On academic privilege & climate science communication.

It is concerning to see climate change scientists and communicators downplay the alarming message within the David Wallace-Wells NY Mag cover story “The Uninhabitable Earth” . Nothing was said in the story that hasn’t already been said extensively in the scientific literature of the past 30 years. WW simply gave the data a voice, and given the story’s ripple effect, it is one that has resonated deeply within the community. WW’s justly alarming story is not sensationalist doomsday forecasting or “extinction porn” as some influential science communicators have decried — It is a poetically written literature review, full of sobering scientific truth.

WW humanized the implications of global climate change. He illustrated the science through the lives of people and their futures — their well-being, their livelihoods, their survival — rather than through figures and statistics. And it’s no wonder it made so many feel so uncomfortable. This is not the time to talk from a place of ivory tower privilege, but rather, on the behalf of the millions of people who are already suffering from climate change’s cascading impacts.

The understanding of the science must be a priority, however, if there are scientific inaccuracies reported by journalists, correct them with a “yes and” not a “but no, it’s complicated.” Scientific elitism feeds the growing false sentiment that there is a lack of a consensus in the science of climate change. This is particularly true in the political and social climate we find ourselves in today.

WW’s review of ongoing global climate change outlined the worst case scenario under which some are already suffering. With the number of climate refugees increasing globally, “hoping for the best” is simply not effective.

It’s a position founded in privilege and irresponsibility, which is quickly becoming a second face of climate change denial.

Every time I drive my car I hope that I don’t get into a wreck. That hope, however, does not preclude me from putting on my seat belt.

Our species will probably not burn away into oblivion 100 years from now, but great changes are on their way — many are right outside our doors. Some have already kicked them down. As a global society we are facing one of the most challenging eras of our collective lives and alarming reminders of the worst case scenario is responsible reporting.


This comment was written in collaboration with Kimberley Miner.

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