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Global Warning

The New Yorker magazine recently completed a compelling and wide-ranging three-part series on climate change called "The Climate of Man." Parts One, Two, and Three are available online. The New Yorker web site also includes an interview with the writer of the series, Elizabeth Kolbert, which contains the following exchange:

One disturbing thing about your article is just how alarmed many seemingly sober-minded scientists are. What sort of a gap is there between expert and lay opinion on climate change?

That’s a good question. I think there is a surprisingly large — you might even say frighteningly large — gap between the scientific community and the lay community’s opinions on global warming. As you point out, I spoke to many very sober-minded, coolly analytical scientists who, in essence, warned of the end of the world as we know it. I think there are a few reasons why their message hasn’t really got out. One is that scientists tend, as a group, to interact more with each other than with the general public. Another is that there has been a very well-financed disinformation campaign designed to convince people that there is still scientific disagreement about the problem, when, as I mentioned before, there really is quite broad agreement. And third, the climate operates on its own timetable. It will take several decades for the warming that is already inevitable to be felt. People tend to focus on the here and now. The problem is that, once global warming is something that most people can feel in the course of their daily lives, it will be too late to prevent much larger, potentially catastrophic changes.

Update: The New Yorker no longer has this series archived onlined — probably for copyright reasons as Kolbert has expanded the articles into a book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.

May 10, 2005 | Science | Permalink


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