Climate Week NYC began on Sept. 23, 2013, with the opening ceremony featuring a distinguished panel of guests including Tony Blair, Richard Branson, Jim Yong Kim, Todd Stern and Swiss Re's own Phil Ryan. The general message expressed by speakers, who represented the spectrum of politics and society, is that climate change is happening, the debate surrounding the science should stop and action must be taken. The World Bank president, Mr. Kim, called not only for action, but large scale action, saying small, local pilot projects will not combat a global problem.
But why is such a debate even still occurring? The debate around climate science is largely driven by the fact that language such as "uncertainty" and "likelihood" is still used in many publications on climate science. To understand why we have uncertainty in the climate projections, we must think of the planet as a living organism, not that dissimilar to ourselves.
The Earth's natural climate variability, such as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, is like our genetic make-up and various systems (Nature). Our various systems all work together to distribute nutrients, distribute oxygen, etc. Likewise, the different aspects of climate variability work in accord to keep the planet balanced by redistributing heat to the polar regions, redistributing moisture to drier regions, and so on. Uninterrupted, climate variability will keep the Earth in balance indefinitely, adjusting as needed.
Man's activities, such as industrialization, are like our external activities (Nurture). We choose what we eat, if we consume alcohol, if we smoke, if we go to the gym and a variety of other activities. These activities cause a response in our bodies, and our systems adjust the body's response to these activities accordingly.
Therefore, we can see the climate of our planet as the sum of two components, much like our health is a combination of our genes and our activities: Nature (natural climate variability) and nurture (man's activities). At times, without engaging in any negative external activities, our bodies fail due to a glitch in the genetic code. These failings (cancer, ALS, MS) are comparable to extreme weather events, which will always happen. If a person who smokes gets lung cancer, it is almost impossible to say if that individual would or would not have contracted the disease without cigarettes, much as it is impossible to say that Hurricane Sandy would or would not have happened without man. Furthermore, it's impossible to say exactly how the climate system will respond to man's activities, much as it is impossible to say exactly how people will respond to smoking. There's a range of possibilities; some people will develop cancer at a young age, while others will reach 80. These examples are why words like "uncertainty" appear in climate publications.
But what we do know is that there is a relationship between smoking and lung cancer, so many choose not to smoke for their health. Similarly, if we continue to engage in the unnatural industrialization of our planet, and do not address the aspect of climate change we can control, we will find its health failing.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: New York, NY