Hvis CO2 var pink …

23. december 2008

Andrew C. Revkin, miljøskribent ved New York Times, har i dag et indlæg på sin blog Dot Earth med overskriften: If CO2 Were Pink… . Udsagnet stammer fra en tale ved overrækkelsen af John Chancellor Award 2008, tildelt for hans enestående arbejde som miljøskribent gennem mere end et kvart århundrede. Revkins tale ved den lejlighed endte blot så langt fra det planlagte, at han i dag bragte den forberedte tale i sin helhed.

“In some ways it’d be nice if carbon dioxide had a color – let’s say pink – so you could see the buildup”, siger han i manuskriptet til talen: “But it’s not like the noxious, sulfurous pollution that the environmental movement came of age around way back in the 20th century. That stuff stung your eyes and lungs. You could pass laws and stick on filters and the air grew cleaner in your time”¹

Billedet: ‘Hvis CO2 var pink …’ er værd at lade stå på nethinden et øjeblik.

Hvordan forholder vi os til den usynlige, ikke direkte sansbare trussel, som de stadig øgede CO2-udledninger udgør? Det er lidt samme problemstilling som den ultrafine partikelforurening, som koster voldsomt mange flere liv end højresvingsulykkerne, men slet ikke får den tilsvarende opmærksomhed.

Revkin er en af verdens største miljøskribenter og har igennem 20 år formidlet, hvad klimaforskere som James Hansen fra NASA har søgt at fortælle os – at kloden står overfor alvorlige problemer, hvis ikke vi sadler om øjeblikkeligt. Det var også Revkin, som afdækkede, hvordan Bush-administrationen i en periode systematisk har givet forskere som James Hansen mundkurv på og omformuleret rapporter og informationer, så de stod mindre i kontrast til Bush-administrationens konsekvent klimaskeptiske politik.

Hvis man vil have en fornemmelse af Revkins journalistisk, har Environmental Health Perspectives indekseret mere end 200 af hans artikler alene under klimaforandringer. Hans forberedte tale ved prisoverrækkelsen findes nedenfor.

indlæg oprettet af Jens Hvass

Andrew C. Revkin: If CO2 Were Pink…, New York Times 23.12.2008.¹

Andy Revkin’s prepared remarks:

Even if you set aside the climate challenge, adding two Chinas to the world population –- which is what a path toward 9 billion is doing -– can’t happen happily with today’s energy menu.

But supplying sufficient cheap energy to spur prosperity while also moving away from unfettered burning of fossil fuels, that –- by almost all accounts — will require a revolution in technology, policy, and attitudes…. what I’ve taken to calling an energy quest….

I am grateful that my parents can be here.

They and their parents infused me with the importance of integrity, efficacy, and pursuing the good life – and mean Aristotle’s definition, not the Vegas version.

I am grateful to the scientific community, which has spent decades patiently dissecting signals from nature as subtle as shifting layers of plant remains in sediment pulled from the Arctic Ocean sea bed and as enormous as changes in the composition and characteristics of the global atmosphere.

As I wrote in my first climate book, in 1992, quoting Matthew Fontaine Maury, a pioneering American oceanographer from the 19th century, “It is only the girdling encircling air, that flows above and around all, that makes the whole world kin.”

For a very long time now I have been trying every possible way to tell the story of the growing human influence on that sheath of air in a way that catches attention but remains true to what is known, and unknown, about what lies ahead.

I’ve tried hard to be an equal-opportunity reality checker, both on the nature of the problem and what would have to happen to cut risks.

I quoted Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences last year, mulling this greenhouse problem: “Does it take a crisis to get people to go along a new path or can they respond to a series of rational, incremental gains in knowledge?”

In some ways it’d be nice if carbon dioxide had a color – let’s say pink – so you could see the buildup.

But it’s not like the noxious, sulfurous pollution that the environmental movement came of age around way back in the 20th century. That stuff stung your eyes and lungs. You could pass laws and stick on filters and the air grew cleaner in your time.

CO2 is in this room now. It’s in your breath. It’s the bubbles in the champagne. It lasts a long time. And the sources, like a new power plant in Shanghai or a new SUV, stay around for decades, as well, once built.

Experts have told me since 1988 that early action is vital to cut chances that the long-term outcome is the worst case.

But here’s an inconvenient truth:

Nature will not respond meaningfully, measurably within the lifetimes of most people in this room. That makes this a legacy issue, as Senator McCain said in one debate. That may be one reason that I sense, when I give talks, that kids and old folks seem to get it best.

That characteristic, though, means it’s more like the national debt or Social Security insolvency than old-style pollution. And we haven’t done so well on those looming risks either, by most accounts.

Ralph Cicerone’s question remains unanswered. This election showed signs of movement. Time will tell if rhetoric is followed by reductions.

In the meantime, as Led Zepellin put it, the song remains the same.

The building influence of humans on the climate — and other earth systems that matter — is still just about the most unconventional story, the hardest story, you can imagine. There’s no peg, no news hook. It’d be a much easier problem for humans -– including editors -– to grapple with if you could write a headline like:

Global Warming Strikes: Crops Wither, Reefs Erode;
Forests ignite. Millions flee flooding coasts. Scientists describe ecological Armageddon.

That may all play out over the course of a couple of centuries, but incrementally. And as many of you know, there’s no word in a newsroom that spells death for a story quicker than the word “incremental.”

There’s no simple “front-page thought” -– at least one that fits the conventional conception of the front page.

But of course the front page is slowly -– or maybe not so slowly — giving way to the home page.

When I talk to journalism students, as I did just a couple hours ago here and earlier this week at N.Y.U, I say the uncertain and fluid state of media now obviously poses big problems.

But it is also a great opportunity to tell stories in new ways, using mash-ups of text and video, interactivity with readers, layered links and images and audio, to add meaning for those thirsting for more.

There is a dark side. The Web could also lead to ever more compartmentalization, as clusters of like-minded people reach only for the information that helps reinforce blindered views.

But I’m what Rene Dubos, the remarkable essayist and microbiologist, called a “despairing optimist.”

I relish the chance to engage global audiences with the real complexity of the world and the extraordinary biological gifts we’ve taken for granted for so long.

I like the idea of being less a tutor than a trusted guide on a long and implicitly uncertain journey toward understanding and progress.

Reflecting the real nature of our times, my beat has shifted from being a subject, the environment, to a question:

How do we head toward roughly 9 billion people in the next two generations with the fewest regrets?

This is a big change from the journalism I grew up consuming, in which a front page, or a newscaster on TV, stated authoritatively, “That’s the way it is, Wednesday, November 19th….”

The unnerving thing about receiving a Chancellor Award now is that I feel I’ve just written the first part of a three-part series. Science has made us aware that the world is being transformed by human actions.

Part two is just beginning: What do we do with that information?

As the copy desk would scribble, the answer is TK.

Thank you.