Hurricane Sandy and its devastating effects have resurfaced the simmering controversy over the reality of climate change. Earlier this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the subject when he said, “It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality. Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”
Rather than continue the argument over the degree of responsibility for climate change that can be attributed to human influence, why not adopt the perspective offered by Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who says, “Most of what’s going on, if you turn it around, you’d say 90 to 95 percent is due to natural variability. There’s a large element of chance on aspects of these things. But when you’re already stretching the limits and you’re at very high levels of rainfall, if you add a little but extra on—especially 10 percent extra on--that can really break things.” He goes on to say, “We have to get past this aspect of saying ‘Oh, it might be just natural variability, because these sorts of storms can occur without climate change.’ That’s not helpful at all. And the reason is because the human component is only going to grow over time.”
Even if human influence is “only” 5 to 10 percent, doesn’t it make sense to focus on understanding and acting on that 5 or 10 percent that we can do something about? I realize the strategies for taking action will require significant changes in values and behavior, they most likely will not have a discernable effect in our lifetime, and undoubtedly involve complexities that I cannot understand, but isn’t it time to stop arguing over whether climate change is a reality and start learning what we need to do to make a difference?