Changing Planet

With Oklahoma Tornado, Questions Swirl about Climate Change Link

Hours after a powerful tornado tore through an Oklahoma suburb, killing dozens, some renewed speculation about such storms’ connection to climate change. In recent years, researchers have been working to assess what causes these storms and whether manmade global warming could be affecting them.

Plain geography is a factor. Moore, Oklahoma, is in the middle of what is known as Tornado Alley—an area where cold, dry air from Canada and the Rockies meets warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to create the unstable conditions that cause tornados. Although, generally, researchers agree that climate change will increase the likelihood of extreme weather events, they cannot say for sure whether there is a connection between climate change and tornadoes.

“The short answer is, we have no idea,” said Michael Wehner, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, noting he’s studying the issue and is optimistic about achieving a more definitive answer. “The reason I’m optimistic that we can get somewhere on this is that supercomputing technology is driving this very hard. We’re just getting into the sweet spot for these kinds of issues, with the largest mainframes that money can buy.”

Studies, the Houston Chronicle cites, indicate no evidence at this time to link tornado activity to climate change. According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes aren’t getting more frequent, but more accounts of these storms are being made available for public consumption.

Vote Expedites Northern Leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline

The House approved legislation Wednesday to expedite construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline’s northern leg by eliminating the need for a presidential permit and requiring no additional environmental studies. The vote was largely symbolic, U.S. News and World Report wrote, noting that experts say it has virtually no chance of surviving a Senate vote. The White House has also threatened to veto the bill, claiming it “prevents thorough consideration of the complex issues that could have serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications.”

So far, the Canadian government has nearly doubled spending—reaching $16.5 million—to promote the pipeline. But it seems Americans are more aware of climate change than the Keystone XL pipeline project, according to a new poll (subscription) by Yale and George Mason universities.

Moniz Vows to Review LNG Export Data, Energy Efficiency in New Role

In his first official speech after being sworn in as Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz indicated he plans to delay any final decisions on applications to export liquefied natural gas until he reviews data showing what impact exports would have on domestic supplies and prices. The boom in domestic production of the resource has lowered prices and stirred debate regarding exports. Moniz doesn’t plan to order new studies right now. Rather, he’ll review what is already out there—including a study commissioned in 2012 by the Department of Energy.

He saw efficiency as a vital part of meeting the country’s climate and energy challenges, noting he plans to advance a large bipartisan energy efficiency bill moving through Congress.

“Efficiency is going to be a big focus as we go forward,” Moniz said. “I just don’t see the solutions to our biggest energy and environmental challenges without a very big demand-side response. That’s why it’s important to move this way, way up in our priorities.”

Meanwhile, Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has waited longer than any other nominee for U.S. Senate confirmation—more than 20 days longer than Michael Leavitt in 2003.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.

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