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Killer Tornadoes: How Devastating Extreme Weather Is Linked to Human-Caused Climate Change

News audiences are seeing an increasing number of "severe weather" warnings on TV, but little connection has been made to the role humans have played in driving climate change.

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And of course they’re not confined just to our continent. You know, even in the last week, the Chinese have pointed out that they’re suffering through the worst drought in the center of the country that they have on record. In Colombia, the president went on TV last week to say, "We’ve gotten so much rain in the last year, it’s washed away so much of our infrastructure that it’s as if we haven’t been doing any development work for the last 10 or 20 or 25 years."

The scale of this stuff is immense. And as long as we just think about it as just a series of one-off, isolated disasters, we probably are not asking ourselves the most important questions. What can we do to stop this destabilization before it gets much worse?

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Bill, you’ve also—you also mention in your article what’s happened in the past year in Pakistan and Australia and other parts of the world. Could you talk about that, as well?

BILL McKIBBEN: Flooding is probably, Juan, the biggest example of what we’re doing. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold. On average, the earth’s atmosphere is about four percent wetter than it was 30 years ago, which is an astonishingly large change in a basic physical parameter. What it does is load the dice for downpour and deluge and flooding, and one country after another has been crapping out in the last year, throwing snake eyes.

I mean, you saw the pictures from Queensland in Australia, because Queensland in Australia has a lot of white people and TV cameras. You didn’t see similar pictures from Sri Lanka, from Vietnam, from the Philippines, from Brazil northeast of Rio, where they’ve had similar kinds of megafloods, now Colombia. There were some pictures from Pakistan, because it was such an epic event. There were, last year, last summer, about a quarter of that country under water. The Red Cross said in February that there were still four million homeless people from those floods in Pakistan. Of all the big things that have happened in Pakistan in the last year, the biggest one, by far, was that epic, biblical flood that came pouring down the Indus.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, in your piece, you go on to talk about, well, the connections you shouldn’t make. And you say, "Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade—well, you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining?" And you go on with a series of questions. First, talk about the Amazon. This is always what is linked, raised, on those who are questioning climate change. You’re talking about a drought in the Amazon, and you’re talking about these massive floods. "Obviously there is no connection," they say. But talk about government policy under President Obama.

BILL McKIBBEN: Sure. First of all, just two connections. The atmosphere gets moister. That means that in some areas there’s more evaporation, and hence more drought. And in other areas, that stuff is coming down.

Now, to President Obama, look, the guy has done a better job on climate change than George Bush. That’s not an enormous claim to make, but, you know, happily, he’s doing something. He’s also doing a lot of things that are very, very damaging. He has opened this vast swath of the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to coal mining. The early estimate is there’s enough coal there to be at the equivalent of having 3,000 coal-fired power plants running for a year. His administration is currently considering allowing a permit for a huge pipeline across the center of the country that will run from Canada from the tar sands in Alberta down to refineries in Texas. That’s the equivalent of lighting a fuse on the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.

 
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