13 May 2012

Responding to Scientists Who Don't Like "Alarmism"

Sometimes I find myself commenting on websites and blogs (or responding to other commenters) and thinking that what I've written is rather profound or potentially transformative. So today I'd like to share a couple of those comments with you.

Here's the first:

"But what if you're completely wrong? What if it is NOT 'true that climate impacts will be ... not as bad as some climate hawks say'? What if agriculture is going to fail everywhere? What if billions of people are going to die? What if the planet is going to become uninhabitable (to all but jellyfish and cockroaches, if they're lucky)?

"When my first teaching job took me to a logging town, I quickly learned to say, 'Sure, not every tree is for saving, but nor is every tree for chopping down.' Loggers and kids of loggers could handle that 'moderate' stance. But we weren't talking about a (literally) potential end-of-the-world scenario, we were talking about local forests.

"Does it really make sense to continue sitting around, talking about our fire safety rules and discussing the wisdom of pulling the alarm while the blinkin' house is on fire? If you're going to do that, at least lead the children to safety first, damn it! Indeed, take all the time you want to figure out how best to communicate the emergency, just ensure the children — of all species — a viable future first."

That was my response to the blogger. Then I read some of the comments and bumped up against a scientist who seems to be placing "the scientific method" ahead of life. Guys, guys, when are you going to get it through your heads? If you're fighting for anything other than life, what you're fighting for is moot! It (money, profit, power, fame, the scientific method) will not even exist if we don't safeguard the future of life on this planet.

So here's my response to that scientist, in the form of five questions: 

"1. Given that the Global Humanitarian Forum "conceded" a significant margin of error and was reviewed by Hans Schellnhuber, Jeffrey Sachs and other experts, what is the real complaint about their Human Impact Report? (It strikes me that any human loss due to the climate change emergency should invoke a humanitarian response, but I guess if those who've died aren't our loved ones, well ....)

"2. Scientists think that the best way to think about the impacts of global heating and climate disruption is scientifically. But how have scientists proved this? What if the best way is to think with our hearts and our guts, with our compassion, spiritually, or with our parents' and grandparents' love and concern for the children we love? I'm just sayin'. That we should stay calm and think scientifically is still just a hypothesis, is it not?

"3. Isn't considering the worst case scenario an important aspect of risk management?

"4. Is it true that many (most? all?) computer climate models don't include the scariest, er, biggest Arctic carbon feedbacks (peatlands, permafrost, methane hydrates)?

"5. If that's true, then shouldn't we be far more concerned than we are now?"

Give me James Hansen any day. He's a scientist through and through (listen to him give any presentation other than his TED Talk), but he loves his grandchildren and he's willing to fight for their right to a viable and climate-safe future.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?