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NASA climate adviser warns extreme weather events will persist if temps keep rising


We're seeing some wild weather across the U.S. this week, from scorching temperatures in the Southwest to catastrophic flooding in the Northeast. NASA chief scientist and senior climate adviser Kate Calvin is closely watching these weather events, and I asked her if this is our new normal.

KATE CALVIN: We are seeing increases in temperature over time. So 2022 is about two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the late 19th century average. And what we know from science is that warming is going to continue. How much warmer it gets depends on actions taken and how much emissions there are in the future.

MARTÍNEZ: And if climate change continues at the pace that we're observing right now, I mean, what kinds of weather events might we experience maybe a decade or two decades from now? Are we talking about a disaster movie from Hollywood?

CALVIN: Well, so how much future warming we experience depends on future emissions. So we know that the warming we've experienced up until now is driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. There's a large community of people that look at what future climate might look like, and they look at very different warming levels - everything from looking at what if we were to keep warming around 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and going up above that. And what you see from that is that impacts rise with warming. And so how much more impacts we experience depends on how much more warming we experience. How much more warming we see in the future depends on future emissions.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, hotter temperatures and erosion on coastlines or stuff that we see in the news all the time, things that are tangible that we experience - what are some things that are related to climate change, Kate, that maybe we aren't thinking about quite yet? Things like maybe diseases or migration of people around the world.

CALVIN: So one of the things, you know, a lot of ecosystems and animal species - they're adapted to a particular climate. And even small changes in warming can change their geographic extent or how they function. And so I think thinking about things like biodiversity and ecosystems, and some of that carries with it implications for human in terms of the human health and other factors, and so thinking about that, I think we often don't always think about the fact that a small change in temperature can affect the way an ecosystem or species functions.

MARTÍNEZ: Kate, where at all do you see any hope?

CALVIN: I think we know more about our planet than we ever have. There are scientists and engineers all around the world that are learning more every day. We are able to provide that information publicly. And we have options available today that can help us respond to climate change. Whether that's options available to help reduce emissions or adapt the changes we experience, those all exist now.

MARTÍNEZ: You're NASA's chief scientist and climate adviser. If someone came up to you and said, what's the one thing, Kate, that I could do to try and contribute to helping things, what would you tell them?

CALVIN: That is a difficult question because everyone's situation is different. So we live in different places. We work in different places. The impacts that we're experiencing might be different. The options that are available to us might be different. And so what science can provide is information about those options so we can, you know, tell you about the link between emissions and climate. We can tell you which options are available to reduce emissions - things like renewable energy or ways of traveling.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, Kate, there was a time when if you told someone that you work for NASA, they think, oh, you're looking up at the stars, or that's where you're headed - toward the stars. But in this case, NASA is looking down at our planet. How do you describe that in terms of what you do and what you're trying to understand about climate change in the globe?

CALVIN: So we do explore the universe. We send crewed missions into outer space to explore and to learn about our solar system. But part of what we do in those missions - you know, we do learn. We learn a lot about Earth from studying other planets. We also develop technologies and innovate that can help as we're exploring, but also help us here on Earth.

So even though we look out into the universe, we also look back at Earth. And we've been doing satellite missions that observe the Earth for more than 50 years. And that gives us a really tremendous resource because these satellites - we can look at different things from space, from vegetation to clouds and precipitation, carbon dioxide. So we can see both what happens and how it's changed over time.

MARTÍNEZ: Kate Calvin is NASA's chief scientist and climate adviser. Kate, thanks.

CALVIN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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