This has been an extremely scary week of weather in the United States. Last Friday, a tornado ripped through the St. Louis airport (watch this dramatic footage) and then on Wednesday a series of tornadoes tore through the southern U.S. – killing more than 280 people. Tornadoes also touched down close to my home in the Washington, D.C. area, and a series of severe thunderstorms here have brought high winds, hail and intense lightning.

The damage to people, communities and livelihoods across our country is still being assessed, but, taken all together, these developments are downright scary. And folks want to know why this extreme weather is happening and with intensities we are not accustomed to seeing.

The answer is not a simple one. But, yesterday, I ventured back onto Fox News (following up an earlier appearance) to discuss the connection between extreme weather events and climate change impacts caused by carbon pollution.

The main point I wanted to make: with continued high levels of carbon pollution comes more overall warming. These carbon emissions and the resultant warming Earth are destabilizing our climate, and creating conditions consistent with the more frequent and intense storm activity we’re seeing today, and that climate scientists are projecting will increase in the coming decades.

The important thing to remember is that our planet is a system.  It could be compared to our bodies. Imagine your body temperature increasing by just 2 or 3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a fever. Your body would react in different ways, such as sweating, weakness, aches, and nausea. The same goes for our planet’s system. Carbon pollution is making our planet sick and extreme weather is one symptom.

Despite the range of opinions featured in the Fox News segment, no one denied that climate change is happening or that warmer air holds more moisture (which can lead to more frequent and intense storms). The piece also rightly points out that making connections to any one specific weather event is a complex matter.

While it may be difficult to connect this particular week of tornadoes to climate change, scientists have long been predicting that carbon pollution would cause more frequent and extreme weather events such as intense rainstorms, snowstorms, and heat waves and create conditions that may fuel stronger hurricanes. And we’ve certainly seen all of these things in recent times at levels that seem out of the ordinary.

However, there is still time for us to reduce carbon pollution and, in the process, slow down rising global temperatures that can fuel natural disasters and put people and property at risk. We at The Conservancy are working on this every day.

(Image: The aftermath of a tornado in Cullman, Alabama taken on April 27, 2011. Image credit: southerntabitha/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Comparing strong thunderstorms and tornados to global warming is just flat out silly. The sun is the ultimate creator of our weather. Serene, can you tell me what the perfect global temperature is for the Earth and in what point of the Earth’s history it occurred? When you have those two answers, then I think global warming nay-sayers will begin to believe. Right now, politics is guiding people on what to believe about global warming. The same scientists that preach we are heating up, are the same scientists that were telling us the Earth was cooling back in the 70’s. Funny, don’t you think?

  2. Sarene,

    Fox News published a story on their website on April 28th on this topic quoting you as follows:

    “The earth is warming. Carbon emissions are increasing,” said Sarene Marshall, Managing Director for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Team. “And they both are connected to the increased intensity and severity of storms that we both are witnessing today, and are going to see more of in the coming decades.”

    The article set you up as representative of enviros that were saying there was a definite link between more carbon in the atmosphere/more warming and this year’s tornadoes in the South. I really haven’t noticed many people claiming this to be true, and I didn’t read your statement to be necessarily claiming that either.

    Did you feel Fox misrepresented your position?


    1. Hi Rick,

      I forwarded your question to Sarene and she asked me to pass along this answer.

      Brad Parker
      The Nature Conservancy

      Thanks for the question. This issue has been bothering me since the Fox piece aired last Thursday. I was filmed for about 10 minutes that day, and the entire time, I was very careful not to make a direct link between climate change and tornadoes, as it’s a complex topic that may still take years to fully comprehend. My comments were all targeted at the more general issue of climate change and severe weather, for which there is good science.

      Of that 10 minutes, Fox News used three of my sentences for their story. This was a risk in doing a taped (vs. live) interview, and it is not totally surprising in an era of shrunken sound bites. But it is troubling that the producers took my statements out of context and spun them to fit into their predetermined storyline. Interestingly, the NOAA representative interviewed in the segment said many of the same things that I did in my full interview (“there is a warming going on,” “warming trends create more moisture”), but Fox News portrayed us on opposite sides of the issue.

      Even if the link between tornadoes and climate change is scientifically difficult to make, the important thing to remember is that scientists have long predicted that carbon pollution will play a role in the frequency and intensity of weather events like the ones we’re seeing regularly in the news.


  3. I don’t think it is silly. The sun does create our waether, by heating different areas of our planet in different ways. Changing the makeup of the atmosphere which the suns heat travels through will change the sun’s impact. Particulates and different gas mixes are contributors. Just because we do not perfectly understand what the impacts are and how it is happening does not mean it is not happening.

    Asking for a perfect global temperature is disingeneous. Or is that the wrong word. A red herring maybe?

  4. Thanks for the reply Rick and Sarene. I appreciate the openness of the Nature Conservancy and willingness to engage critics and skeptics. I’m sure you were aware already that Fox News would love to put you and anyone that agrees with the climate change science consensus into the box of “eco-wacko.” It’s unfortunate, but that organization truly lacks even basic journalistic standards (heck, they’ve had a good portion of the GOP presidential contenders on the payroll for the last year or so). By going on their shows, it seems to me there’s a risk of legitimizing a dishonest, agenda-driven media outlet. On the other hand, when you defy the stereotype they want to project onto environmentalists, that’s at least some progress. Keep up the good work.

    PS – Unsolicited advice for appearing on Fox: Sarene, you have a professional demeanor that comes across well on TV. But, if you plan to do more of these shows in the future, try to dial up the assertiveness. Admittedly it’s a very hard line to walk when you’ve typically got a bully screamer as your “opponent” and when you’re trying to avoid falling into any of their caricature traps and when you care about the nuances of arguments. Of course you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t speak in punchy, bumper sticker slogans, also. Alternatively, just get dreadlocks and maybe a gaia facial tattoo, wear tie dye rags, and start screaming your head off and you could have a new career as a Fox regular, crazy Sarene the eco-wacko… six figure salary, too : -)

  5. Rick, your follow-up rant has lessened the quality of these pages. The good thing about The Nature Conservancy is their effort to remain science-based and focused on meaningful results. If you just want to rant about politics and make negative statements about those with whom you have disagreements, you aren’t helping the Conservancy. These days, we all need to get our information from multiple sources and do the best we can to figure out what is the truth and what is the right thing to do based on our best information.

    (Conservancy supporter since the 1980s and watching closely where the Conservancy goes on the climate change issue… )

  6. “focus on science” – Sure, get your news from lots of sources. Just don’t mistake Fox for a news organization any more than you would go to the RNC or DNC websites for your news. Fox’s climate change “journalism” consists of either waving their arms and shouting whenever it snows somewhere, or pretending the scientific community is more or less evenly divided on the issue, or ritualistically invoking Al Gore’s name to establish a negative pavlovian link in their viewer’s minds.

    BTW I’m also a longtime member. I belong because I believe in the Nature Conservancy’s mission to protect native species and their habitats. To me, being science-based means using science and the best evidence as a guide for determining the best actions to take to reach the organization’s goals. Obviously there’s more than one way to do so, and the Nature Conservancy tends to focus in the private sector. However, climate change is a lot bigger than any private organization. If there’s no governmental framework or incentives to slow our carbon pollution then much of the Nature Conservancy’s hard work over the past 50 or 60 years is at risk. That is why I imagine they say “Now is the time to take action on comprehensive climate change legislation” on their website.

    Anyone who really believes in the mission of the Nature Conservancy, should be aware that it’s one political party (which shall remain nameless so as not to offend anyone, but the initials are gop) that shot down climate legislation, aided by lots of mistruths broadcast by Fox News. This same party has politicized what should be a consensus to protect our national wild heritage as Teddy Roosevelt advocated. Not to mention that this same party has tried to defund the LWCF, and to neuter the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, just to name a few. The Nature Conservancy may not say so, but if you care about our native species and the places they live, first do no harm by voting against the unnamed party whose initials are gop.

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