Time to do something about the weather


There was precious little discussion of climate change during the presidential campaign and most other political races this year. That may strike some as a little surprising, given the weather that’s been plaguing much of the nation over the past couple of years, which has cost billions of dollars of damage and taken hundreds of lives.

Maybe politicians think that climate change has become the new third rail of politics (it used to be Social Security, but these days everyone’s talking about Social Security), but on this issue they’re way behind everyone else. They need to catch up and start making some real proposals on how to mitigate both the trend and the effects — and they need to start doing so as soon as new members are seated in Congress and President Barack Obama renews his oath in January.

The people are paying attention. According to a national survey released Tuesday, a large majority of Americans (77 percent) say global warming should be a “very high,” “high” or “medium” priority for the president and Congress.

The survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication also reported that nearly all Americans (92 percent) say the president and Congress should make developing sources of clean energy a “very high” (31 percent), “high” (38 percent) or “medium” priority (23 percent).

And a large majority of Americans (88 percent) say the United States should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.

Options have been laid out: A tax on carbon as suggested by former Secretary of State George Shultz and others is one idea. The Save Our Climate Act, for example, would have required industry to pay a steadily rising fee on carbon pollution and given much of the revenue back to households to cushion against rising prices.

But there are other options, too. Cap and trade is a policy that conservatives once favored and then reviled. It deserves another look.

Certainly further developing alternative sources of energy that don’t add to greenhouse gas emissions — such as wind, solar, water and nuclear — is an option that could mitigate climate change as well as create new jobs. And conservation — including tighter fuel standards for vehicles and programs such as Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy — also can be a critical tool.

Politicians who refuse to see the importance of creating such tools are ignoring science and the increasing concerns among their constituents.

As the Journal Sentinel’s Thomas Content noted in an article Monday, concern is rising across the board.

Farmers, industry and homeowners are trying to figure out how to deal with increasing droughts, wildfires, floods and weather events such as superstorm Sandy. Just ask residents of New York and New Jersey if government officials need to do something about climate change.

Climate scientists say the heat and weather events of the past year are just an introduction to what could lie ahead, and some are saying it’s happening faster than expected.

Content reported that University of Wisconsin researchers are working on refined climate models that offer a more localized picture of a warming Wisconsin and a warming Great Lakes region. Among their findings: years such as 2012 — with three 100-degree days in Milwaukee — will be closer to the new normal by midcentury. The current norm is one 100-degree day every five years.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that this year’s drought and heat produced record high water temperatures in Lake Michigan and contributed to record low lake levels for Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

It isn’t just summer. Winter as we know it is changing, climatologist Steve Vavrus told Content. Research recently completed by Vavrus and a colleague on lake ice found that based on warming temperatures that are on the horizon, Lake Mendota in Madison will have years when the ice never forms, an extremely unusual event.

Insurance companies are paying attention: Last month, Content reported, the global reinsurance company Munich Re, a leading company in the business of providing reinsurance, or insurance for insurance companies, found that North America has experienced a nearly fivefold increase in extreme weather disasters since 1980.

When insurance companies start paying attention, something real is going on.

Climate change is real. It’s happening now. It’s exacerbated by humans. And no one is doing much about it.

Obama and Congress have to change that.