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White House Climate Advisor Says Despite Recent Disasters, Don't Lose Hope

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Deadly flooding, wildfires, heat waves and droughts - these have been the headlines all summer in the U.S., with similar disasters around the world, too. Visiting New Jersey earlier this week to survey the damage from Hurricane Ida, President Biden said we're at an inflection point.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Every part of the country is getting hit by extreme weather, and we're now living in real time what the country's going to look like. And if we don't do something - we can't turn it back very much, but we can prevent it from getting worse.

DETROW: The Biden administration is pushing bills which would be the most sweeping climate change policies ever enacted in the U.S., but right now, they're still facing major hurdles in Congress. Here to talk about this with us is President Biden's national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GINA MCCARTHY: Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: I know you often talk about the fact that you are optimistic - and even more optimistic than you've been before - about enacting big climate policies, but it's been a really frightening summer. And a lot of people see these disasters and they wonder, is it just too late to prevent the worst of climate change? Why is that view wrong? Because a lot of people have it.

MCCARTHY: First of all, having these disasters happen and be experienced personally by 1 out of 3 people in the United States, which is what's happened over the past just few months, it's not the way I really wanted people to get familiar with climate and get active on it. I certainly would have liked action earlier, but this is a tremendous opportunity we have.

And I don't want people to give up hope, and I'll tell you why I'm not giving up hope. No. 1, I think the president is on target in what he's asking Congress to support. I think we'll get it over the finish line. But also, I want people to understand that we have opportunities with already existing solutions on climate that will get us where we need to go and get us on a trajectory to net zero. Our job is to deliver the solutions. That's what this package that the president has been negotiating and pushing is all about.

DETROW: So given that though, what do you say to someone in California who is living with extreme heat and threatened by wildfires more and more and more as the season extends? What do you say someone (ph) who lives on the coast and is seeing extreme storms and extreme flooding continuing, who are thinking, you know, these are ambitious goals by 2030, but I don't know if I have until 2030?

MCCARTHY: Yeah. Well, you know, I sympathize. I mean, I was with the president when he toured New York and New Jersey, and I saw the devastation. And you don't have to be in California to feel threatened, that's for sure. We were in neighborhoods that no one would ever have thought they needed flood insurance. And yet here - this is where we are.

So I understand people's concerns, but I think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity that the federal government can put on the table. We have a president that treats climate not as a planetary concern, but as a concern for each and every family and each and every community.

DETROW: Looking ahead to the big international climate summit this fall in Scotland, both you and your international counterpart John Kerry had been pretty clear that in order to have credibility with global partners, the U.S. needs to show it can act these policies at home. That conference is less than two months away. It's September 10 now, and Congress has not yet passed these major climate bills. Does that worry you?

MCCARTHY: No, it doesn't worry me because I know that we're doing a lot of work that we can be proud of. Do I want the bills to move forward quickly and in the way that will meet the president's goals? Absolutely. But I'm still confident that we have time to do that.

So I want those resources. I think they do send a larger signal. But I am confident that we're going to be at the conference in Glasgow with our heads held high and with a strategy moving forward.

DETROW: Will it be important to have that bill signed into law by November 1, when you and other officials arrive in Scotland?

MCCARTHY: It will be exciting, but I think we'll also have a plan already submitted on how we're going to achieve the level that we've committed to by 2030 with or without those resources, and we're going to get it done one way or the other.

DETROW: All right. That's Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser.

Thanks for joining us.

MCCARTHY: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.