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Weird weather we're having. Can we move on from climate change denial?

Salt marsh encroaching on freshwater bald cypress and cabbage palms due to sea level rise. Bird Island Creek near Suwannee, Fla. Photo by Dan Wilcox

I've often wondered how people deny the overwhelming scientific evidence that our planet is warming, weather world-wide is getting weird and that human activities are causing it. I guess it's that many of us would rather deny overwhelming evidence than admit that we need to change our ways. But there's more involved in climate change denial.

Climate change is a real threat to humans and all forms of life on Earth. There is a strong consensus in the scientific community that humans have affected the climate, that changes are accelerating and that they pose an existential threat. There is no doubt that sea level rise is occurring and that severe weather events are becoming more frequent and extreme. Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, raging wildfires out west, record heat in California, devastating forest fires in Europe, a hurricane battered Ireland and record monsoons in south Asia all occurred this year. Here in Wisconsin, the Birkebiner ski race was cancelled this year for lack of snow. We've had five 100-year floods and one 1,000-year flood in Wisconsin in the last six years. Global temperatures have hit record highs for each of the last three years. The carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere is now at 407 parts per million, its highest level in at least 800,000 years.

There have been active programs of misinformation by the fossil fuel industry created to sow public doubt and to postpone measures that would combat climate change. Our president and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief deny climate change, have removed most of their scientific advisory staff, and continue to promote the coal industry. In formerly progressive and academically astute Wisconsin, our governor and the Department of Natural Resources deny that climate change is occurring. The DNR eliminated climate research, disbanded the science bureau and scrubbed mention of climate change from its website.

Recent psychological research has found that climate change denial correlates with authoritarian attitudes, low empathy and social dominance. This extends to accepting human dominance over nature. Consumptive lifestyles in wealthy countries are the primary cause of climate change. The most serious consequences of climate change are affecting poor people and countries, other life forms and future generations of humans.

Climate change is loading the dice toward more extreme sea level rise, floods, heat waves, thunderstorms, tornadoes, droughts and hurricanes. These events will become more frequent and extreme in the future if we don't rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

We should reframe the discussion from talking about the climate change problems and attributing their causes to taking action to avoid a dystopian future. Rather than gamble with the fate of our only planet, let's take the precautionary principle. Rather than talking to climate change deniers about having to give up conveniences to help the environment, it is better to talk about how everyone will benefit from measures to combat climate change. Long-term sustainability of our societies and economy, cleaner air and water, more productive forests, agriculture and oceans, reduced sea level rise and reduced risk of severe weather events would be among the many benefits.

We can markedly reduce our consumption of energy and materials while maintaining fulfilling and socially equitable lifestyles. We can reduce use of fossil fuels, change to a renewable energy economy, restore ecosystems, and protect the remaining world's forests, coral reefs and biodiversity. All this can be good for our economy and for life on Earth, including all of us. Our human economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of our planet's ecosystems. It's time we look generations ahead rather than at the quarterly corporate bottom line.

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