Many people are actively demanding immediate implementation of regulations and preparedness to minimize the effects of climate change. Some people fall in the far different category of the vociferous and argumentative few who insist that climate change is a fraud. Perhaps the largest number of people (and most institutions, including, most if not all of the universities where the most cutting edge climate research is being performed) seem to respect the scientific data, but are not willing to change much about their daily behavior, near or long term planning or demand the very hard, large-scale concerted action required by the magnitude of the issue.
To the latter two these groups, I propose the following dialogue:
“Hey, what a dynamic city Los Angeles is!”
“Yes, LA has great universities; leading art museums; people and cultures from around the world; critical trade ports; world-renowned businesses in almost every industry; beautiful mountains, desert and beaches; and important airports.”
“Not to mention, a wonderful climate year-round.”
“But what about the earthquake risks?”
“Very real! Fortunately, the city has strict building codes and extensive preparation to try to minimize the danger of large earthquakes.”
“What a waste! Those cost businesses and the public a lot. How does anyone even know a big earthquake will strike?”
“Scientific data and a history of earthquakes throughout the region tell us that there is a serious risk of major damage to people and buildings. The science is even beginning to have some predictive ability of an upcoming earthquake.”
“So what? Historical records tell us that people have been living in LA for centuries just fine without earthquake regulations. And the scientists can’t tell me that a major earthquake will hit this year, or next or even in ten or twenty or a hundred years? These are all just so many projections by scientists whose jobs depend on predictions that scare us, usually funded by taxpayer money.”
“There is no way at this time to give an exact date or an exact size for an earthquake. But, even if the science can’t predict an exact date for a major earthquake or what the magnitude of the earthquake might be at some point, there is a widespread consensus that it is critical to take precautions now. The risk of injury to people and damage to the businesses and the whole city is just too high not to take protective action now.”
“I don’t buy it. If you can’t prove to me exactly when a giant earthquake will hit and how much damage it will do, then it is all just a bunch of fear-mongering speculation. People have lived in LA for hundreds of years with plenty of earthquakes.”
“I’m glad you’re not the one making the decisions for everyone else who lives in LA. Earthquakes, big ones, will happen. Taking concerted action beforehand is the only responsible course of action.”
In this dialogue, try swapping “climate change” for “earthquake” and the “US” (or the “world”) for “LA”. You may just understand how ridiculous it is not to take aggressive action now on climate change. And, you may also understand how absurd and irresponsible it is to spend time and effort in futile discussions with attention-seeking naysayers rather than taking action.
If questioning earthquake preparedness seems entirely different from taking action to minimize the effects of climate change, feel free to parse out why. Point the inquiry in the direction of (1) earthquakes are relatively local but can have far-reaching effects such as tsunamis traveling thousands of miles, whereas, climate change is local and global, (2) earthquake science is a bit more advanced, and (3) earthquakes hit in short time intervals with highly visible results, whereas climate change happens over many years and the visible results are vast but out of our living memory (in colder eras: ice a mile deep over significant areas of the northern United States and much of our current coastline was miles from where our shorelines are now, and, in warmer eras: a shallow sea covering the bread-basket mid-West states up and down the length of the Mississippi river and much of our current coast line submerged under many feet of ocean water).
The issue is not the precise nature of what is causing climate change, or exactly how much damage climate change will cause in the US and around the world. The issue is the relative risk of anything even approaching serious climate change happening, just as for earthquakes, the issue is the drafting and enforcing appropriate regulations and being prepared in advance for a serious earthquake, even without knowing if one will ever happen, because the risk of doing nothing is too serious.
As a nation, we should act now. If we believe in individual responsibility (when you see a problem, start fixing it), we should also believe in national responsibility. It is not good enough to say that we will not act until other nations do. That is not leadership. That is not taking responsibility. On the contrary, it is putting the fate of our nation directly in the hands of other countries.
Ben Franklin observed “a stitch in time saves nine.” That is good common sense, and responsible behavior. We are way beyond a single stitch to reverse the direction of climate change, but we may still have a window of opportunity to reduce the impact on our children and their children, which is why any of us who accept the need for earthquake preparedness in regions where it applies, should be demanding immediate and large-scale action to reduce the impact of climate change.