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Amid Media Blackout over Climate Change Links to Hurricane Matthew, Top Scientist Speaks Out

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States of emergency have been declared in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas as Hurricane Matthew barrels toward the Southeast coastline. More than 2 million people have been urged to evacuate their homes. The record-breaking storm has already killed at least 26 people in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic. The storm is soon expected to hit the Bahamas and then strengthen as it moves toward Florida. Meteorologists are predicting Matthew could be the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005. Many scientists are saying climate change has intensified Hurricane Matthew because warmer ocean waters help create stronger hurricanes. Matthew is already the longest-lived Category 4 or 5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean on record. To talk more about Hurricane Matthew and climate change, we speak to Guardian journalist Oliver Milman and Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University. His latest book, co-authored with political cartoonist Tom Toles, is titled “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.” Mann is also author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: States of emergencies have been declared in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas as Hurricane Matthew barrels towards the Southeast coastline. More than 2 million people have been urged to evacuate their homes. The record-breaking storm has already killed at least 26 people in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic. The storm is expected to soon hit the Bahamas and then strengthen as it moves towards Florida. Meteorologists are predicting Matthew could be the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005. On Thursday, President Obama urged residents in the Southeast to take precautions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to emphasize to the public: This is a serious storm. It has already hit Haiti, with devastating effect. It is now in the process of moving through the Bahamas. Because it’s not going to be hitting enough land, it is going to be building strength on its way to Florida. We anticipate that by tomorrow morning it will already begin to have significant effect in Florida and then has the potential to strengthen and move on up the coast during the course of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Matthew was the first Category 4 hurricane to hit Haiti in 52 years. The storm displaced thousands across Haiti still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake. The storm also knocked out most communications across Haiti and flooded a major bridge connecting southern Haiti to the rest of the country. The United Nations warned the hurricane poses the greatest humanitarian threat to Haiti since the earthquake six years ago. Haiti’s presidential election scheduled for Sunday has been postponed indefinitely.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Many meteorologists are saying climate change has intensified Hurricane Matthew because warmer ocean waters help create stronger hurricanes. Matthew is already the longest-lived Category 4 or 5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean on record.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Hurricane Matthew and climate change, we’re joined by two guests. In Philadelphia, Michael Mann joins us, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University. His latest book, co-authored with the political cartoonist Tom Toles, is titled The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. Michael Mann is also author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. And here in New York, we’re joined by Oliver Milman, environmental reporter at The Guardian. His new piece is titled “Hurricanes will worsen as planet warms and sea levels rise, scientists warn.”

Let’s begin with Michael Mann. So, I’ve been watching TV, nonstop coverage of the hurricane that’s barreling up through the Southeast, just having left carnage in its wake in Dominican Republic and Haiti. There is—there’s interview after interview. There’s “extreme weather” signs flashing on the TV. But the two words I don’t hear discussed are “climate change.” Even today on CNN, as they were talking to the head of the National Hurricane Center, they said, “Is there anything else you want to share with people?” He was in Florida. Where is the discussion of climate change, Michael Mann? And what is the connection between this Hurricane Matthew and climate change?

MICHAEL MANN: Thanks, Amy. You know, it’s unfortunate that some in the weather community are not providing that critical context for understanding this trend towards increasingly devastating tropical storms and hurricanes. Matthew is a very good example of a storm that was unique, unprecedented, in certain respects. It intensified far more quickly than any other storm that we’ve seen in modern history, basically going from not even a tropical depression to a near-hurricane-strength storm over the course of, you know, less than half a day, and then, the next day, of course, strengthening into a major hurricane, a Category 5 hurricane. It’s weakened a little bit, but now it’s restrengthening.

And where that intensification, where that rapid intensification occurred was in the region of the Caribbean that has the greatest heat content, not just that the ocean surface temperatures are warm, but there’s a very deep layer of warm water. And that’s important, because that helps sustain these storms as they churn up the ocean. The churning doesn’t bring cold water to the surface to weaken the storm, if there’s a deep layer of warmth. And that all has a climate change signature with it, not just the fact that the ocean surface temperatures in the Caribbean are at near-record levels, but the—just the sheer depth of that warm water is unprecedented. And as the surface warming penetrates into the ocean, we are seeing increases in ocean heat content. Last year was the warmest our oceans have ever been on record. And that’s critical context. It’s that warmth that provides the energy that intensifies these storms. And it isn’t a coincidence that we’ve seen the strongest hurricane in both hemispheres within the last year.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Oliver Milman, can you talk about the fact that governors, some governors, in the U.S. have declared states of emergency, and how likely that is to be effective as a means of protecting the devastation that’s being anticipated?

OLIVER MILMAN: Sure. So, there’s states of emergency, Florida up to—up to the Carolinas. About 2 million people, as you mentioned before, have been asked to evacuate. Barrier islands on the east coast of Florida have already been completely evacuated now. Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, has said that the state is expected to get a direct hit, although the National Hurricane Center said the path will run very close to Florida, so it’s not quite sure exactly how hard Florida will be hit, although this is one of the most significant hurricanes, certainly, to hit the U.S. in many years.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you make of the coverage? Because that’s how people learn about hurricanes like this.

OLIVER MILMAN: Sure, yeah, I would kind of concur with what you and Michael said on the coverage: It’s been—it’s been fairly—fairly abysmal, really, if you look at—if you look at the link between extreme weather and climate change. That just isn’t articulated regularly, especially by cable TV. News channels, I think, online and in print, there are certainly media that are kind of exploring that link and have done so quite eloquently. But certainly, if you tune into most TV channels, that is fairly absent.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Mann, your book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, talk about who the denialists are, the climate deniers are, and the effect it has on science and public understanding, and what we need to do right now as we face this catastrophe.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, so, you know, there’s been a decades-long campaign by fossil fuel interests and politicians who earn their pay, paid talking heads, front groups, all of which exist essentially for no other purpose than to confuse the public and policymakers about climate change, to convince the public and policymakers that the scientific—that there is no scientific consensus. The forces of denial, again, most of them funded or tied in some way to fossil fuel interests, understand that all they need to do is divide the public and confuse the public about this issue to prevent progress from taking place.

And I wanted to actually draw upon something that Oliver mentioned. Governor Rick Scott of Florida has received quite a bit of funding from the Koch brothers over the years. He is a climate change denier. So here you have a state which is on the front lines of dealing with the impacts of climate change, and not just because of the possibility of more extreme weather events, more intense hurricanes, a trend that we see and a trend that we know is related to climate change, but you combine these intensifying storms with the rising sea level, and, forgive the pun, you get a perfect storm of consequences for coastal flooding. And we’re going to see exceptional coastal flooding associated with Matthew, not just because of the intensity of the storm, but because of the fact that sea level rise has added substantially to the impact of storms like Matthew. So there’s this amazing hypocrisy, which we explore in the book, when it comes to politicians like Rick Scott, who are almost literally burying their heads in the sand when it comes to acknowledging and recognizing the impacts of climate change.

And ironically, you know, the city of Miami is already dealing with this problem. They’re spending millions of dollars building pumps to help pump out the seawater as it encroaches upon Miami Beach. They’re dealing with the impacts of climate change on a regular basis, and yet their governor, Rick Scott, actually tried to outlaw any discussion of climate change or global warming in state-related business. So there’s this amazing disconnect. And we do find ourselves in a madhouse, quite literally, when it comes to dealing with climate change deniers like Rick Scott and many other politicians, who are essentially acting as agents for the fossil fuel industry rather than representing our own interests.

Now, we can change that. If people vote in November, vote climate, not just at the top of the ticket, but all the way down. The only way this is going to change is if we elect politicians who are willing to represent our interests rather than the special interests that have funded these campaigns in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about top of the ticket in just a minute. We’re speaking with Michael Mann—his new book is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy—and Oliver Milman, who writes for the Guardian US, about climate change. We’ll talk about the top of the ticket and climate denial. We’ll talk about the debates, how the last debate that just took place this week, the only vice-presidential debate, not one question asked on climate change, as Hurricane Matthew was smashing Haiti on its way to the U.S. Stay with us.

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