Action is needed if we are to mitigate the dire consequences of climate change - The Buffalo News

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Action is needed if we are to mitigate the dire consequences of climate change

Let’s agree on something: Even those who still doubt the truth of climate change have to place a bet on the future. The question is, are they going to bet with the politicians or with the scientists?

One would hope the scientists, and if so, will they bet with the tiny minority who reject the idea – and potentially put their children’s and grandchildren’s futures at risk – or will they wager that the vast majority of scientists who agree that climate change is a real and present threat are probably correct and, in doing so, support action that can protect future generations?

The choice is obvious, and little but political intransigence can stand in its way. Yet, those people are there – those for whom science takes a back seat to a mindless political divide in which many on the right feel compelled to deny the fact of warming because … why? Because acknowledging it will cost money? Expand the bureaucracy? Force them to agree with something President Obama said? All those things could happen, but the consequences of inaction are likely to be far worse, as recent stories in The News pointed out.

Warming is under way. That’s a fact. The only debate – and even that seems academic – is whether it is naturally occurring or man-made. Either way, hurricanes hit New York State two years in a row, one of them putting parts of New York City – including its essential subway system – under water. That’s not coincidence.

A new federal report, released this week, documents the damage already being done by climate change. It observed that the intensity, frequency and duration of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes have increased since the early 1980s, although it is uncertain how much of that is because of human influence. Also, winter storms have increased in frequency and intensity and have shifted northward since the 1950s, according to the report.

Heat waves, such as those in Texas in 2011 and the Midwest in 2012, are projected to intensify nationwide. Droughts in the Southwest are expected to get worse. Sea level has risen 8 inches since 1880 and is projected to rise between 1 foot and 4 feet by 2100. That’s potentially catastrophic for coastal cities.

In Buffalo, rising temperatures could result in snowier winters. Until Lake Erie freezes over, the region is ripe for punishing lake-effect storms. As the climate changes, the lake will take longer to freeze, if it does at all.

Two things have to happen, at a minimum. One is that nations, states and regions need to prepare for the kind of damage that increasingly severe weather can produce. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made that observation shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated huge swaths of the northeastern United States. This spring, he announced a $4.9 billion “Coordinated Transportation Resiliency Program” to help prepare for future emergencies.

The other is that the nation has to take steps to slow the problems that scientists say have been caused by decades of human influence, in particular the burning of fossil fuels. That won’t happen easily or quickly – the idea of a carbon tax is complex and won’t easily be adopted – but at a minimum, in the near term government can support the development of alternative power sources and help to unleash the ingenuity of American entrepreneurs.

Of course, the United States is not alone in contributing to climate change. China, in particular, is a large factor, and while it seems to be coming around, the fact is that this country needs to take a leadership role that it has thus far rejected.

It’s time to place our bets, and those who bet against the evidence of climate change are, quite literally, playing with fire.

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