ScienceSkepticism

Jonathan Franzen Finds a New Way to be Wrong about Climate Change

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca!

Transcript:

Yet another outlet has made the incredibly stupid and money-grubbing decision to allow Jonathan Franzen to bloviate. If you’re not aware, Franzen is a novelist who got famous when he got angry that Oprah chose his book The Corrections for her book club because he thought that meant men wouldn’t read it. Apparently the book is pretty good but, despite my own hatred of Oprah, I could never summon up the energy to read it after his enormous mantrum, so it goes.

He hasn’t stopped being such a giant pissbaby since then, as he’s turned his writing skills from novels to embarassing op-ed pieces in the style of an old man yelling at a cloud, like the one this week that made several scientists’ heads explode simultaneously: “What If We Stopped Pretending? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it” published in the New Yorker.

Usually when I’m talking about terrible takes on climate change, those takes come from people who deny it exists, like President Donald Trump who thinks it’s a conspiracy invented by the Chinese, because he’s a fucking moron.

But this time is special! Franzen admits that climate change is real. Had he only stopped there I might not have a video for you today, but fortunately he continued, saying that it is impossible for humanity to limit carbon production in a way to keep warming under 2 degrees Celsius, and that once that happens the planet will continue warming with no input from us, and then the apocalypse happens, and then we will all turn feral, murdering one another indiscriminately and eating our babies, so you may as well just prepare for the baby-eating now because it’s gonna happen no matter what you do and so could you please tear down the windfarms that ruin the view from his back deck?

So yeah, he really went there, didn’t he? I mean, he didn’t mention the baby-eating but it was implied.

He’s right to be pessimistic about the world meeting the general goal of 2 degrees of warming — our government and many others have done fuck all in the past ten years to address the rate of warming, with the US actually starting to go in the opposite direction by plugging our ears and pretending there’s no problem at all as Trump guts our climate science research centers and kowtows to the fossil fuel industry. To meet the goal of stopping warming at 2 degrees would take a massive effort on the part of the US and other countries, starting right now, to bring our carbon output down to zero for the next several decades. Honestly? I agree, it’s probably not gonna happen.

But he’s wrong on a million other counts, as scientists like Leah Stokes have pointed out in droves. Franzen sees two degrees C as some kind of point of no return, where before we hit that mark everything is just fine, and afterward it’s chaos. I hate to tell him this, but it’s chaos now. Maybe not for him, hanging out in a mansion in Santa Cruz, but it is for the people of Grand Bahama, who just got obliterated by a hurricane. It is for the elderly people dying in record numbers when record heatwaves hit their cities, and they don’t have nice air conditioned mansions to retreat to. It is for the people who have lost everything they own, including their homes and often their own lives, to increasingly deadly wildfires. It’s already an apocalypse for the 1.3 billion people living on agricultural land that is being devastated by climate change.

I used to do a podcast with guys who, despite being scientifically literate, didn’t see global warming as a threat. They were sure that at some point humanity would develop technology to “fix” it. Maybe we will, but in the meanwhile people are literally dying from a threat that we could end if our governments weren’t completely in the thrall of the fossil fuel industry. It is peak privilege to sit in our lovely homes, insulated from the threat of famine or fire or hurricanes, knowing that if the sea levels rise too far we can just buy a new house further inland, and say that the catastrophe isn’t here yet because we haven’t hit an arbitrary number of degrees.

Franzen is also wrong that once we hit that arbitrary 2 degrees, the world will keep warming regardless of what we do. Yes, there are feedback loops that make things worse, but no model predicts that it will spiral out of control. That alarmist bullshit helps no one, just like it helps no one to say that it’s best we just throw our hands in the air and start stocking up on beans.

First of all, I’m already stocking up on beans. I mean, I live in California, I have an earthquake kit. But it’s possible to prepare for a bad future while listening to the experts on how bad it will be, and to take their advice on how we can make it as good as possible for as many people as possible. It’s not too late. As Leah Stokes points out, you can still make a difference. Here’s one small way: Fridays for Future is a movement encouraging people worldwide to go on strike for climate action. September 20th is a strike for students, and the 27th is a strike for everyone.

You can support organizations working to educate more people on the importance of taking climate action, like UNESCO. You can support organizations working to lobby our politicians to take action, like Citizens’ Climate Lobby. You can give a shit. And I say this as a Gen Xer. We were raised to never, ever give a shit, but fuck that. Fuck Jonathan Franzen. He’s going to be dead before climate change has a chance to kill him anyway, and he obviously doesn’t care about the people it’s killing now, so here’s one last thing you can do: tell outlets like the New Yorker to stop giving him a platform to spew pseudoscientific, doomer garbage.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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