Quote of the month

“Climate change is an issue that is almost designed to create apathy …”

— Linda Connor, Science Alert, 20 May 2010

The writer argues that the rise of climate change denialism in the face of growing scientific evidence of serious consequences of climate change can be explained by looking at basic human psychology. Essentially, we’re talking about extrapolating psychology to the sociological sphere.
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More reading for a hot summer

This week’s Science has a lengthy review of a long list of recent books by and about climatologists. If you’re interested in doing some not-so-light reading this summer (in a year predicted to be the warmest on record), the review, which Science has made freely available, should steer you in the right direction. The reviewer, Columbia University philosopher Philip Kitcher, covers a lot of territory. He puts it all in perspective by pointing out that while many of the books try to convince readers of the simple truth of climate change, the sad truth is that:

Even if American public opinion were reformed overnight, so that virtually all citizens were convinced that anthropogenic global warming is likely to raise the average temperature of the planet by at least 2°C, that would be only the beginning….

In countries that have long taken anthropogenic climate change as a settled question, agreeing on the expected consequences and the appropriate response has not proved easy. American discussions are likely to be haunted by the long denial, so that suspicions about alarmism linger. As psychologists have repeatedly discovered, those who are misinformed and later corrected often lapse into versions of their original error.

Still, what are you going to do? Give up?


Back in the winter of 1990-91, when I was a between-real-jobs freelancer hanging out in Vancouver with plenty of time on my hands to read, I would cycle down to Stanley Park each rainless day, find a quiet stretch of beach, and read. I went through dozens of books before returning to the working world, but the only book I remember in any detail is Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature. It was the first full-length, popular-science take on climate change, and I’ve spent much of the last 20 years thinking and writing about the subject, thanks to that book. So has McKibben.

eaarth is an oddly titled sequel of sorts. Climate change is just the backstory now. What was once looming on the horizon has become a present-day crisis that threatens to undermine the very fabric of civilization. That’s the starting point of McKibben’s latest stream-of-consciousness anti-fossil-fuel polemic. And I mean that in a good way.
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The fuss over the Photoshopped polar bear …

… is actually good news for those holding down the scientific fort.

Last week, Science published a letter from 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences pleading for “an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues” in the climatology community. The letter laid bare (not bear) the scientific basis for the theory of anthropogenic climate change, a theory the authors said belongs in the same category as the theories of evolution and the Big Bang. So far so good. It was accompanied by a collage image of polar bear isolated on a single ice floe (at right), an image described as just that. But some took umbrage at its use, and it was replaced by a non-manipulated photograph (below right). No big deal, right?
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