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Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr., Ph.D. Headshot

Natural Disasters Tell the Story of Climate Change

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Anyone still wondering if climate change is real should consider the following:

  • Two tropical storms, Alberto and Beryl, formed before the start of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, the first such occurrence since 1908.
  • In 2011, there were 12 natural disasters in the United States that each caused more than 1 billion in damage, ranging from wildfires in the Southwest to a blizzard in the Northeast.
  • Soaring temperatures in the West caused arid conditions that contributed to an early and intense fire season this year, including the catastrophic wildfires in Colorado.
  • Temperatures are increasing in the Great Lakes.
  • Cities across the United States broke records with high temperatures in March and an extraordinary number of high temperature records in June (2,284).

These startling occurrences provide all the evidence we need to see the truth: The climate is becoming increasingly unstable because of rising global temperatures. It is irrefutable that this is related to evidence that CO2 levels in the Arctic are at levels higher than 400 parts per million at multiple locations. In pre-industrial times, that number was a much safer 275 parts per million.

Perhaps most startlingly, this natural upheaval is set against a backdrop of steadily declining traditional, non-renewable, energy sources. While it's true that shale gas and oil sands-generated crude oil are available for use in the short-term future, we must remember that these resources do not provide a permanent solution to this problem.

This issue requires national and global attention. It requires scientific research and strong policy based on that research. It requires education at every level.

Our children must learn to reduce their consumption; even our youngest citizens, the toddlers and preschoolers, can develop habits that will serve them -- and our precious natural resources -- in the years to come. Our school-age children can -- in fact, they must -- learn the ramifications of failing to live sustainably. And our young adults can learn the scientific methods, economic principles and social practices that help reduce humanity's impact on our planet.

Clearly, public policy is a key part of the solution.

It has been widely reported that fossil fuels are subsidized at nearly six times the rate of renewable energy. From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. government gave the mature fossil fuel industry more than $72 billion in subsidies while investments in the emerging renewable-energy industry totaled $12.2 billion.

This makes as much sense as subsidizing the manufacture of leisure suits. Much like those icons of the 1970s, the idea of powering our world with non-renewable fossil fuels is a thing of the past. Elected leaders who can't see the reality of our situation should be replaced with more forward-thinking leaders.

We must today focus on providing assistance to those severely affected by the fires and extreme weather. Then we owe it to the generations of tomorrow to take seriously the warnings of today.