Want to Know Why Congress Can’t Pass Climate Legislation? Here’s Your Answer

And you thought that the explanation was just partisan gridlock in Washington? According to a study that has been accepted for publication in Environmental Research Letters, it will be somewhere between 120 years and 550 years before losses caused by Atlantic tropical storms can be statistically attributed to anthropogenic climate change. It’s important to note that this study is not by climate skeptics; nor are the authors opposed to Congressional action. They are simply pointing out that it’s damn hard to attribute causation to specific storms or on short time scales. As they note in their conclusions:

Based on the results from our emergence time scale analysis we urge extreme caution in attributing short term trends (i.e., over many decades and longer) in normalized US tropical cyclone losses to anthropogenic climate change. The same conclusion applies to global weather-related natural disaster losses at least in the near future. Not only is short term variability not ‘climate change’ (which the IPCC defines on time scales of 30 to 50 years or longer), but anthropogenic climate change signals are very unlikely to emerge in US tropical cyclone losses at time scales of less than a century under the projections examined here.

Our results argue very strongly against using abnormally large losses from individual Atlantic hurricanes or seasons as either evidence of anthropogenic climate change or to justify actions on greenhouse gas emissions. There are far better justifications for action on greenhouse gases. Policy making related to climate necessarily must occur under uncertainty and ignorance. Our analysis indicates that such conditions will persist on timescales longer than those of decision making.

Do I wish that Congress had bitten the bullet and passed comprehensive climate change legislation? Of course. However, no one can dispute that there will be some significant short term costs, even if there are also opportunities in moving towards the new energy economy. It is difficult enough for Congress to look past the next election. Asking Senators and Representatives to look past the next century? Perhaps, instead of asking why legislation did not pass, we should take comfort from the fact that it got as close as it did.

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