As I sit here in the unseasonably warm March of 2017, it’s clear to anyone who lived through the 1970s or earlier that weather in the US has dramatically changed. I certainly remember, when I was growing up in Mid-Missouri in the 1970s, that the snow drifts used to be much deeper. But maybe I was just romanticizing it, or sizing it based on my own childhood height? Nope, I went back and looked at the data:
Snows used to be deeper, Winter lasted longer, and plants are now blooming out of season. Was this climate change caused by humans? It doesn’t matter!
When hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, earthquakes, or other natural disasters happen, we don’t argue about the cause… we just act to minimize the damage and threat to human life. We have regulations about safe building standards for houses near hurricane zones, to protect lives and minimize damage. We spend money finding ways to make buildings and bridges more earthquake resistant. We build levees, dams, and other massive projects to prevent or decrease flood risks. We have insurance industries and government agencies to deal with weather damage. Heck, we have whole industries, including satellites, university programs, and daily news programs, to try to predict and inform people about weather patterns, even for normal weather.
When the Dust Bowl happened, we didn’t debate about whether it was happening; the government took steps to help the affected and to fix the problem, and America emerged stronger than ever.
The question is not, “Did humans cause climate change?”, but rather, “Can humans do something about the climate change that we know is happening?” Is carbon dioxide and methane buildup caused by humans, or a natural cycle? It doesn’t matter; we know it contributes to climate change, so regardless of whether humans caused it, we know that we can minimize the negative effects by reducing our own carbon dioxide and methane, and the good news is that this shifts our economy away from dying fuel sources and toward new industries, like solar, wind, wave, or other sources that will create new jobs (including new blue-collar jobs), and where there’s still room for entrepreneurs and self-starters who can innovate.
The problem is not public education about the details of climate change; people don’t need to know how their smartphones work for them to use them to do amazing and trivial things every day, or how roads are constructed to commute or take a road trip. The problem is not political; this isn’t a sports game where one side wins and the other loses if we take steps to curb climate change. The problem is that we are procrastinating, and the discussion is dithering around proving or disproving climate change in the court of public opinion. We live in a highly specialized society, in which we trust experts to make informed policies; let’s not waste their time defending the idea of whether smartphones are possible, or roads could or should be built, or whether climate change is happening, but what we need to do about it next.
It makes sense to me that humans have had at least some contribution to climate change, but there’s no need to point the finger or play the blame game, and there’s no need to give up and say that we can’t do anything about it, and there’s no need to look at changes as burdens we have to take on rather than opportunities we can capitalize on for improving our economy. Let’s stop talking about whether global climate change is real, and shift the discussion exclusively to what actions (personal, policy, and business-wise) we need to take to decrease the negative effects, like we do for any natural disaster.
(* Unseasonably warm in NC. In New England, they got a crazy blizzard. Don’t get smug. That’s not climate, that’s weather!)