The New York Times Asks the Wrong Question

This morning's New York Times featured an article which the Drudge Report hyped as

NY TIMES PLANS HIT ON GORE, NEWSROOM SOURCES TELL DRUDGE

The story, by senior science writer William Broad, claims that there is consternation in the science community about Gore's "alarmism." But reading the article carefully, there's nothing here -- because what the scientists are saying is simply that there is a lot of uncertainty, not about global warming's reality, not about its being caused by human green-house pollution, and not about it having serious consequences. The scientists are simply saying that they believe there is a lot of uncertainty about the details -- a fact that Gore freely and frequently concedes.

And this is not a new story for the Times. Andrew Revkin wrote a similar, although much more careful piece, in February.

The problem is with quoting scientists as saying that, given uncertainty, Gore is being an alarmist. Uncertainty about the details of global warming shouldn't make us feel less alarmed -- the more uncertainty there is about our climactic future the more alarmed we should become, exactly as Gore is urging us. The less we understand the precise consequences of messing with the concentrations of greenhouse gasses, the more careful we should be to minimize such changes. If we knew exactly what the weather would be like in 50 years, maybe we could get ready for it -- but not knowing anything except that the weather will be less predictable is what's really scary.

Peter Schwartz of the Global Business Network makes exactly this point in his new study for the military, "Impacts of Climate Change." Schwartz points out that it is the unpredictable and non-linear impact of climate change that will "push systems everywhere towards their tipping point." Schwartz's piece is one of the very best I've seen at explaining how policy makers and the public need to respond to the scientific reality. Every public official should have to read it.

Climate scientists might not understand this because they study the climate, not human societies. Gore does understand it, which is why he is alarmed -- and why we should be ferociously intent on changing our course before we hit the tipping point, precisely because it is hidden in a fog of uncertainty.

And as I said in my analysis of Revkin's earlier piece, the seeming inability of the American media to get this point is, at this moment, perhaps the biggest threat to our future climate security.