The effects of climate change have never been more obvious.
This is becoming a truism, but like many truisms, it is in fact true. The latest example to hit us over the head is wildfire. I am writing this from London, but I am closely following the devastating fires in California, which are already the largest and most costly in terms of human life ever seen there. They are also, of course, costly economically.
The area burned by wildfire in the Western United States has increased roughly ten-fold over the past few decades. The exact number depends on exactly where and over what time period one measures it, but the take-away is always the same: wildfire has increased massively. The science connecting this increase to climate change is robust and at its heart dead simple: more hot, dry weather means more and bigger fires. As always, of course, there’s nuance, but that’s the essence.
In the United States during the past two years, we’ve had record heat, record wildfire, and a series of powerful hurricanes which exhibited many of the specific characteristics expected from storms turbo-charged by climate change. To scientists who look at the data rigorously, the connection to climate change is clear. Opinion polling shows that many of those unlucky enough to experience one of these horrific events become believers in human-caused climate change. Of course, the public is already largely on board, the latest polling done at Yale shows that majorities of adults in all but five states believe humans are the primary cause of climate change.
While all of this has been happening, our federal government has busied itself walking back climate policies put in place by the Obama administration and others. This includes contesting California’s right to set its own auto mileage standards, even though this is written into the Clean Air Act.
This is dismaying, of course, but as long as it remains the case—and even afterwards—we will have no choice but to do as much as we can with the tools we have. And that’s actually a lot. At WHRC we are stepping up our work with state and local policymakers, and with national country governments (sadly, not including the United States). We’re also more engaged than ever before with the private sector, and with policy groups from across the political spectrum in the United States. WHRC is also on the cusp of expanding our own efforts to communicate. Together, the groups we are working with are already accomplishing a lot, and I have every confidence that they will do even more, with the help of WHRC and other groups who understand the value of science-based policy.
This morning I visited Winston Churchill’s underground war room (actually many rooms) in London. He and his colleagues certainly faced an imposing external threat (together with domestic political difficulties) but thanks to steely resolve and tireless work they ultimately prevailed. We can do the same.
Thanks as always for your interest and support.