Imagine being terrified into climate change inaction by a NYMag article.

Dr. Samantha Montano, July 11, 2017


David Wallace-Wells wrote an article in NY Magazine about some potential high-end consequences of climate change (i.e., running out of food and oxygen, perpetual war, etc).

It was so scary that poor Chris Hayes couldn’t sleep.

Other climate change journalists were like, "HOW DARE YOU INCITE FEAR IN THE PUBLIC" (i.e., some nerds on twitter <3).

First of all, this entire thing is ridiculous because a single NYMag article isn’t going to motivate the masses about anything.

“Well I was going to lead a global concerted effort to address climate change but then David Wallace-Wells said in 100 years it might be hard for people to breathe the air so nvm.” – Macron, probably.

But seriously... 

Climate journalists (who I really respect) spun themselves up into a tizzy over an article that sought to educate a general audience about the high-end possible consequences of climate change* (see: The Atlantic, New Republic, and Grist). The primary critique seems to be that Wallace-Wells used fear, not hope, in an attempt to motivate people to act on climate change.

A few quick things: 

1. You assume that people were actually scared by a single NY Magazine article and you assume that a NY Magazine article would motivate someone to action when every other article on climate change hadn't... Wallace-Wells is a compelling writer but he's not that compelling... none of us are.  

2. There's a lot of weight (like, kind of the future of humanity) being put on studies about climate change communication that aren’t measuring what you think they’re measuring and definitely are not generalizable to the extent that you all seem to think they are... 

3. Relatedly, we’ve got to start being specific about what we mean by “take action on climate change”. WTF does that mean? Seriously. If we’re talking about taking actions to address the consequences of climate change (which is an equally pressing issue so we should be) then I have an entire body of emergency management literature to discuss with you all that doesn't agree with your hope/fear assessment. There is how humans respond to climate change and then there is how humans respond to the consequences of climate change – too many smart people are conflating the two. They are two, almost completely, separate conversations and they need to be written about and studied as such.

4. I certainly hope there is a successful and adequate global concerted effort but – hope isn’t evidence based. I don't care what climatologists, et al "hope" happens. I care about what the evidence suggests is going to happen. From where I’m sitting, it’s not great. Until you can back your hope up with evidence you're allowing yourself to be delusional to get through the day – which is fine for you personally but not fine when you have an audience of thousands who are following what you write. And, btw, when did hope and fear become mutually exclusive? Asking for a friend (i.e., everyone who studies climate change and its consequences). 

5. Another quick question: When did everyone decide that educating people about the potential consequences of climate change = inciting fear? Fear is a byproduct learning about climate change. This seems obvious...? 

6. This entire debacle seems to suggest that climate journalists, and to some extent climate scientist, prevaricate around the general public which suggests they/ we are some kind of gatekeepers in a way that is radically inapproriate. Having hope that we may be able to one day do something to address climate change does not mean that we ignore, or don’t share with the public, the high end, however unlikely, consequences of climate change. The NyMag article was only irresponsible in the extent to which some of the consequences were based on speculation past what most scientists are willing to interpret findings of certain studies, not on the premise that the consequences of climate change are going to be significantly worse than rising seas.

The NYMag article actual seems useful because it framed climate change as its consequences. I don’t disagree with the approach of educating the public on what the high-end consequences of climate change are. In the same way that it is appropriate to educate the public on the high-end risk associated with nuclear power plants – you can talin statistics all you want butChrenobyl happened. Fukushima, however improbable, happened. And despite the best efforts of government and industry leaders we almost lost Detroit in the 1960s. 

7. Why is everyone all of a sudden ignoring the Yale study? 58% of people believe climate change will harm people in the US but only 40% believe they will be personally impacted. So, perhaps we do need to be spending more time communicating the consequences of climate change. I’m not saying the NYMag article was perfect as other climatologists have since explainied but that’s also not what most of you seem to have had a problem with… you were mad about how the article was framed…. and that anger is unfounded at most and dramatic af at least.


Please direct all hate mail to @SamLMontano where I will respond with appropriate Wonder Woman gifs.