When natural disasters strike, like the massive tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma yesterday afternoon, people often try to make some sense of it by saying that it was "an act of God."
Some people might believe that literally. For others it's a way of saying that it was a completely random event. But whether you're a believer in God or not, the point of that phrase is that people had no control over what happened. Nobody, except God maybe, is responsible.
But when it comes to yesterday's tragedy, don't point to God. The problem is us. Climate scientists have been predicting for some time that human-caused global climate change would lead to a greater frequency of more powerful storms of all kinds. We've seen that with an increased frequency of more powerful hurricanes, stronger snow and rainstorms, and resulting "100-year" floods that happen now every few years.
It works like this. The storms are stronger because there's more energy in the atmosphere. That's because the atmosphere is warmer, and it's heating up because of gases created mostly by burning fossil fuels. Our reluctance in the United States (the second largest contributor to the problem behind China and the largest contributor to the problem politically and morally) to deal with climate change helped pave the path to Moore.
Now, let me anticipate two objections. Somebody's going to point out that you can't make a direct link between the Moore tragedy and climate change. You can't, but you can document three things: climate change is a reality, it is human-caused, and the frequency of strong storms is increasing. The chances are small that a tornado of this magnitude would have developed before human climate change. A good resource for solid information on the science of climate change is the nonpartisan and science-driven Center for Climate Change & Energy Solutions.
Somebody else might say that I'm taking advantage of a human tragedy to make a political statement. No, I'm not. In the first place, climate change isn't a political debating point; it's a scientific reality. And in the second place, if a bridge collapsed killing dozens of people, wouldn't you want to know who the engineer was? In this case, dozens of people were senselessly killed by a "natural disaster," the odds of which were significantly increased by human-caused global climate change.
If Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and the Moore tornado aren't enough to get this country moving on the greatest threat to the environment and to humanity faced by the modern world, than you have to wonder what will.
I'm not optimistic. Kids and teachers get slaughtered in a gun massacre in Connecticut, and this country does precisely nothing. Now there's carnage at a school in Oklahoma, and my bet is it will inspire no action on climate change. In fact, I would be willing to bet that any politician rational and courageous enough to even make the obvious connection will get blasted by the extremist apologists for the fossil fuel industry that have blocked sensible climate change legislation for over a decade.
If there was such a thing as an act of God, I don't think she'd want the gunning down of innocent kids and teachers, and I don't think she'd spawn a killer tornado. I think she'd want us to change.