But scientists don’t just focus on events; we focus on patterns formed by events. Especially changing patterns. Sometimes a slow-moving thing hits us while we’re too busy focusing our gaze elsewhere.
Trust me, I’m not one for dire warnings. Like most scientists, I’m not an alarmist and I don’t jump to conclusions. If anything I am a “wait and see” kind of guy. But there is an undeniable pattern here: more extreme weather is happening more often, and we are its cause.
We are increasingly locked into a world of our own making. We have exchanged planetary stability and the capacity for the world to support life for a growing population, transportation, merchandise and agriculture. Fossil fuels are at the core of this unchecked development. The industrial revolution, agricultural revolution and digital age — along with the tripling of human population that has happened in my lifetime — were all enabled by fossil fuels.
Unless we are willing to take sweeping, systemic action to fight the climate crisis and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we are at the mercy of such merciless weather.
For more than 30 years, hundreds of scientists who are part of the IPCC have been analyzing trends, reporting findings and making predictions and recommendations. Most recently they have sounded the alarm in stronger-than-ever terms that the extremes of fires and floods and heat waves and deluges are of our making. Many people don’t like that news. It’s as if we think we’re in a Facebook world where we get to shape our reality by clicking “like” — or not. But the climate crisis is happening, whether we like it or not.
It’s clear humanity has never had a plan. And watching our collective response to dire warnings, devastating fires and deadly floods, I’d say we are not that interested in glancing at the map to see where we are headed. Meanwhile, we’re still mainly operating under the ethos of bigger, faster and more, with little foresight as to where that gets us. But the map does show where we are headed. As does the weather. The information is there. We already know — we just like to travel carefree and “see what happens.” We are starting to see that now.
Today in New York, the sun is out. The forecast projects pleasant weather for the next few days. It’s tempting to hit that snooze button and pretend like what happened last night was an aberration. But we should all be wide-awake and fully alert to the disturbing patterns of climate change. Given the devastation we’ve already seen play out over and over again, we can no longer afford to wait and see what happens next time.