It is Time to Sound the Alarm!
When it comes to the challenge of climate change, public complacency is a far, far bigger problem than widespread fatalism — that many, many more people are not scared enough than are already “too scared.”
I've come back to New York Magazine's "Uninhabitable Earth" essay numerous times since I first read it at the beginning of last year. (I am currently in the process of moving into a new place, so I have not yet read the book.) I have poured through the research and annotations. Still, the discussion about the ethics of the piece is the part I find the most disturbing. This is why I find David Wallace-Wells such a great writer and an inspiration for those of us who know in our bones we are called to fight for justice for humanity and the planet.
Here are the questions he points to in the ethical debate:
* Is it helpful, or journalistically ethical, to explore the worst-case scenarios of climate change, however unlikely they are?
* How much should a writer contextualize scary possibilities with information about how probable those outcomes are, however speculative those probabilities may be?
*What are the risks of terrifying or depressing readers so much they disengage from the issue, and what should a journalist make of those risks?
Here is his response to that debate:
"I also believe very firmly in the set of propositions that animated the project from the start: that the public does not appreciate the scale of climate risk; that this is in part because we have not spent enough time contemplating the scarier half of the distribution curve of possibilities, especially its brutal long tail, or the risks beyond sea-level rise; that there is journalistic and public-interest value in spreading the news from the scientific community, no matter how unnerving it may be; and that, when it comes to the challenge of climate change, public complacency is a far, far bigger problem than widespread fatalism — that many, many more people are not scared enough than are already 'too scared.' In fact, I don’t even understand what 'too scared' would mean. The science says climate change threatens nearly every aspect of human life on this planet, and that inaction will hasten the problems. In that context, I don’t think it’s a slur to call an article, or its writer, alarmist. I’ll accept that characterization. We should be alarmed."
With that, I pray it is said of me that when I came to understand the threat we face—that God's good Creation was under attack, and that the fate of human civilization as we know it was in jeopardy, that as we move into the sixth major mass extinction of species in the planets history because of the destruction of human inaction —that I was not afraid to sound the alarm. David Wallace-Wells, by God I'm with you. I don't think it's a slur to be called an alarmist. We should all be alarmed! In summary, the ethical question is whether we should sound the alarm. The answer is utterly clear. It is time to sound the alarm! It would be immoral not to.