Smokestack with wording

Researchers at Yale University* have reported that Americans rank climate change as a critically important area of public concern, so it should come as no surprise that climate change is among the top-tier election issues.

Similar views were expressed frequently during the Democratic National Convention, where speaker after speaker asserted that it is the time to act on climate change. It has become clear, the argument goes, that we are truly facing a crisis in the medical sense of the word – a “point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change (can) occur[s], leading either to recovery or death”.

Not everyone agrees that there is a climate crisis, of course, and the issue remains highly partisan. It was barely mentioned as a source of concern during the Republican National Convention over four days and eight hours of programming.

Perhaps those opposing climate change action are reaching the end of their string of claims that supports their dismissiveness or gives them comfort in their doubt.

Decades ago, they had responded to the early science by asserting that the climate was not changing – climate change was a “hoax.”

Over the years, they were forced by the evidence to admit that the climate in fact is changing, but they simultaneously claimed that the change was harmless.

That turned out not to be true, so they were forced to pivot and argue that it did not matter whether or not it was harmless because the climate would simply change back, and all would be well.

As those views, too, were rebutted by mounting evidence, they started to claim that taking action on climate change would be too expensive.

But that take turned out to be dubious when thoughtful opinion-makers and decision-makers looked at climate through a risk-management prism.

And so now, finally, they are arguing that it is too late to do anything. They prefer avoiding the issue altogether.

That approach would put the true climate signal in jeopardy of being drowned out by disingenuous and chaotic political debates about all sorts of lesser matters. The expanding climate risks cannot be subordinated to the deafening cacophony.

Instead, a few simple, clear, and indisputable statements of scientific fact must be repeated often, and supported rigorously, by trusted sources between now and November 3.

Here are seven key climate messages to follow-up our September 4 posting of debate questions related to climate change. On a weekly basis, we will support each using recently detected extreme climate impacts and established science:

1

The planet is warming and doing so on average at an increasing rate. (September 18)

2

Human activity – in particular combustion of fossil fuels – is the principal cause both of the warming and of the speed at which it is happening. (September 25)

3

Climate extremes – higher temperatures, more droughts, more severe hurricane damages, earlier and more serious wildfires, and historic cold snaps – are getting more severe and are occurring more often (October 2)

4

Extreme climate events in the real world are themselves leading to more and more serious such events through proven “feedback” mechanisms. (October 9)

5

NOW is the time to begin managing climate risks … and doing so in a way that will be cost effective and economically productive.(October 16)

6

The United States must again lead the world in ongoing global efforts to reduce climate risks over the short and long terms. (October 23)

7

Inaction is not an option. (October 30)

The first two messages will review fundamental truths about climate change – scientists have shown that the planet’s land and oceans are warming, and that human activities are the principal cause.

In the subsequent two messages, we will address social, economic, personal, natural, and physical impacts of all kinds and pay particular attention to low-likelihood but high-consequence events that really leave us only three response options: – adapt (reduce consequences), reduce global warming pollutants or “mitigate” (reduce likelihoods), or suffer (there will always be a residual damage, so limit them as much as possible).

Five science questions to be asked at the debates

In the last two messages in mid-October, we will discuss how to minimize the suffering option in determining our future and that of children and grandchildren. It becomes clear that promoting progress in healing social and economic problems is good climate policy because it will increase our capacities to reduce climate risks. Conversely, good climate policy involves good social and economic policies that confront systemic racism, inequitably distributed pandemic and other risks, inequitably distributed economic harm, and the like. How? Because shining bright lights on these issues and making progress in reducing climate risks also reduces the intensity of their related damages.

*A principal researcher in that study is the director of the Yale program that publishes this site.


Gary Yohe is the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He served as convening lead author for multiple chapters and the Synthesis Report for the IPCC from 1990 through 2014 and was vice-chair of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Ben Santer is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He served as convening lead author of the climate change detection and attribution chapter of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report and has contributed to all five IPCC assessments. Credit: Nick Higgins

Henry Jacoby is the William F. Pounds Professor of Management, Emeritus, in the MIT Sloan School of Management and former co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which is focused on the integration of the natural and social sciences and policy analysis in application to the threat of global climate.

Richard Richels directed climate change research at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). He served as lead author for multiple chapters of the IPCC in the areas of mitigation, impacts and adaptation from 1992 through 2014. He also served on the National Assessment Synthesis Team for the first U.S. National Climate Assessment.


Additional posts in this series:

Inaction on the climate threat is NOT an option
Rejoining the global fight against climate change: In the U.S.’s national interest
Vigorous action needed, and soon, on climate change
Multiple extreme climate events can combine to produce catastrophic damages
Extreme events ‘presage worse to come’ in a warming climate
The evidence is compelling on human activity as the principal cause of global warming
Evidence shows troubling warming of the planet
– Key messages about climate change: an introduction to a series
Five science questions that ought to be asked at the debates

Topics: Policy & Politics