Hi Michael – as I write below, I was indeed pleased and surprised to see my quote at the top of your blog. But it is sufficiently different from what I would say if I were to craft the sentence carefully, that I felt motivated to elaborate. I don’t want you to alter the quote itself because any alteration would be no more faithful to the original than your version. But if you feel like posting the letter, I try to clarify and justify the argument. Fairly concisely, or at least that was my goal.Let me know what you think.Thanks,–Paul
I was surprised and pleased to see my words at the top of MT’s blog. It wasn’t a perfect quote of what I think I said, but I’d already forgotten the exact words when Michael asked me to repeat it mere seconds after.
What do I mean “to scare the people out of their wits”? Well, the “out of their wits” part is just melodrama. But the part about scaring people is completely serious.
I believe strongly that the threat of anthropogenic climate change is such that fear is the proper response. In a very real sense what we are doing may kill (many of) us. For those of us in the wealthy world, the risks may be smaller and come later. But deaths from extreme events, famines or other causes are growing steadily more likely with our GHG emissions, and while we may or may not be the victims, we are responsible even if we are not. And it is first and foremost those who understand best why that is so – the scientists who study the subject – who must convince the rest of us to fear the consequences of not acting.
This of course is a major simplification of the situation. I will not raise issues of the transmission of ideas and arguments between scientists, politicians, activists, the media and others. But the point is this: those of us who have seen the picture and have been scared by it – a reaction that is widespread in the scientific community – are morally obligated to do our best to get others to feel the urgency and severity of the problem. For there to be a possibility to act to prevent it, it is necessary both to believe that climate change is a huge risk, and to have an emotional reaction to that belief.
The last part of the quoted statement – that scientists are ill-trained and ill-suited for this task – I suspect is less controversial than the claim that it should be our task. The question then is, if you buy the premise that how to deal with the fact that scaring people is not part of our job description: what we should actually do? I will end here with only this thought: it can’t be done quickly, but it can’t be done quickly enough.