NOW with Alex Wagner | August 15, 2012
>>> the u.s. is experiencing the worst drought since 1956 . as evidence, take a look at this map. those red and dark brown areas show the parts of the midwest that are in a drought so significant that it's considered either extreme or exceptional. the unusually dry conditions are killing crops, leading to the lowest corn harvest in 17 years and the lowest soybean yields since 2003 . the possible result, higher prices for all food products next year from grain to meat. washington politics are also forcing farmers to pay a huge price as their crops die, congress cannot come to an agreement on a farm bill that would provide disaster aid. earlier this week in iowa , president obama called out his new rival for holding it up.
>> the best way to help these states is for the folks in congress to pass a farm bill . i am told that governor romney's new running mate, paul ryan , might be around iowa the next few days. he is one of the leaders of congress standing in the way. so if you happen to see congressman ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to iowa and our rural communities.
>> the drought is likely yet another sign of climate change and come as last month ranked the fourth hottest july on record. joining the panel is dr. jeffrey sachs , director of the earth institute at columbia university . great to have you on set.
>> thank you so much.
>> certainly not good news as we talk about economic stability and sort of the global -- our global ecology. let's focus on the drought. the impact seems to be quite serious in terms of everything from grain to meat, a number of products in the u.s. are tied to corn and soy, for that matter. i guess my question is we talk about climate change and energy policy , sometimes in a vacuum, but now that there is a very tangible effect that it's having or will have and will continue to have on economics, on our economic system and agra business, do you think there will be more of an impetus for our leaders to do something about this?
>> definitely the public is seeing what this climate change means. it's not a theory. it's not something about the distant future. it's hitting the planet now and not only in the united states . i spend a lot of the recent months in africa. massive droughts in the horn of africa and in west africa . we know that beijing has had the worst floods in modern history because there, it's massive rainfall. weather is being disturbed everywhere. i think all over the world , people know something's not right. the world is changing. indeed, it is. that's what the science shows. but we have been so much in the grip of the oil lobby which is the world 's most powerful lobby, that it has turned off the debate on this for years and now people are saying what is going on. it's reckless what we've been doing. just driving the world economy to disaster, pretending it's not there because the koch brothers or somebody who have the largest private oil industry buy politicians and then they turn their eyes, but everybody else in the world now sees it.
>> well, eric, in " rolling stone " you guys printed a series of pieces by a great authority on these matters, and this week you focus on the melting of the greenland ice sheet abruptly and sort of in terrifying fashion to those that watch it. but you also talk about, you know, how the world has sat idly by. for example, in 2009 in copenhagen, nobody did anything when it was sort of a pivotal moment and as dr. sachs mentions, here you have mitt romney who was also in iowa the other day talking about energy and was doubling down on coal and oil and gas .
>> that's right. you've got extraction, you've got drilling, you've got the same old kind of, you know, plan at a time when the planet is literally before our eyes being transformed by our actions. one of the points that bill makes is the movement to mobilize against global warming has never really had a clear enemy because the movement has never been willing to say who's to blame here, and the oil lobby is really who's to blame here. those fossil fuel industries are what's killing us. bill points out in one of his articles that those industries hold so much carbon in reserve now, they have already got their hands on so much carbon that they want to burn that if we were to place any real restrictions on that, their value would plummet. so they're in a real bind where they are just promoting their bottom line at the expense of the planet.
>> but dr. sachs, agra business is certainly not a shrinking violet when it comes to making their cause known and getting -- securing sort of political capital to further their interests. you look at this drought, the repercussions on the agricultural sector are fairly dire. why is there not more attention paid to the thing that is affecting the agra -- agricultural sector and how we might mediate the effects of it?
>> great question. this is a shock being felt by middle america .
>> this is right to the core, the midwest of the united states hasn't seen anything like this. i'm sure it's going to change politics. i think you're completely right. what we see already in the opinion surveys is that americans, but it's true all over the world , who say something's wrong, humans are changing the earth in dangerous ways, those numbers are soaring. people don't need to be convinced. actually, they see it, they feel it with their own eyes, the storms we've had on the east coast here, electricity knocked out, the dangers, people killed, you see it all over the world happening right now but we have corporate propaganda leading the way. it is the koch brothers. who else can you point out? they buy up election after election, politician after politician. of course, not just them. it's rupert murdoch , it's " wall street journal ," these are powerful interests that have been trying to maintain the status quo and they have been playing on doubts and uncertainties but i think those uncertainties are really fading and some of the climate skeptics are saying oh, you know, we looked at the data, this is really serious, which it is.
>> i think it's almost -- it's important and very relevant that this is affecting the heartland. this is the middle of the country. this is not sort of the bastian of the liberal elites , coastal cities. these are farmers having to slaughter their cattle because they can't afford the feed. that anecdote alone, if that doesn't ring alarm bells that the president is now talking about meat in freezers and holding on to surpluses because we can't afford to feed the cows, that's what you think of when you think of end times in america.
>> the poor all over the world have been experiencing this for years already. there have been food riots in a number of cities over the past several summers because of rising food prices, because of drought and crop damage. i don't know that we're going to have food riots here but come next summer, we will have higher food prices. people have gotten accustomed to higher prices at the gasoline pump. they kind of understand why that may be happening. it's going to be harder to explain to middle americans why their grocery bill is going up so dramatically.
>> i think neither a politician, neither of the candidates nor neither party really walks away scott-free in this.
>> that is absolutely certain.
>> what's also true is we are putting a huge part of our corn production into the gas tank where it does not belong, taking it out of the food supply . so that whole ethanol scam which has been a scam for powerful corporate interests, is something that has to go and it should go right now before this builds into huge food price increases.
>> dr. jeffrey sachs , this is not the last time we will entice you on to talk about food insecurity , climate change and other energy concerns. thank you for your time as always. you can read "the arctic ice crisis" in " rolling stone " on newsstands this friday.
>>> in the next hour, andrea mitchell will discuss the drying up along the mississippi river and how it affects tourism throughout the u.s. that's at 1:00 eastern.
>>> coming up, one of the most sweeping immigration policy changes in history faces its first test today. we look at what millions of young people can expect from the obama administration's new dream act like plan, next. [ male announcer