RICHARD WESTBROOK: Yes, 10 years as a supervisory management analyst in the Office of Environmental Information. And before that, I was a program specialist in the EPA's Resource Management Division.
McAVOY: And you have a PhD in climate science from Stanford.
WESTBROOK: Yes, and another in chemistry with a masters in biology.
McAVOY: Okay. Tell us about the findings in the report that was just released.
WESTBROOK: The latest measurements taken at Mauna Loa in Hawaii indicate a CO2 level of 400 parts per million.
McAVOY: Just so we know what we're talking about, if you were a doctor and we were the patient, what's your prognosis? 1000 years? 2000 years?
WESTBROOK: A person has already been born who will die due to catastrophic failure of the planet.
McAVOY: Okay, can you expand on that?
WESTBROOK: Sure. The last time there was this much CO2 in the air, the oceans were 80 feet higher than they are now. Two things you should know Half the world's population lives within 120 miles of an ocean.
McAVOY: And the other?
WESTBROOK: Humans can't breathe under water.
McAVOY: You're saying the situation's dire?
WESTBROOK: Not exactly. Your house is burning to the ground, the situation's dire. Your house has already burned to the ground, the situation's over.
McAVOY: So what can we do to reverse this?
WESTBROOK: There's a lot we could do.
WESTBROOK: If it were 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. But now No.
McAVOY: Can you make an analogy that might help us understand?
WESTBROOK: Sure. It's as if you're sitting in your car in your garage with the engine running and the door closed and you've slipped into unconsciousness. And that's it.
McAVOY: What if someone comes and opens the door?
WESTBROOK: You're already dead.
McAVOY: What if the person got there in time?
WESTBROOK: You'd be saved.
McAVOY: Okay. So now what's the CO2 equivalent of the getting there on time?
WESTBROOK: Shutting off the car 20 years ago.
McAVOY: You sound like you're saying it's hopeless.
McAVOY: Is that the administration's position or yours?
WESTBROOK: There isn't a position on this any more than there's a position on the temperature at which water boils.
McAVOY: The administration...clean coal, nuclear power, raising fuel economy standards and building a more efficient electrical grid.
WESTBROOK: That would have been great.
McAVOY: Let's see if we can't find a better spin. People are starting their weekends. The report says we can release without the effects being calamitous.
WESTBROOK: It says we can only release 565 gigatons.
McAVOY: So, what if we only release 564?
WESTBROOK: Well, then we would have a reasonable shot at some form of dystopian, post-apocalyptic life. But the carbon dioxide in the oil that we've already leased is 2,795 gigatons. So...
McAVOY: What would all this look like?
WESTBROOK: Well, mass migrations, food and water shortages, spread of deadly disease, endless wildfires. Way too many to keep under control. Storms that have the power to level cities, blacken out the sky, and create permanent darkness.
McAVOY: Are you gonna get in trouble for saying this publicly?
WESTBROOK: Who cares?
McAVOY: Mr. Westbrook, we want to inform people, but we don't want to alarm them. Can you give us a reason to be optimistic?
WESTBROOK: Well, that's the thing, Will. Americans are optimistic by nature. And if we face this problem head on, if we listen to our best scientists, and act decisively and passionately, I still don't see any way we can survive.
McAVOY: Okay, Richard Westbrook, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA. Thank you for joining us.
WESTBROOK: Thanks for having me.
McAVOY: This is News Night. We'll be back right after this.