Talking about climate change — how scary should we be?

Posted January 2nd, 2007 in Blog 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope

Today from Margaret Swedish:

Worry, but don’t panic.

That’s what some climate scientists are saying now, concerned that the level of alarm being raised by people like Al Gore, and, well, me, and many others may scare people into paralysis, or a sense of helplessness.

I get their point, yet I still have this other sense that most people are still not scared enough, or scared at all.

So we debate the debate — because the debate about whether human-induced global warming is occurring and changing our atmosphere rapidly, well, that debate is over. 

So now we debate how to bring the message in a way that spurs people to action, immediate and drastic action.  One way is to do this with a sense of mission, that this is how we humans come together to save the biodiverse life of the planet, that this is the great task of our generation to which we are called to rise.

This post is inspired, once again, by a New York Times article today.   I am intrigued by how the headline does not really express the content.  “Middle stance emerges in debate over climate.”  This refers to a debate about how to talk about the threat global warming poses to the planet.  How to avoid a level of alarm that scares people too much and, at the same time, reassurance that lulls people to complacency.

Yet, the scientists quoted in the article aren’t exactly holding back.  One of our best scientists, cited often in this blog, Dr.  James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies:

If we want to avoid producing a different planet, we need to start acting now… It seems almost to be a secret that we cannot put all of the fossil fuel CO2 into the air without producing a different planet, and yes, dangerous change.

Or Dr. John Wallace, climate scientist at the University of Washington:

Global warming is real, it’s serious, but it’s just one of many global challenges we’re facing… I portray it as part of a broader problem of environmental stewardship — preserving a livable planet with abundant resources for future generations.

Or John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

I am one of those who believes that any reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date look at the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.  What keeps me going is my belief that there is still a chance of avoiding catastrophe.

Really sobering — that our greatest hope is to avoid catastrophe.  I will believe we have scared people enough when the lack of action on the part of our political, social, cultural and religious leaders sparks the outrage it deserves.

As many scientists point out, we are well past the point where different light bulbs and recycling, and even buying more gas efficient vehicles, will save us from creating that ‘different planet.’  We need absolutely to do all of those things, but it will take a veritable reorienting of the way in which the human species lives on the planet, the way we organize our lives, the way we consume, in order to save us from that catastrophe.

Right now, economic growth and wealth generation is created largely by extraction and consumption, and then dumping waste back into the atmosphere, into soils, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.  We are creating not just a hotter planet, but a toxic and depleted one.

Meanwhile, if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions now, we would still have a century of warming before the CO2 balance is restored at some level we don’t know yet.  That means not only stopping the pollution and waste now, but also proactively planning for adaptation — like stopping this insane pursuit of oceanfront and desert development, like investing hugely in mass transit and in conservation, like putting a halt to this wasteful consumer culture.

Okay, we don’t need paralysis and panic; that is true.  But we still need something concerted and very, very serious to spark the kind of movement this society needs to boot us out of our inertia.

And that very soon.


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2 Responses

  1. Sheila Murphy

    Margaret, blessings upon you!

    This is the most exciting Website I have ever encountered! Clear, intelligent, scientific, honest! How many more Katrina’s, tsumanis, ice shelf collapses will it take to get the message across? Will Nature wait that long?

    Thank you! Thank you! and keep up the good work.

    Sr. Sheila Murphy

  2. ecologicalhope

    Thank you, Sister Sheila,

    Help spread the word!