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CLIMATE CHANGE: OVERCOMING THE BARRIERS TO ACTION
Remarks by Eileen Claussen
Earth's Future: Taming the Climate
Columbia University Symposium
April 23, 2004
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here to celebrate Columbia University's 250th anniversary.
My job in this symposium is to try to explain why humanity is doing so little to prepare for the certainty of climate change. And, because I am genetically programmed to focus on solutions, I will also lay out some ideas for an overall approach that might help us chart a productive
path forward on this issue. But first a very brief refresher course on why we are here.
We are here because there is overwhelming scientific evidence on three basic points: one, the earth is warming; two, this warming trend is likely to worsen; and three, human activity is largely to blame. And so the question is: if we know these three things, why are we not acting on that knowledge? Why are we not doing more to limit those human activities that are the driving force in climate change?namely, our emissions of greenhouse gases stemming primarily from the burning of
The answer, very frankly, is because we have allowed ourselves to be swayed by a number of tired excuses?excuses put forward, for the most part, by people and interests who plainly want nothing to happen to address the problem of climate change. The reason, more often than not, is that they have an economic interest in the status quo.
The first excuse for inaction usually revolves around the issue of scientific uncertainty. Even though we know that the earth is warming, that the warming will get worse, and that human activities are largely to blame, the fact that we cannot accurately predict exactly how much warming we will see or how quickly it will happen is used unfailingly as a reason for inaction.
But I submit to you that uncertainty in the science is not a valid reason to hold off on addressing this problem, given what we do know. The fact that we are uncertain about exactly how climate change will proceed may actually be a reason to act sooner rather than later. And I will tell you why:
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