Jonathan Franzen is wildly incoherent. He’s written this terrible mess of a piece that veers between “We’re doomed, climate change is unstoppable, trying will bankrupt us” to “gosh, won’t it be great when civilization collapses and the survivors are living on love and peace?”, and it’s infuriatingly bad. All you need to know is that he explains his method for scrying the future.
As a non-scientist, I do my own kind of modelling. I run various future scenarios through my brain, apply the constraints of human psychology and political reality, take note of the relentless rise in global energy consumption (thus far, the carbon savings provided by renewable energy have been more than offset by consumer demand), and count the scenarios in which collective action averts catastrophe.
The editors at the New Yorker should have read that and realized, by his own admission, Franzen is a crank, and that publishing this crap would be an embarrassment, and they should have pulled the plug. Franzen, though, is a Famous Author, a fact that impresses the New Yorker unduly and leads to a failure of judgment.
I think I’ll get my information from real scientists who actually use data to arrive at their conclusions, like Michael Mann, who published this article, Doomsday scenarios are as harmful as climate change denial, two years ago.
The evidence that climate change is a serious challenge that we must tackle now is very clear. There is no need to overstate it, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness. Some seem to think that people need to be shocked and frightened to get them to engage with climate change. But research shows that the most motivating emotions are worry, interest and hope. Importantly, fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.
It is important to communicate both the threat and the opportunity in the climate challenge. Those paying attention are worried, and should be, but there are also reasons for hope. The active engagement of many cities, states and corporations, and the commitments of virtually every nation (minus one) is a very hopeful sign. The rapid movement in the global energy market towards cleaner options is another. Experts are laying out pathways to avoid disastrous levels of climate change and clearly expressing the urgency of action. There is still time to avoid the worst outcomes, if we act boldly now, not out of fear, but out of confidence that the future is largely in our hands.
There is a huge difference between “This is a huge problem, resign yourself to defeat” and “This is a huge problem, we’re going to have to work very hard to overcome it.” Who are you going to listen to, a competent and credentialed scientist in an appropriate field, or a crankypants author with weird ideas about underwear?
You know, the biggest change you can implement right now is to throw the science denialists out of political office. Get to work on that, then we can start implementing changes that would help.