It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, November 9, 2007

Revkin's Imaginary Middle Stance

Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth discusses climate change scaremongering (off-putting) vs climate change formalism (invisible). He asks an interesting question.
In a line that didn’t make it into an article, [a source] said that a quieter tone in describing the problem “could be interpreted as satisfaction with the status quo.”

So if quiet warnings are ignored, and the politics of fear is as empty as pornography, what is a message on climate risks and responses that is true to the science, but also effective?

Any ideas?
I don't know. I do like the question.

On the other hand, it seems the legal/political habits of mind are so pervasive even among journalists that even the best of them, like Revkin, can not only make but repeat clunkers like this from the same article:
I explored these questions in the context of global warming last year in a piece called “Yelling Fire on a Hot Planet,” and then again last January in a story exploring the durable, but largely invisible, “middle stance ” amid all the shouting. Scientists holding this view say the world should move assertively to curtail emissions of heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases, but mainly to limit the worst outcomes decades down the road — not so much because such actions could reduce today’s climate-related risks.
This doesn't ring true for me. I don't think asserting that there is an "invisible middle stance" among scientists is a useful model.

Anyone who knows anything about the climate system, including but not limited to geoscientists, knows that greenhouse-relevant actions taken now have minute immediate effects. Arguably, the whole reason we have a problem at all is that effects of anthropogenic emissions changes are cumulative over decades, far outside the political cycle and unaccounted for by conventional politics. That's not the "middle", that's the facts of the matter. Whether your attitude about that is alarmed, sanguine or resigned comes from personality, political or philosophical differences, not from scientific "stances".

On the whole, I like what Revkin does, but his continuing efforts to put climate science into camps or "stances" suffers from the usual confusions.

While there certainly are camps on open technical questions, there really isn't a left, right and middle in climate science. Whatever "stance" we take on the big social and political questions is outside the purview of science. This is why Revkin's "middle way" stuff rings hollow for most of us.

4 comments:

inel said...

I think the best style of message that will work now is a simple one that tells everyone to do the same thing, just as "Dig for Victory" did in WWII.

Many people are waiting for someone else to do something first. They do not know what to do, or whether they will be laughed at, or whether it is worth doing all alone.

A three-word command, such as "Wrap your Home", drummed into people's minds for the next four winter months, giving incentives and deadlines, might work. It would certainly be better than nothing (which is the current procrastination state). Once insulation is installed, the reductions in energy usage, emissions and bills are immediate and ongoing.

The reason I think that this approach is worth trying, is that (to my utter amazement) people regularly forward spam because "it" commands them to, and they know how to do it. If there is one thing people are good at, it is doing something when told (especially when they don't appear to lose anything by doing so, even if the suggestion is, in fact, daft), and when it is easy, and when everyone they know is also doing it!

The final point is that "Wrap your home" does not depend on opinions about climate change, nor upon a person's calculated sense of urgency, but upon timings determined by the weather and financial incentives. It just makes sense.

Michael Tobis said...

I promise you that won't work in Texas.

David B. Benson said...

Well, it ought to work in Texas!

Insulating against too warm is also a good idea.

Oh, wait. Maybe that wasn't what you meant afterall...

Dr. Lemming said...

Can you make people jealous of the lucky few who are going to benefit?

I enjoy telling the 16 million residents of drought stricken southern Australia that in the Northern Territory, the tropical rains are big, business is booming, and the high prices caused by southern farms going under mean that the station owners are looking at more grass and higher prices- a win-win situation.

Of course, there are only 100,000 people living in the rural Territory- one for every 160 residents of SA, NSW, Vic, Tas, or Southern Qld. But those few are living it up right now. So don't feel bad about water restrictions, fires, lack of snow, or other minor inconveniences.