Seed has just published an interview I did with the Times global warming reporter Andy Revkin to discuss climate change coverage and his new book, The North Pole Was Here, which is unique in that it is a GW book that’s aimed at an audience aged 10 and higher (after all, they’re the ones that are going to have to live with a different planet). There was some really good stuff in the interview, in my opinion, like the following:
Mooney: Is there anything that science journalists ought to be doing to focus attention more acutely on this issue [global warming]?
Revkin: The bottom line is, I don’t see some new science study coming out in the next year–or two or even 10–that will suddenly say, “It’s crystal clear now, this is an easy problem like all the environmental problems you grew up confronting: dirty water, black soot coming out of smokestacks.” I don’t see that happening. There will not be a truthful headline in a newspaper that will say, “Global warming happened today. Seas are rising, people must flee coasts.” Because it’s not that kind of issue. And there will always be plenty of science to serve everyone in the room.
And the harder thing to convey in print as journalists, and for society to absorb, is that this is truly a century-scale problem. It is a problem of loaded dice, of increasing probability of things we don’t like, but not the kind of thing where you can point around you right now and say, “Be worried; be very, very worried.”
Mooney: One powerful theme behind your current book is the notion that someday, thanks to global warming, the North Pole may well be just sparkling blue water. What significance does the North Pole hold in the global human psyche, and how much of an effect would that have on us?
Revkin: The North Pole represents the last true edge, the last place on Earth where humans remain totally uncomfortable. Where you can’t be there, literally, for more than two weeks in a year. I’ve had the ice under me start making sounds, and you know it’s a temporary, hostile landscape/seascape. At least Antarctica is a continent. The North Pole is a testimony to inconstancy.
So, it was interesting for me to be there and sort of grok to this notion that it’s the first place on Earth where we’re transforming it without actually being there–through the influence of greenhouse gases. I think somewhere in the book there’s a line that says it’ll be a place where later in this century, if you’re some alien species who’s been monitoring the world for a while, you’ll see a fairly abrupt change: “They’ve got a blue ocean up there.” And that will be a signal of our influence. To me it’s pretty profound, but I do think there will be a generation for which that will just be normal, and our current history will be seen as a kind of, “Gee whiz, can you imagine that people once fought and clawed and died to get to this place, and now we’re sailing there in a sailboat?”