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When to Talk About Climate Change and Hurricanes


On the heels of the U.N. report released last weekend, Hurricane Michael rekindled the conversation about hurricanes and climate change – transforming in two days from a tropical storm to the strongest hurricane to hit Florida since 1851. There is no question that such rapid intensification is fed by warm ocean temperatures, and that the ocean is warmer now, and will continue to get warmer as a result of our greenhouse gas emissions.  

But, there is some debate about when and how to discuss those connections. Is it inappropriate to explore the root causes of an extreme weather event in the midst of an emergency?

A new poll of those hit hardest by Hurricane Florence suggests the answer is no: 44% of North Carolina residents surveyed after Florence hit said they think the time to talk about climate change is as an extreme weather event is unfolding. It’s not a majority, but the number who said we should wait until a week or more after was in the single digits.

Ed Maibach is a University Professor at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication and one of the lead researchers on that poll. He spoke to Living Lab Radio on the subject. 

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Elsa Partan is a producer and newscaster with CAI. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.