Writer: Practicality Not Panic Is The Way To Respond To Climate Change

Aug 16, 2019

Every week it seems we get a new, dire study about climate change. But WKAR Serving Up Science podcast contributor and Michigan State University science writer Sheril Kirshenbaum says this is not the time to panic. 


This week, the Washington Post published a story that average temperatures in the Traverse City area have risen 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895. At the same time, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if our entire planet heats up by an average of 3.4 degrees, virtually all the world’s coral reefs will die and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will melt, resulting in massive sea level rise.

Science writer Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote an article appearing in Scientific American titled No, Climate Change Will Not End the World in 12 Years. And she talked about it with WKAR's Reginald Hardwick.

KIRSHENBAUM: I wrote this because so many of my close friends, they're parents like I am.  They hear all these reports, feel very nervous, scared, and depressed and don't really know what to make from all of this information. If we're constantly told we're facing a catastrophe then we're not really very focused on finding solutions that are being addressed by some of the top people in science and research and technology.

HARDWICK: We want to make it clear – you’re not a climate change denier.

KIRSHENBAUM: Right, I've been working at the intersection of climate and people for about 20 years now. I started as a marine scientist. I've been working in conservation and climate and energy and water and now food here at Michigan State University. And all of these things are different frames around the same issue. Which is that we have more and more people, limited resources and the planet is changing, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we're doomed. What matters are the choices that we make right now.

HARDWICK: What can a person do if they're feeling hopeless?

KIRSHENBAUM: I work with so many great people every day, thinking about things like how we can tackle water scarcity, insure food security, work to address the issues that are going to affect our food availability like flooding or increased storms. If your house is on fire, you just don't stare at it and feel hopeless and do nothing and scream. You call the fire department. In this case, you call the best minds working on these challenges, you fund them, you support them, and you trust them.

HARDWICK: We have a current US president and many American politicians who do not believe climate change is real. What do you say to people who feel people in power are not doing enough?

KIRSHENBAUM: Here's why I'm hopeful. When I left congress, I used to be a Hill staffer in 2006. You never heard about climate change. Candidates running for office would do everything to avoid even speaking those terms. Thirteen years later, we have candidates running for office at the congressional and the presidential level who are using every opportunity they can to make this a voting issue.  We have the youth movements, the Climate Strike, the March for Science... people are out in the world, using their voice, using their vote to make sure these are issues that are going to be addressed, that are more important. And so I'm hopeful that while we haven't found the solutions that we need. The people in leadership positions, that's transient. The policies are being set by cultural shifts and opinion. And we are seeing right now the majority of Republicans and Democrats say climate change is real. Many of those people are looking for ways to address the challenges ahead.

Click here to read Sheril's article: No, Climate Change Will Not End the World in 12 Years.