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Recent extreme weather focuses attention on climate change in the commonwealth

Karyn Czar

The flooding in Eastern Kentucky is only part of a growing list of recent weather events described as “record-breaking.” So what can Kentucky do to protect against extreme weather, which climate scientists predict is going to become more frequent?

For the time being, the odds of lawmakers uniting behind a statewide climate action plan appear remote.

Surrounded by GOP supermajorities in the statehouse and lawmakers representing Kentucky’s economically hard-hit coal regions, Gov. Andy Beshear hasn’t drawn a straight line from climate change to the punishing tornadoes, heat waves, and flooding seen in the state. But he’s acknowledged trends aren't moving in an encouraging direction.

"There's just no question we're seeing more events, and that we're going to have to be better prepared for them as we go into the future."
Gov. Andy Beshear

Asked what the state can do in that regard, Beshear praised federal infrastructure spending but stopped short of laying out a state-geared climate action plan — instead hinting that a one-size-fits-all approach might not work best for different communities.

"We have to look at resiliency in these communities and other ways that we can build them as we move forward," Beshear said during last Thursday's Team Kentucky briefing. "Now we've got some good projects right now. They reduce flooding. I don't think there's any magic answer, other than we keep working at it and working at it — and we recognize and ultimately find solutions in each community, which are different."

But a group of climate scientists, who spoke recently with the Courier Journal, agreed a changing climate lies at the root of the problem.

Jonathan Overpeck, an earth and environmental sciences professor at the University of Michigan, told the Journal the risk of flooding is going up "dramatically over much of the planet where people live," adding “Kentucky is one of those places.”

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.