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U.S. To Pledge To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions In Half

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, President Biden sets a climate goal that he wants to achieve in less than a decade.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The president is expected to say the United States plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by the year 2030. That's not the only climate goal the administration has set, but it is the most aggressive by far. The president will state that ambition during a climate summit with other world leaders. White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy talked to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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GINA MCCARTHY: The summit is really a time for us to rally together with other countries. We're not looking to stay neutral. We're looking to get everybody to begin to really be more aggressive.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jeff Brady covers energy issues and climate change. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the status of the United States on climate issues as this summit begins?

BRADY: The U.S. is really trying to make up for lost time on this issue. Biden rejoined the Paris agreement after former President Trump exited. And even though the U.S. is not on track to meet goals set back in 2015, Biden will announce even more ambitious goals, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030. That's based on 2005 levels. The president wants to demonstrate the U.S. is serious because the Paris commitments are voluntary and countries have to trust each other to keep their promises. The summit is happening now because the next big climate meeting is in November in Glasgow. Countries need time to work out details for commitments they make today. Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, he's been traveling the globe, encouraging countries, especially China, to step up their efforts, too.

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JOHN KERRY: Glasgow is really the last, best chance that I think we have to align the world to move in this direction with speed.

BRADY: You know, there were questions whether China's president, Xi, would participate in this summit. He plans to be there. And that's important because China is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter now.

INSKEEP: But the United States is making the news here. And I just want to ask about this, Jeff, because often when we hear people setting climate goals, they just seem very, very far in the future. And now we're talking about something like within our lifetimes, within nine years, within the decade that we're in. How significant is a promise to make so much progress so quickly in relative terms?

BRADY: It's very significant. This is twice what President Obama pledged to cut back in 2015. The research firm Rhodium Group, they say about a 50% cut would put the U.S. among those setting the most ambitious goals, including the U.K., the European Union and Switzerland. Historically, the U.S. is the largest emitter, and these greenhouse gases stick around in the atmosphere for a long time. So you can see why other countries want an ambitious target from the U.S. And on whether this is enough to stop climate change, scientists tell us it really is not. We're no longer in the realm of stopping climate change. We're just trying to slow it down and avoid some of the worst consequences, you know, like even more intense wildfires and heat waves and more extreme hurricanes.

INSKEEP: Well, hopefully people can do that. But how would the United States accomplish this goal by 2030?

BRADY: Not a lot of details yet. Administration officials say those will be worked out in coming months before Glasgow. Still, it's clear that meeting these goals is going to be very challenging. The country's power grid has to be remade. That means a lot of money spent on cleaner generators and more transmission lines to get renewable energy to where it's needed. That's included in Biden's more than $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. His administration promises that lots of good paying union jobs will be created in the process. Transportation, I think, is where a lot of us will notice changes. Biden's climate plan call for a fast ramp up of electric vehicles. Yesterday, 12 governors sent the White House a letter asking Biden to set a goal that all cars sold by 2035 have no emissions. That generally means only EVs sold by that time.

INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

BRADY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jeff Brady.

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INSKEEP: OK, for the second night in a row, protesters marched in Columbus, Ohio, after an officer shot a 16-year-old girl.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) She was a child.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) She was a child.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Ma'Khia Bryant.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Ma'Khia Bryant.

MARTIN: That was her name, Ma'Khia Bryant. She was involved in a fight on Tuesday. Body cam footage shows Officer Nicholas Reardon, who has been on the force just since December of 2019, pull up and get out of the car. Video shows Ma'Khia holding what appears to be a knife. The video released by police shows her lunging at another person just before the officer yells get down, then fires four shots.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Morris is in Columbus. Frank, good morning.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've heard a little bit about the case there, but work us through the evidence as it stands today. I know each day we're learning a little more.

MORRIS: We're learning more because police released more video of the incident last night. This is body camera footage from another one of the responding officers, so it's a different vantage point. The Columbus Police Department was quick to release initial body cam footage from Officer Nicholas Reardon, who fired his gun. The videos show officers responding to a disturbance on a residential street that seemed to be centered around Ma'Khia Bryant. Seconds after officers showed up, Bryant is shown lunging at a woman, who falls. Reardon pulls his gun and yells. Then Bryant turns to another woman, rearing back with what police say was a knife in her hand as the woman cowers on the side of a car. Then, not 15 seconds into the encounter, Reardon fired several shots, killing Bryant. Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods wouldn't comment on the killing because it's being investigated by state authorities. But at a press conference yesterday, he did say that officers are trained to respond in kind.

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MICHAEL WOODS: When officers are faced with someone employing deadly force, deadly force can be the response the officer gives.

INSKEEP: So that's the information and the explanation, I guess would be the word, that police are giving. How are people responding on the streets?

MORRIS: Well, as you mentioned, there were several protests last night. I went to one in the street in front of police headquarters in downtown Columbus and saw Tonay Daniel looking on with tears in her eyes.

TONAY DANIEL: It isn't going to change anything overnight, but I think that it makes them see us in a different light. We're not animals. We're just asking for a little bit of peace and normalcy.

MORRIS: Daniel says she lives a couple of blocks from where Ma'Khia Bryant was staying with her foster family. She believes that Bryant struggled, like most teenagers do, with, you know, various kinds of problems. But she certainly doesn't believe she deserved to die.

INSKEEP: What do the protesters say, if anything, about maybe ambiguities is the word or just what is seen on the video there?

MORRIS: Well, protesters have different views of what they're looking at there. You know, most of the protesters just feel that too much force was used.

INSKEEP: Are there other incidents that make people concerned in Columbus?

MORRIS: Yeah, there've been quite a number. The Columbus Dispatch reports there have been five killings of Black people by police just since May. And there are two really striking ones. In December alone, Casey Goodson Jr., a 23-year-old, was killed in his Columbus doorway and another man was killed also by Columbus police officers in December.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

MORRIS: You bet, Steve. Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Morris.

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INSKEEP: Schools are finding that students need more than just academic help as more of them return to in-person learning.

MARTIN: As of this week, about 60% of U.S. students in grades K through 12 are attending schools that offer in-person learning. And many school leaders will tell you their top priority right now is kids' mental health. This year has been stressful for so many children and traumatic for some who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cory Turner has been looking into what schools can do to help kids feel safe. It's part of a reporting partnership between NPR, Illinois Public Media and Kaiser Health News. Cory, good morning.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from educators?

TURNER: Well, they're talking a lot about the body's actual physical response to something stressful. So you know the feeling. Your stress hormones get elevated. Your head starts pounding. In kids, when this stress response stays amped up like that for long periods of time, it can cause real serious health problems down the road. Now, superimpose that science, Steve, over this pandemic and the fact that many children have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or had a parent or a caregiver lose a job. Some have lost their homes. Maybe they've had less to eat. And obviously, as we just heard, it's not just the pandemic. There's our nation's racial reckoning, plus the storming of the Capitol, all happened in the past year. So my reporting partner, Christine Herman and I, we spoke with a bunch of mental health experts and educators, and they all told us, look, if schools do not focus on helping kids feel safe and comfortable now, it is going to be a lot harder to catch them up academically.

INSKEEP: And it's really interesting to hear you say that this is not - I mean, this is more than an emotional issue. This can be a health issue when there's so much stress for such a long period. So what can schools do?

TURNER: Yeah, absolutely. So there are things they can do for every child. So more broadly, a lot of schools are building in time first thing in the morning, every classroom, think about, like, circle time for younger kids or homeroom for older students. This is when the teacher can ask, how are you doing? That's exactly what Lilian Sackett does. She's a middle school ESL teacher in Chicago.

LILIAN SACKETT: I think we need to allow the students to share their experiences with the pandemic and to give them that safe space that we can talk about it.

TURNER: And, Steve, it's not just sharing these feelings. Schools, including Sackett's, are also using this time to teach kids emotion management strategies like mindfulness, deep breathing, that sort of thing.

INSKEEP: So you ask students, how are you doing? What can schools do when the answer comes back and it's not good at all?

TURNER: Yeah, so several things. You know, counselors can meet with these students in smaller groups or in some cases they can arrange for one-on-one help. We met a boy named Kai. He's nine, lives in Washington, D.C., with his mom and his baby sister. And he's had a lot of worries around COVID, especially because his sister is immunocompromised. So through his elementary school, Kai has been talking with a therapist, and he says she has really helped him come up with a plan for when he feels stressed.

KAI HUMPHREY: I would go in my room, lay on my bed and either watch TV or play with my toys or do something like that. And then I'll come back out when I'm more calm and happy.

TURNER: You know, Steve, through a partnership with a local hospital, Kai's school has also arranged for his mom to see a therapist, too, for weekly parent wellbeing sessions. And the good news for schools here is the latest COVID relief from Congress should help them pay for all of this.

INSKEEP: Cory, thanks.

TURNER: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Cory Turner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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