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In the form of an imaginary dialogue.


‘Turning the dialogue around’ – in which the questioner becomes the questioned…

You obviously want to understand this better, because you’re asking these questions; so what do you think about it?

I don’t really know. I think it sounds crazy, that we can change something as huge as Nature. I don’t believe all the scare stories and the doom and gloom in the newspapers and on TV; they’re always coming out with stuff like that. And…

Hang on a second; what you said first was interesting. You think it sounds crazy, the idea that ‘Man’ is more powerful than ‘Nature’; is that right?

Yeah. Not crazy really – unbelievably arrogant. We don’t really add up to much compared to the power of Nature, do we? But these scientists want us to believe that we’re doing all this stuff to the planet. Even if that’s true, Nature will just adjust and carry on anyway. We can’t be ‘destroying the planet’; it’s too big. It’ll still be here long after we’re all gone.

Wow! You’ve said a lot there. Most of what you’ve said is sort of right, like the first bit, about being small compared to the natural world. But you’re doing what we all tend to do; you’re thinking from a personal point of view. Each one of us, in the face of Nature, standing on a mountain top looking at the view, or watching the tide come in, even looking at the plants in the garden and all the life around them, all of us get the feeling sometimes of how little we matter, how small we are. It’s normal to think that way. But when we’re talking about climate change, we need to think bigger; it’s about the sum total of all of us, all the people on the planet, doing things which, added together, produce an effect.

Yeah, but even added together, we don’t have much of an impact, do we? Just think of a tornado or a hurricane; one twitch from Nature and we’re all blown away. If we do mess with Nature, it’ll just react and blast us back into nothing again.

It’s true that natural events like these are incredibly powerful, so powerful they make us look pathetic by comparison, but look at it this way; how much effect does one storm, one tornado, have on the whole of human society? They might smash a whole city, wreck a coastline, kill thousands of people, but our civilisation goes on, the total population is hardly dented; even the world’s economies aren’t damaged for long. Individually, humankind is weak. All together, as one society, we are huge; we are everywhere where people can live; we stretch from one corner of the planet to the other. But, while we are strong as a whole, yet we are told that one huge volcano, or an asteroid impact, could put us back to the stone age, even wipe us off the face of the planet.

Exactly. A natural catastrophe. And they’re trying to tell us that we’re making a man-made catastrophe. I just don’t believe it; it doesn’t add up.

And that’s one of the reasons you’re not sure, isn’t it?


Would you be less unsure if they didn’t say this?

I don’t know. Maybe…

What you’re saying is familiar. People think that scientists are claiming that we’re on the edge of destruction, like in ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. Though it’s right that science is saying that human activity is changing the climate, and that there are forecasts of possibly horrific impacts, the kind of catastrophe that global warming might lead to is very different to the idea we get from movies or the press. It’s not that sort of ‘catastrophe’. It’s probably the wrong word to use; it conjures up images from the TV of Tsunamis and Hurricane landfalls. All these are one-offs, immediate, there one day and then gone. They don’t last long, but massive damage is done really quickly, suddenly. What is confusing you is the word – catastrophe. A word you’ll read in the newspapers more often than you’ll hear from a scientist, by the way. The problems we are likely to face from global warming are mostly slow, steady, and gradual. A bit of a drought here, another, different situation there… I’m not saying that we don’t have a serious problem, but you’re doubt is about the idea of a sudden, dramatic apocalypse, isn’t it?

I suppose so…well, partly, anyway.

Which isn’t really what scientists are saying about global warming anyway?


Which appears mostly in Hollywood movies, or in newspaper headlines?


So get the end of the world out of your head. Let go of the idea that global warming means the end of the world, or that this is what the scientists are saying. It isn’t true. It gives the wrong picture of the real problems. You’re right to doubt the ‘doom and gloom’ stories, the media scares. But what you’ve done is believe that this is what science is telling us. That’s where you’re confusion about this point comes from. The science is pointing out some really serious issues with global warming, but you’ve got mixed up between the truth, and the dramatised version of it. Does that help?

Maybe a bit, but…



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May 2007