It also means rejecting irrational attempts to undermine science with false information. Our elected officials, in particular, have a responsibility to conduct a debate grounded in facts, not just whatever someone happens to type on the Internet.
One example of misinformation is a recent Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal claiming climate change may be good for the planet. It’s full of unsupported spin, like the claim that “most experts believe that warming of less than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels will result in no net economic and ecological damage.” That is a complete misunderstanding of the debate about when irreversible damage occurs (possibly at 2 degrees), not when serious negative consequences begin (they start right now, around 1 degree). It also cherry-picks small and highly speculative “benefits,” while ignoring the vastly bigger and more certain threats we face. The piece reads like a blog post declaring that the moon landing was faked — conclusions based on the distortion of stray details that miss the big, obvious truths.
The good news is that the world has begun to act. Europe has put limits on carbon pollution, as have countries representing one-third of global economic activity. The United States has started limiting greenhouse gas pollution from cars and will soon place limits on power plants, as well. Even China has started to test cap-and-trade programs in seven regions. It’s not enough yet, but it’s a start.
There are good ideas for solving this challenge across the political spectrum. All responsible voices — that is, those that deal in facts — are needed in this debate. But we must move with a sense of urgency. The climate is not going to wait until we’re all comfortable with this new reality.
Let’s not miss another chance to get serious about this urgent problem.
Eric Pooley, a former managing editor of Fortune, is a senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund and the author of “The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth.” (Hyperion, 2010).