELL: Exactly, exactly.
WEIR: And one big cheerleader for this idea happens to be a famous farm boy from Tennessee.
If you're looking for common ground in rural America --
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
WEIR: It's the ground.
GORE: It's the ground. My father taught me a lesson when I was about five years old, where to find the best most productive soil. And I held it in my hand and it was black and moist. But I'm embarrassed to tell you that it was 50 years later that I understood why it was black. That's the carbon.
WEIR: Since Earth soil holds four times, the carbon is all living plants and animals combined. Gore's farm east of Nashville is a working, growing laboratory to figure out the best way to keep it out of the sky and in the ground.
There's a perception out there that this kind of farming is for the Amish or for hippies or for small elites who can afford organic produce. Does this scale?
GORE: Yes, I think it does. You used to hear that same argument applied to solar panels where it's all, yes, you know, the wealthy elites can install solar panels. But look at what's happening now in subdivisions and places all over the country, people are putting in solar panels because they're getting cheaper electricity. I think the same thing's going to happen with regenerative agriculture.
WEIR: I came across a startling fact recently that humanity has burned more carbon since your first book came out.
GORE: Yes, yes.
WEIR: Then in all of human history --
GORE: Yes, yes.
WEIR: -- before that, where still going completely --
WEIR: No, no, I'm just saying --
GORE: I know your point.
WEIR: I'm just saying, despite your best efforts we live both globally and locally in a growth perpetual growth idea.
GORE: Yes, that's right.
WEIR: And you don't get elected and you don't get a board seat these days by saying, you know what, we should slow down.
GORE: We're in, as they say, a male of a house. We've really got a big challenge on our hands. The biggest challenge human civilizations ever faced, really.
WEIR: But the former vice does not agree that humanity must first process through the five stages of grief.
GORE: We have not been condemned to a death sentence. There is a group of people that seem to be eager to go from denial to despair without pausing on the intermediate step of solving the damn problem and doing the things that we can do now. And the good news is the solutions are not utopian. They are available.
WEIR: But even with all the technology, even with plenty of will.
RUSSELL: I can at least say I tried to do something.
WEIR: A whole lot of faith.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We pray in your name, amen.
WEIR: So much of this story comes down to politics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no man made climate change. WEIR: A dive into partisan division fueled by fossil fuel.
But first, a trip to fire country where they are learning now more than ever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only you can prevent forest fires.
WEIR: Smokey Bear is wrong.
WEIR: Bless his cartoon heart. But for nearly 75 years, our friend Smokey Bear has been mostly wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So remember, only you can prevent forest fires.
WEIR: No, you can't. Sure, the vast majority of forest fires are human caused, but the fire set by lightning often burn more acres than the ones set by people. In fact, some of the recent epic blazes in Australia were so big, there's smoke columns created lightning, which started more fires.
And as the American west warmed 59 percent faster than the rest of the planet since 1970, more droughts and more infestation of tree killing beetles turn forest into fuel just as millions of people with their campfires, cigarettes, and power lines came searching for Paradise.
MICHAEL ZUCCOLILLO, PARADISE TOWN COUNCIL MEMBER: That's how hot things got. That's a water meter.
WEIR: Yeah, and it just melted it.
WEIR: And then when the system depressurized, it sucked in all that toxic.
ZUCCOLILLO: That's the belief.
Around the time the camp fire through Paradise, the deadliest in California history. The fourth national climate assessment predicted that by 2050, the size of western wildfires could increase two to six times. And that's sobering because Paradise is a case study that when the smoke clears, the nightmare has only just begun.
And in the meantime, you can drink the water.
ZUCCOLILLO: You can't drink the water.
WEIR: And after wildfires rip from wine country in the north to the mansions of Malibu and the south. An industry analysis found that insurance companies paid out twice as much in two years than they took in profit over 26.
JIM COMISKY, BATTALION CHIEF, SONOMA VALLEY FIRE AND RESCUE: And I'll guarantee you, many of those people up there are grossly uninsured or maybe even under-insured because the insurance services offices have really cracked down. If you're in a fire prone area, they are doubling, tripling your insurance costs or cancelling you.
WEIR: This is my old college apartment in Malibu. I couldn't afford insurance back in the day. I can only hope that whoever lived here during the Woolsey fire was covered.
You have a list of addresses that are covered by your company.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do.
WEIR: And since public first responders have been so strapped, private for profit firefighting companies are booming. The kind used by Kim Cardassian and Kanye West to protect their Calabasas mansion in the same blaze that took my college apartment.
Have you ever come across a house that's engulfed and it's nowhere near one of your houses and you just have to drive on by?
KRIS BRANDINI, PRESIDENT, FIREBREAK PROTECTION SYSTEMS: Yes and no. I've also done some pro bono work, too, because had we not done anything about it, the house would have been gone.
WEIR: When America was new, firefighting was a private enterprise. There was Ben Franklin, who created the first bucket brigades and sold the idea that if everyone helps put up the poor neighbors house, the community saves itself.
Do you think with the fires getting as bad as they are, the trends, we could keep going back to that model where --
WEIR: -- you guys could do to fire departments, what Uber drivers do to taxi drivers, like I call you to come put out my house and pay you?
BRANDINI: I think. Yes, I do think it's going to possibly go that way. And, you know, people say, well, we cater the rich. We don't. As you see it, the resources are so thin, they're so spread out. We've got these fires just going crazy, you know, I mean, would you do it?
WEIR: Yes. It's a little bit -- like my family, sure.
Do you imagine a future where it's the haves and the have nots when it comes to defending your house against a wildfire?
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Yes. I'm not going to imagine that future because I'm hired to manifest a different future.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you guys are going to do something about it? WEIR: Gavin Newsom ran on promises to move California into a carbon free future. But as governor, he has been consumed by fire and all its complications, like PG&E, the state's largest utility company blamed for a series of blazes with liability lawsuits, pushing them into bankruptcy like the families burned into homelessness in the middle of a housing crisis. And towns like Paradise struggling to rebuild.
NEWSOM: It should not be a state of has and have nots that can protect themselves. It's incumbent upon elected officials of all political stripes to protect the most vulnerable. And we're prioritizing the most vulnerable.
WEIR: But let's just put it in dollar figures. How much does the camp fire cost just to fight, just to put out the flames?
NEWSOM: It is jaw dropping the numbers. And they continue to escalate. Just the debris removal is in the multi not billion, multibillion dollar expense.
WEIR: Since the camp fire started on federal land, some argue for more logging there to thin fuel.
CHAD HANSON, DIRECTOR AND PRINCIPAL ECOLOGIST, JOHN MUIR PROJECT: That's the direction the fire spread.
WEIR: But naturalists point out, life as we know it now calls for more forests, not less.
HANSON: And we have to also be willing to be skeptical about agencies and companies that are in the logging business that say they're going to somehow save towns from fire by doing a bunch of logging deep out in the forest, because that's exactly what they did here. And we saw the tragic consequences of that in the campfire.
WEIR: Yes, a decade before the deadliest blaze in state history, another fire burned the ridges above Paradise.
The timber companies logged this whole area and put in a plantation of Ponderosa pines, all with the argument that by managing the forest, man can prevent the next big fire. Exactly the opposite happened when the campfire came roaring over that ridge, it blasted through this logged area at a rate three times faster than average.
By some estimates, if they had let this go wild and not touched it, the people in Paradise would have had two extra hours to evacuate.
NEWSOM: A tree that falls in the first few years is indeed a problem from a fuels perspective, but a tree that's been that fell 5, 10, 15 years acts more as a sponge.
WEIR: New science and ancient wisdom are helping more folks understand that Western landscapes evolve to burn, they need fire to thrive.
HANSON: There's a bunch of native insects that actually depend on dead trees. WEIR: The bugs attract the woodpeckers, which make burrows for the bluebirds and flying squirrels which attract the hawks and so on through the web of life, all the way up to bears.
HANSON: But you can't have any of that unless you have fire or drought that kills patches of trees.
WEIR: A forest needs death to live.
WEIR: But now, more than ever, ecologists like Chad would try to convince our old friend to modify his message. Only you can prevent community fires. Instead of battling blazes deep in unpopulated woods, he says, let them burn and spend those resources defending homes and businesses in towns like Paradise.
NEWSOM: If folks think climate change is not real, if folk thinks, well, we can't afford to address climate change, my gosh, jaw dropping to me, the naivete of that because the most expensive option is doing nothing.
WEIR: Plenty will stay, rebuild, fight and adapt. But what do the folks smoked out of California or flooded out of Louisiana go?
If my land goes underwater, is it still my land?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Generally not.
WEIR: How hard is it to move entire towns?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody else is probably not moving.
Next stop, look at the next great migration.
WEIR: Next stop on the Road to Change, Louisiana, named after French king sold to us for less than three cents an acre. Good deal. But now this land is sinking, just as seas are rising.
Every hour of every day, a piece of Louisiana about the size of a football field slides into the sea.
TORBJORN TORNQVIST, VOKES GEOLOGY PROFESSOR, TULANE UNIVERSITY: For people who study sea level change like me, there has been a lot of change in just the last, say, five years.
WEIR: And those who study the drowning of Louisiana say it's happening faster than anyone ever predicted.
TORNQVIST: What maybe five years ago was the worst case scenario is now what we call a fairly likely scenario.
WEIR: That's terrifying.
TORNQVIST: It is terrifying. And it basically means climate change is here in full force.
WEIR: Do you have children?
TORNQVIST: I have an eight-year-old daughter.
WEIR: Do you think she will ever be able to say take out a 30 year mortgage in New Orleans?
TORNQVIST: I don't know. I don't know, that is -- I wouldn't bet my money on it. Let's put it that way.
JOHN CHARLES: This is for a regular high tide. There's no bad buddy event. This is just water coming in.
Woke up to this, Dalton and mom. Saturday 10 a.m., bye mamas.
WEIR: Two hours south of New Orleans is Isle de Jean Charles settled when a band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw needed a place to hide from the Trail of Tears.
CHRIS BRUNET, TRIBAL COUNCIL MEMBER, ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES RESIDENT: CDs to treat right here.
WEIR: For the first hundred years, they farm this land until saltwater came.
BRUNET: Whenever the water we get like this, you'd feel water right on any the floor of the house.
WEIR: They raised their homes a few feet. And then a few more. Until before and after satellite prove what they already knew 98% of their homeland has disappeared.
CHANTEL COMORDELLE, TRIBAL EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES RESIDENT: I always talk about water is our life and our death. If we weren't able to farm anymore, the waters the shrimp, the oysters, the crabs that sustain our people. Now it's killing us. It's killing us.
WEIR: So Isle de Jean Charles, one a first of its kind grant $48 million federal to move 40 miles north. The state bought 500 acres of old sugarcane fields.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have baseball fields, fishing poles, wetlands homes along the back.
WEIR: But before they could even break ground --
COMORDELLE: We just had a tribal meeting today.
WEIR: They're getting a harsh lesson and just how hard it is to convince Americans to uproot and retreat. COMORDELLE: Anybody else's probably not moving.
COMORDELLE: So, yeah.
WEIR: Half of the 30 families who live here, say they'll never leave. So I'm worried that if they can't pick their own land and neighbors, they'll lose tribal identity.
PAT FORBES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LOUISIANA OFFICE OF COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT: We can't discriminate against people. There's a Fair Housing Act that says you can't tell people they can or can't live here based on some characteristic that they have.
WEIR: Others like Chris have a hard time believing that glaciers melting so far away, could ever take his land.
MARK DAVIS, JD, DIRECTOR, TULANE INSTITUTE ON WATER RESOURCES LAW: I have trouble with that.
WEIR: So do you doubt that melting glaciers in Antarctica are going to affect you here?
DAVIS: Yes, yes.
WEIR: You doubt that?
DAVIS: Yes. Because this place has always been surrounded by water. You know, we've always been around water. And so if we would be thinking, I think we would be sunk.
WILLIAMS: If my land goes underwater due to sea level drop or rise, is it still my land?
BRUNET: Generally not.
BRUNET: Generally when land turns into open navigable water, the public owns it. And you don't get a check.
It's not underwater.
WEIR: But eventually it will be, right?
BRUNET: It's not there yet.
WEIR: All right.
BRUNET: And I heard that, but it's still on top.
WEIR: It's still dry. It's still yours.
BRUNET: And still mine. WEIR: If it is this hard to move, a few dozen people considered the most widely accepted estimate that by mid-century climate could displace 200 million at least 130,000 Puerto Ricans left their island right after Hurricane Maria.
Many of the folks I met there, after losing home and hope.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other devastation.
WEIR: Their American passport became their most valuable possession. And they're lucky compared to members of the migrant caravans in recent years, among them Central American farmers whose crops who'd failed and freak weather. So imagine what border crossings around the world might look like, as things get worse.
In the U.S., imagine another great migration, as folks seek safe harbor, a fresh starts like Okies who fled the Dust Bowl during the Depression. Such mass movement could eventually shift the entire electoral map, turning red states blue, blue states red and it'll change our very definition of neighbor and stranger.
So now might be a good time to better understand the human dynamic between those who believe the crisis is real and those who don't.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: You only have 11 years to live folks 11 years because climate change is just coming up on our sofa.
WEIR: Next up a journey into the House --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Climate gate.
WEIR: -- and was of denials.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were death threats made to me and to my family.
WEIR: For the last couple years, I have been pin balling between two Americans, the one that believes we're committing fossil fuel suicide, and the one that does not.
MICHAEL ZUCCOLILLO, PARADISE TOWN COUNCIL MEMBER: I've heard this thing about the climate change and the climate is changing. And I've yet to really see any substantial proof of it.
WEIR: And think that victims of record shattering fires, or drowning towns would be the most zealous believers in the warnings from science? But human nature doesn't work that way.
BRUNET: If I went to say that I was affected by the climate change taking place where the iceberg and the mountain is turning into water. I have trouble with that. [23:10:05]
WEIR: And sometimes --
So this is it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. This is it.
WEIR: Members of the two Americans share the same name, blood and hope.
You guys built this all yourselves?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, we just team effort.
WEIR: One boatload at a time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One boatload at a time, I mean. Oh, this is cozy.
WEIR: For generations, the Whitney family has been watching their beloved bios in southern Louisiana disappears.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you think about how much land we've lost just in our lifetime, it's pretty scary. There's nothing building it back up.
WEIR: But even though they were nurtured in the same nature, the brothers don't see eye to eye on why.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I sense a little bit of brotherly disagreement on whether manmade global warming is real?
WEIR: Yeah. I mean, I do believe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe and you don't.
WEIR: Yeah, I'm not a big believer in it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
WEIR: I guess I go from what I see. Right now most of the United States is clenched in ice. Niagara Falls is frozen over. I just don't see where the warming effect is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you tried to explain to them that climate change doesn't necessary mean we're all going to turn into the topics?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have just decided to agree to disagree.
WEIR: Oh, really? OK. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I think that the science seems to be pretty spot on that.
WEIR: We can hope your brother is right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
WEIR: Well as you know, just like we need to be stewards of our land and our Marsh and try to preserve it. I mean, we need to be conscious of what we're doing to the environment. We do need to be stewards of everything that we do on Earth.
RENEE LERTZMAN, AUTHOR, "ENVIRONMENTAL MELANCHOLIA": I could see him going out of his way to say, just because I don't believe in climate change doesn't mean I'm not interested being a steward of the land.
LERTZMAN: Not just felt very poignant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My grandfather originally had the property out here.
WEIR: When I discuss the Whitney brothers with climate psychologist Renee Lertzman, she urged me to consider the setting. This is oil country, or loyalty to neighbors and respect for tradition is just as important as being a good steward of the land.
So your company's on the property mostly for the mineral rights. But they've been very generous to allow people to lease surface rights.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
LERTZMAN: In my experience, when people have a hard time coming to terms with the reality that climate change is actually human created, that usually there's something going on that we're trying to protect. And it could be our deeply held loyalties to family to industry.
WEIR: Or for some folks.
ANDREW WHEELER: We keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Loyalty to a certain brand of politics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what this is? It's a snowball.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not call it the greatest crisis, Nasir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether it gets hotter or colder, the climates always changing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no man made climate change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is anything we do now going to make any significant difference? No, I am a denier. TRUMP: Something's changing, and it'll change back again. I don't think it's a hoax. I think there's probably a difference. But I don't know that it's man made.
WEIR: These days, it's hard to imagine the words conservative and conservation together. Even though they're just two letters apart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come to Rio with more scientific knowledge about the environment than ever before.
WEIR: But not that long ago, they were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come to Rio with an action plan on climate change.
WEIR: In '92, the first President Bush signed the first U.N. Climate Accord. The decade earlier, Exxon's own scientist, explained the greenhouse effect to their bosses and predicted with eerie precision, just how hot we would get.
So while today, Exxon insists that its understanding of climate change has tracked the scientific consensus. Internal Exxon documents show that they knew in '82. But what do they do? Drill, maybe drill and spin, maybe spin. By '88 they were officially emphasizing the uncertainty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Proponents of the global warming theory say that burning fossil fuels is the reason but scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect the global climate.
WEIR: And then in 2009, just as the world was poised to take real action at summit in Copenhagen. Hacked email controversy involving British scientists.
That's been dubbed climate gate. Emails that many say cast doubt on the entire science behind global warming claims.
WEIR: Someone hacked into a server at a university in England and stole over 1000 emails between climate scientists.
MICHAEL MANN, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE: I remember when I first learned of this there was a just before Thanksgiving 2009.
WEIR: Among the scientists whose emails were hacked, Penn State's Michael Mann, co-author of the famous hockey stick graph showing how Earth's temperature had jumped in the 20th century. Findings that have since been confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences.
MANN: They went through these stolen emails and cherry picked individual phrases.
WEIR: By suggesting that scientists were making it all up so called climate gate hijack the conversation at the worst possible time. MANN: There were actionable death threats made to me into my family.
WEIR: Multiple investigations from the EPA to the U.K. House of Commons cleared them and declared the climate gate, was a malevolent hoax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only wrongdoing was the theft, the criminal theft of the emails in the first place.
WEIR: But it only added more fossil fuel to the machinery of denial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last few 15 years, there has been no recorded warming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it was crazy to catch this.
WEIR: If we're all products of the stories we hear from the people we trust, it's no wonder that Republican Mike and Democrat Keith can look at the same disappearing land and disagree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a lot of good hearted people who have been convinced by their tribe, if they're loyal Republicans that they are supposed to deny the science of climate change.
WEIR: That may be true changing.
Sea pack is an annual gathering for the reddest of red blooded Republicans. So you believe that climate change, the climate crisis is a hustle?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In ways, yes, absolutely.
WEIR: But this year, to moves away from climate hustle to starring Kevin Sorbo, I met Kier (ph) O'Brian.
A vendor a few Sea packs in my day. And spotting a climate woke Republican who wants to have a carbon tax is like spotting a snow leopard in the wild. I mean, this is. So do you consider yourself sort of a Republican grata?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no. I see myself as a solution seeker. We've talked about the problems, we recognize the problems, and now we need to talk about solutions.
WEIR: She is a big fan of the Baker-Shultz plan, named after Ronald Reagan's cabinet members who helped write it, it would tax carbon emissions, and then divvy it up among Americans. The average family would get 2000 bucks a year to start, the both tax and dividends would ramp up until fossil fuels go the way of the dinosaurs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the solution that is backed by the largest statement of economists in the history of the profession of economics.
WEIR: No doubt political winds are shifting with the changes in the weather. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nothing we can do to stop whatever the weather is going to do. We can make it warmer we can make a call but
WEIR: But could they blow over a new age a will and innovation?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't just sit around waiting for hope to come.
WEIR: Next up on our journey, the search for hope.
WEIR: In ways subtle and staggering, this trip shows how the climate crisis is already affecting countless lives. But the best science warns that this journey into change has only just begun.
Since the industrial revolution began, Earth has warmed about two degrees Fahrenheit. The Paris Accord set the ambitious limit of 2.7 degrees, but it is getting hotter, faster. Hold that limit, scientists of the IPCC say we may only have about 500 Giga tons of carbon left to burn, period. But Bernstein Research found there are 2900 Giga tons already on the books of fossil fuel corporations and burning it all would blow past 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. A road to hell.
All within the lifetime of this guy, William River Weir, my unborn son.
I know what you're thinking. What's your carbon footprint? Where? How much do you burn making shows like this? Well, last year just in commercial air travel, there was about 110 tons.
It's impossible to rent an electric vehicle big enough to hold my crew and gear. For at least a decade away from carbon free jumbo jets. So the best I can do is eat less meat. Take more trains and buy enough carbon offsets to plant 2423 urban trees.
But that's not a fix. But at least it's something which is why Al Gore says he triple offsets all the carbon he burns.
Do you think it's important individually to show that sort of commitment in order for your message to be taken seriously?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I do. And I and I do that. But at the same time, as important as it is to change your light bulbs, is way more important to change the nation's policies.
WEIR: A recent study found that since the 80s, just 100 companies profited from 71% of industrial Earth warming pollution, and much the way big bottling and packaging companies used a fake crying Indian to shift the blame for pollution onto the consumer in the 70s.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People started pollution, people can stop. WEIR: It is now in the best interest of fossil fuel companies to blame the individual for global warming. Instead of a crying Indian, they use windmills to show that you could still feel good about their product because they're working on a carbon free future.
But Exxon's own annual reports show that the amount they actually invest in lower emission energy solutions is less than 2% of what they spent last year drilling for oil and gas.
You have taken a stance that you won't fly at all. Do you think it's OK if I do?
GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I mean, I'm not telling anyone else what to do, or what not to do. So, of course, why would I care about your flights?
I am only doing this because I have decided that I myself want to live this way. You can do whatever you want, of course.
WEIR: Light shaming helps distract us from the government prediction that the two fastest growing jobs in America this decade will be solar and wind installers.
There are dozens of other green energy ideas just waiting to be scaled up. But to build them fast enough, the country must pull together in a way that it hasn't since World War II. And get the rest of the world to join us.
You're proposing essentially, the moonshot. The original New Deal, the civil rights movement, all of that together.
The Sunrise Movement helped push the Green New Deal. A grand resolution to tackle the climate crisis and reshape society and the economy at the same time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Young people want to be talking about jobs and the economy and the climate crisis and racial inequity, and how we get access to health insurance and health care.
WEIR: That's part of the same conversation?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, honestly, it's very difficult to pull them apart.
WEIR: The Green New Deal is vague and controversial, but it is only the first stab at legislating the end of life as we know it. And whether it is this idea or some other Harvard study examined hundreds of protest movement through history.
And found that if a non-violent campaign can attract only three and a half percent of a nation's population, change is almost guaranteed. Which means less than 12 million Americans could force a tipping point if they can manage to turn eco anxiety and depression into action.
THUNBERG: You can't just sit around waiting for hope to come. Then you're acting like spoiled, irresponsible children. You don't seem to understand that hope is something you have to own.
WEIR: You probably can't take a sailboat to scold world leaders like Greta. But you can earn your hope, you can get in the face of your local officials and your favorite brands. You can pester your bank and grocer and utility company for their zero carbon plans.
And since a Yale study found that about 65% of people talk about the climate crisis rarely or never, you can connect with neighbors, give voice to your worries and theirs. And maybe give Mother Nature some love while you're at it.
LERTZMAN: One of the most powerful things we can be doing is to talk about it and to meme it. If we can pause and ask more questions, and show curiosity, what are you really afraid of? What do you really anxious about? And allow that to just have space, then we would find so many more people tracking along with them.
WEIR: The only thing we have to tell is (inaudible) itself.
They say there's only three kinds of stores in the world. Man versus nature. Man versus man, man versus himself. But what if we tried more man with nature stories? Man with man, man at peace with himself.