Climate change reporter outlines the social context of the crisisMarch 11th, 2009 by cdunagan
Elizabeth Kolbert, who has been reporting on climate change for “The New Yorker” magazine, says our political, scientific and economic system may not be designed to deal with “slow-moving catastrophes” like global warming.
In a question-and-answer interview published today by “Yale Environment 360,” Kolbert makes some important points about why governmental officials, news reporters, scientists and average citizens are failing to address the crisis adequately. I’ve pulled out some key quotes, but I recommend that you read the entire interview.
Kolbert quoted Sen. John McCain, who had this to say on the subject: “It’s very unclear whether our political system can deal with a problem like this because usually we wait for a crisis and then we deal with the crisis, and that’s just not the way climate change works. You can’t deal with it once the crisis hits.”
Because the Bush administration failed, for the most part, to take climate change seriously, it is easier for many people to ignore the problem, Kolbert says.
On the news media’s role, she said, “I think that the media has contributed to the general sense of it not being an urgent problem because it’s not the lead story of the paper every day. It’s a very hard issue for the media to deal with precisely because the news business is about news — it’s about something that happened yesterday. And global warming is just happening all around us all the time, and it’s going to continue to happen and it doesn’t present itself as news very often.”
On the question of why scientists don’t spend more time convincing the public about climate change: “They have some of the same problems that journalists have, which is that scientists are interested in introducing something new in their work. They want new results, new information. They want to break new ground. They need to do that to get funding, really. And global warming, the fact that global warming is happening, that is really old news in scientific circles. It’s just a settled question in scientific circles. So scientists moved on to other issues having to do with climate change…”
On the idea of turning the debate over to economists and politicians: “I think that’s a big mistake because when you read a lot of economic analyses of climate change, you are struck with a very worrisome sense that the economists don’t understand the science, don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. And they don’t seem to be factoring in the notion of we’re not talking here about small, inconvenient changes that are not worth changing our lifestyle to avoid. We’re talking about a desolate planet, not really in that long a time, okay?”
And on the role of individual Americans: “It gets back to this issue of whether the public believes in science, which, to be honest, we do not. You can still find a lot of people who don’t believe in evolution, okay? So we’re talking about a country that has a very lax relationship to science. And what you need in order to grapple meaningfully with global warming is to believe that this is not a speculative thing. This is the way geophysics work, and we have established that very clearly both in a laboratory setting and on the ground — and we need to take very seriously these predictions.”
On a related topic, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin says climate skeptics at the second International Conference on Climate Change this week in New York are not as unified in their thinking as they were at the first conference last year.