Climate Change in Context; Science, Policy, Political Will, and Commitment

It's been an interesting week for putting climate change in context. "Context" in this case means the weaving together of science, policy, political will, and commitments. ("Context" is derived from Latin contexere "to weave together".)

Last Friday in a joint webcast, NOAA and NASA presented their independently derived findings that 2014 was Earth's warmest year on record since 1880. Their conclusion is based on high precision, high accuracy instrumental data with high scientific certainty. Sophisticated modeling studies from multiple groups confirm that human activity is largely responsible for recent warming.

In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Obama stated, "no challenge -- no challenge -- poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change." Obama pointed to the science, "Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does--14 of the 15 warmest years on record have fallen in the first 15 years of this century." He called out "folks who try to dodge the evidence by saying 'we're not scientists'." He said, "I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migrations, conflict, and hunger around the globe." Yep, that's a pretty good summary of impacts and vulnerabilities.

On Wednesday, The US Senate voted overwhelming (98-1) to approve an amendment affirming that "climate change is real and not a hoax." OK, our policy makers are finally--finally--affirming the science. That's a big step. Even Senator "global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" Inhof (R, OK) voted in favor of the motion. Inhofe did however assert it was "arrogant" to suggest that humans are so "powerful" that "they can change climate."

As a point of clarification, our senators didn't just suddenly jump on the known-science information train. Democratic senators forced their Republican counterparts to take a stand on the science. The amendment was attached to legislation aimed at forcing a vote on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

This week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened a web portal for countries to submit their commitments for the upcoming December UN climate conference in Paris (COP 21). We will now begin to see which countries intend to make aggressive steps toward reaching a global agreement for climate action and which countries will likely play the role of 'obstructionist' in Paris.

The science is conclusive, our planet is warming and we as humans are responsible. In the face of mounting scientific evidence, US policy makers can no longer hide behind scientific uncertainty or claim lack of scientific literacy as an excuse for inaction. Holdouts will still try to hang on to the "But, we are not responsible for warming" defense in order to continue leveraging fossil fuels as a cheap way to make money in the short term.

What can you do? Contact your US legislators in the House and the Senate. Tell them it is time to act. Climate change is a civilization challenging issue that requires a global consensus and legal obligation to act. Demand that our country put commitments on the table now for the upcoming UN climate conference in Paris. If the US leads, the rest of the world will follow.

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