Addressing a U.S. Senate hearing on climate change, Stanford University's Chris Field offered a stark, yet hopeful, analogy.
Just as speeding increases the chance of having a car accident, Field told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, accelerating climate change intensifies the chances of heat waves, droughts and heavy precipitation.
"We can point clearly to the causal mechanism but it's still difficult to predict exactly when or where the crisis -- either the accident from speeding in a car or the disaster that's related to climate change -- will occur," he said.
"But still, we can have high confidence in the driving mechanism."
"It is critical to understand that the link between climate change and the kinds of extremes that lead to disasters is clear," he said.
Although there's no guarantee staying within the speed limit will prevent a car crash, he said, we know it will decrease the risk.
Similarly, Field said, the risk of climate-related disasters can be reduced with "speed limit" measures such as disaster preparations, early warning systems and well-built infrastructure.
Field, a professor of biology and environmental Earth system science, was part of a group of researchers who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their climate change work with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.