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What Went Wrong? A Historian Looks Back from the Future at the Climate Fight

Climate activists often wonder what future generations will think about our inability (or unwillingness) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past few decades. We hear the voices of future generations asking…What were they thinking? Why didn't they do something? Spencer Weart, a physicist and climate historian, carried out this thought experiment a bit further, imagining what a historian in 2210 would write…about these tumultuous years in climate science. His "history," which includes some biting criticisms of mainstream media and science journalism, was recently published on DotEarth, and it's a thoughtful and important read. Here's a taste:
[T]he media coverage represented a new low. There were plenty of earlier examples of media making an uproar without understanding the science…But this was the first time the media reported that an entire community of scientists had been accused of actual dishonesty. Such claims, if directed for example at a politician on a matter of minor importance, would normally require serious investigation. But even in leading newspapers like The New York Times, critics with a long public record for animosity and exaggeration were quoted as experts. As we know, the repetition of allegations is sufficient to make them stick in the public's mind, regardless of whether they are later shown (or could easily be shown at the time) to be untrue. Thus one more step was taken toward the disintegration and disasters of the late 21st century.
It's well worth reading the whole thing.Photo (cc) by Flickr user ragesossThis post originally appeared on, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or to submit your own idea today.

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