Why does so much media coverage of climate change emphasize the worst-case scenarios and the slow speed of the energy transition? Why don't more stories highlight how the energy transition is working and accelerating, reducing expected increases in carbon emissions and rendering the worst-case warming scenarios increasingly unlikely?
These are important questions, because reporting about the climate and the energy transition can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the media constantly asserts that climate change is unstoppable and that we’re doomed, people will feel discouraged and give up during a critical time in which we must make progress. Whereas by showing people how they can be part of the solution, they will do what they can and support leaders committed to addressing the problem.
It’s also important that we understand what’s real and likely, and what isn’t. An unfortunate number of stories about climate change have emphasized vague “tipping points” and “feedback loops” that might accelerate warming in the future. But those are unquantified and undefined terms referring to highly uncertain possibilities. Meanwhile, highly probable outcomes that would result from existing climate policies are barely mentioned.
So why is there so much media focus on the worst-case scenarios? A shred of uncertainty isn't a sufficient reason to emphasize the worst case above all else. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on the likely outcomes of our existing policies?
In this episode, we're joined by a climate researcher and data analyst who finds reason for optimism on climate change. Hannah Ritchie is a Senior Researcher in the Programme for Global Development at the University of Oxford. She is also Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at the online publication Our World in Data, which brings together the latest data and research on the world's largest problems and makes it accessible for a general audience. Her forthcoming book, Not the End of the World, will be published in January 2024.
In today’s conversation, Hannah explains what converted her from a climate pessimist to an optimist, and shares her insights into why stories of climate doom seem to be more popular. We explore a number of her data analyses that support her optimistic outlook. And we discuss why it’s important to give people hope that we can address the climate challenge successfully—not by merely adopting a pollyannish attitude, but by really looking at the facts, and understanding the progress that we’re actually making.
Dr. Hannah Ritchie is Senior Researcher in the Programme for Global Development at the University of Oxford. She is also Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at the online publication Our World in Data, which brings together the latest data and research on the world’s largest problems and makes it accessible for a general audience. Her research appears regularly in the New York Times, Economist, Financial Times, BBC, WIRED, New Scientist and Vox. She holds a doctorate in environmental sciences from the University of Edinburgh. Her forthcoming book – Not the End of the World – will be published in January 2024.
On Twitter: @_HannahRitchie
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Recording date: June 12, 2023
Air date: July 26, 2023
Geek rating: 5