Jeff Berardelli

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JEFF BERARDELLI:

So when you take a long term drought due to climate change–mostly due to climate change, not all of it–and then you take a short term drought, most of it due to natural variations, and you put them on top of each other, you end up with fire conditions like we have in California. Six of the seven worst fires in California history have happened this year. Six of the seven! And three of the four worst wildfires in Colorado history have happened this year. And that’s not coincidence right? That’s climate change.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

Thank you for tuning into City Atlas TeenCast today. My name is Gabriel Gitter-Dentz and I’m a senior at Hunter College High School from Manhattan.

ADAM RUDT:

My name is Adam Rudt, I’m also a senior at Hunter College High School, and I’m also from Manhattan.

KEVIN ZHOU:

My name is Kevin, I’m also a senior at Hunter College High School, and I’m from Queens.

ADAM RUDT:

Welcome back to another episode of our podcast. Normally high school students talk about climate briefly in their science classes, maybe they talk about it at high school lunch table.

But we go through our careers without really thinking about, or talking about one of the greatest issues, or the most pressing issue, of today and that is climate change. Our aim in producing this podcast is to promote conversation about climate change among family and friends, specifically between young people, who are the future of climate action.

KEVIN ZHOU:

On today’s episode we welcome meteorologist Jeff Berardelli, can you introduce yourself?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

Sure, yes, thank you guys I’m glad I can be here. Yep, I’m meteorologist Jeff Berardelli, I’m a climate specialist as well for CBS News, here in New York City and glad to be here because I love talking about climate change.

ADAM RUDT:

Great. We’re so happy to have you. You know you’ve got a pretty cool story that I think gives a good perspective on what we’re trying to do, which is teach typical, normal high school students about climate change just like you are trying to teach typical viewers of the weather on TV about climate change.

KEVIN ZHOU:

On today’s episode we’re just gonna be talking about Jeff’s weather reporting, and also the presence of climate change in weather reporting in general.

ADAM RUDT:

What got you into becoming a meteorologist? How does that work, how did that happen?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

Yeah, so I’ve wanted to be a meteorologist since I was three years old. I’ve always loved the weather. Ever since I can remember, actually.

I think I was just really intrigued by snow and thunderstorms. I think there are a lot of kids are interested in in weather. And I was so passionate about it, that I wanted to be kind of a teacher. I thought it would be great for me to teach about weather, and try to make everybody passionate about what I was passionate about. And it kind of turned into thinking, well how can I reach the largest audience that I can, and teach about the weather? And it was by doing television, it became apparent when I was a very young kid.

And I use the same medium now to teach climate change. I don’t think of myself necessarily as a weatherman or a meteorologist, I think of myself as a teacher, but a teacher of mass audiences.

ADAM RUDT:

Right, most meteorologists are are coming to the table with with knowledge about the weather; it doesn’t necessarily include knowledge about about climate change and global warming. So, you have a degree from Columbia in climate science?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

Right, so my bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, I graduated back in ’97, is an Atmospheric Sciences degree. And then my Columbia University degree is a recent degree. I went back to school in the middle of my life, got my degree in Climate and Society, that’s a master’s degree. And so yes, I am trained in climate change. However, I will say that most meteorologists, just with an atmospheric sciences degree, it’s a very small step for them to truly understand what’s going on with the climate. You don’t need to get an extra degree. The reason why I got it is because climate change is not just science, it’s a lot about the way it affects society. The way people think about it, sociology and psychology, it’s policy, it’s law and it’s so many different things.

ADAM RUDT:

Is that is what they taught, they taught you that interdisciplinary kind of dynamic when you were getting your master’s degree?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

Exactly. So it’s ‘climate and society,’ it’s very interdisciplinary. You take some science, but it’s actually an MA, not an MS. And that’s what I need as a broadcaster because I need to be able to understand every single aspect of climate change, because I report on all different aspects of climate change, not just on the science of climate change.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

Okay. So just transitioning into your to actual work reporting the weather, what stories that you’ve reported maybe within stories in the past year, where you’ve been able to bring connections to climate change…which are the stories that really shocked you or which did you take a lot of interest in?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

You know, I did a story about the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, which I found really intriguing because usually the stories I find most interesting are the ones that have some science in them. And the Dust Bowl was the hottest period on record in the United States. And, you know, if you look up information about the Dust Bowl you’ll find that it was actually manmade, most of it. Now there was a drought. Certain atmospheric patterns lined up so that it was exceptionally dry in the middle of the country, but the biggest reason why the Dust Bowl was so bad, the hottest–still to this day, even with climate change–the hottest decade in United States history was in the 1930s. So think about that. We’ve seen everyone’s temperature rising, but a lot of the records that were broken, were broken in the 1930s. In fact about 50% still have not been broken.

Now the reason for it is farming practices. We had mowed down, in the 1930s and the 2020s, all of the land in the Plains states and so the land was completely transformed. Just by doing that, exposing all the dirt. Getting rid of all the plants that transpire water vapor back into the atmosphere. You know there was nothing when this drought hit, this natural drought, you know, due to natural cycles, the land had no way of retaining any moisture. And when there’s no moisture, temperatures get hotter. It’s like the desert. So, you know, in the desert the reason why it gets an extra 10 or 20 degrees warmer than it does outside of a desert is because there’s no moisture. And so because there’s no moisture, the atmosphere’s temperature can go up extra. So, man, believe it or not, caused the 1930s to be that hot, and there was a study that was done showing that climate change is now doubling or tripling the probability of another Dustbowl type heatwave in the middle of the country. So I found that really intriguing.

ADAM RUDT:

Do we think that that this really is related to the California wildfires, like the kind of drought that creates or could have contributed to wildfires?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

There is a long term drought going on, along the West Coast and in the western United States. It’s actually called a megadrought. They’ve named it a megadrought. It’s been going on since 2000. Park Williams, who is a researcher at Columbia University here in New York City, did some research and found that megadroughts have happened about six times since about the year 800. So over the past 1200 years. And this one is the second worst, so far, and it is only the beginning of this. We’re on track for the second worst megadrought in the last 1200 years. So there is a drought, a long term drought going on. In addition to that, we have a short term drought this year, which is due to, you know, to some degree, due to natural patterns too.

So when you take a long term drought due to climate change–mostly due to climate change, not all of it–And then you take a short term drought, most of it due to natural variations, and you put them on top of each other, you end up with fire conditions like we have in California. Six of the seven worst fires in California history have happened this year. Six of the seven! And three of the four worst wildfires in Colorado history have happened this year. And that’s not coincidence right? That’s climate change.

KEVIN ZHOU:

Are there any ways we can alleviate the megadrought, both short term and long term?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

That’s not going to happen until at least 2050 or 2060. We will start to decrease our usage now. And in the next five or 10 years. But we’re not going to totally get off our reliance until at least the middle of the century, and that’s the earliest.

So, even if we reduce the amount of emissions we’re still increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And as long as we continue to do that, we retain more and more heat in the atmosphere so air temperatures are going to go up in at least another…probably three quarters of a degree to a degree at least so that gets us to about two degrees Celsius of warming which is the Paris accord target. The other Paris accord target is 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that seems very unlikely that we’re going to reach that [or limit to that]. But if we stay, if we keep doing what we’re doing today, we’re looking at probably two and a half to three degrees Celsius. You can almost double those numbers from Celsius for Fahrenheit.

KEVIN ZHOU:

Do you get this information from articles that you read, or do you also talk to groups of scientists?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

I’m doing both. Like for instance I just quoted you numbers of approximately how much more we’re going to warm and how long it’s going to take to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.

Well, I was on a conference call this morning with a Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and they’re a company that that projects renewable energy trends out into the future. So I know what their predictions are. Now their predictions may be wrong, but it’s a general consensus of many things. So what do I do? Yes I read papers, do I talk to scientists, absolutely. Do I sit in on these group discussions like I did this morning? Yep, it’s all these things. It’s reading every day. I read a good 10 to 15 articles a day or more. I should say, between the articles and the scientific studies that are read maybe 10 or 15 a day, and not the whole paper by the way unless I really want to get into it because to read a scientific paper can take hours. And I do sometimes, but only when I’m doing a story on it and I really need to get into the nitty gritty. So it’s just staying up with current events.

I mean I can’t possibly know everything, right. But the best thing to do is just– you know if you’re really interested in it, you’ve got to be on the cutting edge of it. Every day I get stuff in my inbox, every day I check Twitter. I don’t know what you guys are using these days but I’m still using Twitter. So that’s that’s how I keep up to date on something.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

As you just said, you put a lot of effort into understanding this. So, would you say it’s popular among meteorologists or weather reporters? Do you know of a lot of other maybe your colleagues who also invest a lot of time in this? Or is there some kind of coalition of meteorologists that, like, take the time to include this in their reporting?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

Yeah, so it’s increasing. There’s no I’d say formal coalition there, that doesn’t really exist. Climate Central is a nonprofit organization that helps meteorologists to have the resources they need to report on climate change. They are instrumental in getting many meteorologists involved. In fact right now they have I’d say about 800 meteorologists or so across the country who participate in their program.

And increasingly over the past several years, we’ve seen a lot more meteorologists jump on board and become really interested. For instance, in a couple of weeks from now, I’m doing a podcast for the NBC station in Boston, who has decided to do a lot of climate change reporting. And we’re seeing that happen at different stations all over the United States, and different meteorologists are really taking an interest.

They realize that, not only is this important information to the public, but it’s also information that their viewers want. So economically, to keep their viewers happy, and to improve their business model, they are offering climate change information too. So yes, it’s growing. There are a lot more people than we used to have doing it. And I think that will only increase in the future.

ADAM RUDT:

And when you decide to include climate change into your reporting is that a decision that you just make autonomously or do you have to go to someone at CBS to check if it’s okay, to talk about what you talk about?

JEFF BERARDELLI:

Well, first of all, my job is is meteorologist and climate specialist. So my job is to is to do climate change. But I can’t do stories unless I have superiors approve it, but that’s the case with, you know, with with any news outlet anywhere on any story. You have to get your executive producer your editor if you do, even if it’s written for a dotcom it needs to be your editor if it’s a story for TV it needs to be approved by an executive producer so yeah I have to pitch stories, and hope that they they like them and sometimes they say no. Sometimes they say yes and it’s usually not a question of, well we don’t want you to cover this story because it’s too controversial. That’s not why I would they would say no to me. They’d say no, just because they don’t think it’s a good enough story it’s going to interest enough you.

GABRIEL GITTER-DENTZ:

Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Jeff Berardelli, and thank you for listening to City Atlas TeenCast today.