Al Roker Takes His Crusade Against Climate Change to Ground Zero in Alaska: 'This Is Real'

"I'm an optimist," says the beloved Today show weatherman of his approach to the crisis

Nathan Congleton/NBC TODAY
Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBC TODAY

Like millions of others around the world, Al Roker is worried about climate change.

As the Today show’s longtime weatherman, Roker decided to do something about it by trekking to the Arctic to show his legions of viewers just how disastrous the effects of climate change and global warming really are.

“It’s real,” Roker, 64, told PEOPLE in a phone call from Utqiagvik, Alaska, where he traveled late last month.

“We are looking at extreme weather and extreme swings in weather,” he says. “We are looking at greater drought, an increase in the number of 3-inch or more rainfalls, rapidly intensifying hurricanes and greater and stronger snowstorms.”

He chose to travel to Utqiagvik, the northernmost part of the U.S., where scientists are doing research around the clock because it’s considered ground zero for climate change.

Al Roker in Utqiagvik, Alaska. Nathan Congleton/NBC TODAY


“It’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the world,” he says.

For more about Al Roker’s climate change crusade, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

That’s bad for the planet for many reasons, he says.

Higher temperatures caused by trapped fossil fuel emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere are causing Arctic ice to melt.

“With less ice, the wide open Arctic Ocean absorbs more radiation, which means our oceans are warming faster, which sends more moisture into the atmosphere and provides greater fuel for stronger storms — no matter where you live,” Roker tells PEOPLE.

Al Roker. NBC TODAY / Nathan Congleton

Climate change is also expensive. It’s costing the U.S. alone billions to clean up in the aftermath of the increase in monster hurricanes and drought-induced wildfires that have wreaked havoc in California.

Until the planet reaches the “tipping point” — beyond which we cannot stop the devastating effects of climate change, global warming and severe weather, which the World Health Organization predicts will spiral out of control and cause an estimated 250,000 deaths a year from 2030 to 2050 — Roker believes we can still do something.

One giant step forward came with the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Accord, an agreement by most countries to take measures to slow climate change by reducing carbon emissions in coming years.

On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump made the controversial decision to withdraw from the accord.

Even though the U.S. as a nation is no longer part of the agreement, “individual states and cities are taking it upon themselves to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to do what we need to do to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to try and save our planet,’” he says.

“Can we do that? I sure hope so,” adds Roker. “The question is, have we passed the tipping point? I’m an optimist. I hope we haven’t. Until somebody tells me we have, I believe that we can still make a difference.”

One way is by taking on climate change in small steps, like conserving water when brushing your teeth (like he does), turning off unused lights and unplugging appliances and not letting your car idle if you can help it.

Concerned citizens can also speak up, he says, which can result in big changes.

“In broadcasting, at local stations in the old days with the FCC, you had a license to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity,” he says.

“It is in the public’s interest to care about what happens to our planet. So to me, it’s important to give people the information so that they can make informed decisions, and that they can go to their elected officials and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I want you to vote for issues that affect our planet.'”

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