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Weather Warnings For A 'Climate Changed Planet.'

This summer of record-breaking heat followed a spring that brought some of the most extreme weather on record. In her book The Weather of the Future, climatologist Heidi Cullen writes, "It's time to face the fact that the weather isn't what it used to be."

37:44

Other segments from the episode on July 25, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 25, 2011: Interview with Heidi Cullen; Review of Dane Spiotta's novel "Stone Arabia"; Review of Blake Shelton's album "Red River Blue."

Transcript

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Weather Warnings For A 'Climate Changed Planet'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This summer of record-breaking heat followed a spring that brought some of the
most extreme weather on record. My guest, climatologist Heidi Cullen writes:
It's time to face the fact that the weather isn't what it used to be.

She's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme
Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." It's just been
published in paperback. And she's a senior research scientist with Climate
Central, a journalism and research organization.

We're going to talk about how climate change appears to be creating extreme
weather in winter and summer. And we're going to consider the cities Cullen
says are likely to be the most vulnerable to extreme weather.

Heidi Cullen, welcome to FRESH AIR.

What makes this month's heat wave in the U.S. unusual - different from other
heat waves?

Ms. HEIDI CULLEN (Research Scientist, Climate Central): I think what's really
special about this heat wave is just the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, it
basically at one point it was affecting more than 140 million people here in
the U.S. And so it's massive in size. It's been a long heat wave and so in many
respects this is exactly the kind of thing we can expect to see a lot more of
as the planet warms up.

GROSS: Before we get to why you think this is a result of climate change, which
is, I think, what you're saying, what are some of the records that this month's
heat wave has set so far? And I'll say, we're recording this on Friday, July
22nd. So...

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. So we could see even more records set today. But, you know,
for example, Wichita Falls, Texas had over 54 days of 100 plus temperatures, 27
consecutive days reaching at least 100. Tyler, Texas, we saw 32 days this year
of 100 degree readings. So, I mean, it's just that the magnitude and the length
of what we're seeing here - Mobile, Alabama, 50 consecutive 90-degree days. So
it has just been excruciatingly long period of hot weather.

And I think what's really interesting is that it's one of these things where
you really get the sense that everything is connected. Because the heat is
remarkable, but the other thing that's really special about this heat wave is
the fact that the water vapor, the moisture is so high. And that actually ties
straight back to the spring and when we had, you know, epic flooding and the
fact that, you know, all of this floodwater that's been, you know, seeped out
into the ground, these high temperatures, kind of like a blast furnace, is
evaporating that moisture and that's leading to these really high dew points
and these high overnight temperatures.

And those are the kinds of things that, you know, public health officials get
really, really worried about.

GROSS: OK. I think maybe I lost you. So maybe you can explain that a little
more. How did the floods from the spring contribute to the heat we're
experiencing now and the high temperatures at night?

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. So, basically we've just got really wet soil in the Midwest.
And so, you know, a lot of these high temperatures that we saw in places like
Detroit and Chicago, the Midwest region in general, you know, we've just ground
that's incredibly wet. We've also got, you know, corn fields that are
evaporating moisture. And so the high heat basically sends this additional
moisture into the air. And so now we've not only got high temperatures, but
also really high humidity levels.

GROSS: And that contributes to the heat? The high humidity?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, that's where your heat index comes from. And so, for example,
a place like Moorhead, Minneapolis, it actually recorded a temperature of - a
heat index temperature of 134 degrees on July 19th, which made it the hottest
place on Earth on that day.

GROSS: Wow. And does the humidity make it more difficult for the atmosphere to
cool off at night?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, it means we've got these high overnight temperatures.
And, you know, it's, you know, public health officials in cities especially get
really worried when they see these, what we call high dew points, these high
moisture levels because, you know, for older folks and for, you know, young
children, just, it makes it really hard for your body to sweat and to cool off.

And so, you know, when we look back to these, you know, these really epic heat
waves that we've seen in the past where hundreds of people have died, like,
say, Chicago in 1995, it was, you know, this incredibly high moisture that led
to these high mortality rates.

GROSS: Your sweat doesn't cool you when the humidity is high because it doesn't
evaporate because the atmosphere already has so much moisture in it?

Ms. CULLEN: Yep. Exactly. Exactly.

GROSS: I was really surprised to read in - I forget whether it was one of your
articles or in your book - that heat kills more people in the United States
than any other weather-related event. And that astonished me, considering how
dangerous blizzards and hurricanes and tornados are.

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. I think it's one of those statistics that definitely
surprises a lot of people. Because, you know, we have a tendency, you know, our
visual strength, you know, we always want to see these extreme events. And so
things like tornadoes and hurricanes, these incredibly visual weather events,
we just associate them with being more deadly. And that's always been sort of
the sinister aspect of heat, which is, you know, from a television standpoint,
you know, what kind of imagery do you show to really make people understand
that this is an incredibly deadly situation?

It's a really tough kind of thing to convey with visual images. So you just,
you see images like water fountains spraying water and people at the beach, but
those are not necessarily the things that our brain thinks of as dangerous. But
it really, really is.

GROSS: So people are dying, like, in un-air conditioned homes, people who are
elderly?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, and this is - you know, this is one of the things that folks
talk about a lot, which was, you know, for example, during the Chicago heat
wave, there was this sort of epidemic of older people dying alone. And it was
sort of an indication that our social network had broken down. And it's, you
know, really interesting to see that, you know, since then, cities like
Chicago, cities like Philadelphia have taken enormous measures to be really
responsive during epic heat events like we're seeing.

So, for example, in a city like Philadelphia, they will be sure to keep the
electricity running so that folks can leave their air conditioning on even if
they haven't paid their bills. They will have a buddy system where they send
folks out to check on elderly neighbors. Because we've learned from, you know,
circumstances in the past that tell us that we really need to have mechanisms
in place to keep people safe. So, cooling shelters are open. It's a disaster
that doesn't necessarily look like a disaster, but we've learned from past
mistakes and cities are taking really strong measures to prevent deaths.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research
scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization.
And she's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves,
Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." The book just
came out in paperback.

So you implied that you think this July heat wave that has overcome so much of
the United States can be attributed to global warming. How can you make that
analysis? Like, what information do you use as a climatologist to figure out
what's just a normal, weird weather pattern? You know, when I say normal, I
mean there's a certain amount of extreme weather that is normal to have over a
period of time. So how do you know whether this heat wave is part of that or
whether it's attributed to climate change?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, I think the easiest way to make a comparison and,
actually, the way climate scientists try to attribute a specific weather event
to something like climate change, it's based on techniques that we use in
epidemiology. So in the same way that we'll do, you know, an autopsy on
someone's who's died to try to understand, you know, the cause of death, we do
the same thing with weather events. So we essentially do weather autopsies.

And, you know, one of the things that we know very well about climate change
and the way it connects to our weather is that climate change makes weather
more extreme and specifically we know that climate change has a tendency to
produce more frequent heat waves, larger heat waves, just more intense heat
waves. And I think that that's kind of the way we have to look at the fact
that, you know, climate change, the fact that we are burning fossil fuels is
literally working itself into our weather. And so the same way we know that
cigarettes cause lung cancer, we know that climate change causes more extreme
heat.

GROSS: But I know a lot of scientists say you can say that a long-term pattern
is attributed to climate change, but you can't say any specific event. You
can't say any specific hurricane or heat wave or blizzard is part of global
warming - so, you know, is attributed to global warming. So when you do an
autopsy on this summer's heat wave what are you investigating to decide whether
it's, you know, attributed to climate change or not?

Ms. CULLEN: Man, that's such a great question. I think that's sort of one of
the hard things about climate change to wrap your head around is the fact that,
you know, we have this tendency, especially in journalism, we want to have this
kind of lone gunman theory where, you know, was this climate change? Was it
caused by climate change? Well, we have to keep in mind that all weather
essentially is now borne into this warmer moisture environment that we’ve
produced over the past century. And so, you know, overall the tendency is for
more extreme weather then it’s now.

When climate scientists approach an individual weather event and sort of
attempt to do this weather autopsy, what they really need to do is a very
complex analysis where they take a climate model that strictly Mother Nature -
just all natural - and then they have a climate model that has human activity
in it. So specifically the burning of fossil fuels that release heat-trapping
pollution, and then we ask the question: to what extent did human actions
increase the likelihood of that event happening? And so, for example, with the
European heat wave of 2003, we know that human action, that our presence on
this planet, doubled or possibly quadrupled the likelihood of that event
happening. And it becomes a thought experiment, essentially, where as we move
into the future, basically something like, you know, the weather event that
we're seeing right now with the European heat wave of 2003, it essentially
becomes the new normal.

And I think with climate change, it's so hard for a lot of us to just wrap our
brains around what it means. But it's one of these things that literally works
its way into our weather, and as we move forward in time, our weather just gets
tougher to deal with, essentially.

GROSS: But when you look at blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, cold
waves, do you see extreme patterns in all of those weather phenomena?

Ms. CULLEN: We can see it clearly in some of those. So for example, wildfires,
we can already see an increase in wildfire activity. That falls straight out of
the physics - is as you warm up the planet, the more likelihood of wildfires is
expected to increase in the Western United States. We can actually also seek it
in precipitation. So if you look at data sets of rainfall and of the heaviest
types of rainfalls, starting in the 1950s, we can see a clear increase in the
number of extreme rainfall events.

And in a place like the Northeast, we've seen a roughly 65 percent increase in
these very extreme storms. And these are the kinds of storms that, you know,
that floods cities, that overflow storm drains, that, you know, make it tough
for city planners to deal with. And, you know, when you - as you move forward
in time again, more of these kinds of storms are going to be happening. And
it's just one of these things where, you know, we can procrastinate or we can
start to deal with it now.

GROSS: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released what
it calls its set of new climate normals. What are climate normals?

Ms. CULLEN: So climate normals are basically the 30-year average of weather,
essentially. And I think this is where one of those areas where for a lot of
people it's tough to understand, you know, just the difference between weather
and climate. And I think, you know, Mark Twain said it best: climate is what
you expect, weather is what you get. And so every 30 years NOAA basically
recalculates the climate normals. So last year we were dealing with the period
from 1971 to 2000. And now we've got the new normal, which goes from 1981 to
2010.

GROSS: So if Noah is looking at temperatures over the last 30 years, what is it
giving us, average temperatures per day? Per year? What are we getting?

Ms. CULLEN: It is giving us average temperatures, average high temperatures,
average low temperature, average rainfall. And this is for, you know, roughly
7,500 cities across the United States. So it's a really nice, you know, just
kind of the pulse of how our climate is shifting with time.

GROSS: So what do you find most impressive about the set of new normals that
was just released?

Ms. CULLEN: Basically that every state in the Lower 48 has gotten warmer, which
is completely consistent with what we expect from climate change, from the fact
that we are burning fossil fuels and warming up the planet. You know, it's just
again, sort of just this nice evidence of the forecast that we're making for
the future. So basically, you know, the 2000s, the decade of the 2000s was
about one-and-a-half degrees warmer than the decade of the 1970s and it's just,
you know, this kind of snapshot of a restless climate and how it's changing
and, you know, the fact that we can basically expect it to continue to warm as
we move forward.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research
scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization.
And she's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves,
Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." The book has
just come out in paperback.

Heidi, let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. Okay?

Ms. CULLEN: Okay.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research
scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization
and she's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves,
Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet," which has just
been published in paperback.

Now I want to ask you about the wave the tornadoes that hit the Midwest earlier
this year. What was unusual about that pattern of tornadoes?

Ms. CULLEN: Ah, it was interesting, because first of all, you know, there was
so many. We broke records with this past tornado season and, you know, they
were incredibly powerful. And interestingly enough, you know, they were all
shifted to the east, which meant that they were sitting over higher population
centers and so just, you know, the fatalities were enormous. I mean it was just
- it was an incredibly deadly tornado season and, you know, again it just when
we see these kinds of extremes it raises all kinds of questions about, you
know, what does this mean for the future?

GROSS: So what causes a tornado and how does that relate to climate change?

Ms. CULLEN: So - it's a really good question. And, you know, basically two key
ingredients for tornado are you’ve got fronts colliding together and just so a
massive exchange of energy. And two ingredients that you need, that global
warming affects, is wind shear, which is changing wind speed and direction with
height, and the other is water vapor. Tornadoes really like lots of moisture.
And we know that global warming is going to affect both of those things. We
expect water vapor to increase. As I said before, we expect our planet to get,
not just warmer but also moister. The thing we don't really know is we don't
how climate change or global warming is going to impact wind shears. So the
jury is kind of still out with respect to tornadoes.

We know that La Nina, which is a natural climate phenomena, definitely played a
role in this year's tornado season, but we don't really know exactly how
climate change is going to impact tornadoes as we move forward into the future
with respect to, you know, the kinds of quantities we care about - things like
the frequency of tornadoes, the overall geographic location of tornadoes and
the intensity. And that's basically one of these areas of intensive research
right now.

GROSS: So you can't say for sure that the wave of tornadoes that we saw this
year can be attributed to climate change.

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah, I mean tornadoes are tough, just because the data, the
records aren't so great, Doppler radar wasn't really invented until the 70s.
And so, you know, it's just we don't have a long enough record to really get a
sense of, you know, the changes over time in tornadoes. But like I said, these
two key ingredients, wind shear and water vapor, we know that global warming is
going to mess with both of those. It's just a question of, you know, whether it
will mess with them in such a way that we see more frequent, more intense
tornadoes. And that's, you know, it's going to be interesting to see where the
science comes out on that.

GROSS: So I live in Philadelphia, which gets, you know, it gets some snow in
the winter. And I don't like very cold temperatures. I don't really like snow.
So when I hear, you know, that because of climate change cities like
Philadelphia are getting warmer in the winter, part of me thinks well, at least
there's a, you know, an upside to climate change.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know, it'll be warmer in the winter.

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: But that doesn't necessarily mean there's going to be less snow, right?

Ms. CULLEN: That's right. In fact, you know, one of the really interesting
research questions right now is to what extent does sea ice melt in the Arctic
open up the potential for snowier winters in the Northeast? And that's one of
these active research questions right now. And so basically what scientists are
looking at is the fact that okay, as we expose more ocean in the Arctic to the
atmosphere, that's another potential source of moisture and you have the
potential for, you know, epic snowstorms. And so the question of how does
melting Arctic sea ice contribute to snowier winters is, I think, a really
fascinating research question.

GROSS: So it's possible that in Northeast cities the temperature will be a
little warmer but there will be more blizzards and snowstorms.

Ms. CULLEN: That's right. I mean in terms of the temperature connection, you
only need it to be still cold enough for snow to happen. But if you have more
moisture to fuel these storms, then we could potentially see snowier winters.

GROSS: Now people who live in cold climates, I think it's fair to say, really
look forward to spring. You say that there have been early spring in many
places in the United States, and that always sounds like good news to me. You
know, like oh, maybe that's the upside of climate change, early spring. What's
the problem with early spring?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, you know, the problem with early spring is just the timing of
water releases, essentially. So, okay, if spring comes earlier, it sort of
comes on with a vengeance. For example, you know, the Midwest flooding that
we've seen, you know, a lot of colleagues in the climate field right now are
saying that these flooding events that we've been seeing in the Midwest, it's
part of the new normal. And that's a problem. And in a place like California,
for example...

GROSS: But relate that to early spring. Like what's the connection?

Ms. CULLEN: So, you know, basically if you have snow pack melting earlier and
melting quickly, then that's when you see the potential for significant
flooding events. And that was one of the risks that we saw play out this past
spring. And even just from, you know, the larger standpoint of say water
resources, the question of how we are going to manage our water resources in
the U.S. Southwest, a place where, you know, the population is growing
dramatically. When spring comes earlier and Sierra's snow pack melts a lot
sooner, that means you've got a lot less water left in your bank account come
summer, and that creates, you know, a whole set of problems that need to be
managed.

GROSS: Heidi Cullen will be back in the second half of the show. Her book "The
Weather of the Future" has just been published in paperback. She's a senior
research scientist with Climate Central, a journalism and research
organization.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with climatologists Heidi
Cullen. We're talking about extreme weather and other consequences of climate
change. She's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves,
Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." She's a senior
research scientist with Climate Central, a journalism and research
organization, and a visiting lecturer at Princeton University.

In your book, you do an analysis of the five cities most vulnerable to extreme
weather and climate change. And those places include: New York City, Miami, the
Central Valley of California, which is the Sacramento, San Joaquin Delta,
Fairbanks, Alaska and Las Vegas.

Let's talk about a couple of those cities and why you think they're most
vulnerable to climate change. Can you start with New York City?

Ms. CULLEN: Absolutely. And, you know, I'll just say that the reason I wanted
to look at specific cities is because ultimately climate change is going to be
one of these problems that's going to be dealt with at the local level. And,
you know, I was at the Weather Channel...

GROSS: When you say dealt with, you mean adapting to it. You don't mean
changing the climate.

Ms. CULLEN: I mean adapting to. And I think a lot of the, you know, energy and
just a passion that were seen to solve this problem is happening in our cities.
So mayors...

GROSS: True. Mm-hmm.

Ms. CULLEN: Like Mayor Nutter in Philadelphia and Mayor Bloomberg. It's the
mayors who are really, you know, they're dealing with the impact. They've got
to deal with these heat extremes that we're seeing, for example, and they're
dealing with the fact that their infrastructure is getting older. And so, you
know, I think cities are a really great place to look.

And, you know, when I was at the Weather Channel, I was they're during Katrina
and it was one of these situations where I was the expert and, you know, the
meteorologists have this tremendous job of trying to communicate to the public
that, you know, the Gulf Coast was extreme risk, you know, incredible
vulnerability. And as the climate scientist, it was one of the situations
where, you know, I could point to case studies that were done 20 years earlier
say eventually a hurricane is going to hit New Orleans and this is what is
going to play out if we don't do something right now. And so it was like all of
these classic kind of scientific projections just playing out on live TV in the
sense that, you know, we saw all of this coming and if we had just begun to
work on reducing the vulnerability of that city upfront, we would have seen so
much less damage.

And the same thing applies to, you know, places like the San Joaquin Delta,
where, you know, right now the Delta provides water for two out of three
Californians. It grows about 90 different crops. It is literally is the hub of
California's water supply system and its agricultural system. And, you know,
it's just one of these places, a lot like New Orleans, that's just incredibly
vulnerable because it's a levy-based system. And so, you know, between the
kinds of flood events, because of earlier spring that we could see more of in
the future or even a catastrophic earthquake, we know that that area, which is
incredibly critical to California's economy, is at tremendous risk.

And, you know, right now for example, calculations show that the probability is
roughly two and three, that during the next 50 years a large flood or an
earthquake will hit the Delta. So the Delta is just a perfect example of a
place that is becoming increasingly vulnerable but is incredibly critical to
California's water infrastructure.

GROSS: So let's get back to New York City. Why is New York City especially
vulnerable to climate change?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, the island of Manhattan, you know, large population, coastal
area. We know, for example, as the planet warms up, you know, heat extremes are
going to be a problem. Electricity is going to become a problem. And even, you
know, things like flooding events, storm surge, these are the kinds of risks
that we expect to see more of and the creeping sea level rise issues. So, you
know, New York City has all of these different factors in play and, you know,
it's again, it's an incredibly important center, so it becomes a place that,
you know, Mayor Bloomberg has already put plans in place to reduce energy
usage, to become more efficient and to invest in infrastructure to just reduce
the overall vulnerability of the city.

GROSS: The infrastructure in New York, like the sewer system in so many places,
is so old it's not equipped for the new amount of precipitation that we're
getting.

Ms. CULLEN: Exactly. Exactly. And so the significant concerns from flooding
subways, from flooding tunnels, from, you know airport runways that are very
close to sea level. So it, you know, it becomes incredibly important to think
through - if we're seeing the hundred-year flood, for example, occur more and
more frequently. A city like New York, it's going to have to be able to respond
to that changing climate, that new normal, for example and rebuild its
infrastructure.

So, you know, one great example is, you know, a power plant in New York City,
in fact. They're building a new power plant and they've incorporated sea level
rise. This is a power plant in Sunset Park and they're going to build it four
feet higher just to, you know, address the fact that sea level rise is expected
to be about one foot higher. Sea level is expected to be one foot higher by
2050. And, you know, again, it's just stuff that we know is going happen, so
the sooner we can plan for it the better.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research
scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization.
And she's the author of the book, "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves,
Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet."

Let's take a break here, then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research scientist at Climate Central,
which is a journalism and research organization. And she's the author of the
book, "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes
from a Climate Changed Planet." It's just been published in paperback.

Miami is one of the five cities you describe as being most vulnerable to
extreme weather and climate change. Why Miami?

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah, Miami again, you know, low-lying city, low-lying city on the
coast. You've got hurricane risk. You've got storm surge, flooding risk. I
mentioned before that we're already seeing more extreme rainfall events. And so
when you talk to city planners in Miami, for example, they're already seeing,
you know, flood events that fill up the streets happen more and more
frequently.

Other interesting thing about Miami is that, you know, its water is very
vulnerable to creeping sea level rise - so something called saltwater
intrusion. And, you know, again, when you look at cities really going out there
and working on, you know, creating a more sustainable future, Miami has a plan
in place called Green Print that is trying to address sea level rise, increased
heat, saltwater intrusion, and they're essentially trying to use at activation
strategies that work together with emergency management.

And so, you know, emergency management being, you know, those first responders
that are out there after a hurricane hits. And to really bring together the
emergency management community and the climate change adaptation community and
say look, any kind of infrastructure upgrades that we put in place now for the
future also help us right now for the kinds of extreme weather events that
Miami already sees.

GROSS: You say Miami would be more vulnerable to disease if climate change
continues. Why disease?

Ms. CULLEN: So for example, when it comes to things like disease and pests, we
know that, you know, the risk of things like West Nile Virus for example, is
going to increase.

GROSS: Because mosquitoes love that kind of moist, swampy...

Ms. CULLEN: Exactly. And I mean this is sort of where this whole notion of the
new normal comes into play in the sense that climate is one of these things
that, you know, it's kind of invisible. When you think about it climate is a
statistical construct. It is the average of weather over long periods of time.
But it makes its way into just every aspect of our lives, and so everything has
to adapt. Species adapt to a changing climate, and mosquitoes, poison ivy, all
of that kind of stuff is going to change as we move forward in time.

GROSS: Fairbanks, Alaska, one of the five cities that you mentioned being
portable to extreme climate and climate change. So what do you predict would
happen in Fairbanks if climate change continues in the same pattern?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, I think two of the big risks for Alaska - Fairbanks being
part of that - is wildfires. We expect wild fires to increase substantially as
the world warms up. And then the other interesting thing is that Alaska is 85
percent permafrost. Permafrost basically being frozen ground. And as the Arctic
warms up, that permafrost begins to thaw and that is going to be a headache in
terms of infrastructure. So those are two really big concerns that folks are
dealing with right now.

GROSS: You say that Alaska's average temperature has increased 3.4 degrees and
the winters have warmed 6.3 degrees - compared to when?

Ms. CULLEN: That's, that is I believe since the 1950s.

GROSS: So is that a lot?

Ms. CULLEN: Those numbers are really big and actually completely consistent
with what we expect in the sense that we expect the higher latitudes, the
northern regions of the world to warm up the most, and we expect to see the
signal strongest in the winter. And we can really, really see that in Alaska.
So, you know, when folks talk about Alaska as this canary in a coalmine, it's
just the fact that the warming is hitting the northern regions the hardest
right now.

GROSS: You say that we have to prepare for climate change and adapt. And we
also have to do things that will slow down climate change. So in your list of
things that we should be doing as individuals and as a nation, what do you see
is that priorities?

Ms. CULLEN: I think that first, we just really need to say, you know what? This
is really real. It's really happening and to just get started fixing it. And I
think this notion of adapting our infrastructure, looking at our cities - and
we're seeing this play out. Lots of cities and states are coming up with
adaptation plans. So accessing the risks and their specific vulnerabilities at
the local level, you know, whether it's heat-related or flooding-related, just
getting plans in place. And, you know, then it's like I said, this kind of
bigger scientific research question of how are we going to fuel the planet as
it gets more crowded and it gets hotter? And how do we invest in technologies
that just remove our dependence on fossil fuels?

You know, it's really interesting because when you look at the U.S. - you know,
when I was at the Weather Channel, I always used to feel like we focused too
much on the negative. We focused on tornado coverage and hurricane coverage.
But there's actually, you know, really positive aspects to weather. And when
you look at our country, you know, we've got this tremendous wind belt in the
Midwest. We have, you know, an incredibly rich solar area in the U.S. Southwest
and, you know, the calculations basically tell us that if we put a 100 square
mile solar array in sort of the four corners regions of the U.S. Southwest,
that would supply all of our electricity needs. And so, you know, what I'm
saying is we can actually build it. You know, we can do this. We can fix this,
but we need to say it's as important as getting to the moon.

GROSS: When you look at all the extreme weather patterns in the United States
do you see a place that you think as being safest from extreme weather?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, interestingly enough, I think every place comes with its
own set of vulnerabilities. But, you know, the coasts are incredibly
vulnerable. And I think that it's really hard for us to really wrap our brains
around the fact that sea level rise, for example in a city like New York, could
actually mean that water levels are about a foot higher by the middle of this
century. And when you look at a projection of just all of the coastline that
will be lost as sea level continues to rise, we are literally going to have to
deal with the fact that we're going to have to move inland.

And, you know, you talk to a city planner in Miami, you know, that is just a
topic that is off-limits right now. But, you know, we know it's going to
happen. We know that we're going to have to deal with it at some point.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. CULLEN: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Heidi Cullen Heidi is the author of the book "The Weather of the Future.
It's just been published in paperback. Heidi Cullen. She's a visiting lecturer
at Princeton University and a senior research scientist at Climate Central.
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'Stone Arabia': The Cost Of Artistic Commitment

TERRY GROSS, host:

Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of Dana Spiotta's new novel. Her
2006 novel, "Eat the Document," was nominated for a National Book Award. It
explores the life of a middle-aged mother who had been a member of a weatherman
type anti-war group in the 70s. Spiotta's new novel, "Stone Arabia," also
investigates the long time costs of passionate commitment.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: One summer, when I was in high school, I took a fiction
writing course at The New School in New York; the most valuable thing I learned
there was the golden rule of creative writing: Don't quit your day job. Of
course, lots of writers, as well as artists and musicians, ignore that
practical wisdom: they gamble all on their artistic visions. We applaud the
Patti Smiths and Robert Mapplethorpes, the Emily Dickinsons and John Kennedy
Tooles who forge ahead, because their belief in their own gifts has been
validated by history.

But what about those other folks you never hear about? The ones who don't make
it - the no hit wonders, the road kill, as Dana Spiotta sadly refers to them in
her latest novel. Should we admire them, too? Or are artists and writers who
lose themselves in their art, yet never find an audience, merely losers?

That's a big question at the center of Spiotta's smart new novel, "Stone
Arabia." Critics often use adjectives like smart, brilliant and intelligent to
refer to Spiotta's work because she tackles philosophical subjects in an edgy,
collage-type style that jumbles together time frames and narrative modes. She
even throws around words like ontological. If all that sounds off-putting, be
assured that Spiotta's novels are post-modern without the chill: character
development and the spiky nuances of family relationships are always a central
concern.

As much as we're invited, in "Stone Arabia," to meditate on the value of the
art of Nik Worth - the aging non-starter rock and roller who's one of the main
characters here - we're also caught up in the emotional toll his obsessions
exact on his sister, Denise. There's almost always a Denise in the life of an
art-for-art's sake artist: the mother, partner or family member who's grounded
enough to worry, the one who comes up with the money for rent and food.

Denise has been Nik's number one fan and, largely, his only one, since they
were teenagers. Nik is a guitarist-songwriter who's played in a few bands and
almost got a record deal decades ago. Now, closing in on 50, he bartends part-
time and lives on food stamps. As Denise puts it, has generally pursued a
lifetime of abuse that could only come from a warped relationship with the
future.

The thing that really makes Nik special is his music, which is akin to that
fabled tree in the forest that falls and no one hears. Nik has documented his
career - or is it a career - in his other life's work, something he calls "The
Chronicles." "The Chronicles" are 30 or so volumes that stretch from 1978 to
2004 and document Nik's music, including reviews, all of which Nik has written
himself just for "The Chronicles" under many different aliases. Here's a brief
section from Denise's pages-long description of how "The Chronicles" work.

Nik's Chronicles adhered to the facts and then didn't. When Nik's dog died in
real life, his dog died in "The Chronicles." But in "The Chronicles," he got a
big funeral and a tribute album. Fans sent thousands of condolence cards. But
it wasn't always clear what was conjured. The music for the tribute album for
the dog actually exists, as does the cover art for it. But the fan letters
didn't exist. In this way, Nik chronicled his years in minute-but-twisted
detail.

You could imagine someone discovering "The Chronicles" 100 years from now and
heralding Nik as some outsider-artist genius. Or, just as plausibly, you could
consider "The Chronicles" as a testament to a wasted life, the work of a
troubled mind - or both.

"Stone Arabia" evades answers and instead encourages an open-minded blurring of
the lines between lived experience and fantasy, art which is authorized versus
art which is un-vetted.

This is a powerful novel about responsibility: the responsibility artists have
to their art, the responsibility family members have to take care of each
other. It's only flaw - and I would be irresponsible if I didn't mention it -
is its ending, which feels at once improbable and weak. But overall, "Stone
Arabia" should make its readers grateful that Spiotta herself isn't one of
those outsider, unpublished visionaries whose life she imagines here with such
compassion and verve.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Stone Arabia" by Dana Spiotta.

You can read an excerpt on our website: freshair.npr.org.

Coming up Ken Tucker reviews Blake Shelton's new album. Shelton has expanded
his audience through his role as a judge on the NBC singing competition "The
Voice."

This is FRESH AIR.
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Blake Shelton: Out Of The Ordinary, A Country

TERRY GROSS, host:

Country singer Blake Shelton has found a new level of fame as one of the judges
on the hit TV singing competition "The Voice." But he's also just scored his
fourth consecutive number one country hit with the song "Honey Bee" from his
just-released album "Red River Blue."

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the album.

(Soundbite of song, "Honey Bee")

Mr. BLAKE SHELTON (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Girl I been thinkin' 'bout
us, and you know I ain't good at this stuff. But these feelings piling up won't
give me no rest. This might come out a little crazy, a little sideways, yeah
maybe. I don't know how long it'll take me, but I'll do my best.

If you'll be my soft and sweet, I'll be your strong and steady. You be my glass
of wine. I'll be your shot of whiskey. You be my sunny day. I'll be your shady
tree. You be my honeysuckle. I'll be your honey bee.

KEN TUCKER: Blake Shelton had released a number of albums before appearing as a
vocal coach on "The Voice," the ridiculous but wildly popular new singing
competition reality TV show. Before "The Voice," Shelton was a familiar voice
on country radio, but he wasn't really a star personality the way, say,
contemporaries such as Brad Paisley or Kenny Chesney or Tim McGraw have become.
I don't know how Shelton felt about that, but to me, this lack of an easily
pigeonholed personality worked in his artistic favor. On any given Blake
Shelton album, there's a wider range of styles than most stars venture to
attempt.

(Soundbite of song, "God Gave Me You")

Mr. SHELTON: (Singing) I've been a walking heartache. I've made a mess of me.
The person that I've been lately ain't who I wanna be. But you stay here right
beside me and watch as the storm glows through, and I need you.

'Cause God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of
doubt. And so when I think I've lost my way, there are no words here left to
say. It's true. God gave me you.

TUCKER: From the jaunty bliss of the hit single that led off this review,
"Honey Bee," to the more solemn bliss of song I just played, "God Gave Me You,"
Shelton sings in an unaffected straightforwardness. He stands in the tradition
of 1980s country vocalists such as Earl Thomas Conley, Keith Whitley, Vern
Gosdin and even laid-back Don Williams, guys who weren't pushing an agenda or
an outlaw image. Shelton can take a rather ordinary piece of novelty material
such as "Hay" and give it the kind of conversational intimacy that lifts its
good-natured tunefulness up a notch.

(Soundbite of song, "Hay")

Mr. SHELTON: (Singing) Hey, hey, I'm out here bailin' hay. And all my friends
are cruisin' 'round town, checkin' out the pretty girls. Hey. And what do they
say? They say hey, hey. Park that Deere, come out and play. Kick that tire,
wipe my perspire, 'cause my whole life is hay.

Growin' like weeds, stick out your teeth. Playin'...

TUCKER: Shelton's insistence upon roaming across various genres - from cornpone
to power ballads - along with his deceptively tossed-off vocal manner, have led
some to dismiss him as an aimless dabbler. People - like me, for sure - who are
suspicious of TV sing-off shows such as "The Voice" initially suspected a hack
in the making. Instead, Shelton overturned expectations by outshining his
fellow judge/coaches by becoming a real country TV personality, in the grand
old manner of Jimmy Dean, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Roger Miller. He was funny
yet assertive, unpredictable and playful. That demeanor has spilled over into
his new music, as well.

(Soundbite of song, "Get Some")

Mr. SHELTON: (Singing) You get up. You get coffee. You get paid. You get off.
You get gas. You get beer. You get drunk. You get weird. You get drove home.
You get up thrown.

You get hungry. You get chicken. Your guitar needs pickin'. You get tan. You
get pale. You get sick. You get well. You get dressed up. You get messed up.

Everybody say God almighty, it's Friday. Everybody gets sideways to have a
little fun. Everybody's livin'. Everybody's tryin'. Everybody's dyin' to get
some.

TUCKER: I suspect that, at bottom, Blake Shelton thinks of himself as a country
crooner, essentially a singer of ballads who branches out to suit his ornery
restlessness. His recent marriage to one of country music's best firecrackers,
Miranda Lambert, isn't just a good PR story. It sets up the potential, down the
road, for what could be a great country duet album in the tradition of George
Jones and Tammy Wynette. In the meantime, this album "Red River Blue" delivers
on the idea of Blake Shelton as a country everyman who's never ordinary.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the
Blake Shelton's new album "Red River Blue."

You can download podcasts of our show on our website: freshair.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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