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tv   60 Minutes on CNBC  CNBC  November 17, 2013 11:00pm-12:01am EST

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[stopwatch ticking] >> america gets half its electricity from coal. the problem is, that process creates tens of millions of tons of waste loaded with toxic metals. this muck is called coal ash. never heard of it? neither had most of the people in kingston, tennessee, until a retention pool buckled, shooting a billion gallons of coal ash into the river and engulfing area homes. [ticking] >> the oilmen up there aren't digging holes in the sand and hoping for a spout. they're digging up dirt-- dirt which is saturated with oil.
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they're called oil sands, and if you've never heard of them, you're in for a big surprise, because the reserves are so vast that they'll help solve america's energy needs for the next century. [ticking] >> if you were waiting for the day global warming would change the world, that day is here. it's happening far from civilization's notice in a place about as remote as you can get. >> welcome to 60 minutes on cnbc. i'm steve kroft. we live on an increasingly endangered planet, from the glaciers of antarctica to the rich prairie lands of canada. and the ultimate disaster may be financial as well as environmental. later in this episode, scott pelley reports from antarctica on the wide-ranging effects of global warming. and later bob simon has a story from canada on the environmental damage caused by the next great oil rush. but our first story involves
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a controversial waste product that could have damaging effects on the environment. there are more than 600 coal-fired power plants generating electricity in the u.s., and those plants produce 130 million tons of waste called coal ash. it contains concentrations of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxic materials. and as lesley stahl first reported in 2009, when coal ash is dumped into wet ponds--and there are more than 500 of those across the country-- the result can have an enormous health risk on the people living in nearby communities. >> we get about 48%, nearly half of the electricity in this country from coal. >> jim roewer is one of the top lobbyists for the power industry. >> coal is going to be around for a long time. >> and we really can't get rid of coal. >> we shouldn't get rid of coal. >> well, should or shouldn't, we can't, and coal makes waste. would you say that the industry has done a good job
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of disposing of the coal ash waste? >> we can do better. >> does that mean no? >> well, we had a kingston spill. >> that's kingston, tennessee, where, in december 2008, a giant retention pool of coal ash buckled under the weight of five decades of waste. >> all the power lines have been knocked out. >> a billion gallons of muck shot into the emory river like a black tsunami... >> one person in the house, and he's alive. >> engulfing homes, uprooting trees... >> everything's gone. >> and throwing fish out of the water. >> no, don't eat the fish, please. >> residents woke up to an apocalyptic moonscape of ash bergs everywhere. >> this stuff is just sitting there, steaming. >> the spill was a hundred times larger than the exxon valdez, and it was all coal ash. >> you'd never heard of coal ash before kingston. >> never. >> never. >> never. >> wasn't a problem. >> well, it was a problem;
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we just didn't know. the problem is, where do you put all that stuff? here, the tennessee valley authority, tva, dumped up to 1,000 tons of coal ash every day into a wet pond near the plant, slowly amassing a waste cake 60 feet high. some of the ingredients, according to the e.p.a.: arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, cadmium, and other toxic metals. you know, some people say that this is a poisoned meadow. >> i guess that's, you know, one way to describe it. it just doesn't belong here. it needs to come out. >> leo francendese is an environmental mr. fix-it. he was sent by the e.p.a. to clean up this mess. >> and in the wrong circumstances, coal ash is dangerous. breathing it, that's dangerous. >> the summer heat can bake the ash into a fine, talc-like powder that can wreak havoc on your lungs. and this is all coal ash right along here. so while the government has never formally labeled coal ash a hazardous waste,
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it's being treated as such here. is that all coal ash? >> yeah. >> as we left the site, we were scrubbed clean, as was our car. oh, my goodness. look at this. is it--every car that goes through the site goes through this? >> comes through this. >> gary topmiller lives right on the river. he had a front-row seat when the spill covered his dock. >> now, what the doctors did tell me was, "get out of there." and i said, "i don't have anyplace to go." >> so how do you live? you don't go out on the water. >> no, we don't go out of the house. >> from the house, he sees scientists collecting samples to analyze just how bad the water is. the river looks clear, but topmiller says that's deceptive. okay, this comes out of right here. >> right, it came right off the top. >> and i should shake it? >> turn it upside down, and start shaking it. and this is what the river looks like once that stuff gets suspended in it. and how they're going to get that all out of the river, i don't have an idea.
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>> most of his neighbors have packed up and left. go down the river, and you pass home after home that are deserted, the hubbub of children replaced by the hum of heavy machinery. those left behind say the noise is one thing. what really infuriates them is executives from the power plant telling them that coal ash is as safe as dirt. >> we have broken the trust... >> anda ray oversees environmental policy at the tennessee valley authority, which is responsible for the spill. i asked her how toxic she thinks coal ash is. >> i'd say that the constituents, the things that are in the coal ash, are the same things that are naturally occurring in soil and rock. >> so is it like dirt? would you say that? would you say that sentence, "that stuff is like dirt"? >> ash--that--that-- ash material is higher than dirt in two areas, and that is arsenic and thallium. >> i then asked about company reports that repeatedly questioned the stability of the ash pots. should the tva
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have seen this coming? >> you know-- >> you were warned repeatedly. >> lesley, there were red flags that have been noticed all through the years, and we recognize that those red flags should have been addressed. but yes, we missed them, and we don't ever want to miss them again. >> the spilled ash is now being loaded onto trains and sent off to a dry landfill in alabama. right now, coal ash disposal is regulated by the states, some of which have strict rules, some hardly any at all. >> e.p.a. can be a force for good... >> lisa jackson heads the e.p.a. she's been reviewing whether the federal government should get involved by labeling coal ash a hazardous waste, which would mean much tighter regulations and oversight. why wouldn't you, right now, this minute, on 60 minutes, declare that coal ash is a hazardous waste? >> e.p.a., in making a regulatory determination, has to look at a number
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of factors, including the toxicity of the material and how it's currently managed. but that's done according to law. >> the industry opposes calling coal ash hazardous waste. they're pushing for another solution: recycling. [ticking] >> as we'll see when 60 minutes on cnbc returns, the coal industry thinks it's found a solution by recycling coal ash. but in some cases, it's only made the problem worse. we went out and asked people a simple question:
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>> as lesley stahl reported in 2009, the coal industry has been looking for ways to dispose of hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic coal ash, the waste product produced from coal-fired power plants across the u.s. >> that hill over there might be 40 feet of coal ash.
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>> ted yoakam, a lawyer in virginia, says recycling can breed its own disaster. he says that in 2002, the state's power company, dominion, got rid of some of its excess coal ash by giving it to this golf course in chesapeake. wow. how many tons of coal ash, do you know, did they use to build this golf course? >> we know that they put at least 1.5 million tons. >> million tons. >> yes. >> a conditional-use permit to construct and operate a golf course... >> in this city council meeting, a consultant hired by the company that built the golf course assured the mayor that coal ash was safe for re-use. >> it, in every aspect, is-- it's the same as dirt, as it's been explained to me. i'm not aware of any negative aspects of it at all. >> the mayor then turned to a dominion executive. >> is there any environmental concerns we should be aware of? >> no, sir. we at dominion power are fully in compliance
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with all the federal and state regulations. >> two years later, this internal company study about handling the ash for the golf course recommended that workers use "impervious gloves" and "particulate-filtering respirators" due to potential health risks. robyn pierce and her neighbor stacy moorman live across the street from the golf course. >> it was said that they were told they should wear respirators and body suits. nobody came up and down either one of these two streets and handed out wardrobe for us. our children were out there, playing in the yard, breathing the stuff. how does that happen?lso, dominl risk assessment warned of the dangers of coal ash leaching into the water supply. to prevent that, the contractor who built the golf course was supposed to build a two-foot barrier under the coal ash and one 18 inches on top. the contractor's engineers certified this was done, but attorney yoakam, who represents townspeople
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who are suing dominion, suspects it wasn't. >> you can see right here it's right at the surface. >> oh, my god. that's coal ash? of course it is. >> insects have pulled it up. you can see how it flies away. >> the city dug into the golf course in 2008, did a test, and found elevated levels of toxic metals in the water. >> with all the knowledge that dominion had about the coal ash and the lead and the arsenic and beryllium and all the poison, to put it in this environment is just an outrage. >> that water test was just for the golf course. dominion told us-- and the e.p.a. confirms-- that e.p.a. testing shows no harm to residential wells nearby. >> i invite anybody from the companies who have put it over there to come to my house and have dinner, and i will use that tap water. >> stacy and her neighbors think it's too risky
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to drink the water, so after dominion refused to provide them with bottled water, they began trudging to a local church where the city pipes in guaranteed clean water. is that how you get your drinking water? >> yeah. we use it to brush our teeth and take baths. >> dominion declined to give us an interview, but most power companies rely on recycling because it cuts the 130 million tons of coal waste every year in half. the industry calls recycling "beneficial use." >> ugh! don't even---beneficial for who? the only people it was beneficial for were for those utility companies that had to get that stuff off their hands because they were already in violation with stockpiling too much. that is what "beneficial use" meant. >> but the e.p.a. and the bush administration endorsed beneficial use, and now coal ash is recycled in dozens of ways-- as cement substitute,
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for instance. it's also placed under roads and in deserted mines, and it's added to products from carpets to bowling balls to bathroom sinks. while the industry says the uses have been studied, i asked lisa jackson whether the e.p.a. knows if some of the recycled products are safe. school room carpeting. >> i don't know. i have no data that says that's safe at this point. >> kitchen counters. >> the same. >> 50,000 tons of coal ash by-products have been used in agriculture. now, what's being done, through e.p.a., to look at the use of coal ash in agricultural products? anything? are you--is there a study? is there-- >> i'm not sure that there's any study out there right now. >> how did we get to a place where coal ash is in products without anybody knowing? >> we're here now because coal ash, at this time, isn't a regulated material by the federal government.
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>> if the e.p.a. declares coal ash a hazardous waste, lobbyist jim roewer says beneficial use would die and the cost of disposal would skyrocket. >> we look at that, and we're looking at something on the order of 12 to 13 billion. >> billion. >> billion. >> and who'd pay for that? we know. the customers. >> environmental protection doesn't come cheap. >> he says the current state-by-state regulatory system may not be perfect, but it works. could you say right now that the disposal in all the coal ash plants today are safe and that they're all doing a proper job? >> all i can guarantee is that they're going to do their best to manage coal ash safely so that you don't have a release like kingston. >> are all these plants safe? >> that's what the state regulations are all about: to ensure the safe management of coal ash. >> but--but--
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what--you're not saying they are safe. you're playing word games with me. you're not saying, "they are safe." >> you want me to guarantee that... >> yeah, i do. >> they're absolutely safe? >> i want--yes, i do. >> what i can say is, the state regulations and the utility management practices are put in place to ensure--with a goal of safe management of coal ash. >> i don't think many people really trust the utility industry, i'm sorry to tell you. >> you're not the first one to tell me that. >> in may of 2010, the environmental protection agency agreed to regulate coal ash for the first time, but they have yet to figure out exactly what those regulations are going to be. our next story involves the next big oil boom, and it's not in the middle east. it's happening with our neighbors to the north, in canada, near a frigid frontier town called fort mcmurray. and as bob simon reported in 2006, the oilmen there aren't digging holes
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and waiting for gushers. rather, they're digging up dirt which is saturated with oil. there's so much of it, the oil sands of fort mcmurray could become more important to the united states than all of the oil that currently flows to the u.s. from saudi arabia. >> 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, vehicles which look like prehistoric beasts move across an arctic wasteland, extracting the oil sands. there's so much to scoop, so much money to be made. there are 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves here. that's second to saudi arabia's 260 billion, but it's only what companies can get with today's technology. the estimate of how many more barrels of oil are buried deeper underground is staggering. listen to shell canada chief clive mather. >> we know there is much, much more there.
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the total estimates could be 2 trillion or even higher. >> 2 trillion? >> 2 trillion. >> that's the number with a "t." >> that's the number with a "t." this is a very, very big resource. >> very big? that's eight times the amount of reserves in saudi arabia. the oil sands are buried under forests in alberta the size of florida. the oil here doesn't come gushing out of the sand the way it does in the middle east. the oil is in the sand. it has to be dug up and processed. >> this mine in general will be in operation for about 25 years. >> rick george, the colorado-born c.e.o. of suncor energy, took us into his strip mine for a tour. >> so, bob, this is what the oil sands tar looks like. it's a very rich, very pliable kind of a soil. >> now, when i squeeze it, why doesn't oil come out? >> well, because it's not warm enough. if you add this to hot water, you'll start the separation process, and you'll see the oil come to the top of the water, and you'll see sand drop to the bottom. >> it looks like topsoil,
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doesn't it? >> it does, but it is oil. >> it looks like topsoil, but all it grows is money. [laughter] it didn't always. the oil sands have been in the ground for millions of years, but for decades, prospectors lost millions of dollars trying to squeeze the oil out of the sand. it simply cost too much. t. boone pickens, the legendary texas oil tycoon, was working alberta's traditional oil rigs back in the '60s and remembers how he and his colleagues thought mining for oil sands was a joke. >> here we are, sitting here having a drink after work, and somebody said, "this isn't going to--it isn't possible. it'll have to be subsidized to a level." said, "before they'd make money, you'd have to have $5 oil." [laughter] we never thought that'd happen. >> but then $40 a barrel happened, and the oil sands not only made sense; they made billions to the people digging them. but it wasn't just the price of oil that changed the landscape. it was the toys. that's what they call the giant trucks and shovels
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that roam the mines. everything about the oil industry has always been big. it's characterized by bigness, from the pumps to the personalities. but up here in alberta, it's frankly ridiculous. just look at this truck. it is the biggest truck in the world. it's three stories high and costs $5 million. it carries a load of 400 tons of oil sands, which means that at today's prices, each load is worth $10,000. the oil sands go into a plant. they're heated in a cell which separates the oil from the sand. the result looks like something out of willy wonka's chocolate factory. this oil froth is sent to an upgrader and eventually to a refinery. and once you've done that, it's as good as the oil that comes jumping out of the sands in saudi arabia? >> absolutely as good as. in fact, it even trades at a premium, because it's a high-quality crude oil. [hoedown music] >> the capital
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of the oil sands frenzy is a frontier town called fort mcmurray, which isn't in the middle of nowhere. it's north of nowhere and colder than the klondike but a boomtown just the same. the local hockey team is called the oil barons. they're on a winning streak. [crowd cheering] brian jean represents the region in canada's parliament. is this comparable to a gold rush? >> i think it's bigger than a gold rush. we're expecting $100 billion, over the next ten years, to be invested in this area, $100 billion in a population that currently is 70,000 people. >> we got in a little earlier. >> t. boone pickens, who once scoffed at the oil sands, is one of those investors. pickens runs a hedge fund in dallas and is now a true believer. >> we're managing $5 billion here, and about 10% of it's in the oil sands. so it's the one single largest investment we have. >> 10% of $5 billion. i flunked math.
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>> 500 million. >> and if oil sands are the answer for investors, are oil sands the answer for the united states? >> oh, i think so. [ticking] >> but despite the boomtown mentality in the great white north, we'll meet environmentalists who say there may be a high price to pay to get all that oil out of the dirt when 60 minutes on cnbc returns. ♪ ♪ ♪ [ female announcer ] with five perfectly sweetened whole grains... you can't help but see the good.
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in its dealings with the united states. >> most of those lumbering trucks are on their way to the gas tanks of america. a million barrels a day are now coming out of the oil sands, and oil production is expected to triple within a decade. it wouldn't replace middle eastern oil, but at that point, it will be the single largest source of foreign oil for the united states, even bigger than saudi arabia, which sends a million and a half barrels a day to america. >> when i go to washington now, they are just starting to pay attention, surprisingly. >> just starting? >> in the last couple of years. >> greg stringham works for the canadian association of petroleum producers and often lobbies for the oil sands in washington. he points out that in alberta, you don't have to look for the oil sands. the earth moves. >> when it comes to exploration in the oil sands, you can't drill a dry hole. it's there. we know where it is. they've outlined it. you don't have any risk. but other conventional sectors around the world, there's a huge exploration risk. >> the exploration risks are the least of it. much of the world's crude is in the middle east,
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where the instability is deeper than the oil. [hoedown music] when alberta's blue-eyed sheiks took to wall street last summer in their stetsons to drum up support for the oil sands, their message seemed to be, "if you can't trust alberta, who can you trust?" >> alberta is a very good place to do business. it's a very stable environment. >> i mean, you're understating it, aren't you? i mean, alberta is as safe as you can get on this planet, isn't it? >> it's a great place to do business. >> and they haven't had a civil war for a while. >> we haven't had a civil war for a long time. >> the bonus for canadians, aside from the treasure, is the notion that americans might have to start treating them with a little less condescension. >> with their oil, i think we're going to need them a lot more than they need us. >> we may appear, in canada, to be a mouse compared to the elephant down south in terms of diplomacy or politics. but in terms of resources, we are mighty equals. >> there have been grumblings out of ottawa in the past that canada should consider
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using the oil sands as leverage in its serious trade disputes with the united states. do you think america's taking canada for granted on the oil sands? >> absolutely, and i think most people--most canadians believe that. >> and the canadians have alternatives. the chinese, for example, are just dying to get a piece of the sandbox. >> i've been contacted personally by chinese delegates that want to get into the plant sites here and want to see and want to invest. >> what do you think about the chinese interest in the oil sands up in alberta? >> i first thought they were tire kickers, but i think they're serious buyers. [horn honks] >> and the millions of chinese who've moved from their bicycles to traffic jams are driving up the demand for oil. it's virtually insatiable, and the canadians want to step up production quickly. what's holding them back is labor, the shortage of it. >> we need another 100,000 people here in fort mcmurray. >> that's why one oil company has built a runway to fly workers daily from civilization to fort mcmurray.
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but why would anyone want to come work in a place where temperatures plummet to 40 below and the sun sets shortly after it rises in the long winter? well, perhaps because the oil companies pay some of the highest salaries in north america. take josh lichti. >> it could be up to about, around here, maybe 120,000. so it's pretty good. >> so you're going to be making 120 grand by the time you're 22. >> yeah, yeah. it's amazing. >> but even if workers come flocking, the oil companies still have other problems. creating energy from oil sands requires so much energy that the oil companies wind up spiking greenhouse gas emissions. >> and they do it in volumes that exceed any other production of oil crude anywhere on the planet. >> elizabeth may is the director of the sierra club of canada. she takes issue not only with what the oil sands are doing to the atmosphere but to the land. the oil companies, environmentalists say,
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are digging up an entire province. take a helicopter ride over the mines, and you'll think you're flying over the moon after a moonquake. >> one of the reasons they can be mined the way they're mined is the "out of sight, out of mind" aspect of it. i mean, your film crew is one of the few that's gone in there to look at how devastating this is. >> even the money men have noticed. >> can't argue with it. i mean, there's no question that they've got a mess up there. i do believe that will be taken care of over time. >> the oil companies say they'll reduce greenhouse gases, and they point out they're required by canadian law to refill old mines and plant new trees, and that is happening slowly. one company, syncrude, has even introduced bison to land that was oncea barren p. rick george of suncor energy insists, in the future, people won't recognizee mines. >> so today is a mine. what you'll see ten years from now
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it is a replanted forest. >> you're telling me that if i come here, it's going to be pretty? >> absolutely. these sites will all be gone back--now, we'll be mining at a different location at that point, but-- >> sure, but this'll look-- >> this'll look forested when we're done with it in 20 years' time. >> but there's a larger question that not only environmentalists are asking. will the availability of an enormous supply of secure oil right next door mean america will have little incentive to reduce its dependence on oil? >> what canada's doing is continuing to feed the u.s. addition to fossil fuels. instead of being the kind of friend who says, "let's make a helpful intervention here," we're acting as the supplier of a drug fix to the u.s. while all the time saying, "just say no." but we keep selling it. >> but unless the chinese go back to bicycles and americans trash their suvs, there will be buyers for oil anywhere, no matter how it's found or mined. right now, canada has become the land of opportunity for oilmen. they'll tell you there's
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little else on the horizon. >> bob, if you take a tablet and put on it, "where is supply going to come from that we don't know about today?" and you put down all the optimistic points, that tablet will be basically blank. >> as blank as the landscape around fort mcmurray, where the world of oil exploration ends. you think the days of cheap oil are gone? >> they're gone. from what we knew as cheap oil, when i pump gasoline in ray smith's sinclair station on hinkley street in holdenville, oklahoma, 11¢ a gallon, that's gone. >> $1.50 a gallon? >> we won't ever see $1.50 a gallon. no, that's--that's gone. >> right around the corner from fort mcmurray, you can still see oil being produced the traditional way. it's picturesque now. the wells are still pumping, but they belong to the past, like the iron horse that once
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rode across these prairies. the future? up here in alberta, they're convinced it's in the dirt. [horn honks] >> since we first aired that story, the demand for oil extracted from canadian oil sands has only grown in the u.s., and it's now the single largest source of imported oil, far more than from any opec country. to meet that demand, a new pipeline has been proposed to bring the oil directly from canada to refineries in texas. but there is growing concern about the environmental impact of that pipeline and of the oil sands in general. [ticking] our next story takes us to the continent of antarctica. scott pelley uncovers startling physical evidence of how global warming is already starting to heat up our world when 60 minutes on cnbc returns. ♪
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>> if you need proof that our world is getting warmer, you need look no further than the glaciers of antarctica. as scott pelley reported in 2007, the glaciers on that vast continent are melting at an alarming rate, and disappearing with the ice are whole colonies of penguins. both are early warning signs that the global warming day of reckoning is upon us. to find out what's happening at the bottom of the world, we stop first at the high mountains of patagonia in chile, where you can actually see firsthand the consequences of a warming planet. >> this massive ice is glacier o'higgins. it's been frozen
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for tens of thousands of years in the mountains of southern chile. o'higgins is spectacular for its beauty. >> [speaking in spanish] >> but for a scientist like gino casassa, it's breathtaking for its speed. >> this was the glacier front position in 1896. >> now o'higgins is morphing into a lake, retreating more than any glacier in south america. the glacier was sitting where we are sitting right now. >> we would have been covered by ice. i think it's a very clear picture that the world is getting warmer and that the impacts which were projected even 10 or 20 years ago are happening right now. >> o'higgins has fallen back nine miles in 100 years, throwing off icebergs that roll as they dissolve into the lake. casassa took us to the face of o'higgins, carefully
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measuring our approach. it's a dynamic thing. >> yeah, absolutely. >> it's cracking, popping, rumbling. there goes a big piece of it right here. wow, there goes--look at that. and this is why you advise us not to get too close. >> exactly. >> casassa is a glaciologist who surprised us when he told us what he used to think of global warming. >> i just didn't believe in global warming-- i mean, in global warming being produced by mankind, by us contaminating the atmosphere. i just refused to believe that. >> oh! >> wow, wow. >> look at that one. well, there's a bit of your proof. >> yeah, exactly. >> he says now the evidence has convinced him. we set out to find more evidence as casassa went to measure the height of o'higgins. we climbed to a spot where he crossed from earth to ice in 2004. you thought we were going to walk from here onto the ice.
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>> now it's water. >> and now look at it. >> we have a small problem now. >> much to his surprise, there's 1,000 feet of water where he walked three years ago. we had to hike for hours to get to the ice, and when we got there, we found it blackened by earth and volcanic ash. casassa set up a receiver to measure the distance from the top of o'higgins to satellites overhead. so you get a contour line of the top of the glacier as you go. >> as we walk, the receiver, which is in my backpack, is capturing data every one second. >> and the data showed him o'higgins has thinned 92 feet in seven years. o'higgins is not unique. more than 90% of the world's glaciers are retreating. and if you're looking for early trouble from climate change, this is it. glacial runoff provides water
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for 1 1/2 billion people, mostly in south america, china, and india. >> in the medium term-- let's say, depending on the size of the glacier, 30 years, just a few decades-- the glacier will start to waste away in such a degree that you will see the runoff, the glacial melt coming from that glacier starting to decline. >> and these cities around the world will be starved for water. >> exactly, so that's a major issue. and we see now the first impacts. >> we wanted to see the evidence of warming nearer the bottom of the world, so we set sail ast city south, ushuaia, argentina, on a two-day voyage to antarctica. it's more than 1,000 miles from glacier o'higgins in patagonia and across the drake passage to the antarctic peninsula. here, we found there's green where the white used to be. on the coast in summer, there's grass where the scientists used to ski. this is paradise cove.
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it's home to fur seals, lazy elephant seals, and the chinstrap penguin. there's the chin strap right there, right under the eye. american biologists sue and wayne trivelpiece were the first to discover trouble in paradise cove. how have these populations changed over the years? >> they have dropped by about 60%. >> 60%? >> yup. >> the trivelpieces live in this tiny american outpost, where they've studied penguins for more than 30 years. you know, i'm curious about the evolution. how long have there been penguins? >> oh, millions of years. there have been six-foot penguin fossils found. >> six feet, tall as me. >> yeah, and with ten-inch bills. and i really don't think i'd want to band one of those guys. [laughter] >> okay, closing around them.
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>> banding modern penguins led the trivelpieces to their discovery. it starts with a roundup. they've squeezed i.d. bands on 70,000 penguins to see if they survive their migration. >> oh, excuse me. it's okay. >> penguins migrate up to 5,000 miles in the coldest water on earth. and if you think penguins don't fly, you've never seen them underwater. they can hit up to 25 miles an hour. but after millions of years of this endurance, many chinstrap and adelie penguins aren't surviving anymore. >> we knew something was drastically wrong, something had changed in the ocean. >> what did you think was happening? >> we didn't really know. we knew it had to be something that was going on once they left land and went to sea. [ticking] >> as we'll discover, the fate of those penguins may provide key clues about how fast our planet
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>> as scott pelley reports, solving the puzzle of what happened to the chinstrap penguins has lead researchers to some stark conclusions about the pace of global warming. [bird squeaking]
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>> and we love working with the chinstraps. they're far and away the most cooperative. >> but you know what, wayne? i'm not sure they like working with you. getting manhandled may ruffle their feathers, but it was key to discovering their fate. these are grown penguin chicks chasing their mothers for food, which she delivers beak to beak. soon the chicks will go to sea to hunt for a shrimp-like crustacean called krill. the krill grow beneath the sea ice, but in the warming ocean, the sea ice is melting away. so the penguins have been going to sea and starving to death? >> the chicks are declining, and we think they just can't find the krill. >> you know, when you can link a change in warming in air temperature through ice to krill, to penguins and show a 50% reduction of the penguin populations here and connect all the dots,
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you really can't make it any clearer than that. >> if it's clear the south is warming, paul mayewski is here to find out why. >> we're just on the edge of something that is potentially going to be much, much bigger. >> mayewski is among the most accomplished antarctic scientists. he's director of the climate change institute at the university of maine, and he's been exploring antarctica since 1968. they've even named a mountain after him here. what are some of the questions, some of the big questions you'd like to answer here? >> oh, we'd of course like to be able to demonstrate that over the last few thousand years, this temperature change truly is different. >> is warming caused by man's pollution in the atmosphere? >> just keep pulling on that till it's tight around your legs. >> mayewski says the answer is right under our feet. so with the help of scientists from poland's arctowski research station, we set out to climb to the top
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of a glacier that was fractured by deep crevasses covered in snow. antarctica is 1 1/2 times the size of the united states, and it's covered in ice that averages a mile in thickness. and so this is the top. >> this is the top of the plateau. spectacular 360-degree view. >> paul, that's science the hard way. >> yup. but if you want to learn about the climate, you've got to get here and you've got to experience the place. >> one of the reasons you work so hard to get to a place like this is because it's just about as remote as you can imagine. just listen for a second. nothing. dead silence. we're up on the warsaw plateau. it's about 1,500 feet or so from sea level on king george island in antarctica. the other reason you come here is to see some of the most dramatic evidence anywhere in the world of climate change.
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over the past 50 years, this region-- the antarctic peninsula, the northwestern part, and the islands around it-- has been going up in temperature about one degree every decade, and that makes the region the fastest-warming place on earth. mayewski is here to drill an ice core, because when ice is laid down, it captures everything in the air. drilling down is drilling through time. >> well, the ice cores are really the only way we have of demonstrating what greenhouse gas levels were like prior to their first measurement by humans, which is really 1957 or so. >> by chemically analyzing the core, he can see what was in the air thousands of years ago. >> one more sample will do it. >> back in maine, mayewski has a vault of hundreds of cores. he once led a team that drilled a glacier core two miles deep. he and his colleagues have found some of the most powerful evidence
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that man is changing the climate. what do the ice cores tell you about greenhouse gases? >> now we know from the ice core record that it's--the levels and the speed of rise are significantly, significantly greater than anything in the last 850,000 years. and the levels that we expect to get by the end of the century are going to be double what we have today. >> mayewski and his colleagues have timed the sudden rise in greenhouse gases to the start of the industrial revolution about 150 years ago. if, as expected, greenhouse gas pollution doubles by the end of this century, temperatures are predicted to rise four to six degrees. >> you could very well see sea level rises on the order of several feet and perhaps even several tens of feet. if sea level were to rise like that, there would be tremendous changes, immense migrations. >> you would potentially have
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millions, hundreds of millions of people who'd have to move inland. >> it would be the largest catastrophe that the modern world had experienced. that rise in se would play out over decades, but some of it may be inevitable. it turns out that many greenhouse gases last a long time in the atmosphere, and there's a lot up there opped every auto every factory, every emission of a greenhouse gas today, would the world continue to warm? >> it would certainly for a while. it is important that everybody really begin to make reductions in greenhouse gases and all of the toxic elements that go along with it in order to impact or to have a change in the future. and once we start, it's not going to be an immediate solution. we're going to have to pay for a while for what we've done.
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>> since this story first aired, neither the united nations nor the united states congress have been able to reach a consensus within their own organizations for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. meanwhile, according to nasa, the decade ending in 2009 was the warmest on record. that's this edition of 60 minutes on cnbc. i'm steve kroft. thanks for joining us. captioning by captionmax and just give them the basics, you know. i got this. [thinking] is it that time? the son picks up the check? [thinking] i'm still working. he's retired. i hope he's saving.
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