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Friday, March 24, 2006

Kolbert on Global Warming

Posted by on March 24 at 14:36 PM

Last night, in the packed basement auditorium of Town Hall, New Yorker writer and author Elizabeth Kolbert gave a lecture that was both informative and disappointing. Informative because it was full of facts and charts and words you’ve never heard before - like ratiospectrophotometer; disappointing because Kolbert, unlike in her much-heralded series on global warming in the New Yorker, “The Climate of Man”, seemed intent on bombarding the crowd with facts (including a lengthy history of climatology) without any narrative to link them together. I left convinced that global warming was both real and human-caused, but I already believed that going in—as did, I assume, the rest of the earth-tone-clad Seattle audience. What Kolbert didn’t tell me was what all her complex graphs and charts mean for actual people—or, more importantly, what I could do about what she described as “this inexorable process that we have set in motion.” Which is too bad, because her New Yorker series - all three parts of which can be found here, here and here - was great.

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Her main point, most likely, is that what we call Global Warming is actually more accurately called, Massive And Unexpected Global Temperature And Climate Shifts.

Any way you slice it, it's still really really bad and most of the damage is most likely irreversible. If you don't believe me, look at the 50 percent of glaciers rapidly disappearing in the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, the human need for confusing information to be presented in a narrative form that doesn't bombard the listener with facts is an ace in the hole for the science-deniers. One handy thing about not basing an argument on facts is that it can be much easier to fashion a clean, easy-to-follow narrative out of whole cloth.

The story I get from reading current climate science is "Boy howdy, are we ever fucked! And we did it to ourselves! And we just can't seem to stop doing it!" But this narrative has obvious problems from a PR stance.

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