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The Attitudes about David Wallace-Wells article, The Uninhabitable Earth, in New York Magazine

Updated July 18, 2017: Don’t miss Paul Beckwith’s video “Fending Off Scientist’s Attacks on The Uninhabitable Earth.

Plague, famine, heat no human can survive. This is not science fiction but what scientists, when they’re not being cautious, fear could be our future.

Source: When Will Climate Change Make the Earth Too Hot For Humans?

It has been sad to see what the other climate scientists have been saying about David Wallace-Well’s article about abrupt climate change.

And their behavior does, in fact, substantiate some of the comments that Wallace-Wells makes in the beginning of the article:

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope.

But no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough.

I wonder if they ignored his statement of intent:

What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.

Michael Mann is probably the foremost, well known scientist who is quoted about the piece but as written about in Vox by David Roberts, he doesn’t really deny what Wallace-Wells has written:

I’ve already run into about a dozen tweets, Facebook comments, and emails to the effect of, “Michael Mann debunked that piece.” Except he didn’t, not really.

Mann, a noted climate scientist, has a Facebook post on the article. It specifically criticizes two points in the Wallace-Wells piece.

First, Mann questions the notion that methane released from the melting Siberian permafrost will rapidly fry the Earth. The science, he says, “doesn’t support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb.”

But you will search the Wallace-Wells piece in vain for any of those words (except “methane”). He never says “bomb” or “sudden.” He simply says that there’s lots of carbon buried in the permafrost and, as the ice melts, the carbon is released as methane, which is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (on a short- to mid-term basis). That is true.

This, I suspect, is the offending sentence: “In other words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.”

I suppose you could say “all of it is scheduled to be released” implies that it will all be released at once, but nothing in the context of the piece supports that interpretation.

The piece’s brief treatment of methane does not convey all the nuances — see this RealClimate post for more on methane and climate — but nothing in it strikes me as false or even particularly exaggerated. It’s plainly true that the world’s ice contains lots of carbon and is melting faster than expected.

Second, Mann flags what does seem to be clear overstatement, when Wallace-Wells references “satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought.” It doesn’t actually show that. One set of satellite data was updated, it falls in line with the rest, and warming is happening roughly on the schedule models predicted (which, as Mann notes, is plenty fast enough).

So that’s one close call and one error, which together constitute, by my rough calculation, about a fiftieth of the factual claims in WW’s piece. The rest, as far as I know, stands.

IF you search on something like: scientists who support David Wallace-Wells you don’t really get anything except the Vox article which is a fabulous article you should read in its entirety.

What you do get when you search on David Wallace-Wells is not even his article as first hit but rather the onslaught of articles calling it more or less hysterical.

I, for one, am tired and dismayed over the continual lack of ‘climate emergency’ language by our scientists who are playing it EXTREMELY safe. Year after year, month after month we read in climate articles how things are happening FASTER than expected. And in paper after paper, study after study, as is appropriate based on the scientific method, the authors seldom cross reference or connect the dots on all the factors and forces at play. This is one thing that “doomsayer” Guy McPherson has done. It is also something that Paul Beckwith has done. As well as a few others – Hansen came out with some stronger language last year. No one is talking about Tim Garrett, though. And his was the original doomsday article. But he remains positive… it’s just business as usual for species to drive themselves to extinction. What about 350 founder, Bill McKibben? 350 meant 350 parts per million for CO2 atmospheric concentration (based on Hansen’s Goddard work) and how we needed to keep at or below that level, but in fact we’ve blown past 400 and rounding on 410! Why isn’t McKibben blasting the alarm every day?

According to many who’ve just criticized Wallace-Wells it’s because too much of a bad thing is counter productive. Just shut up about that already. Would you be saying the same thing about a restaurant serving up meal after meal that gave you food poisoning – ooooh, let’s not be too negative, it’s not helpful. SMH

I’ll be interested to see what James Hansen has to say about it – if he does – but one thing is true: being hopeful is a waste of time. It’s not getting anything done and it’s about the same thing as continuing on as normal and leaving it in God’s hands.

Continuing on as normal is a death sentence for human beings and thousands and thousands of other plants and animals. I am not even so sure that the scientists who say that the planet is gonna be okay are accurate – unless they think a transition to a Venus style planet is okay….

1 Comment on The Attitudes about David Wallace-Wells article, The Uninhabitable Earth, in New York Magazine

  1. I’ve been saying same since 2006. Talk to me. Cli-fi.net rsvp

    Liked by 1 person

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