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Accountability for Climate Catastrophes

While the evidence linking greenhouse-gas emissions to climate change has been clear for some time, public engagement with the issue remains low. But showing the link between emissions and extreme weather could motivate more people to demand that governments and companies reduce the use of fossil fuels.

SINGAPORE – Scientific evidence can now link specific weather disasters to human-induced climate change. This connection should finally dispel the misconception that nature’s wrath alone is to blame for these disasters, and make it possible to hold industries and governments that are hooked on fossil fuels accountable for their actions.

Climate data clearly show that high-carbon energy is responsible for the atmospheric shifts that cause more extreme floods, droughts, and wildfires. But much of the global public has yet to connect these disasters to climate change – much less recognize the role of big polluters in causing them. Media reporting on disasters also does not highlight the strong connection between these events and global warming. For example, an analysis by the news-monitoring organization Media Matters revealed that cable news in the United States largely ignored the role of climate change when covering last year’s wildfires along the West Coast.

Scientific research directly linking smoking to cancer played a major role in changing public opinion about tobacco use. Something similar must happen to encourage meaningful action to combat climate change.

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