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Thu Sep 26, 2019, 12:19 PM

Naomi Oreskes: 'The House Is Burning Down and We're Just Sitting Around Discussing It'

Naomi Oreskes: 'The House Is Burning Down and We're Just Sitting Around Discussing It'

Sept 26,2019
By David Wallace-Wells

A geologist turned historian of science, Naomi Oreskes is the world’s preeminent chronicler of climate denial and disinformation, primarily thanks to 2010’s Merchants of Doubt, which she co-wrote with Erik Conway. A couple of years later, they collaborated on a work of climate fiction, The Collapse of Western Civilization, and the following year, Oreskes wrote the introduction to the American edition of Pope Francis’s climate encyclical. Her new book, Why Trust Science?, draws on the Tanner lectures she delivered at Princeton University, and was inspired, she says, by all the people who came up to her after lectures to ask how it was she knew whatever it was she was claiming to know. We spoke in early September about how much consensus it takes before we can take action on something like climate change, why people can’t properly process the science we do know, and whether we need to give up on GDP growth to properly address climate change.

...So what is an inappropriate emotional response, from your view, to what we know about the climate and where we’re headed?

I mean, the whole thing is very strange emotionally. Amitav Ghosh’s book The Great Derangement — of all the people who’ve written on this, he’s the emotionally clearest. I think that title really does sum it up. It is a kind of great derangement. The house is burning down and we’re just sitting around discussing, you know, how much fireproofing we have in the walls or something. I don’t know. It’s a very strange state of affairs. And it partly arises from the fact that climate change is a slow burn. We don’t really see the house burning down. If we did, we might react differently.

...Rationally, we actually should be panicked. We should be panicked, angry, upset, despairing — all those things. But of course we all know none of those are really productive. If the house is really on fire, you don’t panic, you stay calm, you pull the fire alarm, you call the fire department, you get out of the house, you put the fire out, and then you figure out how to rebuild the house. With climate change, I think maybe that’s the key thing that we have to try to figure out is what is the rebuilding. We basically have to rebuild our energy economy and how we do that as quickly and effectively as possible.

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