To lessen climate change, educate the public



November 26, 2018 - 10:25 AM

A burned-out bus sits beneath trees on Nov. 14, in Concow, Calif. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS

As extreme weather strikes with greater frequency and ferocity — especially on the East and West coasts of the U.S. — media attention rightly focuses on the often heroic response of the emergency services. What is missing from these accounts, however, is a similar emphasis on climate change as a source of the increasing extremity of these events, and consequently, on preventing ever-worsening weather calamities. It is even more problematic when the causes of these events are misdiagnosed, as when the president attributed California’s worst forest fires ever to “poor forest management.”

The upshot of failing to make the climate change connection is that actions continue to be limited to dealing with disasters after they strike without taking urgent steps to contain runaway global warming. As climate inaction continues, weather disasters are poised to reach a point where no amount of good management will be enough. The 2018 report from the United Nations is clear: Human actions and greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming, and unless the planet’s temperature increase (from pre-industrial times) is kept to below 1.5 degrees centigrade, weather catastrophes will go over the tipping point.

There are many policy and technological avenues for climate mitigation, but they all start with a change in our mindsets to link the new weather extremes to global warming. That is necessary if a winning political platform for climate action is to be created. Political support and resources for climate abatement will unleash the innovation and adaptation in ways we may not have anticipated. This has been seen time and again in other global crises, be it tackling terrorism or pandemics, where treating the problem had to be complemented by attending to the root causes.