Uncertainty overdone

Earlier this month James Hansen wrote a trenchant op-ed in the New York Times.  He reiterated the warning that the exploitation of the Canadian tar sands will be game over for the climate, spelt out some of the long-term drought consequences for the US of continued warming and identified notable heat waves of the last decade as most likely due to human-caused climate change. He was clearly anxious to drive home the message that humanity is in serious danger if we carry on exploiting all the fossil fuels we can find. “If it sounds apocalyptic, it is.”

On cue, journalist Andrew Revkin in his Dot Earth blog on the New York Times a few days later reported a meteorologist, Martin Hoerling, who claimed that Hansen had exceeded his brief as a scientist and allowed his policy commitment to overrule scientific caution. Revkin then asked climatologist Kerry Emanuel for his reaction to both Hansen and Hoerling. He received the comment that Emanuel saw overstatements on all sides, and, unsurprisingly, aligned himself with Emanuel.

But there was more to come on Revkin’s blog. A few days later he posted a response to Hoerling by Dan Miller who had assisted Hansen in the preparation of his op-ed. Miller had also been in touch with Emanuel to find out what his concerns were. It turned out they were hardly substantial:

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It’s as simple as that

As a former English teacher I naturally take pleasure from the presence of literary people in the battle for action on climate change. Andy Revkin’s DotEarth blog drew my attention to one this week.  He’s the Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder, the famed author of the novel Sophie’s World which since publication in 1995 has run to an extraordinary sales figure of 30 million copies worldwide, in 53 different languages. Taking a teenage girl through a discovery of the history of philosophy hardly seems the stuff of best-selling fiction, but it was in his case. And if you’re wondering what an author does with all that money, one of the uses it has been put to is the setting up of an annual US$100,000 international environment and development prize, the Sophie Prize. This year it has been awarded to climatologist James Hansen. “He receives the award for his clear communication of the threat posed by climate change and for his genuine commitment to future generations.”

Gaarder was invited as one of the speakers at a panel on global warming at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, at which Revkin also spoke. The participants were asked to respond to the question “What can we do about climate change?”  Revkin commented that Gaarder stole the show in his “impassioned, humorous and biting talk’.

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