Two recent New York Times op-ed columns make valuable additions to the continuing dialog about how, not whether, society can best go about addressing the challenges of human-caused climate change.
Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, the single scientist most personally identified with the iconic “hockey stick” image, penned a column headlined, along the lines of the airport safety slogan, “If You See Something, Say Something.” He does … see something, that is; and he does say something, as he and a growing number of climate scientists increasingly have been doing.
Mann opened his January 17 op-ed by pointing to an “overwhelming consensus” among scientists notwithstanding some media coverage “leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.” He acknowledges “real differences among mainstream scientists” on “the precise implications of those higher temperatures” and on “which technologies and policies” might work best to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. But he’s concerned that “until the public fully understands the danger of our present trajectory, those debates are likely to continue to founder.”
It’s time for climate scientists to get off the sidelines, he argues, suggesting that they now need to engage more on “the implications” of what they see as evidence-based science.
“There is nothing inappropriate at all about drawing on our scientific knowledge to speak out about the very real implications of our research,” Mann wrote. He invoked the late Stanford climate scientist Stephen H. Schneider in suggesting that “If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum” that advocates or those with “short-term self-interest” will fill. “It will be an abrogation of our responsibility to society if we remained quiet in the face of such a grave threat.” He also invoked the “clear and present danger” rhetoric of spies and wartime lore.
As did his Penn State climate science colleague Richard Alley in a recent Yale Forum webinar, Mann in his column also invoked what he sees as the ethical responsibilities of publicly-financed scientists and of himself as a parent: “How would I explain to the future children of my eight-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up at the time?”
That reference to future heirs and future generations generally is one a number of respected scientists increasingly have been making as they address climate change concerns. It’s a perspective likely to be heard more often as more and more scientists take the plunge into public policy dialog.
Nice to be a ‘Winner’ … but for Being among Most ‘Neglected’ Topics?
A day after Mann’s column was posted online and in the same New York Times “Sunday Review” section, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that many respondents to a question he had posed suggested climate change as among the most “neglected topics” needing more aggressive coverage in 2014.
Among the roughly 1,300 readers responding to his query, “many made a particularly compelling case for climate change,” Kristof wrote, adding a suggestion that the issue “isn’t sexy” for many. Kristof pointed to long-term drought in the far western states, and “extreme drought” in California as reasons enough to warrant more coverage at a time when mainstream news coverage generally is seen as having been on the wane.
“The scientific consensus is stronger than ever,” Kristof wrote, notwithstanding what he called “this disjunction between scientific consensus and popular perception.”
“In politics and the military, we routinely deal with uncertainty,” Kristof wrote. He pointed to uncertainties involving Iran’s nuclear intentions “but we still invest in technologies and policies to reduce the risks. We can’t be sure that someone is going to hijack a plane, but we still screen passengers.”
“This is a neglected topic,” Kristof concluded, but with more coverage and a sharper focus, “perhaps that can help nudge our political system out of paralysis to take protective action to reduce the threat to the only planet we have.”
Editor’s Note: Mann joined with The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, George Mason University researcher Ed Maibach, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and MIT’s John Reilly in a full-length January 21 KCRW radio interview on “The ‘Clear and Present Danger’ of Climate Change.” The public radio program is available online.