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  • extreme events

It is difficult for the public to grasp the significance of global warming because the mildness of its early symptoms belies the gravity of its long-term consequences. Mindful of the human tendency to discount the importance of events seen as occurring far in the future, many scientists and science writers have come to regard newsworthy weather- and climate-related extreme events as “teachable moments” that serve to illustrate the importance and immediacy of the impacts of human-induced climate change. The problem with this approach is that the attribution of extreme events to human-induced climate change is often viewed as gratuitous and labeled as fear mongering. A more effective communications strategy, in my view, is to use these events to illuminate society's increasing vulnerability to natural disasters in the face of our deteriorating planetary life-support system.