New Climate Change Report Places Blame On Human Actions For Natural Disasters
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The federal government's newest comprehensive report on climate change and its effects was released yesterday. The news is grim. It found not only that humans are responsible for climate change, but human actions are making wildfires, floods, extreme rainfall and droughts worse. The 48 contiguous states are already almost two degrees warmer than they were 100 years ago, and the surrounding seas are an average of 9 inches higher, and heat waves are more frequent and far worse. We're joined now by Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Thanks very much for being with us.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: This report is pretty blunt, isn't it?
HAYHOE: It is. Climate change is happening here and now. It is affecting all of us no matter where we live. And the more climate changes, the more serious and even more dangerous the impacts will become.
SIMON: How might life be different in the United States in, say, 20 or 25 years?
HAYHOE: The main reason we care about a changing climate is because it takes the risks we already face and it exacerbates them, it makes them worse. So we've always had hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, but now they're stronger, and there's much more rainfall associated with them than there would have been 50 or 100 years ago. We've always had wildfires in the West, but they're burning greater and greater area compared to 50 or 100 years ago. We're seeing increases in heavy rain events, in flood and sea level rise. And it matters to us because we can't just pick up our cities and move them.
SIMON: One of the things I noted is the report says Chicago could have, in about 25 years, as many 100 degree days as Phoenix does now, and Phoenix could have 100-degree-plus days for almost half the year.
HAYHOE: I know. It's incredible. In Chicago, we've already seen huge increases in heavy rain events. We've already seen that the city is recommending that people plant trees that are native to further south so that when they reach maturity, they'll be accustomed to Chicago's climate. But we care about a changing climate because we are not prepared for such rapid changes in the places where we live.
SIMON: And who's most vulnerable?
HAYHOE: Those who are most vulnerable are lower income and other marginalized communities, people who are already poor or sick, or the very young or the very old. Those who already have the least resources are those who are being hit first and fastest, both here in the United States as well as around the world.
SIMON: Too late to do anything?
HAYHOE: It is not too late. This report even says that we're starting to head in the right direction, but we are not doing enough fast enough. Some amount of impacts are inevitable. It's as if we've been smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for decades. But the time to stop smoking is now, and we absolutely can avoid the worst impacts if we act now. And that's what this report really lays out very clearly.
SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, at least so far, the current administration doesn't share the entire premise of the report. Are you hoping this report might change their approach?
HAYHOE: Unfortunately, we know that those who reject the science of climate change do not do so because of any lack of information. They do so because their political ideology is directly opposed to the idea that we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels as soon as possible in order to stop this thing. And the good news is we already are. There's more jobs in the solar energy industry than there is in all fossil fuels put together in terms of generating electricity across the U.S. For the last five years, the fastest growing job in the U.S. has been wind energy technician. So we are moving in the right direction, but we have to do so faster if we're going to avoid the truly dangerous impacts of a changing climate.
SIMON: Is there something that gives you hope?
HAYHOE: I absolutely have to look for hope because without hope we're going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. And I don't find that hope in the science. Every new study that comes out says that climate is changing faster or to a greater extent than we thought it seems. But I find hope in looking at what people are doing because people are acting. There are incredible things happening, from kids growing algae biofuels under their beds and winning science fair projects, to big companies like Walmart and Apple going with clean, renewable power over fossil fuels. The world is changing, and by sharing these stories of hope, we too can have hope, and that's how we're going to fix this thing.
SIMON: Katharine Hayhoe, professor at Texas Tech University, joined us by Skype. Thanks so much for being with us.
HAYHOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.