On “Years of Living Dangerously”

Richard Houghton

Acting President & Senior Scientist
Richard A. Houghton

The new documentary series about climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously,” airs this Sunday on Showtime. It has already attracted considerable attention, admirers praising its impact and detractors reminding us that scare tactics don’t work the way they’re meant to. Admirers and detractors are both right. Climatic disruption is scary, but focusing on the scary hardens peoples’ preconceived views, whatever they may be.

So how does one encourage public, private, and governmental action to avoid and adapt to climate change? What, besides, scariness, will move people to action? One answer: solutions. Solutions are available to counter the worst effects. We aren’t going to avoid climatic disruption because it’s already here.  However, it is not too late to avoid catastrophic climate change — to keep things from getting considerably worse.

The distinction is easily missed.  For example, why does the IPCC call for mitigation, again and again, when climate change is clearly here, and adaptation might seem the more appropriate response?  Because, although climate change is here, the worse is still to come unless steps are taken to mitigate further change.

Unchecked, the effects of climate change are indeed scary; there’s no way around it.