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How many more warnings are needed before we seriously tackle climate change?

We are seeing the costs all around us. Insurance losses due to extreme weather events topped $100 billion this year, with half a month to go. Lives have been lost, jobs have disappeared, habitat has been destroyed and farmland has been abandoned.

Homes destroyed during last week’s tornado continue to litter the landscape on Dec. 16 in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
Homes destroyed during last week’s tornado continue to litter the landscape on Thursday in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states, causing widespread destruction and leaving scores of people dead and injured.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Climate change deniers have largely switched to a new tactic. Posing as voices of reason, they claim each proposed solution won’t work, is too expensive or will cost jobs.

That provides cover for governments and businesses that aren’t doing enough to prevent the globe from warming more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which scientists tell us is necessary to avoid catastrophe. Only a small window of opportunity remains to do that. Temperatures are already 2 degrees higher than the pre-industrial level.

The signs of looming disaster are all around us.

  • Tornadoes are ravaging the landscape earlier and later in the year and in places where they had been unknown, such as western Iowa and Minnesota. The tornadoes that tore through Kentucky and neighboring states last weekend were the deadliest in Kentucky’s history. One tornado’s 277-mile path may have been the longest on record.
  • A powerful storm with hurricane-force gusts roared on Wednesday along a 665-mile path from New Mexico to Michigan. One meteorologist said the central United States has never seen such a violent December storm.
  • On Tuesday, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed the Arctic experienced an all-time temperature record of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit last year in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk.
  • At a meeting at the American Geophysical Union conference this week, scientists said the Thwaites Glacier ice shelf in Antarctica could fail within just five years, raising ocean waters by 2 feet or more as glaciers protected by the ice shelf flow more quickly into the ocean.
  • On Aug. 14, for the first time on record, rain fell at the summit of the ice sheet in Greenland. The ice sheet lost about 77 trillion pounds to rains in July and August.
  • In September, the U.S. government linked the Southwest’s lowest precipitation in more than a century to climate change.
  • Scientists said a record-breaking heat wave in the United States and Canadian Pacific Northwest in June would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change. Nearly all of the western United States was parched by a drought that started in 2020. The Hoover Dam’s reservoir hit an all-time low. In July, Death Valley may have broken the world’s all-time heat record for the second year in a row.
  • Over the summer, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle recorded record high temperatures. On June 29, Lytton, British Columbia, wilted under 121 degrees Fahrenheit — a record high for Canada — and then mostly burned down in a wildfire the next day.
  • Cold weather set records in several Texas cities last winter. Millions were without power in freezing temperature after the power grid gave out. New Jersey had its biggest snowfall on record in February, 36.9 inches.
  • July of this year was the hottest month on record.
  • Hurricane Ida in September dropped a record 3.15 inches of rain in one hour in New York City. Record rainfalls also hit Sacramento, Los Angeles and middle Tennessee.
  • In January, some of the worst locust invasions in decades plagued Kenya and other parts of East Africa. In March, Beijing’s worst sandstorm in a decade, fueled by increased desertification, turned the sky orange. In China’s Henan province, a year’s worth of rain fell in three days.
  • In Europe, nearly 200 people died in torrential rains that soaked Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Entire villages were washed away in floods.
  • In Russia, underground permafrost is melting in areas that had remained frozen since the last Ice Age.

Scientists have long warned us to expect unprecedented heat waves, devastating floods, ever-bigger wildfires and persistent droughts if humans don’t stop burning fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

We are seeing the costs all around us. For only the third time since 1970, insurance losses due to extreme weather events topped $100 billion this year, with half a month to go. Lives have been lost, jobs have disappeared, habitat has been destroyed and farmland has been abandoned.

When we hear voices tell us tackling climate change is too expensive, we should ignore them. Severe weather events already are inflicting huge tolls.

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