Economists usually like weather people because they are the only group whose forecasts are wrong more than ours. But right now, I have to disagree with them about climate change.

They correctly point out there is a difference between climate and weather. Weather is the short-term precipitation, temperature, humidity and other changes we see on a daily basis. When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages (many decades) of daily weather.

The two are linked. Weather people recognize persistent weather changes over an extended period of time result in climate change. We are told the strange, short-term weather we have been having worldwide is not climate change but weather change. Maybe, maybe not.

Climatologists and meteorologists are using definitions and models of climate and weather based on centuries of observations. That has worked reasonably well for a long time. However, this is where I think they may be going wrong. We are now in a period in earth’s history unlike any other. There are more people alive today than at any other time. In addition, we have never before had as great a quantity of greenhouse gases in the air than we have now. The parameters of the models climatologists and meteorologists are using have changed, and that can potentially render the resulting conclusions suspect.

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In economics, we use models too, but if the underlying assumptions of a model change, we usually discard or modify the models. Climatologists and meteorologists must do the same thing, or the conclusions they draw may be inaccurate. Thousands of people who have spent their professional careers studying weather and climate are convinced we are in the process of climate change. The degree to which humans are contributing to it is unclear, but what is certain is we are causing at least part of the climate change. These people are experts. Why wouldn’t we believe them? I do. But, I think climate change is happening far faster than most people, including the experts, think.

According to NASA scientists, climate change will result in major changes in precipitation, more severe weather and the rising of the oceans. In the Midwest, we will see extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding affecting infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes. In Iowa, the growing season may become up to a month longer but it comes with a hefty price. We will see increased precipitation through more violent storms, higher temperatures, spread of many unwanted pests and pathogens and even negative health effects to humans.

Predicting the future is always dicey and there is no positive way to really know the causes, effects and prevention of major climate change. Nonetheless, ignoring it could come with a huge cost. Now is the time to act. Not next year or after the next election but now. Our future may depend on it.

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Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the economics department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the university.



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