Ira Flatow on Science: An Extreme Weather Year

Participants from 189 nations are attending a United Nations-sponsored climate conference this week in Montreal, Canada. Madeleine Brand speaks with Ira Flatow, host of Talk of the Nation Science Friday, about recent research that suggests 2005 was the most extreme weather year on record.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

More than 10,000 people from nearly 200 nations are gathered in Montreal this week for the United Nations climate change conference. It's the biggest such meeting since the signing of the Kyoto protocol eight years ago, and it comes at a time when scientists are reporting dramatic new evidence of changes to the Earth's climate. Ira Flatow, host of "Science Friday," is here to talk about it, and he's a regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY.

Hello, Ira.

IRA FLATOW reporting:

Hi there.

BRAND: Well, what changes are the scientists talking about?

FLATOW: Well, according to them, you don't have to look very far for evidence of global climate change and global warming. It's all over the place. For example, in a report released at the UN climate change conference, Dr. Lara Hansen, who is chief scientist for the World Wildlife Foundation, says that 2005 is likely to go down as the wettest, the hottest, the stormiest--we know about that--and the driest year ever. And she makes a strong case for global warming. She says that is beyond what can be expected by cyclical climate changes. And it's interesting that even the Amazon rain forest has been affected. You know, we think of that as a very wet jungle. Well, it's the driest it's been in decades. It's the worst drought going down there in a century.

BRAND: So global climate change can result in droughts and in hurricanes and storms?

FLATOW: Yeah, if you move the water from one place, it leaves there and goes someplace else.

BRAND: And what about the loss of ice in the Arctic, where shipping lanes are suddenly appearing where there were none before?

FLATOW: Yeah. You know, that's right. In September, they reported the smallest area of Arctic sea ice ever, just 500,000 square miles. That's a 10 percent decline per decade, according to the report.

BRAND: And far away in Africa, we've heard reports that the snow on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro also disappearing?

FLATOW: That's right, and now there are reports from Nepal, where melting glaciers have caused flash flooding, frequent landslides, food problems and deaths on a scale that really has never been seen before. It seems that some of these glacial lakes in remote mountain villages are rapidly filling up with--you know, as the glacier melts, the water comes down, fills the lake up, swelling it in some cases to seven times their normal size, and bursting and causing what are called outburst floods and wiping out lives and property. And Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, said this week that the world has just one decade to get its act together and limit the release of greenhouse gases, because if the temperature rises just one more degree Celsius, the Earth would go into a climate pattern it hasn't seen in half a million years, and that is unchartered territory.

BRAND: Well, thank you very much, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

BRAND: Ira Flatow is host of "Science Friday" and a regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY.

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