‘Doomed Earth’ Residents React to New York Magazine Cover Story

'There is no need to overstate the evidence,' argues a distinguished Penn State professor

Headshot of Richard Horgan

The latest New York magazine cover story, by David Wallace-Wells, has sparked waves of hot and cold reaction. Just the sort of swirling effect editors of a print magazine in today’s cluttered media world hope for.

On Facebook, climate scientist and Penn State distinguished professor Michael E. Mann reveals that although he is not mentioned in the piece, he was interviewed for it. He is one of many to take issue with the ‘doomist framing’ and also disputes some of the article’s premising:

I was struck by erroneous statements like this one referencing “satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought.”

That’ just not true. The study in question simply showed that one particular satellite temperature dataset that had tended to show *less* warming than the other datasets, has now been brought in line with the other temperature data after some problems with that dataset were dealt with.

Ironically, I am a co-author of a recent article in the journal Nature Geoscience (see e.g. this piece in The Guardian), using that very same new, corrected, satellite dataset, that shows that past climate model simulations slightly **over-predicted** the actual warming during the first decade of the 21st century, likely because of a mis-specification of natural factors like solar variations and volcanic eruptions. Once these are accounted for, the models and observations are pretty much in line–the warming of the globe is pretty much progressing AS models predicted… which is bad enough.

At the media end, the piece is being actively debated. “Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says?” wonders The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. And get a load of “We’re All Going to Die, New York Magazine Edition,” writes syndicated columnist Dan Savage. Here’s how Savage leads off:

Hey, remember when The New Yorker scared the shit out of everyone in Seattle—and Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem, Olympia, Seaside, Long Beach, and Vancouver—with that article about the 9.0 earthquake that will sooner or later (probably sooner) wipe out “everything west of Interstate 5”? (“The Really Big One,” Kathryn Schulz, July 20, 2015.) Remember how scared you were after reading that story? Remember the plan you made to pull together an earthquake preparedness kit? Remember how you swore you’d never visit the coast of Washington or Oregon again because you didn’t want to be taking a selfie with Haystack Rock when that “seven-hundred-mile liquid wall” swept over the beach?

The New Yorker article cited by Savage was published just ahead of a New York magazine cover story that made a similar, huge splash.

To go along with this week’s cover story, Wallace-Wells interviewed a number of climatologists from the so-called “godfather generation” of the critical science. The sidebar group includes Wallace Smith Broecker, the oceanographer who coined the term global warming.

@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.