Solar panels are seen at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, on August 1, 2008. (Reuters/Steve Marcus)
Editor’s note: The following is in response to Wen Stephenson’s post, “Dear Chris: Good Job. Now Let’s Get Real.”
I don’t really disagree with your point, Wen, which is that we didn’t emphasize the full scope and depth of the problem and scope and depth of the solution. We let people off too easy, we painted too encouraging and rosy a picture. But that was a choice, and one I still stand behind. There are different aspects of the climate story one can choose to emphasize and different tones to strike, partly depending on the audience or the specific set of facts involved or, as in this case, one’s own judgment about how to best penetrate the reflexive shell of indifference and hopelessness that even the most conscientious people have erected between themselves and the problem.
Some think that doubling down on the severity of the crisis—its world-historical size and importance—will break through, but I know that I find myself retreating even further from that kind of storytelling. It is very, very easy to look at the facts as they stand now and conclude that we are screwed. And, perversely, the right has begun to very ably use this in their own rhetoric. Albert Hirschman once divided reactionary arguments into three categories: perversity, futility and jeopardy. We are now seeing the right pivot from arguments that emphasized perversity and jeopardy to sheer futility. I hear it all time: “OK, even if we act, isn’t it too late? Won’t China and India just keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere?” Etc.
So I strongly believe that it is extremely important to convince people that the problem is, in fact, solvable. Our record of environmental regulation of pollution, in fact, shows that very often the eventual cost is far, far less than was originally estimated. Human ingenuity is an incredible thing! So if you picked up a certain upbeat undercurrent in the show, you weren’t wrong. I happen to think the problem, as big and terrifying as it is, really is solvable and really will be solved. And I think it’s doubly important to let people know that so as to engender the level of investment and action we need to make sure that hopeful future is ours.
Read Wen Stephenson’s original post to Chris Hayes, “Dear Chris: Good Job. Now Let’s Get Real.”