“We know what the driver is, climate change. We know what’s causing climate change, human activity,” Biden said during an appearance at Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory Tuesday. “This is no longer subject to debate.”
But some do still debate whether climate change plays a large part in natural disasters such as California wildfires and hurricanes, as Biden suggested.
“When I hear climate change discussed, it’s suggested that it’s a major reason and it’s not,” Scott Stevens of the University of California told Forbes last year when discussing wildfires.
Stevens’ view was echoed by University of Wisconsin geographer Paul Robbins, who argued such fires are not something new.
“The idea that fire is somehow new… a product solely of climate change, and part of a moral crusade for the soul of the nation, borders on the insane,” Robbins said.
Nick Loris, an economist who focuses on energy, environmental and regulatory issues as the Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow at The Heritage Foundation, has also disputed the idea that climate change is causing an uptick in hurricane activity.
“There’s conflicting literature in the scientific community as to what this increased temperature and increased ocean temperature has done towards just the size and magnitude of hurricane,” Loris said during a 2018 interview. “The reason that we keep hearing this isn’t all too unsurprising, it’s to have this emotion that we need action on climate change, particularly that we need to restrict the use of coal, oil and natural gas, which provide 80% of America’s energy needs and provide 80% of the world’s energy needs.”
But others agree with Biden’s assessment of the problem, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist James P. Kossin.
“It’s very likely that human-caused climate change contributed to that anomalously warm ocean,” Kossin said last month. “Climate change is making it more likely for hurricanes to behave in certain ways.”
According to Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one such way oceans can impact storm behavior is through rising sea levels.
“Potential intensity is going up,” Emanuel said. “We predicted it would go up 30 years ago, and the observations show it going up.”
“Even if storms themselves weren’t changing, the storm surge is riding on an elevated sea level,” he added. “If Sandy’s storm surge had occurred in 1912 rather than 2012… it probably wouldn’t have flooded Lower Manhattan.”
Biden also warned that the problem of climate change was in dire need of being addressed, arguing that this was a “decisive decade” in the battle against the problem.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Biden said. “We don’t have much more than 10 years… for real. This is a decisive decade.”