The facts are yelling at us

Some facts are unpleasant. They remain facts.

Imagine if county and city officials had been warned in advance before the devastating floods here in 2015 and 2016 – told the floods were coming and told there was a clear solution to avoid the loss of life and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage the floods would cause.

Let’s say the recommendations came from a group of 20 locally respected meteorologists, civil engineers and hydrologists. Eighteen agreed the floods were coming and that there was an urgent need to prepare immediately. One was unsure, and one disagreed.

If local leaders ignored that kind of warning, we would be outraged and properly so. We would vote the scoundrels out, and the courts would fill with liability suits.

Yet that’s largely what’s happening, even though local leaders are no more to blame than the rest of us for ignoring the facts. The most respected climate scientists in the United States – people who have spent their entire careers studying the complex interactions of oceans and wind and sun – these people are warning that the climate is changing rapidly and that we humans are the cause.

Still we do nothing. Or at least too little.

The big reasons seem to be that so many of us – busy with other aspects of our lives – have not yet absorbed the fact that most of the debate about climate change is coming from disgruntled politicians and people not tuned into the facts, not from informed scientists.

While most Americans now say the climate is changing (about 81%), barely half attribute that primarily to man-made causes such as the consumption of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide into the air (survey by the Pew Research Center, 2018). Asked what they think climate scientists believe, 66% of Americans say they recognize that climatologists attribute the change mostly to man-made causes. But many think scientists are conflicted, or just don’t know the science.

In fact, the consensus among scientists is overwhelming. As one example, when Pew polled the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 93% of members with Ph.D.s in the earth sciences said they believe the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity. That would be more than 18 out of every 20 members – thus our little experiment at the top of this editorial. This week a lengthy investigative piece in the New York Times magazine reviews the vast amount of research, study and testing that has gone into climate science – and why critical experts in defense, NASA and even many energy companies concluded decades ago that coal and similar fuels are contributing to global warming.

Pew also found that many Americans don’t yet see how climate change will affect them individually, even if we are beginning to see – often with our own senses – how the changing climate is affecting our nation and the world. Locally, the extreme weather sparked by global warming is likely to cause more wild swings between drought and flood, more superstorms, and more pain.

There was once, briefly, a bipartisan consensus about climate change. It’s time for those of us who are on the front lines of it – the ranchers, business managers and lot owners of Central Texas, those of us who live by flood-prone creeks and those of us who rely on drought-sensitive wells – to rebuild that consensus and to insist on action before it is too late to check even part of the violent changes on the way.

The real questions is: in the emergency room would you bet your child’s life on the 18 or 19 doctors who agree on a diagnosis and who say your kid needs medicine right away,  or on the one who suggests that your child’s painful symptoms might just be natural?

Check the heat records, the hurricanes, the tornadoes, the droughts, the melting ice caps far away and the (previously) unimaginable flooding close to home. Check the trend lines. Check the science – check the facts.

We’re in the emergency room. Our kids are at stake. Local officials and business leaders are already planning for climate change (and need to do more). But one leverage point is this fall. The next time a candidate for congress calls your house or knocks on your door to ask for your vote, the next time you hear from someone running for state legislature, ask him or her to put aside politics, to talk to scientists, and to embrace conservative, long-range planning for how to protect Hays County from the danger that 93% of scientists say is now upon us.

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