Lauren Sommer | KGOU
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Lauren Sommer

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.

Prior to joining NPR, Sommer spent more than a decade covering climate and environment for KQED Public Radio in San Francisco. During her time there, she delved into the impacts of California's historic drought during dry years and reported on destructive floods during wet years, and covered how communities responded to record-breaking wildfires.

Sommer has also examined California's ambitious effort to cut carbon emissions across its economy and investigated the legacy of its oil industry. On the lighter side, she ran from charging elephant seals and searched for frogs in Sierra Nevada lakes.

She was also host of KQED's macrophotography nature series Deep Look, which searched for universal truths in tiny organisms like black-widow spiders and parasites. Sommer has received a national Edward R. Murrow for use of sound, as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Based at NPR's San Francisco bureau, Sommer grew up in the West, minus a stint on the East Coast to attend Cornell University.

Jennifer Montano watches her two kids' faces as they quietly clamber out of the car in their driveway in Vacaville, Calif. It's been a week since the children were last home, but where their house once stood, there's ash and rubble now.

In August, the Montanos' house was destroyed by the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, one of more than 10,000 structures lost in record-breaking blazes across the West this year.

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TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Each family had their reasons for ending up in harm's way.

For the Harts, it was the chance to have a large backyard in a quiet part of Ashland, Ore. The porch of the Baltimore house was perfect for Scott Harris' barbecue equipment. Kevin Boudreaux had grown up on the bayou and wanted to settle near his childhood home in Cameron, La.

Wildfires in the West are producing a parade of chilling statistics. More than 4 million acres have burned in California, the most in recorded history. Colorado saw it's largest wildfire and in Northern California, the August Complex has passed the one-million-acre mark, generating an entirely new term: "gigafire."

Still, some fire scientists warn that focusing on these record-breaking numbers could do more harm than good.

California will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 in a bid to lead the U.S. in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the state's drivers to switch to electric cars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that amounts to the most aggressive clean-car policy in the United States. Although it bans the sale of new gas cars and trucks after the 15-year deadline, it will still allow such vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market.

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It's become a near-annual occurrence. A massive wildfire forces thousands of people to flee their homes. Exhausted firefighters warn of its speed and intensity. Smoke smothers cities and states hundreds of miles away.

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The upshot of climate change is that everyone alive is destined to experience unprecedented disasters. The most powerful hurricanes, the most intense wildfires, the most prolonged heat waves and the most frequent outbreaks of new diseases are all in our future. Records will be broken, again and again.

But the predicted destruction is still shocking when it unfolds at the same time.

Updated Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Millions of people rely on real estate websites when they're hoping to buy or rent a home. Major sites such as Zillow, Redfin, Trulia and Realtor.com feature kitchens, bathrooms, mortgage estimates and even school ratings. But those sites don't show buyers whether the house is likely to flood while they're living there.

On a cool February morning, around 60 people gathered in the Sierra Nevada foothills to take part in a ceremony that, for many decades, was banned.

At 3 a.m. on Friday morning, biologist Kelly Sorenson was awake, nervously watching the live webcam feed of a California condor nest on the Big Sur coast. He could see a 5-month-old chick, still unable to fly, as the flames of the Dolan Fire came into view.

"It was just terrifying," Sorenson said. "Having the live-streaming webcams was both a blessing and a nightmare because we had to watch the fire as it burned through the canyon."

Scorching heat across the Western United States has left California scrambling to avoid rolling blackouts, as air conditioners send electricity use soaring.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in California, we've had almost a week of rolling blackouts. And NPR's Lauren Sommer has been asking how to keep this from becoming normal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

They're wiggly and slimy and live inside the flesh of other animals. Now, scientists are making a new case for why they should be saved.

Parasites play crucial roles in ecosystems around the world, making up around 40% of animal species. As wildlife faces the growing threats of climate change and habitat loss, scientists warn that parasites are equally vulnerable.

That's why a team of scientists has released a "global parasite conservation plan."

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STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

President Trump is attacking Democrats on a new front: suburbia.

"They want to eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs," Trump said on a July campaign call.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is attacking Democrats in an area where he's trying to win votes - the suburbs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

When humpback whales migrated to Glacier Bay in Alaska this year to spend the long summer days feeding, they arrived to something unusual: quieter waters.

As the COVID-19 pandemic slows international shipping and keeps cruise ships docked, scientists are finding measurably less noise in the ocean. That could provide momentary relief for whales and other marine mammals that are highly sensitive to noise.

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