This is an exchange with Andrew Revkin of the NY Times regarding a post on
his blog, dotearth. The original article was
The Climate Challenge. Same as it Ever Was?
My post in reply
You seem to feel that your 1992 article could be republished as it
was. That would be a serious mistake:
- You make the claim that there were hordes of activists stating that
humanity is about to "turn this rare blue sphere into a cinder of
bedrock" - but as usual when reporters such as yourself try to
"balance" the two sides, you cite no examples. Contrast that with
your easy location of slanders to quote made by the
anti-environmentalists (and it would have been trivial to find others,
even more extreme).
You state that "Obviously, the case is not open-and-shut. It's still
possible that the current warming trend is some natural variation
caused by factors we don't understand." This has essentially been
ruled out by scientists since 1992, who state in the latest IPCC
report "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged
temperatures since the mid-20th century is [more than 90%] likely due
to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas
The IPCC has looked into the likelihood that "things will turn out
just fine" - and the results are not encouraging. They find that it
is at least 2:1 likely that the "Area affected by droughts increases",
"Intense tropical cyclone activity increases", and there will be
"Increased incidence of extreme high sea level" during the coming
Unfortunately, the lack of urgency you advocated in 1992 has been
followed by nearly two decades of almost total inaction in this
country, and inadequate or nonexistent responses everywhere else.
ANDY REVKIN responds: I pulled the piece out of the archives as an
artifact of a time and situation, not because its summation of the
science back then equals what science reveals now. Just one example:
In 1992, the ice-core record of past CO2 levels only went back 160,000
years. Now it goes back around 800,000 years.
The post is mainly about societal response to the science, and there
has been little change. As for my portrayal of the situation at that
time, I stand by it today. As for environmentalists painting dire
pictures, I don't have time to sift the archives but I guarantee there
was plenty of apocalypse-speak, which many activists still think is
the only tonic for the denial on the other side of the issue.
But does hot rhetoric work? The answer, given how things have played
out over two decades, doesn't seem to be yes. Maybe words are
worthless in the climate fight? Again, as a communicator, I hope not.
My second post
To Andy Revkin, regarding your reply to my post:
I apologize if I misinterpreted your intent in reposting the article.
The title of the column "Same As It Ever Was" left me with that
That being said, I'd make these replies:
I believe that there is a general consensus among the members of the
media in my acquaintance that there was a general failure in media
reports to convey the actual scientific situation as it unfolded
during the last two decades. The public to this day is left with the
impression that there is significant scientific uncertainty in many
matters when in fact none exists. In my opinion, the "split the
difference" tone of your piece (starting with the title "Let's Be
Sensible on Global Warming") likely left many readers with the
impression that you were advocating against strenuous action.
There are always people in any debate who make overstatements, so
the fact that you might be able to go into the archives and find one
or two tells us nothing. The question of who they were and how
seriously anyone took them is quite important. Your anonymous
activists were being counterposed to the U.S. President and a widely
published political columnist.
My impression was that by-and-large even the more strident
environmental organizations (such as, to name one, Greenpeace)
generally quoted scientific statements - perhaps mentioning just the
high end of a range of predictions. It would be interesting to go
back and check what was said in 1992. But as a journalist, I don't
think it's right that you paraphrase an entire half of the debate
using an extreme statement that no one really made. This is a
Perhaps the phrase "Save the Planet" in response to the dangers
posed by climate change strikes you and many others as alarmist, and
it certainly hasn't been effective. But that is largely a matter of
taste, or strategy, and calling for "Being Sensible" in response is
misleading - the call to "Save The Planet" is not nonsense, even if
you'd prefer other words.
But let's not worry to much about the rhetoric and get down to policy.
Do you / did you think that in 1992 the calls for rapid cuts in
emissions were alarmist? If not, then why call for "sense"?