, Salem, MA


October 7, 2013

Column: What the new climate report really says


The chances of an extreme heat wave have more than doubled, and heavy rainfall events are expected to intensify and occur more often.

The carbon pollution we put in the atmosphere now — the stuff that’s causing global temperatures to rise — will stay here for a long time. One-fifth of it will still be up there in 1,000 years. That’s why we have to move to clean energy now, because the problem is very hard to fix once the pollution is in the air.

The oceans are becoming more acidic due to excess amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That has damaging impacts on marine life, coral reefs and the global food chain.

A recent “pause” in warming — much trumpeted by the peddlers of doubt — is partly caused by natural variations in the climate and is unlikely to last as we load more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (During this “pause,” we’ve had 12 of the 14 hottest years since recording keeping began in 1880.)

The short version is that the path we’re on — pumping billions of tons of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere every year — is not sustainable. Like a factory dumping toxic waste into the river where you fish for dinner, it has consequences for our health. In the case of climate change, those consequences will be stronger and more expensive storms, the spread of insect-borne diseases, longer droughts, worse floods and less international stability.

So, what are we to do with such scary predictions about an enormous global problem? Well, most us of us will turn the page and read about something else — then go to work, pay the bills and raise our families. In other words, do all the things over which we have some control and leave global warming to someone else.

The problem is that someone else isn’t going to solve this until we demand that they do. There are lots of people who make money off the current way we use energy, and it requires citizen action (and smart incentives) to change things. That means pushing lawmakers to move the country toward cleaner energy, even if it results in us paying a little extra now to avoid a lot extra later. (Note to consumers and taxpayers: Hurricane Sandy alone cost you $65 billion. Since research suggests climate change causes stronger storms, think about what the future bills may be.)

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