By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — This past winter–with extreme cold and heavy snow–was statistically one of the worst in Chicago’s history.

In the summer of 2012, the Midwest endured nearly two weeks of oppressive heat. In early July, temperatures in Chicago soared above 100 degrees for three days in a row, which is extremely rare In fact, any day over 100 degrees in Chicago is rare.

At the same time, the U.S. was in the middle of what scientists called a moderate to severe drought.

Just this week, heavy rains caused localized flooding. The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal grew up in Lake Bluff and tweeted:

Are all of these events evidence of global warming or climate change?

The answer is: Possibly, but it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that nearly every scientist in the world who has studied and reviewed the data on the Earth’s climate agree that humans are responsible for it.

Climate change (or, if you prefer, global warming, it doesn’t matter) exists. Period.

On Monday, former vice president Al Gore was in Chicago to discuss climate change at the University of Chicago.

Gore blamed money from major industrial investors for keeping Republican candidates from acknowledging climate change.

Gore said previous GOP presidential candidates have acknowledged the effects of climate change, and proposed solutions, but he said that won’t happen now, because of what he calls “an enforced orthodoxy” in the Republican Party.

“They will face primary opponents financed by the Koch brothers – and others who are part of their group – if they even breathe the slightest breath of sympathy for the truth,” he said.

That’s one problem with the “debate” over climate change: Politics gets in the way of facts.

Last week’s White House report that concluded that climate change is affecting every part of the United States right now, was dismissed by conservative critics as simply a political tool for President Obama.

Blaming the Koch Brothers for global warming is an overly simplistic political narrative. In fact, Democrats demonizing the Koch’s business interests is inaccurate.

Gore said that “99.99 percent” of scientists agree that climate change exists.

That’s not quite right either. One study, which examined nearly 12,000 papers on the topic, set that figure at around 97 percent.

The study also found that the percentage of scientists who reject global warming hasn’t changed much in 20 years–ranging between 1 percent and 2 percent.

And here’s another problem: Public opinion on climate change.

There is a significant gap between public perception and reality. A study by Pew in 2012 found that 57 percent of the U.S. public either disagreeing or unaware that scientists overwhelmingly agree humans are causing the earth’s temperature to increase.

A more recent Gallup Poll found that 1 in 4 people are skeptical about the effects of climate change.

Considering the volume of scientific work on climate change, that is like saying that 25 percent of Americans are uncertain whether the Earth is round.

And, as HBO’s John Oliver pointed out in this segment on his show “Last Week, Tonight”, polls shouldn’t matter. In fact, there really is no debate about the existence of climate change.

He should be right about that, but he’s not.

The same study that examined those 12,000 scientific papers concluded: “The public perception of a scientific consensus on [global warming] is a necessary element in public support for climate policy.”

The real debate should not be “does it exist?” It should be “what needs to be done.”

That’s an important debate. What are the responsible policy steps needed to stop the trend?

If you want to learn more about how climate change is affecting Illinois, read this. Nobody would argue that we should breathe clean air and drink fresh water. The question is: How do we do that?

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