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Magazine article ‘Uninhabitable Earth’ drives panel debate on best way to get from complacency to action

Written by: Alvin Powell Harvard Staff Writer

In July, New York magazine published its most-read article ever, surpassing a photo spread of Lindsay Lohan. The topic? Doom.

While defying the belief among author David Wallace-Wells’ editors that climate change would be “traffic kryptonite,” the story, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” presented an apocalyptic vision in which rising seas flood Miami and Bangladesh, heat and drought cut grain yields in half, diseases spread, and wars rage.

Unfortunately, that vision isn’t fiction, but rather Wallace-Wells’ summation of climate change’s little-discussed worst-case scenario for the year 2100.

“I think there’s real value in scaring people,” the journalist said Wednesday during a panel at the Geological Museum, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The event, “Hope and Despair: Communicating an Uncertain Future,” explored whether doom and gloom are more effective than hope in spurring climate action. Panelists agreed that fear is a potentially powerful lever, but also insisted on the importance of covering success stories. Progress is an important motivator, keeping people from succumbing to despair in the face of bad news.

Wallace-Wells said he wrote the article because climate change discussion has centered on limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. While changes due to that level of warming would be bad enough, the projection, he said, is too often treated as a certainty rather than the middle value in a range that, at its high end, would unleash calamitous effects.

“It just seems so obvious to me that — when you think about the relatively well-off Western world — complacency about climate is just a much bigger problem than fatalism about climate,” Wallace-Wells said. “A majority of Americans … are concerned about climate change, but very few Americans are very concerned about climate change.”

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Article link : https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/12/harvard-panelists-consider-worst-case-scenarios-for-climate/

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