MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Al Velshi moderate climate forum with presidential candidates and NBC News’ Lester Holt visits Alaska during the weeklong series

By KC Baker
September 12, 2019 10:31 AM
TODAY's Al Roker in Kulusuk, Greenland, for a NASA Mission
NBC News' TODAY

Al Roker has trekked to the Arctic yet again — this time for a NASA mission in Greenland to study the effects of climate change on the rapidly melting glaciers, and how sea levels are rising as a result.

Months after traveling to Alaska to study the effects of climate change on the northernmost part of the United States, Today’s longtime weather anchor flew in August with NASA scientists on their first-ever Oceans Melting Greenland/OMGNASA mission to study just how fast the warming ocean is melting the region’s massive ice sheets.

The intrepid Today feature anchor and co-host of the morning show’s third hour will go in-depth about his thought-provoking trip next week as part of NBC News and MSNBC’s new, weeklong Climate in Crisis series.

Starting Sunday, NBC News, MSNBC, Telemundo and NBC News Digital will dedicate the entire week’s programming to the climate crisis, showing how rapid changes in our environment are affecting us here in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.

Roker isn’t the only one traveling the globe to report on the effects of climate change from the ground.

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During the series, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt will report from Alaska, where he lived as a child while his father served in the U.S. Air Force. He will show how warming temperatures are melting the state’s famed Portage Glacier and thawing the permafrost, which countless communities depend on to survive.

“We’re seeing a shift in our very way of life because of climate change,” Roker, 65, tells PEOPLE. “We’re not trying to frighten people. We’re trying to show people how this affects your everyday life and in ways big and small.”

Trapped fossil fuel emissions are heating up the Earth’s atmosphere and causing Greenland’s ice sheets to melt at a rapid pace.

This “is important for us to see it firsthand” with some of the world’s most renowned scientists, he says.

“We were out with folks who had been on a glacier that was retreating at the rate of 10 to 15 feet a week,” he says.

During one point of his Arctic adventure, he says, “We were watching the glacier calve off.”

Greenland’s massive ice sheet melt wasn’t supposed to happen for many decades, according to scientists.

During his one-of-a-kind trip, Roker also flew with NASA in a DC-3 over Greenland’s shoreline, where he saw ice floes dotting the landscape.

While this is customary in summer, scientists are “seeing more (ice) break up, more quickly, over a wider expanse of time.”

As part of the Climate in Crisis series, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi will moderate Climate Forum 2020, a two-day event where U.S. presidential candidates talk with young voters about their plans to lead the country — and the world — into an uncertain future.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes
Anthony Rudick/MSNBC

The forum will live-streamed in part on NBC News Now and Telemundo and featured on MSNBC programming on Sept. 19 and 20.

Hosted by MSNBC, Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, Our Daily Planet and New York magazine, Hayes says he is interested to hear exactly how the candidates will tackle the climate crisis.

Why?

“It’s the most important issue that human civilization has arguably ever faced — and certainly of the most important issues we face now,” says Hayes, 40.

Velshi, 49, says he wants to help viewers gain a more sophisticated understanding of where the candidates stand on the climate crisis. He also wants to ask the candidates what they think the world will look like in 2030 or 2050.

“In other words, how seriously do you take this?” he says. “There are implications in healthcare, in immigration, in national security, in nutrition — everywhere about this. I want to get a sense from these candidates about how they see it and more importantly, how do you convince people for whom climate change might be a fact but it’s not a priority?”

Velshi says he saw the effects of climate change firsthand in the Bahamas, where he reported from the Abaco islands, which were “reduced to rubble” by Hurricane Dorian.

MSNBC's Ali Velshi reporting from the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian
Anthony Terrell / NBC News

“I’ve covered a lot of hurricanes and I’ve seen a lot of devastation,” he says. “But this was like a hurricane and a tornado and an earthquake. It wasn’t the normal pattern of destruction that you see in a hurricane.”

Based on his discussions with climate experts over the years, he says, “We might be seeing a lot more of this.”

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In November 2018, the Fourth National Climate Assessment — a report released by 13 different federal agencies detailed the devastating impact of an increasing number of heatwaves, wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes — described the damage from climate change as “intensifying across the country.”

All the more reason to learn more about the climate crisis, Velshi says.

He says he hopes the forum “causes people to engage in the climate discussion to understand it better, regardless of what the political outcome is.”

“I also hope the viewer gets to understand where climate should be in their hierarchy of choice for a presidential candidate and what these presidential candidates will actually do about climate change.”

The Climate in Crisis series comes as NBC News debuts its new Climate Unit, which will cover issues affecting the environment all over the world and is headed by Roker.

During the series, Hayes will also host a special live hour of MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes, devoted exclusively to climate.

“To me, the biggest thing is conveying the urgency and the stakes, which are dire, without pushing people into a feeling of panic and impotence,” he says.

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