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Stronger & Wetter: Michael Mann on How Climate Change Makes Storms Worse & Why We Must Cut Emissions

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Climate Week kicks off this week in New York City as more than 150 world leaders gather for the U.N. General Assembly and as Hurricane Fiona rips through Puerto Rico, Typhoon Nanmadol slams southern Japan, and Typhoon Merbok floods parts of western Alaska. We speak to climate scientist Michael Mann about how climate change has changed the pattern of tropical storms, and what needs to happen to address the crisis. He says rising global temperatures have worsened the effects of storms like these, and more aggressive climate legislation from Congress is needed. “We are experiencing devastating consequences of past climate inaction, and it really drives home the importance of taking action now,” says Mann.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

You know, today marks the start of Climate Week here in New York City, where more than 150 world leaders are gathering for the United Nations General Assembly. Some of them are coming directly from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, including President Biden, set to address the forum Wednesday, a day later than usual. On Thursday, the Barbados prime minister is set to speak about her proposal for a new financial settlement for vulnerable countries struggling to pay off debt from climate disasters. Governments are also facing pressure to address their pledges to end fossil fuel subsidies amid soaring energy bills.

Ahead of the 77th session of the U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres had this warning for world leaders.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: Climate change seems to have moved out of the priorities for many decision makers around the world, and this is a suicide. We see emissions growing, and we see fossil fuels become fashionable again, when we know that fossil fuels are the main responsible for the progressive war against nature that we have been waging in our history.

AMY GOODMAN: Activists have also planned a week of actions at this year’s Climate Week, which comes after a summer of heat waves and floods around the world. As Pakistan reels from one of the worst climate disasters in history, a third of Pakistan is underwater. Hurricane season is again underway, with Hurricane Fiona battering Puerto Rico, as just described, as well as Typhoon Merbok, which flooded parts of western Alaska in what some are calling the state’s worst storm in half a century. Meanwhile, 9 million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in Japan, where one of the largest typhoons ever to hit the country made landfall Sunday night.

To talk about all of this, we’re joined by Michael Mann, the presidential distinguished professor and director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media. He’s now at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.

Professor Mann, welcome back to Democracy Now! I mean, you just heard the descriptions of Puerto Rico. We’ve got Japan, we’ve got Alaska, Pakistan a third underwater. Your response? What connects all of this? Explain what’s happening.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, Amy, I would say it’s good to be with you, but we rarely have good news to discuss. And with these catastrophic events that we see playing out now in real time, we are witnessing the devastating consequences of climate change now. This isn’t 10 years into the future. It’s not way off in the Arctic. It’s where we live now. We are experiencing devastating consequences of past climate inaction, and it really drives home the importance of taking action now.

You know, the physics isn’t that difficult here. You make the planet warmer, you’re going to get more heat. You’re going to get more intense and more frequent heat waves, like we’ve seen this summer and every summer in recent history. You make the atmosphere warmer, it holds moisture, more moisture. So you get those flooding events. You get the sort of devastating flooding that we’re seeing right now with these landfalling hurricanes. You make the soils warmer in the summer, you dry them out more, so you get more drought. And what we see out west, the heat, the drought combine to give us those devastating wildfires. And so, this isn’t rocket science. The physics here is very basic, and it tells us that we’re reaping what we’ve sown. We’re now experiencing devastating climate impacts.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about right now what you feel needs to be done? And the significance of — I mean, you are a scientist. You were at Penn State, now you’re at University of Pennsylvania. The way climate science was disparaged — now, I think, so much more embraced all over the world. But what has to happen at this moment, in the midst of Climate Week here in New York and right before the U.N. COP? What actually do countries have to commit to?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, you know, the worst thing that can happen to you as a climate scientist is that your predictions come true. And that’s what we’re seeing happen. And so, you know, those who used to deny the reality of climate change, they can’t anymore, because, of course, we are all now seeing the impacts with our own two eyes. That doesn’t mean they’ve given up. Polluters are still using every tool in the book — and that’s what my book is about — to try to prevent the actions that are necessary.

So, what do we need to do? Look, we need to recognize we’ve made some real progress here. the Inflation Reduction Act here in the United States is by far the most comprehensive climate legislation that’s ever passed the U.S. Congress. It starts to get us on the path that we need to be on to limit warming below a catastrophic 3 degrees Fahrenheit, where we see the worst consequences of climate change. It starts to get us on that path, but it doesn’t quite get there, and so we need to go further. We need to reduce carbon emissions here in the United States by at least 50% by 2030. The IRA, Inflation Reduction Act, maybe gets us about 40%. So we’ve got to go further than that.

And look, right now the gatekeeper for climate legislation in the United States is a coal state Democrat, Joe Manchin. Only climate legislation that’s approved by him can pass under these current sort of — in our current politics. That’s why voters need to turn out in droves in these midterm elections, so we can get a large enough majority of climate advocates, Democrats and others who support climate action, in Congress, so that we can go further, so we can get more aggressive climate legislation passed, that will put a price on carbon, that will provide more subsidies for renewable energy, that will block new fossil fuel infrastructure. No less than the IEA, no cheerleader for renewable energy, has said that if we are to keep warming below that catastrophic level of 3 degrees Fahrenheit, there can be no new fossil fuel infrastructure. That means we can’t continue to fund new pipeline projects as we’re currently doing here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is a Category 2 hurricane, like Fiona, that just swept through Puerto Rico — we don’t even know the extent of the damage as it moves on to the Dominican Republic — causing so much damage in Puerto Rico compared to a Category 5 Hurricane Maria? Also, why — what’s the significance of it appearing so late in hurricane season? And then, also, why the hurricane that has now — the typhoon that has hit Japan is considered like the worst in half a century? What is causing this?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, so, again, it’s pretty basic. The warming of the oceans, the planet’s warming up, the oceans are warming up, that means there’s more energy. There’s more evaporation from the oceans. And it’s that evaporation that provides the energy to intensify those storms, and it’s what provides them all of that moisture. And so we get stronger, more intense storms, and they contain a lot more rainfall in them, so we get much more flooding. And that’s what we’re seeing over time.

Now, the vagaries of any particular storm — we can’t say this storm wouldn’t have happened if not for climate change. What we can say is this particular storm was stronger, it was wetter, and it was more damaging than it would have been, because of climate change. We can make that direct link.

AMY GOODMAN: And the comparison of the Atlantic storms to the Pacific storms?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, this is a global — you know, the physics here don’t respect individual ocean basins. Everywhere you go, warmer oceans mean more intense hurricanes or typhoons, as we call them over there, and worse flooding with these storms. And that’s really what we’re seeing here. And, you know, this is really just sort of the tip of the iceberg. The good news is we can prevent this all from getting worse if we bring those carbon emissions down, you know, as I said, 50% within the next decade, down to zero by mid-century. We can prevent further warming of the planet and worsening of these effects. But if we continue to burn fossil fuels, all of this only gets worse. This only becomes a glimpse of what is to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Mann, we thank you for being with us, presidential distinguished professor and director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.

Next up, the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. We’ll speak with Kehinde Andrews, the U.K.’s first professor of Black studies, author of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. Stay with us.

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“Racism Is as British as a Cup of Tea”: Kehinde Andrews Says Many Black Britons Don’t Mourn the Queen

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