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There has been a lot of extreme weather lately. What's the cause?


There is no ignoring this - extreme weather events that are disrupting so many lives this summer and, in too many cases, taking lives.


Yeah, listen to this list - intense wildfires in Hawaii, in Washington state and across Canada, a former hurricane that has walloped Mexico, California and Nevada and now threatens Oregon and Idaho and a suffocating heat wave across the central and Southern U.S.

MARTIN: Rebecca Hersher from NPR's Climate Desk is here to tell us more about this. Good morning, Rebecca.


MARTIN: OK, so let's just say it. This isn't just bad luck, is it?

HERSHER: No, no, not at all. You know, it's all related to human-caused climate change. Climate change does not cause extreme events, right? But really intense fires and hurricanes - it makes them more likely and more common. So as the earth heats up, we increasingly get these years, especially summers, where it feels like disaster on disaster on disaster, all of them driven in part by warmer temperatures. So, for example, hurricanes - they've always happened. But when the ocean is abnormally hot at the surface, it helps hurricanes grow. We are seeing that right now in both the Pacific, where Hurricane Hilary formed, and in the Atlantic, where there are multiple potential storms right now. The same is true for wildfires. Wildfires are an important part of healthy forest ecosystems, but drought and heat can make them burn more widely, make them burn more intensely than in the past. So if it feels like it can't be normal, it's not. Or it didn't used to be.

MARTIN: So is this a preview of our future on a planet that's heating up?

HERSHER: You know, in some ways, I think yes, especially in August. You know, it can be a stark reminder of climate change for millions of people in the U.S. this time of year because there is so much extreme weather. But it's not like this year is that exceptional, to be frank, especially if you zoom out and look at the planet as a whole. Last year, there were record-breaking hurricanes and wildfires and heat waves. The year before that, same deal, the year before that and the year before that. And I say that not to minimize it but to give the context. You know, the last nine years are the hottest nine years ever recorded on planet Earth. Climate change is just relentlessly wreaking havoc on people everywhere. It's just a matter of when that extreme weather will come for you and arrive in your community.

MARTIN: Is it possible to avoid even more catastrophic effects?

HERSHER: You know, it is. The big thing is to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stop burning oil and gas and coal, transition to wind and solar. Scientists say that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and get all the way to basically zero by 2050. Right now, it is not clear that there's political will to do that. There's an array of fossil fuel and corporate interests that are slowing things down. The other thing to remember, though, is that even though climate change does make the weather more intense, we can lessen the damage by building our homes and our cities and our electrical grids in resilient ways, by having emergency plans that keep climate-driven weather in mind because it's going to keep happening, by preparing and protecting those who are most vulnerable to this weather. You know, I'm thinking about floods like the ones in California this week or the fire in Maui. The weather was related to climate change to varying degrees. But how we prepare for and react to that weather can determine who lives and who dies.

MARTIN: That's Rebecca Hersher from NPR's Climate Desk. Rebecca, thanks so much once again.

HERSHER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.