Secretary Tom Vilsack: ‘Hard To Explain’ How Anybody Could Not See That The Climate Is Changing

By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.

At a Center for American Progress Action Fund event yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sat down with CAP Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol Browner to discuss jobs created from conservation of public lands, supporting rural America, feeding the hungry, and other priorities at the Agriculture Department. He also took a moment to talk about extreme weather events related to climate change, and how it is “hard to explain” that anyone could not realize that the climate is changing:

BROWNER: It’s nice to hear someone use the word “climate change” in this current political debate we have going on about the science.

VILSACK: Can I just say something about that?


BROWNER: [Laughs] This was not in the script.

VILSACK: No it wasn’t but I think it’s important to point out what’s happening here. We have record droughts in the southern part of our country, record droughts. We have record snowfall and snowmelt in the northern part of our country which is now causing significant flooding challenges. The average, and the worst week of tornados we’ve ever experienced in this country is roughly about 150 tornados in a week; in May we had 350 tornados in one week. We had a hurricane and a tropical storm that didn’t just impact the coast areas as it normally does, but was in upstate New York — upstate New York — looking at damage resulting from the storm that basically wiped out whole fields of agricultural crops — whole fields. Folks who had never experienced flooding conditions, that were directly related to a storm that was hundreds of miles away. If people don’t understand that the climate is changing, it’s just hard to explain how anybody could not see that, given this year that we’ve had with natural disasters.

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The Center for American Progress and Think Progress have been closely following extreme weather events and “global boiling.” In a report in April of this year, we looked at disasters in 2010 and early 2011 to discuss how extreme weather is the new normal, and what seems extreme now will become commonplace in the future. These events can have extraordinary impacts on Americans’ lives, as the report states:

The extreme weather of 2010 exacted a huge human and economic toll as well. More than 380 people died and 1,700 were injured due to weather events in the United States throughout the year. And the magnitude of these events forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to declare 81 disasters last year. For nearly 60 years, the annual average has been 33. In 2010, total damages exceeded a whopping $6.7 billion. As of April 2011, FEMA had dedicated more than $2 billion in financial assistance to those harmed by extreme weather in 2010.

The report also dives into details about how each state fared in terms of weather-related disasters last year. It’s no wonder that Secretary Vilsack spoke about climate change the way that he did — his home state of Iowa saw 2,469 extreme weather events in 2010. And yet, Republican presidential candidates continue to deny the increasing links between extreme weather and climate change, and their impacts on agriculture and rural America. As Rick Perry told a crowd at the Iowa State Fair in August, “we’ll be fine.”