Doomsday Discussion

Each day we scan the news for stories that will help make sense of the environmental challenges facing humanity, with special attention to potential solutions and collective action taken to rise up to those challenges. Earlier this year we declined to link out to this story that was a collection of doomsday scenarios:

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The Uninhabitable Earth

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

By David Wallace-Wells

This article reporting on a recent panel at Harvard University has caused us to reconsider the decision:

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Nikhil Advani (from left), David Wallace-Wells, Elizabeth Wolkovich, Nancy Knowlton, and Campbell Webb.

…Unfortunately, that vision isn’t fiction, but rather Wallace-Wells’ summation of climate change’s little-discussed worst-case scenario for the year 2100.

“I think there’s real value in scaring people,” the journalist said Wednesday during a panel at the Geological Museum, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The event, “Hope and Despair: Communicating an Uncertain Future,” explored whether doom and gloom are more effective than hope in spurring climate action. Panelists agreed that fear is a potentially powerful lever, but also insisted on the importance of covering success stories. Progress is an important motivator, keeping people from succumbing to despair in the face of bad news.

Wallace-Wells said he wrote the article because climate change discussion has centered on limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. While changes due to that level of warming would be bad enough, the projection, he said, is too often treated as a certainty rather than the middle value in a range that, at its high end, would unleash calamitous effects.

“It just seems so obvious to me that — when you think about the relatively well-off Western world — complacency about climate is just a much bigger problem than fatalism about climate,” Wallace-Wells said. “A majority of Americans … are concerned about climate change, but very few Americans are very concerned about climate change.”

The discussion, moderated by Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Elizabeth Wolkovich, also featured Campbell Webb of the University of Alaska, who penned a 2005 article calling for hope in conservation biology despite discouraging developments. That hope, he wrote, was needed for the benefit of the biologists themselves even as it faded for the environments and organisms of their research…

Read the whole article here.

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