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Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with "The End of Nature" in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. The group he founded, 350.org, has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. The Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was "probably the country’s most important environmentalist."
Alexis Tsipras, a member of the Hellenic parliament, president of the Synaspismos political party since 2008, head of the SYRIZA parliamentary group since 2009, and leader of the Opposition since June 2012. SYRIZA currently leads in Greek opinion polls. Listen to the audio here.
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"Rand Paul: Making a Point," by Reginald Johnson, March 8, 2013
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"Tyranny of the Minority," by Reginald Johnson, Jan. 28, 2013
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"Will the Slaughter of the Innocents in Newtown Lead to Gun Law Reform in U.S.?" by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo, Dec. 16, 2012
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Posted May 18, 2011
Interview with Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research , conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Record-setting weather events -- vast floods along the Mississippi River and shockingly destructive tornadoes in the South -- have dominated the news in the U.S. for the past several weeks. Up to now, climate scientists have always been careful to say that no particular weather event can be linked directly to climate change. But many climate experts are now linking climate change directly to some of these weather-related disasters.
Kevin Trenberth is head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. funded by the National Science Foundation. In an April interview, Trenberth said he believes that it is "irresponsible not to mention climate change" in the context of extreme weather events – and added that the scientific community is still trying to understand how polluting our atmosphere with billions of tons of greenhouse gases affects tornadic activity.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Trenberth, one of the world’s top climate scientists, who explains the cause and effect relationship between climate change and extreme weather events, and suggests this information would be valuable for political leaders to take into consideration when voting on environment and climate change legislation.
KEVIN TRENBERTH: The key thing is that the environment in which all these storms are occurring now is simply different than it was, say, 30 years ago. The global warming aspect from human activities really kicked in around the 1970s, so one of the things I like to do is compare the situation now with the conditions prior to about the 1970s, and what has happened is that the planet has warmed. It's warmed by 1.5 degrees Farenheit as a whole, and going along with that, there is more water vapor in the atmosphere over the oceans; for every one degree F in temperature, there's about a 4 percent increase in water vapor. So all the storms that are forming now are in a different environment where the surface air is potentially warmer and moister and therefore, more bouyant. It can trigger more thunderstorms and certainly provides more moisture for all of the storms that are then forming. So it plays a role in any of these storms that are sufficiently organized that they can tap into this moisture and potentially lead to heavy rains and flooding, as we've seen.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Isn't the flooding we're talking about now on the Mississippi River, is that just related to storm activity or is that related to snow melt, and doesn't this happen at this time every year?
KEVIN TRENBERTH: Well, both, yes. In fact, we have two things that normally happen at this time of year. One of them is that we've got snow melt and the Mississippi River basin is huge and there are large areas, especially in the North, where there's a lot of snow cover that's melting that's helping to feed the Missouri and the Mississippi and other rivers that flow into the Mississippi. And then the other thing that happens is in springtime, we get a lot of storms tracking across the country. They tend to track right through the middle of the country, and under certain circumstances they are in a position where they can tap into tremendous amounts of moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico, which is one of the factors that occurred this time around. One of the consequences then can be quite severe storms, tornadic storms and heavy rain. So we have a combination of both. We had this episode in late April where there was an area in southern Missouri where there was over 20 inches of rain, and quite an extensive area, 500 miles or more that was certainly over ten inches of rain, and a huge area that extended right up into the Ohio River Valley that was more than six inches of rain. So, there were very heavy rains in the region as well as the seasonal snow melt that are feeding the flooding.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Kevin Trenberth, it seems like sometimes when these disasters happen, people say, "There's never been anything like this." But then, if you look at the record, maybe there has. So are you saying according to the actual meteorological records that these things are happening at greater frequency and/or greater strength?
KEVIN TRENBERTH: I would hope so. It's very strange because, ironically, many of the states that have been most affected by the tornadoes and the flooding have representatives in the Congress who have voted against legislation relating to climate change, such as the legislation affected the EPA and their ability to regulate greenhouse gases. So I think these legislators should be asking questions, you know: Why is this happening? Why are we breaking records? You can't blame this all on natural variability. Natural variability is certainly playing a role, but equally, climate change that us humans have something to do with is also playing a role.
For more information on the relationship between severe weather and climate change, visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research Climate Analysis Section website at www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/trenbert.html.