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Time for Action on Climate Change

From wildfires in Alberta to flooding in the Solomons, climate change is making the wrong kind of headlines. Deniers are just as loud and obnoxious as ever, but they are increasingly afraid to put their money where their mouths are. And even as scientists acknowledge the situation is more urgent than they thought, international leaders are reluctant to move beyond talking about it. But a growing number of cities and corporations are starting to look for ways to take action. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has personally pledged $2 billion toward research on climate change mitigation—though many renewable energy leaders argue that it's time to focus on deployment rather than more research.

There is, as Al Gore said in his recent TED talk, good reason for optimism regarding climate change.

And yet, as Jim Meek of the Chronicle Herald points out, the deniers are winning. They are winning because, not being bound by facts, they are able to craft a simple, direct message. Climate scientists, on the other hand, speak cautiously and acknowledge a level of uncertainty.

The result is that the layperson hearing the competing messages may not realize how dire the climate situation is. 2014 was the hottest year ever measured, until 2015 broke the record. And this year is shaping up to be even hotter. We have now seen record monthy highs in each of the past 11 months.

But here's the lede for this story at the business website Wall St 24/7:

Global warming is at extremely high levels, compared to temperatures from the past. This is, supposedly, a sign that the planet’s atmosphere gets hotter by the year, based on human activity, although there are still some “global warming deniers.”

The article then acknowledges the 11 straight months of record highs, gives a list of U.S. cities that are already feeling the impact, and concludes that global warming deniers are running out of places to hide. But a reader who skims everything after the first paragraph may reach the conclusion that the reality of climate change is still an open question.

It's not. The data is available for anyone to see. The current global warming trend is real, and it's caused by human activity. It's caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide (CO2)into the atmosphere. Higher levels of CO2 enhance the greenhouse effect, warming the planet. The current trend is unlike the natural warming and cooling cycles we've seen in the past.

In fact, the best evidence indicates the planet is currently in a natural cooling cycle, even as we continue to hit record high temperatures. To put this another way, human activity is actually responsible for more than 100% of the warming of the last four decades.

We're slowly turning a problem into a serious mess. There are simple actions we can all take to start us on the road to recovery, but we're going to have to recognize—all of us—that it's eventually going to require more than simple actions to clean up this mess. If we don't make an intentional effort, things will only continue to get worse.

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