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Ritter: Climate change is not a complicated issue

 
 
updated: 9/23/2017 9:46 AM

It shouldn't be this complicated.

From its possible role in this summer's astounding hurricane season to President Trump's on-again, off-again dalliance with the Paris climate accord, climate change once again is back in the news -- and, in a magnificent non-surprise, it is stoking the same old divisions for which it has a demonstrated a knack.

Perhaps no other current issue so quickly pulls people toward such distinct partisan lines, which is befuddling considering the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth's climate is warming due to human activity.

If the earth is getting warmer, some ask, why do we still experience deathly cold winters?

If climate change is real, why aren't the oceans rising at the rate Al Gore predicted?

If it's really getting warmer outside, shouldn't all the liberal "snowflakes" just melt away?

Provocative questions indeed. After all, humans have occupied this rock in space for only the briefest span of its 4.5 billion-year history. For us to claim, based on that minuscule experience, that we can read all the tea leaves regarding our planet's behavior is the height of arrogance, whether we have the data to back it up or not. We think we know all the answers, until we find even better answers.

"If you go back into the 1930s and the 1940s, and you take a look, we've had storms over the years that have been bigger than this," Trump recently said. "So we did have two horrific storms, epic storms, but if you go back into the '30s and '40s, and you go back into the teens, you'll see storms that were very similar and even bigger, OK?"

That may be, but it misses the point. The effect of pumping large amounts of industrial carbon dioxide into the atmosphere should be clear based on what we've observed in countless other corners of nature; for a nifty lesson about how the greenhouse effect works, just look to our sweltering planetary neighbor, Venus.

Whether mankind is actually altering the planet or not is not even the most important point. What matters more is that we could be altering the planet through what we know is risky behavior. Just like smoking cigarettes, or disassembling land mines, or eating three jars of mayonnaise for breakfast each day, pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere may not kill us in the end -- but the science is clear that it could very well kill us. The moral imperative is on us to act responsibly to avoid such likelihoods.

Yet our leaders remain mired in other matters. So it goes. Anyone thinking we will solve this problem imminently overestimates the ability of Washington to change its own climate.

Still, the issue isn't going away.

And really, it just shouldn't be this complicated.