I’ve read three separate things in the past couple days that issue similar warnings:

  • First, a much-discussed BBC Radio 4 show on "overselling climate change." Before your hackles rise: there were no "skeptics" interviewed for the piece, only experienced climate scientists.
  • Second, an also-much-discussed piece by Andy Revkin in the NYT Week in Review, called "Yelling ‘Fire’ on a Hot Planet."
  • Third, a conference call with climate scientist James Hansen, along with some Democratic staffers, environmental groups, and journalists, hosted by the National Environmental Trust. The only place I can find it covered is this execrable piece on the execrable CNS News, but it’s got the quote I want.

Hansen was asked about the recent upsurge in media coverage of climate change:

I am a little concerned about this, in the sense that we are still at a point where the natural fluctuations of climate are still large — at least, the natural fluctuations of weather compared to long-term climate change … So we don’t want the public to hang their hat on a recent storm, recent hurricanes for example, because those will fluctuate from year to year.

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Here’s Revkin:

Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge uncertainties for a long time to come …

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… While scientists say they lack firm evidence to connect recent weather to the human influence on climate, environmental campaigners still push the notion.

Here’s the BBC:

Dr Hans Von Storch, a leading German climate scientist and fervent believer in global warming, is convinced the effect of climate change is being exaggerated.

"The alarmists think that climate change is something extremely dangerous, extremely bad and that overselling a little bit, if it serves a good purpose, is not that bad."

Enviros (and, hell, anyone who’s concerned about global warming) are in a bind. Pushing quasi-apocalyptic talk about the current effects of climate change — for instance, citing Hurricane Katrina — goes well beyond the available science. If enviros tie public concern about global warming to current weather events, and there are a few years of calm weather, they will look like tools. It could backfire.

There’s no getting around it: It’s a bitch of a problem. It’s slow, long-term, uncertain, global … everything we are evolutionarily designed to screen out.

What to do? On his blog (yes, literally everybody has one), Revkin frames it this way:

[Advocates] can try to frame global warming in a way that makes it seem like the kind of "here and now" crisis we are familiar with, or they can do the much harder work of reframing value systems so that we do something rare for our species: act now to limit risks facing our children and their children.

Fudge the science or change human nature. What an unappealing choice!

It’s late, so I won’t try to cut the Gordian knot here. I’d only suggest one thing: I wish enviros would do a lot more to sell their ideas — renewable energy, local food systems, bright green cities, etc. — on their own merits, rather than as a way to dodge an oncoming train.

Enacting those ideas would produce a better, safer, cleaner, more equitable, more enjoyable world. That’s worth doing totally irrespective of climate change. Don’t you think?