We need more James Hansens
Growing up outside Belfast in the eighties, daily news bulletins brought a relentless barrage of atrocities into our home: bomb blasts, kneecappings, executions, plastic bullets, riots, Molotov cocktails.
A campaign developed to bring more positive news to the screens. The crusade died when one cynical journalist remarked: “Good news for glaziers in Belfast this evening. A 1000-pound car bomb has exploded in the city centre.”
There is a time and a place for news spin and positive messaging, but sometimes we must face the grim reality. Some news stories are too important.
As we approach the Rio+20 Summit (essentially Plan A for Planet Earth), some argue the “urgency” message is not working and should be abandoned. Politicians are numb to doom and gloom, so instead science must put a positive spin on things: less negativity, let’s focus on solutions.
Well great, but this is a mistake. Science has a responsibility to tell the story straight. The message is too important to pull punches. Besides, if you said to Obama he had to deal with three crises: global financial meltdown, Syria, and global sustainability, but the last one is not quite so urgent, what would happen? Go figure.
The sarcastic Belfast journalist’s remarks came back to me this week as TED published NASA scientist James Hansen’s recent talk Why I must speak out about climate change.
Hansen must be applauded for steadfastly refusing to dilute the message. The TED lecture is a great example of focusing relentlessly on hard facts, no matter how unsettling.
Sure, he offers solutions (market based with minimal government intervention! It is an election year after all) but he is unflinching in his message that humanity is sleepwalking towards a colossal global catastrophe: not for life on Earth, but for societies everywhere. We need more like Hansen.