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Three if by fire…

August 26, 2019

People do not think well about long, slow, inexorable change. The threats that require an animal’s volitional response typically are brief and local: a predator, a competitor, a geographic obstacle. We, being especially smart primates, can think in terms of campaigns that take months or years. Threats that build incrementally through the decades are more difficult for us to think about and talk about. Especially when the cause gives rise to effects that increase for years. Such as CO2 emissions.

Given the narratives that come more naturally to us, it is not surprising that there are attempts to dramatize global warming. For example, by talking about threshold or critical points that are largely notional. Or by focusing on specific events from fires to storms as significant “battles” in that “war.” Climate Nexus tries to shoot down some of the hyperbole around the forest fires now burning in Brazil. (The real worry there is the direct destruction of significant wildlife habitat.)

I frequently post on bad reporting about the climate, such as the notion above that the burning of the Amazon forests will suck the oxygen out of the atmosphere, or that global warming will cause civilization to collapse in a couple of decades, or that it is making hurricanes worse. Ignorant scare-mongering obscures good climate reporting as much as right-wing denialism. The global warming we are seeing is real, is caused by us, and is hugely important to future generations. Far too important to let the reality get obscured by bad understanding of the science, from whichever direction. Because of the slow and long nature of the threat, it truly is a wicked problem.

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