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December 06, 2016
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A little moral outrage, please

Severe weather events in 2012 apparently have swayed a lot of skeptics about climate change in the U.S. One poll completed a month ago indicates that 80% of Americans now believe in global warming, another poll shows a 75% response.

And there are more changes in perception about climate change. Young people and businesses are coming to the table to advance the conversation in a way they have not done before.

Today’s young people have the most to lose if the worst-case predictions about global warming come to pass this century. One of these young people is a college student whose impassioned plea at a U.N.-sponsored climate conference in Durban, South Africa in 2011 has gone viral on the Internet.

If you want to know what moral outrage looks and sounds like, then listen to Anjuli Appadurai, then a third-year student at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME ( Appadurai was part of the youth delegation to the 17th U.N. Conference on Climate Change. (Yes, you heard right—this is the 17th time conferees have met to make a plan for what to do about global warming, and it was the 17th time little to nothing was achieved.)

Appadurai issued a call for action by governments around the world to make deep cuts in carbon dioxide pollution emissions. There in South Africa, she quoted Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” And then she ended her speech with three short words that other young delegates took up from the back of the room: “Get it done. Get it done. Get it done,” they chanted.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide continues to pour into the air. The earth’s rising temperature already is certain not to be contained at two-degree Celsius (four degrees Fahrenheit), the amount of increase climate scientists believe must be achieved to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Some predictions now raise the possibility of four degrees Celsius as being more realistic, while others see an even more frightful number of six degrees C.

We think the world needs more moral outrage like Appadurai expressed over the world community’s failure to act. More young people like her are needed.

And now there’s another important voice being heard from—the voice of business.

According to a recent estimate in the journal Science, climate change costs the world economy $1.2 trillion annually. Leading the way in sounding the alarm for business is the insurance industry, and no wonder. Insurers reportedly expect to pay close to half of the $140 billion in economic losses caused by natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2012, according to Swiss Re Group, the world’s largest wholesale re-insurance company.

Swiss Re reports that the top five insurance losses in the world in 2012 were all in the U.S. (Other continents took their turns in 2010 and 2011.) Insured losses from Hurricane Sandy will range from $20 to $25 billion dollars. The drought in the heartland from July through September will cost insurers $11 billion.

Severe storms and tornadoes in March and April will cost $2.8 billion and the June “derecho” storm that passed to our south will cost $2 billion.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a November publication stated, “Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world.” And earlier this year, global business consultants KPMG listed climate change first among its “global sustainability megaforces that will affect the future of every business.” Having more businesses join the conversation would be another important and needed contribution.

While everyone knows about the risks of climate change—higher temperatures, rising seas, increased risk of drought, stronger storms, heat-related illness, the spread of disease, economic losses—still the world dithers. The truth is, if we keep dithering, we will be in trouble, or rather, our children will be in trouble.

Many solutions have been proposed. The time has come to get serious about instituting them, particularly in the U.S., which has failed as a world leader in the arena of climate change. In 2013, we need to support fully the development of renewables and to impose a carbon tax. We need the U.S. to work again with other countries on this issue. It is time for the U.S. to be a world leader again, and this issue provides the perfect opportunity.