Bill Nye on hurricanes: “This is not in anybody's best interest to continue to deny climate change”

MSNBC's Katy Tur: “How can you adequately prepare for storms, for extreme weather ... if you have a bunch of people who don't believe in climate science running things?”

From the September 12 edition of MSNBC Live with Katy Tur:

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DONALD TRUMP: The safety of the American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared. We're ready. We're as ready as anybody's ever been.


KATY TUR (HOST): President Trump says FEMA is ready for Hurricane Florence, but mounting evidence suggests it could be incredibly difficult to deal with this disaster if climate change deniers are on the front lines of emergency response.

A new study from Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, is echoing the findings of previous research showing climate change as the cause of warmer ocean conditions that produce fast, intensifying storms like hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. In fact, NOAA is now warning that the waters ahead of Hurricane Florence are roughly three degrees Fahrenheit above average.

But where does the Trump administration stand on climate change? Well, just yesterday, President Trump rolled back Obama-era mandates blocking rogue methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Last month, the EPA weakened a rule limiting carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. And in July, the agency reduced regulations capping greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. These rules were all part of Obama's three-part strategy for combating climate change.

Joining me now to discuss, host of Bill Nye Saves the World, and the “Science Guy” himself, Bill Nye, and former communications director for the Clinton White House Climate Change Task Force, Paul Bledsoe. He’s currently the strategic advisor of the Progressive Policy Institute. Bill, I do want to start with you because you brought some props. I imagine you’re going to show us something interesting. Go ahead.

NYE: Here’s the thing that’s going to be very troublesome: There’s going to be, in English units, 20 inches of rain in most places, and in a lot of places more than that. I just want everybody to remember what an inch of rain is. An inch is a cubic inch of water over a square inch of surface. So that would be a cubic inch right there. Doesn’t look like much. But imagine this much water wherever you are. This much extra water in your living room, where you're watching television, or where you’re trying to play basketball. This much water causes all kinds of trouble. And furthermore, the storms in the northern hemisphere are going counterclockwise. They fetch water up off the sea surface. So you add this much to about four times this much, and this is what leads to all this trouble.

And the reason people in mainstream science associate a storm like this with climate change is because the sea surface is at least one degree Celsius warmer than it was 30 years ago. And, reckoned in the longer term since the steam engine was invented, it’s two and a half, three degrees Celsius, three degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it would have been 30 years ago. And this energy, this heat energy in the ocean, drives these storms. I look forward, of course, to all the hate tweets. It's going to be great about how a guy who took a lot of physics can't possibly read a graph; I got all that. But, everybody, this is not in anybody's best interest to continue to deny climate change.

And, then, what's happened along the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina -- my people are from Durham, North Carolina, OK. What’s happened is many, many people have built these very nice houses on the seacoast, which are worth millions and millions of dollars. And when those people stop going to work for a week or two, or a month, the economy in that area doesn't collapse but is deeply affected. There's tremendous technology in the Raleigh-Durham area. The Raleigh-Durham airport is a huge airport. Atlanta airport, a huge airport. This is going to disrupt air traffic and cost everybody a lot of money. Back to you, Katie.

TUR: Let’s put up some graphics, if we can. First, we want to show you this storm surge along the eastern edge of the Carolinas and Virginia. That's where they are expected to have a lot more water from the storm surge. And then we have this, understanding how a storm surge works and how it forms. Bill, in terms of the warm water, we talked about it in the lead-in, three degrees warmer Fahrenheit over these waters, you said about a one degree Celsius warmer, in general. Why does that contribute to the strength of these storms?

NYE: One can ask oneself, where does the energy come from to drive a storm? It's the heat of sun warming the ocean, and then this extraordinary thing that we have here on Earth, which is water, water everywhere. So the water evaporates, and then when it gets to a higher altitude, it expands, releases energy. The heat energy spreads out and allows the water to go from a vapor back to a liquid and fall down as rain. And this motion of energy, this cycling, is what makes these storms drive, get bigger and more powerful. And the warmer the sea surface, the more temperature difference you have and the stronger the storm. Then what makes them spin is a combination of the spin of the Earth and gravity.

And they’re extraordinary. When I was a little kid, Hurricane Agnes passed over us. It's just this weird moment where the eye goes over, and all of sudden it's a blue sky, and then it starts raining again like crazy.

What's really going to cause trouble this time is the combination of all these people living along the coast and the sea surface being warmer in this long, long term. The real problem, everybody, category 3, 4, or four and a half or 5, is the electrical grid gets blown down, all these above-ground wires. Without electricity, our society just doesn't function very well.

TUR: Let's show the map of the Atlantic right now. And here are the storms that are forming: Florence, Isaac, and Helene. Also this: The 2018 hurricane forecast from NOAA. Nine to 13 named storms. Four to seven hurricanes. Potentially two major hurricanes. That's a lot of activity, Paul. We’re coming to expect more activity, generally, year by year. You believe that because of this, climate deniers, and we do have certain climate change deniers in this administration right now, will be forced to reverse themselves because, in order to mitigate all the costs from these storms, they’re going to have to accept it and do preparations to prepare for them, right?

BLEDSOE: That's right, Katie. Last year alone, the extreme weather events, made worse by climate change, cost the economy $350 billion. Congress had to appropriate $130 billion in special emergency appropriations to deal with these. These are costing taxpayers. The truth is that climate change is a huge public safety menace, and it’s a huge drag on our economy. Donald Trump and other Republicans who are denying climate change are on the wrong side of public safety, of economics, and of history. I’m here in California. Jerry Brown just announced that California is going to get 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. I was at an event yesterday put on by the Pisces Foundation, where if we reduce methane, rather than increase it, as Trump tried to do yesterday, and other super pollutants like HFCs, we can reduce warming this century by over a degree Celsius. Now think about how that would correspond in preventing the oceans from getting warmer and preventing these storms from getting out of control. This is not an environmental issue, fundamentally. It's one of public safety and economics. And, unfortunately, we're going to see more and more of these extreme, costly, and threatening-to-public-health-and-safety events until we begin to reduce our emissions.

TUR: It does make you wonder how can you adequately prepare for storms, for extreme weather, for fires, for hurricanes, for tornadoes, for flooding, for wild swings in temperature, which we’ve seen here in New York City in just the past week, if you have a bunch of people who don't believe in climate science running things?

BLEDSOE: You saw this in Puerto Rico.

TUR: Yeah.