The lights of Times Square in New York are reflected in standing water Thursday, September 2, 2021, as Hurricane Ida left behind not just water on city streets but wind damage and severe flooding along the Eastern seaboard.
CNN  — 

Record flooding in Philadelphia and New York City. Tornadoes in New Jersey. Fires burning through California and Nevada.

Everywhere you look, extreme weather. Weather the likes of which even meteorologists and other experts say they have never seen before.

What’s perhaps more remarkable is that we know why all of this is happening: Our changing climate. As the Earth warms, more extreme weather becomes more of the rule rather than its exception.

In April, the World Meteorological Organization released a report detailing a five-fold increase in the number of extreme weather events over the past five decades. The WMO, which is part of the United Nations, estimated that those extreme weather events have left more than 2 million people around the globe dead and cost $3.64 trillion in total losses.

“Because of climate change, unfortunately this is something we’re going to have to deal with great regularity,” New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference Thursday to address the historic flooding in the Empire State.

Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, a prominent liberal voice in Congress, was even more blunt – tweeting:

“Glaciers started melting and Congress waited.

“Fires started burning and Congress waited.

“People started dying and Congress waited.

“Now our cities are underwater, wildfires are raging, and temperatures are at record highs.

“Congress can no longer wait to pass a Green New Deal.”

That politicians like Hochul and Bush were even talking about climate change in the midst of its effects suggests some progress – that at least some politicians have made the connection between the extreme weather we are experiencing and the warming climate.

Bush’s tweet raises a simple but deeply important question: Is this the moment when we, as a country, start to take climate change seriously? Or is this, like so many other scenes of extreme weather in recent years, simply written off or ignored because the solutions are too politically painful?

For a long time, the political reality of climate went something like this: The effects of our warming planet were too far away for any politician – or the average person – to worry about them. Sure, at some point in the long-distant future we, as a society, would need to make some changes in regard to our energy consumption and our broader lifestyle, but it wans’t urgent. It was something that, maybe, our kids’ kids’ kids would need to worry about.

The events of the last few days put the lie to those assumptions. Yes, climate change will continue to worsen unless actions are taken – and quickly. But, we don’t have to wait to see the impact of a warming climate. The record flooding in New York is climate change. The massive Caldor Fire is climate change. The rapid intensification of Hurricane Ida leading to yet another major hurricane wrecking Louisiana is climate change.

This is all factually true. There is no debate within the scientific community that we are currently living through the first major impacts of the warming planet – and that, unless critical changes are made, and soon, things will get significantly worse.

“Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here,” said Michael E. Mann, a lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate, which came out in August.

Polling is mixed on just how much of that message has gotten through to Americans.

In a May 2021 Pew poll, about two-thirds of respondents (64%) said that climate change should be “a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations, even if that means fewer resources for addressing other important problems today.” Roughly 1 in 3 (34%) said that climate should be “a lower priority, with so many other important problems facing Americans today, even if that means more climate problems for future generations.”

When it comes to making changes to bring about the changes required to curb our climate crisis, the public is significantly more divided. A slim majority (51%) said that in the next 50 years “major” lifestyle changes will be necessary to “address problems from climate change.” Meanwhile, 46% believe that “new technology” will be developed over the next 50 years that will handle the growing problem of climate change.

That disconnect between acknowledging climate change is a problem and grasping the need to make at-times drastic changes in how we live in the world has long been a source of frustration for those focused on the threat posed by the Earth’s warming.

The sad reality is this: It may take extreme events impacting millions and millions of American personally – and costing peoples’ lives – before the proper urgency about climate change is reached.

Is this that moment? For the sake of the people who died amid the flooding and storms, we can hope so.