It's bad. But it's not hopeless.

Look, climate change really is very bad, and most of us aren't actually taking it seriously enough.

Reputable climate change experts agree that we have created huge problems and that we need to understand them better, take them more seriously, and act accordingly. There is, already—and in ways that are already being tracked—both too much water in some places and not enough in others. Our weather patterns are already altering in ways that cause both excessively low and excessively high temperatures, often bouncing wildly between the two. We are already well on our way to running out of places to access our old-school fuel sources and means by which to access them without causing increasingly ill effects on people and systems both nearby and far away, and we are dragging our heels on preventative measures and on consistent and focused participation in new types of energy generation and consumption. 

It is. In fact, most reputable experts are saying something that could loosely be translated as: "It's bad. It's definitely bad. But we can still do something about it. We can't fix everything, but it's not as bad yet as it will be if we don't get on top of the things we can still change."

There is disagreement among reasonable, reputable people about exact time frames and the outer ends of the range of possibilities, both good and bad. (Not as much as climate change deniers would have you think, but it's there.) Reputable climate change experts agree that we should be worried and that we should take action. But nightmare scenarios of full-on climate apocalypse are *not* what reputable experts agree we should be worried about. And this is not just because they don't *want* to believe it: It's because the tools that allow them to measure, study, replicate, and project possibilities that are likely given the actual data they're based on do not yet give that support. It's also because they still believe—based on data and careful observation—that there are things that can be done to mitigate some of the damage already done, which would further decrease the likelihood of those nightmare scenarios coming true at any point that we can reasonably project ourselves into.

Given this, it's no surprise that many climate change scientists, other sorts of researchers, and reporters are saying that the New York Magazine article that has everyone losing their minds—

is exaggerated in a way that makes it bad science. I don't like bad science when it says we should ignore climate change. And I don't like bad science when it basically says we should freak the hell out right now. But I don't think that's the issue with the piece in question.

That author (you know where to look it up, it's got his name on it, and I'm not feeling like rewarding bad behavior today) writes that "in between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself." That's true, and it suggests to the reader that what he's going to offer is some of that "science itself." But what he presents is not science itself. It is *heavily* speculative, presented in the language of fear-driven imaginings, and becomes vague in just the places where science would require more citation and more context (rather than declining to quote the experts you interviewed at length).

The author is still inserting science fiction into a conversation that needs (and actually has) more realistic grounding. He and others who focus on the very-very-worst-case scenarios and the possibility of incredibly imminent apocalyptic-scale climate change believe (among other things) that it's necessary to go for the doomsday scenario to get the point across in a way that will actually affect people. But in addition to the lack of actual scientific consensus on those doomsday-is-now scenarios, there's also an awful lot of scientific evidence to the effect that scaring the shit out of people doesn't work well for effects beyond denial, hopelessness, and paralysis. 

That last one is, I think, particularly dangerous here. This climate change stuff is bad but there are still things we can do.

NOTE: The Onion is NOT REAL NEWS. They're not always wrong, though, either.

NOTE: The Onion is NOT REAL NEWS. They're not always wrong, though, either.

Those things may not include total reversal of all ill effects—that also seems to be science fiction at this stage. But doing nothing is GUARANTEED to make a bad situation worse, whether you do nothing because you think (incorrectly) that there's nothing wrong or because you think (incorrectly) that all hope is already lost.

The other problem I see here is that there has been a lot of science focused on how fear spurs people into the wrong kind of action: panicked, not well thought out, often unhelpful. All of which is counterproductive here.

So, whether based on an understanding of how climate change is actually happening and at what rate, or on an understanding of how human brains process fear, or on careful observation of actual human behavior (climate-change related and beyond), don't let the imminent doomsday faction have you out here like:

There are things we can do. Large and small. All kinds of things we can do. And, if it helps you, reading fiction that helps you think about the real world—can and should be a part of that. But remember that much of this inconvenient truth is already out there:

Responding to climate change will involve a two-tier approach: 1) “mitigation” – reducing the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; and 2) “adaptation” – learning to live with, and adapt to, the climate change that has already been set in motion. The key question is: what will our emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants be in the years to come? Recycling and driving more fuel-efficient cars are examples of important behavioral change that will help, but they will not be enough. Because climate change is a truly global, complex problem with economic, social, political and moral ramifications, the solution will require both a globally-coordinated response (such as international policies and agreements between countries, a push to cleaner forms of energy) and local efforts on the city- and regional-level (for example, public transport upgrades, energy efficiency improvements, sustainable city planning, etc.). It’s up to us what happens next.