Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hope and despair in AP wire stories on global warming

My thanks to Climate Progress for pointing out a recent AP wire story by Seth Borenstein, who's work has been followed here before.

This story concerns new maps that the AP has seen of what coastlines will look like with a meter of sea level rise. The depressing part is that a meter of sea level may already be inevitable, its just a question of when. I think this is the kind of journalism Steve Outing had in mind: passionate and truthful.

The downside of these kind of stories is it might make people despair: what's the point of working to de-carbonize our economy if so much damage is already done?

Well the reason is in the hopeful counterpoint to this article, also written by Mr. Borenstein:
"It's hard at times," said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver. "You can't give up hope because what else is there in life if you give up hope? When you give up hope, that's quitting and scientists don't like to quit."

That optimism is based on science and faith.

The science, [Penn State Professor Michael] Mann said, is because climate researchers are sure of one thing that the public isn't: The numbers show that there is still time to avert the worst.

NASA's James Hansen, who forecasts some of the bleakest outlooks on global warming, said in an e-mail: "I am always surprised when people get depressed rather than energized to do something. It's not too late to stabilize climate."
Here's the best anecdote from this article:
Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider has battled cancer and it has colored his outlook. He said the key is not to get overwhelmed by the belief that something is too tough. Sure a 2-degree rise in temperatures is bad. But 4 or 5 degrees would be even worse [emphasis added].

Schneider's wife, Stanford University biologist Terry Root, recalled how in 2002 she was sitting at the hospital as Schneider slept after cancer treatment. The oncology nurse came in, chatted and asked her what she did for a living.

Root said she studied how animals are being hurt by global warming. "That is such a depressing job," replied the nurse who daily deals with cancer patients.

Then they both laughed.
It will be interesting to see which papers pick up one or both articles.

The message that "bad things will happen but we need to prevent worse ones" is a tough one for a political leader to say. But then, saying the tough things is what makes someone a leader. I wonder if any of the current U.S. presidential candidates can convey this particular message about global warming? I know the current office holder can't.

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