Don’t let uncertainty drive climate policy

Climate problems are not unlike pipes bursting in your basement.

ItâÄôs a dreaded winter scene: You walk into your basement, and a wet patch of linoleum draws your eye to the damp, soggy wall. Your pipes have burst.

Now, you might not be splish-splashing your way across the room yet, but itâÄôs clear you will be eventually. Even though youâÄôre not sure exactly where along the pipe thereâÄôs a crack, or exactly how fast water is leaking out, youâÄôre not going to stand around waiting to see how bad it gets. You turn off the water and call the plumber. Uncertainty has nothing to do with your decision.

We can think about climate change the same way: The planet is warming far too quickly as fossil fuel emissions pour into the atmosphere. Uncertainty should have nothing to do with our decision to take action.

Unfortunately, too often skeptics point to “uncertainty” as a reason our government should avoid jumping into the climate ring. However, what they fail to grasp is that climate scientists are certain about whatâÄôs wrong âÄî namely, a dramatically changing climate.

Is there uncertainty? Sure. But itâÄôs uncertainty about details. Precisely which of MinnesotaâÄôs corn fields will receive less rain? How long until maples replace pine trees in the Boundary Waters? Will the Minnesota Legislature need to convene a special session for flood relief every one, two or five years?

ItâÄôs tempting in the current economic environment to put off facing climate change because of uncertainty. However, we can (and must) protect the future of our communities even while tightening our belts elsewhere.

Prioritize regulation of greenhouse gases on the state and federal level. Follow this weekâÄôs United NationsâÄô climate negotiations via the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Institute on the Environment blog. Spread the word. Uncertainty shouldnâÄôt stop us from fixing a leak.


Christine OâÄôConnell is a graduate student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. Please send comments to [email protected]