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Morning news brief

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

It's been a summer of extremes. Dozens recently died in Brazil when a cyclone dropped more than 11 inches of rain in 24 hours.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And Greece has been dealing with severe flooding following deadly wildfires. In the Nevada desert, people got stuck in the mud at the Burning Man festival when torrential rains soaked the driest state in America. And much of the world has been baking in intense heat.

ESTRIN: What is going on? Michael Copley joins us from NPR's climate desk. Good morning.

MICHAEL COPLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Daniel.

ESTRIN: Let's start with the heat. This summer felt hotter than usual. Is that true?

COPLEY: Well, you're right. It has been different. This summer was the hottest on record with heat waves in places like the U.S., Europe and Japan. So what we're seeing is that heat waves are happening more and more frequently, and the hot days are getting hotter. And that's mainly because we keep burning fossil fuels, which releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping heat close to the Earth. But what's also happening right now is something called an El Nino. It's a natural weather pattern that happens periodically, and it's pushing up global temperatures. So that's amplifying the warming that we're getting from climate change.

ESTRIN: OK. And does that warming have any connection to the extreme rainfall that we've been seeing in Brazil and Greece and other places?

COPLEY: So what we know is that warmer air holds more moisture, and warmer water acts like fuel for hurricanes. So what we're seeing right now in Brazil, for example, where a cyclone has caused severe flooding, is the kind of extreme event that we can expect to happen more often as the planet gets hotter. That's according to Andrew Weaver. He's a professor of Earth and ocean sciences at the University of Victoria.

ANDREW WEAVER: This year, what we've seen is remarkable ocean temperatures worldwide. And what we're seeing then as a direct consequence of that is, you know, more energy being fed into the system.

COPLEY: And when you look at the intense rain we've seen in Nevada, state officials say flooding is going to become more common there in the future. And that's because there are going to be more intense storms because hotter temperatures will mean less snow and more rain.

ESTRIN: OK, that's interesting. I hadn't connected the dots before. So hot air causes more rain. Hot air also heats oceans and fuels hurricanes. Is that it?

COPLEY: That's right.

ESTRIN: Is this a new normal?

COPLEY: You know, when I spoke to Professor Weaver, what he says is we're not necessarily going to continue seeing record-breaking heat year after year, but there's every reason to believe we will keep breaking records in the future, especially during years with an El Nino weather pattern.

WEAVER: What you're seeing - and you can see that in all the records globally - is that the lows aren't as low as they used to be and the highs are higher than it used to be, and that will continue forward.

COPLEY: Scientists say this pattern of extreme weather is going to continue until we stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

ESTRIN: OK, now, this is a hypothetical question because we're nowhere near close to actually stopping greenhouse gas emissions, but let's say we stop them tomorrow. Would that stop this extreme weather?

COPLEY: The reality is that carbon dioxide hangs around in the atmosphere for a long time, like, hundreds of years. So we're going to be living with the consequences of the emissions we've already put into the atmosphere. So there's a lag.

ESTRIN: Oh, wow.

COPLEY: But there's a much bigger problem. Humans keep putting more greenhouse gases up there. World leaders have already agreed we need to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. That's about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. If we can keep to that goal, it would stave off some of the most dire consequences. But the reality is we're on track to exceed that mark. So the first thing to do is to start cutting emissions.

ESTRIN: All right. NPR's Michael Copley, thank you so much.

COPLEY: Thanks, Daniel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESTRIN: Ukraine is trying to do something no nation has ever attempted.

FADEL: It's operating a nuclear power industry in the middle of a war. The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia has already been caught up in the fighting. At least nine other Soviet-era reactors are operating in parts of the country where drone and missile strikes are common.

ESTRIN: So let's understand the risks with NPR's Brian Mann in Kyiv, who visited a nuclear power plant last week. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Daniel.

ESTRIN: What does a nuclear reactor look like in wartime?

MANN: Well, it looks like most civilian atomic power plants. The one I visited was in Khmelnytskyi in western Ukraine. It's a huge, brightly painted complex of buildings, which means it's a pretty visible target. I spoke about this with Edwin Lyman. He's an American physicist who heads the nuclear power safety program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

EDWIN LYMAN: These plants were not designed to be hardened against military attack. And even though there is some capability to protect their airspace from missiles and drones, it's not perfect.

MANN: And, Daniel, there have already been reports of drone and missile strikes really close to these plants. And last year, Russian air attacks briefly knocked out the off-site power supply that's needed to operate all these plants safely.

ESTRIN: Brian, has a nuclear facility ever been attacked anywhere in the world?

MANN: You know, during previous conflicts, mainly in the Middle East, nuclear facilities have occasionally come under attack. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, for example, Iran attacked a nuclear facility in Iraq. Those incidents generally involved complexes that were under construction or unfueled and nonoperational, or in some other cases, the targeted reactors involved military research or weapons development. What's different here is that Ukraine is operating a civilian atomic power network, the first ever in this kind of sustained wartime threat.

ESTRIN: So can the Ukrainians run these plants safely when Russian missiles are falling?

MANN: Well, they say they have no choice. These atomic reactors provide about half of Ukraine's electricity. And so officials here say they're scrambling to improve air defenses around these plants. During my visit, I interviewed Petro Kotin, who's head of Ukraine's national nuclear power utility.

PETRO KOTIN: They constantly increase the protection of nuclear power plant. This is a task for our militaries and for special anti-drone equipment.

MANN: But Kotin acknowledged there's a real danger here. His engineers and technicians are trying to do something that's never been tried before. And he pointed specifically to his technicians working at Zaporizhzhia, who face the greatest stress. That plant is still occupied by Russian soldiers, and Kotin told me he worries that a Fukushima-like disaster could happen there.

ESTRIN: OK. Wow, that's scary. What makes the Zaporizhzhia plant so vulnerable?

MANN: Yeah, some of the fiercest combat right now is happening only about 50 miles away from that nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe. And officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency have inspectors on site. But last week, the IAEA issued a statement warning that Russian troops are refusing to let their team inspect key parts of the complex. They want to see whether mines or other military explosives have been placed in sensitive areas. The IAEA also reported that an attack drone hit a residential building close to the Zaporizhzhia reactor last month. So that's clearly the most vulnerable high-risk situation. But, you know, as this war drags on, experts I interviewed say the nine other reactors operating across Ukraine - they're also really vulnerable.

ESTRIN: OK. NPR's Brian Mann in Kyiv, thank you.

MANN: Thank you, Daniel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESTRIN: After a wildfire last month destroyed the town of Lahaina, Hawaii, activists and celebrities went on social media and told tourists to stay away from the island of Maui.

FADEL: And people have. But now Maui is facing an economic crisis, and lots of people are losing jobs.

ESTRIN: NPR's Adrian Florido has been reporting in Maui. Good morning, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Daniel.

ESTRIN: So it's been exactly a month since the fire, which killed at least 115 people. Hundreds of people are still tragically unaccounted for. But tell us about this other crisis that's unfolding now.

FLORIDO: Yeah, it's an unemployment crisis, and not just in the town of Lahaina, where the fire was. All of Maui has seen this huge drop in tourism. Restaurants and hotels are pretty much empty. And so workers everywhere have been getting laid off or having their hours slashed. I spoke with a woman from Lahaina who lost her home and everything she owned in the fire and who also lost her job at a restaurant in the center of town. The restaurant didn't burn, but it is surrounded by destruction, and so it won't soon reopen. This woman, Yariet Olea, has been looking for work anywhere on the island.

YARIET OLEA: I told my friend, like, if you know someone who needs a housekeeper, I'm up for it. Like, I need to make money. I'm making phone calls, applying online, but no, no, nobody.

ESTRIN: Oh, wow. How widespread is unemployment?

FLORIDO: Well, to put it into perspective, Daniel, the week before the fire, 130 people on Maui filed unemployment claims. The full week after the fire, 4,500 people did, and thousands more have filed for unemployment since then.

ESTRIN: Oh, my goodness. So that is a stark contrast. And so how have residents been surviving if they can't find work?

FLORIDO: Well, Yari Olea, who we just heard from - friends have been helping her find one-off gigs cleaning houses, a few hours of work here and there. I spoke with a worker at one resort hotel who said that he had not seen his hotel as empty as it is since the pandemic. Some of his co-workers have been let go, and the rest are all giving up shifts. A lot of workers on Maui and business owners suspect that jobs are not going to return until Maui's tourists start to return.

ESTRIN: Yeah, it's just devastating to imagine, you know, this iconic slice of paradise like Maui just empty...

FLORIDO: Yeah.

ESTRIN: ...Of visitors. I saw this recent picture of a beach that's just usually packed with tourists swimming with sea turtles. And the beach was completely empty. When is tourism going to bounce back?

FLORIDO: Yeah, that is the big question on everyone's minds, Daniel. The activists and celebrities, you know, who sent out that message after the fire that tourists should avoid Maui did not anticipate that an economic fallout of this scale would come of that. Business leaders and workers are trying to get the message out that they want tourists back. Others are saying, look, this is the risk of having an economy that's so dependent on tourism. And then there are others who are, you know, working to expand people's employment options. I spoke with Kahealani Peleras. She works with the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and has been working to train people on Maui for the kinds of jobs that are going to be needed to rebuild Lahaina - hazmat cleanup, construction, big rig drivers.

KAHEALANI PELERAS: What we want to provide is the ability to actively participate in the recovery efforts and help rebuild their own communities instead of having to go out of state to bring people in to do those jobs.

FLORIDO: You know, Daniel, no one has any illusions that this is an immediate solution to Maui's problems right now. The jobs will return to the island when tourists do. But how long it's going to take for that to happen, whether that's weeks or months - that is really hard to say.

ESTRIN: NPR's Adrian Florido, who's been reporting on Maui. Thank you, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Daniel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.