Last Tuesday morning, on the heels of the release of a new U.N. report on emissions and climate change, NPR host Rachel Martin had a climate policy expert, Elliot Diringer, on Morning Edition.
Diringer quickly ceded that the U.N.’s Emissions Gap Report is a wake-up call. Another wake-up call. The end of snooze. But, he said, “There are hopeful signs. The headline numbers ... can be gloomy and scary. I hope people get to the second half ... which points out some of the solutions that are available - solutions that are at hand. ...
“We are switching to renewable energy very quickly,” Diringer continued. “Automakers are rolling out more electric vehicles. There are a whole host of solutions ... whose costs have been driven down by the policies that have been put in place over the last decade or so. There are investments being made, investors asking companies to explain how they intend to reduce their climate risks, the opportunities they see in a carbon-constrained future.”
Pity Rachel Martin at this point, who is a fine reporter and anchor, but who nevertheless feels a professional obligation to hit the gloom harder.
The next day, Jon Allsop, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review newsletter about the report’s reception, said, NPR excepted, “The press is still not doing enough on the climate crisis.” The press is ceaselessly lobbied to do more on the climate crisis, but it is like Greta Thunberg, the Wednesday Addams of climate change, demanding the world halt. There are scarcely two people who agree about what’s to be done in our policies and lives, let alone in journalism.
“So often it is difficult for people to care,” Martin told Diringer Monday. “They let the bad news kind of wash over them because they cannot articulate, they cannot visualize, what the effects of climate change are actually going to bring. I understand the need to focus on the positive – the things that are going well. But can you please help us visualize what the world looks like in 80 years?”
“I think that’s really up to us,” Diringer said.
“We are hearing more and more the gloomy predictions of what the world will look like if we don’t take action,” he continued. “But I also think ... it’s really just as vital that people have a picture of the kinds of solutions that are available. ... I think there’s hope.”
This should not be a radical message. But is it?
We wrote about Michael Shellenberger, a California-based environmental activist, not long ago in connection with his views on homelessness (“What if we’re pouring time and money into the wrong solutions?” Oct. 9). The day before the latest Emissions Gap Report was released, Shellenberger had another piece at Forbes.com, “Why Apocalyptic Claims About Climate Change Are Wrong.”
“Journalists and activists alike have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public,” Shellenberger writes. “There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change,” beside being false, “is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people.”
From there, Shellenberger attempts to lift some of the gloom, writing, for example, “No credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization, much less the extinction of the human species.”
We hope we don’t have to add that this does not mean Shellenberger thinks we should do nothing about climate change.
Press and public alike should go on paying attention, especially to the people who speak of practical solutions and steps already taken, like Diringer and Shellenberger. And we also should remember that about most things, the conventional wisdom tends to be wrong.