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Michael D. Lemonick

Climate Central | Interview with Michael Lemonick

A new book tries to bring calm to the global-warming debate


Global Weirdness (Pantheon, $22.95) is probably the weirdest book about global warming you’re going to read. That’s not because its factually inaccurate, written by Al Gore or you’re still suffering from that heat wave a couple of weeks back. It’s because it’s nonpartisan, making absolutely zero attempts to agitate for legislation. The book is arranged as a series of brief articles to answer a variety of questions about climate change, including why it’s changing so quickly now and what it might look like in the future. We called up former Time science writer Michael Lemonick, now the senior science writer for Climate Central, the nonprofit organization that put together the book, to chat about the project.

So why the title Global Weirdness?

That actually comes from [New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman. He wrote a column in which he said “We shouldn’t call it global warming, we should call it global weirding.” Because it’s not just warmer temperatures that are the problem, it’s extreme weather, crazy heat waves, intense rainstorms, floods and prolonged droughts.

Can you tell me a little bit about the organization Climate Central?It was founded in 2008 by climate scientists and foundation people who were worried about climate change to try and remedy what they saw as a poor job that a lot of the media were doing in communicating about climate change to the public. And not just the media, but scientists themselves. There was an enormous amount of good science going on about climate change and all its aspects, and the story getting out to the public was really very distorted.

Do you mean by the denial crowd?

Not just by people who deny the reality of climate change, but there’s a sense that the activists who were trying to get something done about climate change would often go over the line of what scientists could say, to present scenarios that were far-fetched on the gloom-and-doom side. So it wasn’t in reaction to conservatives, but to exaggeration on all sides.

But this debate is so charged already; do you worry about the book not having a call to action?

Surveys have confirmed that there’s a significant body of people in the middle who have heard conflicting stories and don’t know how to feel about this stuff. Should they laugh it off or feel terrified? So a lot of them tune out. It’s those people we’re trying to reach, who just want basic information, and they want it in a way that doesn’t insult their intelligence or shout at them.

So if those people read this book, what should they do afterward?

All of the actions people take—buying a fuel-efficient car, insulating their house—it’s helpful, but nowhere near enough. The only entities that have the power to do what really needs to be done are governments. What I’m hoping for is a broad general understanding by the public of what the stakes are and what the actions are that are necessary, so that when legislation comes up, politicians won’t be afraid to vote for these things.

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