This summer, as the melting Arctic turned into an hourglass marking the time we have left to address climate change, it became obvious we have reached that "Pearl Harbor moment" on global warming.
Actually, it's been more of a "Pearl Harbor year" -- unusually warm winter, destructive wildfires out West, corn-killing drought in the Midwest, record-breaking high temperatures, flooding from Hurricane Isaac. World Resources Institute has compiled a mind-blowing timeline on this year's extreme weather and climate events (below).
But even if we're having a Pearl Harbor year with extreme weather, it will have little impact on national policy if most people don't know where the bombs are coming from. In order for Congress to declare war on greenhouse gases, constituents will need to be keenly aware of the role climate change is playing in these disasters and demand that their legislators apply the brakes on global warming.
So, who's going to connect the dots for everyone?
According to Tony Leiserowitz from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, the person best suited for the job is your local TV weather forecaster. Most people haven't read James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren, but a majority tune in to their local TV station every evening to get the weather report. When that weather goes off the charts, so to speak, because global warming has increased the chances of extreme events, weather forecasters can play a crucial role in helping the public to understand that connection.
But there's one little hurdle to leap: Many TV meteorologists are climate change skeptics. As we've learned with Koch-funded skeptic Richard Muller, however, non-believers can have an epiphany when faced with the overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change.
And the overwhelming evidence is exactly what the American Meteorological Society looked at when they recently revised their statement on climate change. Here's an excerpt:
"There is unequivocal evidence that Earth's lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities... The observed warming will be irreversible for many years into the future, and even larger temperature increases will occur as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Avoiding this future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions... Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life."
For our part, Citizens Climate Lobby is asking our volunteers to contact their TV stations and request meetings with the meteorologist and the station manager. In those meetings, we'll review the AMS statement and discuss what the meteorologist can do to bridge the public's knowledge gap on extreme weather and climate change. Oh, and we'll bring along a climate scientist in case any questions arise.
Anyone can help in this effort by sending an e-mail to their local weather forecasters, asking if they've seen the AMS statement and requesting that they talk about role of climate change in our crazy weather. Resources to help with that action can be found here.
Despite the public's tenuous grasp of climate science, strong support exists for a revenue-neutral tax on carbon, as seen in the Yale Project's polling:
When the public fully understands the source of our weather-induced miseries -- an understanding facilitated by local meteorologists -- demand for action on climate change will blow through Washington like a derecho.
A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to the World Resources Institute as World Resources International. This has been corrected.