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Our 'Scorched Planet' is getting hotter, and no one is immune to rising temperatures

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. And somewhere in the world right now, you're probably trying to beat the summer heat or bracing for it. And if it feels more miserable than ever before, that's because it is. The Earth is getting hotter, and turning up the AC to solve it or hoping it will pass is wishful thinking, says writer Jeff Goodell.

In his new book, "The Heat Will Kill You First," Jeff Goodell wants us to look at heat not as a minor inconvenience, but as an active force that can kill us even before we understand our lives are at risk. And no bones about it, says Goodell, extreme heat is almost entirely caused by our use of fossil fuels, from our transportation, heating and manufacturing, and it's warming the Earth in ways that none of us will be able to escape. Jeff Goodell is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and has covered climate change for more than a decade. He's a New York Times best-selling author of seven books, including "The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities And The Remaking Of The Civilized World." His latest book, "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet," is out now.

Jeff Goodell, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

JEFF GOODELL: Hi. Thank you for having me.

MOSLEY: I think the best way for us to get into this topic might be for you to read the first opening lines of your book. Can I have you read it?

GOODELL: Sure, I'd be happy to.

(Reading) When the heat comes, it's invisible. It doesn't bend tree branches or blow hair across your face to let you know it's arrived. The ground doesn't shake. It just surrounds you and works on you in ways that you can't anticipate or control.

(Reading) You sweat. Your heart races. You're thirsty. Your vision blurs. The sun feels like the barrel of a gun pointed at you. Plants look like they're crying. Birds vanish from the sky and take refuge in deep shade. Cars are untouchable. Colors fade. The air smells burned. You can imagine fire even before you see it.

MOSLEY: What a descriptive way to illustrate how the heat impacts us. You've got a problem, though, with the terms global warming and climate change to describe why we are experiencing heat of this magnitude. Because you think they don't really encapsulate what is happening. What would be a better term for what we are experiencing right now?

GOODELL: Well, you know, I think that the language to capture what we're experiencing is very difficult. That is what kind of the book is about in some ways. You know, climate crisis is something that I think comes close to capturing, you know, the sort of larger scale of things. But I don't know what the phrase is. You know, the problem with the phrase global warming is that it sounds like better beach weather. It's like, OK, who's really against it being a little bit warmer? And like, OK, so I can spend more time at the lake, you know. It's like - it doesn't capture the scope and scale of what we're dealing with.

MOSLEY: What you write in this book is - it's frightening. It's frightening to read. I mean, it definitely takes the step up from global warming. At the same time, for billions of years, the Earth has experienced things like volcanic eruptions and meteor strikes that brought about these wild temperature swings. So what makes right now different?

GOODELL: What makes right now different is that we're living through this. During Earth's past, the temperature of the Earth has - you're right - swung crazily, much hotter and much colder. You know, there has been moments in Earth's history when it was completely covered with ice and moments in Earth's history when there were palm trees growing in what's now the Arctic. But the issue is that, you know, we humans and all living things are invested in this sort of climate, this temperate climate that we are living in now. It's what we've evolved to deal with. And our bodies and all living things around us are, you know, like these machines that are exquisitely kind of tuned to this temperature range. And as we begin to push out of that temperature range, as we begin to get these extreme heat events and as we heat up the planet, it has big problems for the sort of mechanisms of life.

MOSLEY: The first place we go to in the book is the Pacific Northwest. It's one of the more temperate places in the United States. But I think it was 2021 when almost a thousand people died over the course of a week because of the extreme heat. What does that tragedy tell us about how heat waves are becoming, as you put it, more democratic - a condition that the wealthy and privileged, as you say, won't be able to escape?

GOODELL: Well, one of the most surprising things about the 2021 heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is that no one expected it. You know, every time I talk about climate change or, you know, have - give a book talk or something, everyone always asks me, where should I move? You know, where do I go to - you know, where is safe? And, you know, of course, there is no safe place. There's nowhere that you're immune to what's going on in our planet.

But there are better and worse places. And, you know, the Pacific Northwest always seemed like a place - there's lots of water. There's lots of, you know, forests. There's - it's a relatively cool climate. No climate models were suggesting that this was a place that was vulnerable to extreme heat. And yet it happened.

And, you know, in British Columbia, the temperatures hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit. A town virtually spontaneously combusted and burned to the ground. You know, this was about as likely as snow in the Sahara. And so what this shows us is that, first of all, the atmosphere, our climate, is changing in ways that we don't quite understand. And we know that we're moving into a new kind of climate world, but we don't know exactly what the parameters of that are.

And one of the scary things that's happening right now - not just with heat, but heat is the clearest expression of it - is that, you know, the climate's reaction to the amount of CO2 we've put in the atmosphere is more dramatic and behaving in ways that is surprising even the most sort of educated and smartest climate scientists.

MOSLEY: What are the surprises that they're encountering about the way that it's moving through?

GOODELL: Well, for one thing, you know, I mean, we have these extreme heat events that are going beyond the boundaries of what anyone anticipated. And one of the questions that I explore in the book is, you know, given just the amount of CO2 that is in the atmosphere now and just, like, where we are today, how hot can it get? I mean, I live in Austin, Texas. It was - you know, it was - we've had heat indexes of 120 degrees here in Texas in the last couple of weeks. You know, could it get to 130? I mean, no one can say, you know, for sure about that. We don't know. Scientists don't know, like, even how hot it can get right now, never mind if we continue burning fossil fuels and add more CO2 to the atmosphere.

But there's other things. You know, in my book, I traveled to Antarctica to look at what even small changes in temperature - the implications. And, you know, the West Antarctic ice sheet is incredibly vulnerable in ways that scientists did not understand even 10 years ago, to just, you know, a temperature change of, like, one degree in the Southern Ocean. And the West Antarctic ice sheet is beginning to disintegrate. And this was something that no one considered 10 years ago. Antarctica was seen as this sort of one stable, cool block of ice that was sort of - you know, the warming of the planet hadn't yet penetrated. And, you know, the wildfires that were - that we'd seen in Alberta in the last few weeks - you know, far bigger and more explosive and hotter than things we'd seen before.

So all these kinds of things are alarming, and, you know, it's evidence that we don't really - even the - all the science that's been done and all of the incredible research that has been done - we don't really know what we're heading into and how chaotic this can get.

MOSLEY: I want to talk with you a little later about Antarctica because there are huge ramifications for what we're seeing there, and you had a chance to see it firsthand. You make a point to say, though, how we talk about the heat is distorted because we think of it as a temperature scale, as a - maybe as a gradual, linear, incremental thing. We think of a hot day or a hot week as just a fluke, and things will turn back to normal. This is distorted thinking in light of what you're just saying here, that we have no road map for what we're experiencing in this moment.

GOODELL: Yeah. We have - I think a lot of people have this idea that, you know, yes, we are warming up the planet, but we're, you know, clean energy is booming. We're going to get this under control. We're going to reduce fossil fuel emissions, and everything is going to go back to normal and to be the way it was. And that is a profound misunderstanding of the moment that we're in. We're heading into a completely different climate regime, a different atmospheric pattern. The physics of what's happening in the atmosphere are very complex. And we know, you know, as - with as much certainty as we understand gravity, that when we burn fossil fuels and put CO2 into the atmosphere, it heats things up. But how fast that happens, what the actual kind of cascading effects of that will be are still very, very unclear. And so the big idea here is that we are not going back to where we were, no matter what we do. We are moving into a different world, and we need to grasp that idea.

MOSLEY: Yeah, this is an important point to make because you're saying that we'll never go back to the cooler temperatures or the temperature scale that we're used to. Like, even if in this moment, we made huge changes, we would then always be at this temperature scale.

GOODELL: Well, we're going to be in a new climate world for as long as we can - as anyone can imagine. 'Cause another point that's connected to this that's really important to understand is that the reason that the planet is heating up is because we're putting CO2 into the atmosphere. And CO2 is not like smog, like, you know, air pollution that we think of. You know, I grew up in California. I remember the smog in California. I couldn't see the mountains, you know, five miles away from where I lived.

And then catalytic converters were put on cars, you know, scrubbers were put on power plants, and the air got cleaned up and it was all great and it was much better. And our air, in many places in America, is much cleaner than it used to be. That's not what's going to happen with CO2. It is essentially permanent when we put it up there. And it's really important to grasp this notion that as - every molecule of CO2, every ton of CO2 that we put into the atmosphere warms the planet. And the warming will not stop until we stop emitting CO2 and burning fossil fuels. And that's not going to happen for - even in the most optimistic scenarios, for, you know, quite a long time. So we are on a warming planet. And even if we stop CO2, we are stuck with that warming planet for a very long time.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, I'm talking with Jeff Goodell, author of the new book, "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HADEN'S "EL CIEGO (THE BLIND)"

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR, and today, we're talking with Jeff Goodell, author of a new book called "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet," where he examines the impact of rising temperatures and what they will have on our lives and what we can do to stop it. His previous books include "The Water Will Come: The Remaking Of The Civilized World," which was picked for a New York Times critic's top book of 2017, and "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future."

You mentioned how temperatures are rising in Austin. There are a few misconceptions about what the heat does to our bodies. We think of being in great shape or young are kind of mechanisms that protect us and that drinking lots of water will safeguard us. You know these are fallacies from your own personal experience. Can you tell us the story of when you climbed a volcano - I think it was in Nicaragua - and what happened?

GOODELL: Yeah, this was about, you know, 10 years ago, 12 years ago. I was on a trip to Nicaragua, and I had been writing about climate change and knew about climate change. I, you know, was - that was my job. But I'd never really thought about heat or what it impacts were on my body. And the idea that I might be at risk was completely, you know, something that never occurred to me. I started climbing this volcano, and it was, you know, a very hot, humid day. But I was in good shape. You know, I run, I was really fit.

And, you know, an hour and a half into this climb, I started - my heart started pounding. And all of a sudden, you know, sweat started pouring off my body. And I got - like, I was like, what is happening to me? I didn't understand. And I kept walking a little bit and then I started feeling dizzy. And finally, the guide who was with me said, you know, you need to sit down and we need to rest and everything. But, you know, it was really a scary experience 'cause I felt like my body was out of control. My heart was pounding so fast, and I couldn't slow it down and I couldn't stop sweating, and I felt like I was going to lose consciousness. And, you know, I only realized now in retrospect that I was on the verge of a heatstroke. And, you know, it's an example of how ignorant every - many people are, including myself, about the risks of heat. And, you know, I was lucky I was in good shape. But, you know, those are the kind of conditions where people can die.

MOSLEY: You tell this heartbreaking cautionary tale of a family that lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California - Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung and their toddler. What happened to them?

GOODELL: Well, they were - you know, they - Jonathan and his wife, Ellen, and their 1-year-old daughter - you know, he had worked in Silicon Valley, and they wanted to get out of the Bay Area. And they were lucky enough to be able to buy a house not far from Yosemite Valley in the sort of foothills of the Sierras and had recently moved there and were exploring the, you know, region around where they lived and had been taking various two- or three-mile hikes, just exploring, you know, this wonderful new landscape they lived in. And one day, they decided to take this slightly longer hike, seven or eight miles, down to the Merced River, which was not far from their house, and explore. They were looking for swimming holes. And Jonathan, the father, you know, he had been warned by his brother, who was a - very experienced in outdoor activities that it was hot and that he should be careful on the hike. And Jonathan said, yes, I know. I know. Don't worry. We're going to start early.

So they started early, and they hiked down into this canyon. They started at, like, 7:30 in the morning. They got down there, and they were fine. And they were sending - you know, taking pictures and selfies and things like everybody does. And then around 11 o'clock, they started hiking out. And they had about a 2-1/2-mile hike up this steep switchback trail that was - had been burned by a forest fire two years earlier, so there was no shade. And they started up this trail. And no one knows exactly what happened, but about a mile up, they began to suffer from what later was determined - you know, from the heat. And sort of long story short, the next day, rescuers found the entire family - the dog, the 1-year-old child, the husband and wife - dead on the trail.

MOSLEY: You know, Jeff, anyone who has lived in a place with lots of concrete buildings and roads knows this, but a hot city, as you write, is different than a hot jungle or desert. And to illustrate this, you take us to southern India, where people's entire existence involves finding ways to beat the heat. It sounds like a cruel and unforgiving existence. Can you talk a little bit about how much architecture and city planning contributes to the brutality of extreme heat?

GOODELL: Yeah. Sure. That's a really important point. You know, there's this phenomenon called urban heat islands, which is basically what cities are. I think most people who have been in cities on hot days kind of intuitively understand this. You know, you walk down a black asphalt street, and you have, you know, concrete and steel and glass buildings around you. These things are all absorbing and sort of amplifying the heat and radiating it back at you. And this is a very profound effect that makes cities particularly dangerous places to be during heat waves and, you know, is a artifact of how we've built cities, that we, you know, have built cities without considering this at all, with - the idea of climate has never been considered in how we plan a city.

And there's - you know, some cities have more or less parks than others, and that's certainly helpful - green spaces. But, you know, that was never built with sort of heat in mind. And so what's happening is that cities are becoming, you know, more and more sort of dangerous places to be during extreme heat events and also the place where a lot of kind of solutions and ideas about how to try to remake cities are being played out.

MOSLEY: Our guest today is Jeff Goodell, author of the new book "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Earth." I'm Tonya Mosley, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "VAMP DOLCE")

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. And today I'm talking with Jeff Goodell, author of the new book "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Earth."

Let's talk a little bit more about how our use of fossil fuels is driving up the Earth's temperature. You have a few examples that quantify the impact of CO2, which kind of is hard to do, but you give a few examples in layman's terms. One is comparing the absorption of heat in the ocean to that of atomic bombs.

GOODELL: Yeah. You know, I think one of the things that's really difficult to grasp about what's happening and what we're doing is, you know, the scale of the sort of warmth that we're adding to the atmosphere. People talk about parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere changing, and it sounds, like, inconsequential, a tiny bit. People - you know, the climate targets are, you know, keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That seems like an insignificant number. And so it makes it very difficult for most people to grasp why this is so urgent and why people like me are talking about this as such a sort of serious matter.

And, you know, one example of that is if you tried to quantify how much heat that is absorbed by the oceans every day just from our warming planet, it's the equivalent of three nuclear bombs every second. I mean, it's hard to bend your mind around that, but it's true. And it goes to a really complicated and important point about this whole conversation, which is how difficult it is to get our minds around, not just the climate crisis more broadly, but even just the impacts of heat and what that means and how much - how big and how powerful this system is that we're messing with.

MOSLEY: You know, right now many of us are sitting in air-conditioned rooms or we're in our car listening to this conversation with the air conditioning on. Air conditioning, you make a point to say, is distinctly an American invention, but it is not a cooling technology at all. It is a tool for heat redistribution. It's a vicious cycle. Can you explain that?

GOODELL: Yeah. I mean, air conditioning, you know, changed the world. Air conditioning was a really, really important innovation. It happened - it was created here in America. You know, some people have argued that it was, you know, as important in the change of our culture as, you know, the personal computer or something like that. I mean, you think about it, you know, Florida, Texas, where I am right now, all of these places would not be the kinds of boomtowns that they are if there was not air conditioning. I mean, obviously, people lived in Florida and in Texas and other hot places before, but not the way that they do now.

So air conditioning is really important and really significant. But, you know, first of all, air conditioning is not a magical technology. It doesn't make heat disappear. What AC does is redistribute it. It takes it out of one place and puts it in another place.

I think a lot of people kind of intuitively understand this if they think about it. You know, you've probably walked by an air conditioner on the outside of a building, maybe in a city in a window unit, and you feel the heat coming out of the air conditioning unit. And the air conditioning unit is taking the hot air from inside the building and pulling it out and dumping it outdoors, you know, into the street, into the world around it. And so when you have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of those in a city all sucking the heat out of one place and blowing it out into the city, you're redistributing the heat and making that city a hotter place, which is one of the reasons why cities are these - have this sort of urban heat island effect that I talked about earlier.

MOSLEY: Is renewable energy like solar panels and wind energy a realistic way to combat this? Are we there yet to make that a realistic way?

GOODELL: Well, you know, in a certain way, they're different questions. Certainly one of the things that's really interesting that has happened during this Texas heat wave is that, you know, there was a lot of concern in the last couple of weeks as temperatures have spiked that the grid would go down - and if it did, as I just mentioned, that would be kind of catastrophic - because there's a lot of extra load on the grid during a heat wave. Everybody is turning up their air conditioners. And so it really strains the system.

But in fact, the grid held up really well here in Texas. And the reason it held up really well in Texas was because of all the solar energy that has gone on to the grid here. You know, Texas is the fossil fuel capital of the world. But the kind of dirty secret is that it's also the renewable energy capital of the United States. And we've put out a tremendous amount of solar power and wind power onto the grid here. And that is essentially what saved the grid during this heat spike in the last couple of weeks.

And it's a really important case study that really shows how important it is to shift away from fossil fuel energy and how - you know, everyone has always talked about solar and wind and renewable power. It's not reliable and all that. Well, in fact, we've just proven that it was more - it's more reliable. And in these times of extreme heat and stress, they are more reliable than traditional fossil fuel energy. And, you know, it's a really hopeful kind of textbook study of why we need to shift away from generating power with fossil fuels and move faster towards renewable energy.

MOSLEY: You've been critical of the Biden administration's steps to fight climate change. Yes, you say, it's great that the administration most recently set this goal to have 50% of the cars on the road to be electric, but almost in the same breath, it approved the ConocoPhillips Willow project, which is this massive oil drilling venture in Alaska at the National Petroleum Reserve, which is owned by the federal government. You think this is hypocritical.

GOODELL: Yeah, I do think it's - I don't know if I would use the word hypocritical. I think that I would say that it is, you know, not what I would hope for from this administration. You know, I think that the climate crisis is urgent. I think that it's something that needs to be addressed fast. We need to get off fossil fuels fast.

Here in Texas, it's a great example of, you know, the economic upside of moving away from fossil fuels. And essentially, the reason that we're not moving faster than we're moving is because of politics, because the fossil fuel industry has an enormous lobbying power. They have enormous amount of money in campaign contributions and other things that, you know, have slowed this transition down. And, you know, the faster the transition is, you know, the more profitable the transition will be for many people and the more lives will be saved, the more of a something that resembles the kind of future that many people imagine will be preserved. I mean, it's really a critical fight. And, you know, the Biden administration - and I've not talked to President Biden about this personally, but I know many of the people around him - they all know this, and they're very, very smart people. And they've done a lot of good things. There's no question about that.

But, you know, politics always seems to be getting in the way. And at a certain moment, you know, we have to cast that aside and just jump over the river and land on the other side and say, we're not going to be drilling for fossil fuels. We're not going to be pulling this stuff out of the ground anymore. We're not building any more infrastructure. We are, you know, going boldly and quickly as we can into the future.

MOSLEY: Right, because, I mean, crude oil production does produce the most fossil fuels. So what happened in Alaska speaks to this frustration that many people have about all of this because, basically, it's like, what does it matter if we make individual choices when big corporations can continue business as usual?

GOODELL: Yeah. I mean, you know, that's a really important point, you know, this question of, what do individual choices matter versus the sort of larger, you know, politics and corporate, you know, power that the fossil fuel industry has? And, you know, British Petroleum, BP, famously came out with this campaign a decade or so ago about, you know, what is your carbon footprint? You know, what have you done? You know, are you recycling your plastic bottles? Are you, you know, riding your bike to work instead of driving, you know? And all those things are important. I mean, there's - I'm not kind of denigrating that. We all need to do our part. We all need to change our lives and live - you know, think about the carbon footprint of our lives. But that is not going to solve the problem. We need the bigger levers, which are the larger political levers.

We need to reduce the - eliminate the sort of political power that has accumulated over a century, you know, of the fossil fuel industry. We need to - you know, we need to end this notion that, you know, modern life depends on fossil fuels. It does not. We know that. We have all the technology we need. We - it's not a question of, we burn oil or we go back to, you know, horses and buggies. I mean, look at Tesla. I mean, you know, I'm not a huge fan of Elon Musk for many reasons. But look at electric cars. It's amazing, right? And anyone who's ever driven an electric car knows they're way better. They're way more fun. They don't break. They're just, like, fantastic, you know? And that's an example of how, you know, innovation can drive this and not just, like, you know, do-gooder, tree-hugger, oh, you know, we're not burning fossil fuel thing, but actually building a better world and building - doing better, doing it in a better way. And I think that is incredibly hopeful.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, we're talking about the warming climate with Jeff Goodell, author of the new book "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOLANGE SONG, "WEARY")

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. Today, we're talking to Jeff Goodell, author of the new book "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet," where he examines the impact hot temperatures will have on our lives and the ways we can stop it. His previous books include "The Water Will Come: And The Remaking Of The Civilized World" (ph) as well as "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future."

You brought up earlier Antarctica. It's the coldest place on Earth. And what is happening there is frightening. In March of 2022, it got up to 70 degrees. Can you put that temperature of 70 degrees in Antarctica into perspective for us?

GOODELL: No because it's so - I mean, it would be like walking out in LA one day, and it's, you know, 170 degrees. I mean, it's beyond kind of comprehension what that means in a place like Antarctica. But the kind of more interesting lesson in Antarctica is, you know, the importance of ocean temperature. We don't talk often about marine heat waves and warming in the ocean. Ninety percent of the heat that is sort of trapped on our planet goes into the ocean. The ocean's, like, this giant heat sink that is absorbing all this heat. And as it warms up, it has enormous implications for coral reefs, for where fish live. They, like land animals and like humans, migrate to - as the temperatures change. But it also has enormous implications for glaciers, the - especially the big ice sheets that come down and buttress into the ocean itself.

I went to Antarctica to look at enormous glacier there called Thwaites Glacier, which is often described as the sort of cork in the whole - in the wine bottle of the whole West Antarctic ice sheet, which, if it melted, would raise sea levels about 10 feet, which - 10 feet of sea level rise is catastrophic for virtually every coastal city in the world. And for a long time, scientists thought there was nothing going on there in Antarctica. They would not see any what's called surface melt. In other words, the ice wasn't melting on the top like it does in Greenland. In Greenland, you see these big pools of melt. Greenland's melting like a popsicle on a sidewalk. Antarctica looked fine - and from the satellites and everything. And, you know, it's very remote, very difficult to get there. So they sort of thought, OK, that's how - it's OK.

And then scientists started to understand that as the ocean changed temperature by just one degree or so, where the bottom of the glaciers meet the ocean, that change in temperature allowed this warming water to get underneath these glaciers. And as it gets underneath these glaciers, it starts to melt them from below. And as it melts from below, they begin to fracture. And the possibility that they will kind of essentially fall apart like a big tumble of ice cubes and fall into the southern ocean very quickly has arisen. And that would rapidly escalate sea level rise. That would have enormous implications. And I went down there on a ship with some scientists to look into this. And the short version of it is we found out that, yes, this is happening. The question is what the timescales are, will be and all that kind of thing. But this temperature change of one degrees in the ocean has destabilized western Antarctica, and that is a very big deal.

MOSLEY: Do you believe that it's irresponsible to have children during this time? We talk about population control often when we talk about the environment.

GOODELL: Well, that's a question that comes up a lot. And, you know, I'm the father of three children. I think that the question of having a child is a very personal one for anyone. I - so I hesitate to make any kind of judgments, certainly about whether it's responsible or irresponsible. But I can tell you how I feel, you know, about it. I think it - when I hear that, it makes me very sad because, to me, children are the great hope of the world. My kids, I spent a lot of time with, obviously - I'm sure they're - will tell you if they were here that they're, like, tired of hearing about all of this. Growing up with a father who writes about climate change, I think is - they're - they would much prefer that I were a football coach or something.

But, you know, I think kids are the hope of the world. They're the ones who are going to change things. They're the ones who have everything at stake. Look at Greta Thunberg, how powerful she has been in activating people and in, you know, building political awareness of what's going on. You know, we need young minds to solve this problem. Us old folks are not going to be the ones who do it, you know? We need people to do this.

And, you know, on the question of overpopulation, you know, I think that gets contorted, right? I mean, the problem is not too many people on the planet. The problem is - as far as climate change goes - the problem is too many rich people with highly consumptive habits. You know, the vast majority of the carbon pollution comes from the top 10% of the wealthiest population and, you know, the idea that, you know, poor people in Bangladesh or wherever you want to name are the problem - their, you know, carbon consumption and their carbon footprint is minuscule compared to, you know, a wealthy, you know, tech investor here in Austin who flies around for vacations and has a giant house that, you know, requires a, you know, battalion of air conditioners. And, you know, it's just - it's not a problem of sheer number of people. It's a problem of what those people do and how they live.

MOSLEY: Jeff Goodell, thank you so much for this conversation and your book.

GOODELL: Thank you.

MOSLEY: Jeff Goodell is the author of "The Heat Will Kill You First: Life And Death On A Scorched Planet." Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Ann Hull's new memoir. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "SMALL PLANET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: July 13, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
In a previous summary of this story, we incorrectly identified Jeff Goodell as a New York Times journalist. He is a New York Times bestselling author.
Tonya Mosley
Tonya Mosley is a correspondent and former host of Here & Now, the midday radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR. She's also the host of the award-winning podcast Truth Be Told and a regular contributing interviewer for Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
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