Obama Looks to Al Roker for Help on Climate Change

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 07:04 AM

 

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President Barack Obama will take the case for acting on climate change to Al Roker and other TV weather personalities, hoping they can help convince the public that the risks of floods and droughts is a reason to curb greenhouse gases.

It’s no easy sell.

While a government advisory panel is set to release a report today linking the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to dangerous flooding, storm surges and water shortages, the American public is skeptical that humans are causing climate change and ranks the issue low on its list of priorities.

“We find no evidence that it’s a high priority for Americans,” Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said in an interview. “They are much more concerned about more proximate issues such as jobs and the economy.”

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Even among environmental issues, global warming rates as a lower priority than polluted drinking water or toxic waste, he said. It doesn’t show up at all among the issues citizens say are the most important facing the nation.

The authors of today’s National Climate Assessment are trying to provide reasons that climate change should be a bigger concern. The panel already approved and released a draft report last January that said many regions face “potentially irreversible impacts” as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges or water shortages.

‘Happening Now’

The final report, which details the effects of climate change on specific regions, is likely to preserve that general tenor. The scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S.

“The overall message is that climate change is happening right now -- we can’t think of this as an issue for future generations,” Radley Horton, the lead author for the chapter about the U.S. Northeast, said in a statement. “There are things we can do today to guide investments to protect the people and things that we value.”

The new assessment makes specific regional projections, maps flood-vulnerable areas, estimates potential deaths from heat waves and gauges the challenges to land and marine ecosystems, he said.

John Podesta, an Obama adviser who’s overseeing the president’s climate plans, said the White House will be focusing on climate-change policies this week in conjunction with the release of the panel’s report.

Actionable Science

“This assessment is about presenting actionable science,” Podesta said at a briefing yesterday. The intent is to give officials in state and local governments the information they need to plan for the impact of global warming.

“We obviously need all hands on deck if we’re going to avoid the most catastrophic impacts,” he said.

In his last budget, Obama asked Congress to approve a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund. It would pay for research to better understand the effect of climate change on rural areas, cities and their public works programs, and help them prepare to reduce future risks such as rising water, higher-than-average temperatures and more frequent severe weather.

Similar reports from 2000 and 2009 concluded that emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth’s temperature.

The Obama administration is seizing on this report to support efforts to curb carbon dioxide from power plants, help communities prepare for warming that is already “baked in” and limit releases of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

Roker Interview

As part of the report’s unveiling, Obama is set to give a series of interviews to eight television weathermen, including with Roker of NBC’s “Today” show.

Television meteorologists are a potentially powerful source of information for Americans about how the climate is already changing, according to Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for Forecast the Facts, a group pushing meteorologists to acknowledge climate change on the air.

Those writing the report “are people who right now are seeing changes, whether it’s because of increased heat waves, increased sea level, increased flooding, who are making decisions right now that are affected by climate change,” said Gavin Schmidt, climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Institute in New York. Being specific about heat waves or tornadoes can help bolster the case that the climate is changing, he said.

There is scientific debate about when a storm, such as Hurricane Sandy, or other weather events, such as the current drought in Texas and Oklahoma, is linked to climate change.

Scientific Debate

“Oklahoma is burning, both literally and figuratively, as a combination of drought, record heat, high winds and low relative humidity created the perfect wildfire conditions,” state climatologist Gary McManus wrote in an assessment.

Even so, asked if the drought had anything to do with global warming, McManus had a ready reply: “I don’t think we would chalk this up to climate change. This is part of the drought cycle we see in the Great Plains.”

Earlier this year, White House science adviser John Holdren, who said climate change is affecting the weather, offered testimony to a Senate panel that contradicted remarks from University of Colorado environmental sciences professor Roger Pielke Jr., who minimizes the impact. Pielke, who couldn’t be reached for comment, blasted Holdren on Twitter for telling the Senate Environment and Public Works committee that Pielke’s views were not representative of mainstream science.

Holdren, who will join Podesta in a media briefing on the report today, responded with a six-page letter to Pielke backing up his claims, with references to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and independent scientific studies.

Podesta offered a simpler way to quiet critics.

“I’d say that probably look out your window, and you’ll begin to feel the effects,” he said.

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