The Politics of Weather: Are the Flurry of Storms a Result of Climate Change?

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Meet the Press
David Gregory
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In a special Meet The Press debate, scientist Bill Nye, known as "The Science Guy," pleads for action to address climate change with Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn, who calls climate science "unproven."



"The Politics of Weather: Are the Flurry of Storms a Result of Climate Change?" David Gregory, correspondent. Meet the Press. NBCUniversal Media. 16 Feb. 2014. NBC Learn. Web. 8 September 2018.


Gregory, D. (Reporter). (2014, February 16). The Politics of Weather: Are the Flurry of Storms a Result of Climate Change? [Television series episode]. Meet the Press. Retrieved from


"The Politics of Weather: Are the Flurry of Storms a Result of Climate Change?" Meet the Press, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 02/16/2014. Accessed Sat Sep 8 2018 from NBC Learn:


The Politics of Weather: Are the Flurry of Storms a Result of Climate Change?

DAVID GREGORY, moderator: 

Now, I want to turn to the politics of weather.  What a big story this week.  And this morning in Jakarta, Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry gave the first in a series of speeches on climate change, saying it is threatening the world’s way of life.  I’m going to discuss the debate over climate change policies in just a moment with science educator Bill Nye and the science-- The Science Guy; and Republican Congresswoman from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn.  But first, is the growing cost of our recent weather disasters creating a new focus on the need for action on climate change? This week’s storm left half a million Georgians without power at its peak, buried cities in snow and ice, stranded flyers and practically shuttered the nation’s capital.  Extreme cold has frozen Lake Superior to levels not seen in decades and led to a boom in tourism in ice caves off the water.  And in California, prolonged drought gripping 90 percent of the state has parched crops and dried up food supplies for livestock.

AL ROKER (NBC News, TODAY):  Is it a natural cycle?  Is it-- is it due to human interference or human conditions that we have created?  That remains open to debate.  But there is no doubt the climate is changing.

GREGORY:  President Obama toured a Fresno farm Friday to tout federal support to address California’s water crisis.  In his state of the union speech, he was adamant.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (January 28):  The debate is settled.  Climate change is a fact.

GREGORY:  The extreme weather is not limited to the United States.  Massive flooding has left large parts of England under water over the past two months.  The chief scientist of UK’s National Weather Service said all the evidence suggests climate change is to blame.  Skeptics say the forecasts of doom and gloom are overblown.

PATRICK MICHAELS (Director, Center for the Study of Science, CATO Institute):  After you adjust for the fact that there are so many more people living in so many more places, there’s no change in weather-related damages.

GREGORY:  Bill Nye and Marsha Blackburn, welcome both of you to Meet the Press.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN/Vice Chair, Energy and Commerce Committee):  Good to be with you. Thanks, David.

BILL NYE (The Science Guy/Science Educator/CEO, The Planetary Society):  Thank you.

GREGORY:  So here was

The Guardian

newspaper after all of the flooding in the UK, and here’s the headline:  “Climate change is here now.  It could lead to global conflict.  Yet the politicians squabble.”  In the scientific community, this is not really a debate about whether climate change is real.  The consensus is that it is.  The majority of those who believe in fact that it is caused by humans.  There are certainly some in the scientific community who don’t believe that’s the case and who are skeptical about some of those conclusions.  But nevertheless, there is still this level of consensus.  My question to begin with both of you is in this moment of-- this kind of extreme weather moment-- is it creating new urgency to act?  Bill Nye, I’ll start with you.

NYE:  Well, I would say yeah.  And what I’ve always said we need to do everything all at once.  And this is an opportunity for the United States to innovate, to be the world leader in new technologies, that if you could invent a better battery, a better way to store electricity, you would change the world.  And if you were to do that in a way that you could manufacture and export it, you would also do very well financially.

GREGORY:  Congresswoman, is there new urgency to act?  You’ve heard the president in drought-stricken California saying that these weather emergencies in effect are creating the conditions.  The government has to act.

REP. BLACKBURN:  David, I think that what it brings to mind is how we utilize the information that we have.  And we all know-- and I think that Bill would probably agree with this, neither he nor I are a climate scientist.  He is an engineer and actor.  I am a member of Congress.  And what we have to do is look at the information that we get from climate scientists.  As you said, there is not agreement around the fact of exactly what is causing this.  Even the president’s own Science and Technology Office head Mister Holdren says no one single weather event is due specifically to climate change.  So it drives the policy to look at cost/benefit analysis, what we do about it, and the impact that U.S. policy would have in a global environment.

GREGORY:  Well, and that-- that’s another question that I want to get to.  But there is consensus.  As you say, congresswoman, there is some skepticism about the degree to which humans may cause climate change or can you specifically say an emergency-- rather a weather event can be blamed on client change?  Some disagreement about that within the UK.  Nevertheless, within the scientific community, there is consensus, Bill Nye, and you know, among the scientists themselves on both of those questions?

NYE:  Well, I’ve got to say once again, what people are doing is introducing the idea that scientific uncertainty, in this case about cold weather events in what we call back east, are-- is the same as uncertainty about the whole idea of climate change.  And this is unscientific.  It’s not logical.  It is a way apparently that the fossil fuel industry has dealt with our politics.  And this is not good.  Everybody-- you don’t-- this is not-- you don’t need a Ph.D. in climate science to understand what’s going on.  That things-- that we have overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing.  That you cannot tie any one event to that is not the same as doubt about the whole thing.

GREGORY:  But is the issue, congresswoman, the cure or the disease and what’s worse?  Here’s The Atlantic magazine on some of the views within your party within the Republican Party.  “On global warming, conservative policy positions often seem to be conflated or confused with rejection of the consensus that the planet has been warming due to human carbon emissions.  …Of the many Republican members if the Congress I know personally, the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming… The catch: Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship.”  The fix can be very expensive in the short term for long-term gain.

REP. BLACKBURN:  Well, I think that what you have to do is look at what that warming is.  And when you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million 0.032, to 0.040 four hundred parts per million, what you do is realize it’s very slight.  Now, there is not consensus and you can look at the latest IPCC Report and look at Doctor Lindzen from MIT.  His rejection of that or Judith Curry who recently…

GREGORY:  Right.

REP. BLACKBURN:  …from Georgia Tech.  There is not consensus there.  I think what we have to do is--

GREGORY:  Well, hold on.  I just have to interrupt you.  I’m sorry, congresswoman.  Let me just interrupt you because it’s not…


GREGORY:  …you can pick out particular skeptics, but you can’t really say, can you, that the hundreds of scientists around the world who have looked at this have gotten together and conspired to manipulate data, and that industry folks like PG&E-- here’s PG&E’s website, it’s current website, this is a natural gas producer in Northern California, saying, “As a provider of gas and electricity to millions of Californians and an emitter of greenhouse gases, PG&E is keenly aware of its responsibility to both manage its emissions and work constructively to advance policies that put our state and the country on a cost-effective path toward a low-carbon economy.”  So the issue is what actions are taken and will they really work?  First to you, congresswoman…

REP. BLACKBURN:  That’s exactly right.

GREGORY:  …and then let me have Bill Nye respond.

REP. BLACKBURN:  You’re exactly right.  And what you have to do.  Let’s say everything that Bill says is wrong is wrong.  Let’s just say that.  Then you say what are you going to do about it?  What would the policy be?  And will that policy have an impact?  Now, even Director McCarthy from the EPA in answering questions from Congressman Pompeo before our committee, said reaching all of the 26 U.S. goals is not going to have an impact globally.  And, David, what we have to look at is the fact that you don’t make good laws, sustainable laws when you’re making them on hypotheses or theories or unproven sciences.

GREGORY:  Bill Nye?

NYE:  Once again, the congresswoman is trying to introduce doubt, and doubt in the whole idea of climate change.  So what I would encourage everybody to do is back up and let’s agree on the facts.  Would you say that the Antarctic has less ice than it used to?  When you said you asserted, congresswoman, that a change from 320 to 400 parts per million is insignificant?  My goodness, that’s-- that’s 30 percent.  I mean that’s an enormous change, and it’s changing the world.  And that’s just over the last few decades.  You go back to 1750 with the invention of the steam engine-- I mean, everybody’s been over this a lot-- but it’s gone from 250 to 400.  There is no-- there is no debate in the scientific community.  And I can encourage the congresswoman to really look at the facts.  You are a leader.  We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.

GREGORY:  Let me get-- let me…

NYE:  So this-- this weather event.

GREGORY:  …inject this point.  I want to inject this point.

NYE:  I just want to say this weather event is important.

GREGORY:  I want to stick to the point about what’s going to happen in the future with policy.


GREGORY:  The reality is that something is happening.  And in-- whether you’re along the East Coast, whether if you look at the-- the all the money that was spent on infrastructure after Hurricane Sandy or you look at flooding, you have state and local governments, congresswoman, who have to deal with the realities of climate change, and it’s expensive.

REP. BLACKBURN:  You’re right.

GREGORY:  You’re very concerned about the future of our debt.  There’s a lot of cost involved here.  How do-- how does government responsibly-- even where there may be differences on the policy and the cure-- respond to the very real-time impacts of weather and a changing climate?

REP. BLACKBURN:  That’s exactly right.  And it is expensive when you look at the clean-up.  And David, one of the things that we have to remember is cost/benefit analysis has to take place.  And that is something-- that goes back to a Clinton executive order.  And it is required and it is unfortunate that some of the federal agencies are not conducting that cost/benefit analysis.  They’re focused on the outcome.  And they need-- whether it’s the EPA, whether it is the science and technology agencies, they need to be doing that cost/benefit analysis.  Now, you know, when you look at the social cost of carbon, and there is a lot of ambiguity around that, what you also need to be doing is looking at the benefits of carbon and what that has on increased agriculture production.  Lot of good study out there about that, lot of good scientists and biologists who have done that study.

GREGORY:  One of the things, Bill Nye, if you look at the polling on this, this is this issue of what do you do about something that to many people is very important, but for a lot of voters may not feel urgent?  Just look at the Pew Research Center Poll from last month, global warming ranking 19th on that list.  And yet, environmentalists seem buoyed by the fact that the president-- as I’ve talked to experts in Syria say-- with executive orders to curb carbon emissions from power plants, will take care of, via executive action, two-thirds of the carbon that’s emitted into the atmosphere in the United States.  Is that an acceptable solution without political consensus?

NYE:  Well, that’s up to politicians.  But certainly the longest journey starts with but a single step.  We all have to acknowledge that we have a problem and I think it would be in everybody’s best interests.  I was born in the U.S., you know, I’m a patriot and so on.  It would be in everybody’s best interest to get going, to just do as I like to say, everything all at once.  So the fewer very dirty coal-fired power plants we have, the better.  The less energy we waste, the better.  The less inefficient our transportation systems are, the better.  The more reliable our electricity transmission systems are, the better.  And so we all get into this thing that big governments are bad.  I know that’s a-- that’s a very strong claim that for me, as a voter and taxpayer, is somehow tied to climate change.  But what we want to do is not just less.  We want to do more with less, and for me, as a guy who grew up in the U.S., I want the U.S. to lead the world in this rather than wait-- while you made reference to the United Kingdom, what China is doing with energy production…


NYE:  …solar energy production…


NYE:  …and so on, this is a huge opportunity…

GREGORY:  Congresswoman, just…

NYE:  …and the more we mess around with this denial, the less we’re going to get done.

GREGORY:  I want to be specific though, Congresswoman, thirty seconds on this point.  As you know, as I just outlined, the president is proposing regulations.  This is executive action.  How do you respond to that as a member of Congress who doesn’t agree with the policy?

REP. BLACKBURN:  Well, I think the president should realize Congress has taken action whether it was cap and trade or Boiler MACT or any of these regulations.  We have said no to that.  And one of the reasons is the cost/benefit analysis and another is the impact.  Look at what would-- is happening around the world.  Bill doesn’t like coal-fired electricity plants.  You’ve got 1,200 that are coming up in other nations right now.  And what we need to be looking at is the way to achieve efficiencies.  Carbon emissions are at the lowest they’ve been since 1994.  The reason for that is efficiencies.

GREGORY:  All right.

REP. BLACKBURN:  We need to look at the cost benefit analysis and make certain these technologies are affordable for the American people.

GREGORY:  All right.  We are going to leave it there.  This debate goes on.  I thank you for your time this morning, both of you.

REP. BLACKBURN:  Absolutely.  Thank you so much.