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Diane Mufson: Time to recognize, act on climate change

Nov. 28, 2012 @ 12:08 AM

It's a human trait. It is difficult to change opinions from the ones we hold true. Even when faced with clear evidence that our ideas and perceptions are in error, many people refuse to re-evaluate their views.

Today, there is ample evidence that climate change is occurring. Even those of us lacking meteorological training can see this. It is time to recognize and act upon this data.

The view that the earth's slow but steady rising temperatures reflect global warming annoys or angers some people. They are convinced this is not happening; others believe that these warmer temperatures reflect a normal weather cycle.

The trouble is the evidence. People may lie; polar bears don't. Their habitat, the snowpacked and glacier-covered North Pole region, is rapidly shrinking. Whether or not you liked his politics, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" makes a good case for global warming and weather change.

Some areas of our country have always had disastrous tornadoes, devastating hurricanes and other violent weather episodes. Yet these events are now occurring in places that have never seen them before. Experiencing these weather events in our own backyards means more people now accept the possibility of actual climate change.

West Virginia has always had big mountain snowfalls, but we have never had a major blizzard in October that debilitated all resources in large areas for weeks. This summer's derecho, a term most of us never knew existed, introduced us to a scary new climate feature.

For me, Superstorm Sandy's attack on the East Coast illustrated that climate change is here. Growing up on Long Island made me familiar with hurricanes. Every few years a major one occurred, but residents knew how to prepare.

We knew the drill. Put water in the bathtub and every available container, purchase batteries and stock up on ready-to-eat foods. Then protect your windows and wait out the storm; afterward, basements were bailed out and damages repaired.

That was it; sturdy houses did not float out to sea. Fires did not erupt from broken gas lines, subways did not flood in New York City, and power was restored in a few days.

Not this time. No one ever evacuated our small town in the past; unfortunately few did this time. The destruction was tremendous. If the climatologists are correct, more super storms are not far off.

For centuries people have sought explanations for behaviors or events that did not fit into their knowledge base or belief systems. Galileo, following Copernicus heliocentric theory, proposed that the earth rotated around the sun and not vice versa. The Catholic Church, then the powerful governing force, found him guilty of heresy at a Roman Inquisition in the 17th Century.

Mass hysteria occurred in Salem, Mass., in the 1690s; false beliefs and ignorance resulted in more than 100 people being charged as "witches." Twenty people were executed. We know for a fact that there are no "witches," but people truly believed in them at the time.

John Locke, a 17th Century philosopher, insisted that humans were "blank slates" so that, with training, children could be made to be anything adults wanted. Science has proven him wrong.

Some still insist that weather patterns are just variations on a normal curve and that there is no global warming. But there is enough evidence for all people to recognize and act on the climate changes that have and will continue to adversely affect our world.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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