Saturday, August 11, 2007

Andrew Revkin on

This week's episode of "Science Saturday" on features a guest diavlogger: Andrew Revkin of the NY Times.

Revkin, who is paired with "SS" regular John Horgan, starts by describing the difficulties a reporter covering the environmental beat faces when writing for a mainstream audience. After years of fighting to get the story of the global warming taken seriously, Revkin now reports that the current problem is to resist pressure to write doomsday stories. Revkin speaks of the problems of pushing nuance and caveats through the newsroom. The diavlog gives him a good chance to achieve these goals. His description of the different levels of certainty about aspects of the GW phenomenon is particularly instructive.

I've had arguments about this last point with some of my green friends, who tend to substitute zealotry and political correctness for a lack of science education. I understand where the emotion comes from. We have had to fight for years to overcome the FUD put out by the energy industry shills [1], not to mention the distortions caused by MSM's "he said/she said" style. It's understandable that we're a little vengeful and that we remain on hair-trigger alert for further spin from the global warming denier crowd.

I am not at all a "global warming denier." I believe that human pumping of CO2 and other greenhouses gases into the atmosphere causes warming, that this is a real problem, and we'll have to significantly change our behavior to address it. I would label these aspects as close to fact as science ever gets.

The thing I worry about is exaggerating how sure we are about projections of the effects. First, this is scientifically dishonest, and therefore, immoral. Also, pragmatically, it could hurt our ability to make the best decisons about how to address the problem. And, politically, we could lose momentum if we have gone on record as equally sure about all aspects; if one piece is later shown to be untrue, that gives the denier crowd a fresh wedge to relaunch their campaigns.

Anyway, go watch Revkin and Horgan. It's good stuff.

[1] If you crave a big helping of red meat, the Revkin/Horgan page links to something that should satisfy: Sharon Begley's piece in Newsweek, "The Truth About Denial."

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