"We musn't tell the truth because....."
“The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
I don’t feel of a mind to give to much floor time to people like Michael Mann who will use their authority to tell us what we ‘need to know’ without ever once citing one single piece of research to back up their contentions.
Meanwhile the author of the piece interviewed Guy McPherson for the article without acknowledging the fact.
I was interviewed in mid-June 2017 by David Wallace-Wells for New York magazine. Although the resulting long story largely captures my message, albeit with a strong dose of misplaced optimism, the story fails to mention my name. “The Uninhabitable Planet” is linked here.
Mann to Doomers: Not so Fast
There is a cottage industry online of over-the-top predictions of imminent human extinction from climate change – something I always have pushed back on.
To those that warn of imminent human extinction, I say, “We’re not getting off that easy.”
Meaning, we’re actually going to have to deal with and solve this problem, and to a degree that we don’t – live with and adapt to the consequences.
A new piece in New York Magazine follows this playbook – which is unfortunate, because a sense of hopelessness is not what we need to solve this problem, and plays nicely into the hands of deniers like the Koch Brothers.
It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.
Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.
Michael Mann has a timely take this morning.
Since this New York Magazine article (“The Uninhabitable Earth”) is getting so much play this morning, I figured I should comment on it, especially as I was interviewed by the author (though not quoted or mentioned).
I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.
The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.
The article paints an overly bleak picture by overstating some of the science. It exaggerates for example, the near-term threat of climate “feedbacks” involving the release of frozen methane (the science on this is much more nuanced and doesn’t support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb. It is unclear that much of this frozen methane can be readily mobilized by projected warming: http://www.realclimate.org/…/2012/01/much-ado-about-methane/).
Also, I was struck by erroneous statements like this one referencing “satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought.”
That’ just not true. The study in question simply showed that
one particular satellite temperature dataset that had tended to show *less* warming that the other datasets, has now been brought in line with the other temperature data after some problems with that dataset were dealt with.
Ironically, I am a co-author of a recent article in the journal Nature Geoscience (see e.g. this piece in The Guardian:https://www.theguardian.com/…/climate-scientists-just-debun…), using that very same new, corrected, satellite dataset, that shows that past climate model simulations slightly **over-predicted** the actual warming during the first decade of the 21st century, likely because of a mis-specification of natural factors like solar variations and volcanic eruptions. Once these are accounted for, the models and observations are pretty much in line–the warming of the globe is pretty much progressing AS models predicted…which is bad enough.
The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.
I’m afraid this latest article does that. That’s too bad. The journalist is clearly a talented one, and this is somewhat of a lost opportunity to objectively inform the discourse over human-caused climate change.
Working on a piece that will outline the way forward, post-Paris – but that will have to wait till I get back from Greenland.