The Month Of Not Entirely Negligent Analysis Of Climate Change

This is a terrible month to be the kind of person who only pays attention to information once it has come from a publication they respect and made the viral rounds. The state of the environment and atmosphere has been in trouble for a long time. Scientists have known the destructive potential of climate change for a long time as well. Unfortunately, with major newspapers such as the New York Times still publishing climate-skeptic opinions from conservative pundits you can understand how some Americans still buy into the climate change denying, fossil fuel industry public relations campaigns. However, this month a rash of stories came out that gave the reading American public an accurate understanding of the potential catastrophes climate change could bring.

Modern Fossils. Art Credit: Heartless Machine

The dire David Wallace-Wells piece, which opened the debate, came in nine pieces that explained the potential for different ecosystems to kill us. A fossilized human face in sunglasses greets the reader at the opening of the article. Wallace-Wells laid out his scientific understanding, gleaned from experts, of what will happen and when if humanity does not avert its pollution-heavy course. Thankfully, because his conclusions are grim, he informed the reader that he doubts we will reach this worst-case-scenario because he believes humanity will respond to climate change as soon as its risks begin to bloom.He wrote, “when we do truly see the world we’ve made, [the scientists] say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.”

The article was quickly rebutted in Grist, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. Other online news sources such as Think Progress, Daily Kos, and CounterPunch also published responses to the article. The most comprehensive response to the piece came from Climate Feedback, it provides the opinions of over a dozen climate scientists on the piece who believe the story is alarmist.

The influential climate scientist Paul Mann challenged the conclusions expressed in the piece in a Facebook post. He took general issue with the claim that climate change, unchecked, could leave the planet uninhabitable by the end of the century. He wrote, “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.

Wallace-Wells stood by his conclusions in several extended Twitter threads. He also published the article along with an annotated version that connects his sources and claims. In Eric Holthaus’ Grist-published response to the article he recounts]ed the scientific controversies in the article but focused more of his thesis on the idea that people do not respond well to despair. The Uninhabitable Earth can induce despair. Holthaus wrote, “Presented with the idea that the planet that gives us life might be dying, parts of our brain shut down. We are unable to think logically… Our brain’s limbic system is hard-wired to prioritize these kinds of threats, so we shift into fight-or-flight mode. And because the odds look stacked against us, most choose to flee. If anything, strategies like this make the problem worse.” Holthaus’ problem with the piece was not that its science has been questioned, which is has. It is that studies into human psychology have proved that the bluntness of Wallace-Wells’ arguments, and emphasis on possibly hyperbolic worst-case-scenarios, make action on climate change less likely.

This was the month the state of climate change received an amount of attention which today’s youth might one day refer to as almost not negligent, better than nothing, or even, a good first step if it was still the ‘80s.  

Check out this piece on Dark Mountain, another organization accused of climate change fatalism.

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