Gluckman gets it wrong: being alarmed is not alarmist

On Sunday morning, Radio NZ National’s Chris Laidlaw interviewed the PM’s science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman regarding his recent report on the likely future impacts of climate change on New Zealand. In an intelligent interview it was good to hear the report being given more prolonged and thoughtful attention than the initial news items about it afforded. It’s not my purpose to comment on the report other than to welcome it and hope it carries weight with the government. But in the course of the interview Gluckman made a couple of comments which I want to challenge. I’ve transcribed, I hope accurately enough, the section of the interview in which they occurred.

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Not telling it like it is – media reluctant to face up to climate crisis

The news media, with some outstanding exceptions, has monumentally failed to communicate to the public the magnitude of the threat of climate change to human society. Depressed, I tried recently submitting an opinion piece to the Herald dialogue pages on the subject. It was rejected. It’s hardly the sort of thing that needs writing for Hot Topic readers, but there may be interest in seeing what the Herald turns down. And it’s not because they were besieged by material: there were a couple of obvious fillers from overseas newspapers to occupy the space in the same week.  Here it is:

The mainstream news media continue to serve the public poorly on the question of climate change. The magnitude of the threat revealed by scientists engaged with climate science and related disciplines is rarely conveyed in news reports, and even more rarely followed up in any considered fashion.  Yet stark realities are already apparent in more frequent extreme weather events, the ominous warming in the Arctic region, the growing acidification of the oceans, the increased rate of sea level rise and much else which bodes ill for human society. Reports from biologists indicate that the process of change is happening at a rate too rapid for many species to adapt. Mass extinctions are clearly likely.

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Signing Off

I am regretfully giving up writing regular posts for Hot Topic. Age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease affecting central vision, has been advancing for some years and has come to the point where reading of the kind on which I have depended for my posts has become difficult and laborious. It’s four years since Gareth invited me to contribute to Hot Topic and I have been grateful for the opportunity. The full seriousness of climate change dawned on me about seven years ago and though for a time I had some opportunity to voice my concern through the pages of the Waikato Times, that terminated when the paper started talking about the need to ‘balance’ what I regarded as a straightforward communication of mainstream science.

Happily Hot Topic suffers from no inclination to balance science with denial. It has given me the chance to use the time available to a retired person to read and then review many books and reports by climate scientists and science writers and experts in associated fields. It has also allowed me to express the hopes and fears that mingle in the mind of anyone who understands the urgency of the climate crisis, and to chastise leaders who think we can somehow both mitigate climate change and burn all the fossil fuels.

I turned 80 this year, and my concern over climate change only grows with advancing years. I’m more pessimistic than I was four years ago about the possibility of significant action being taken soon to rein in emissions. But the urging must continue and the science be respected. Gareth stands out in the New Zealand setting for his commitment on both these counts and I have felt fortunate to be associated with his efforts and the support of the intelligent and knowledgeable commenters and contributors which Hot Topic enjoys.

Gareth adds:

It’s been my great privilege to provide a platform for Bryan’s writing over the last four years. In that time he has reviewed dozens of books (click the book reviews tab to get an idea of just how prolific he has been), held the government to account for its wrong-headed policy making and failures of vision, and provided a carefully considered and highly valuable moral perspective on the problem we all confront. If Hot Topic has achieved anything in recent years, it is in no small part due to his efforts — not least in keeping the blog running when I disappeared overseas or on holiday.

Thanks for all your words, Bryan, and the very best of wishes for this latest phase of your retirement.