I’m finding the continuing blogwar and public interchange over Levitt and Dubner’s new book Superfreakonomics and its discussion of geoengineering as a possible solution to global warming very interesting. I want to thank Joseph Romm, the environmental blogger heavily engaged in this debate, for taking the time to comment here.
The attacks and counterattacks go on and here is the latest from the Superfreakonomics blog on the New York Times website. In it Dubner, who is a very clear writer, tries to clear the air and get to the heart of the matter about the issues they raised and the storm of controversy these issues appear to have caused.
I am trying hard not to get involved in the substance of the debate because global warming is certainly not my area of expertise. Instead, I am trying to look at this from an issue management and crisis management standpoint to see what I and others can learn from how this blogwar and controversy is being handled by both sides.
My comment here is that Dubner makes a valiant effort to separate the arguments and get some clarity around what the real issues are. I think he does a pretty good job of that but no doubt his critics will disagree. And that gets to the fundamental problem. The real issue is about really about motive and agenda I believe. Who Dubner is tangling with are environmental activists with a very clear motivation: they want people to change their behavior, governments to change policy, industry to change processes in order to reduce our imprint on the world and the climate. The data that has emerged about climate change has given them strong scientific backing. They do not want to have any solutions seriously considered that would take the pressure off the actions of individuals, companies and governments. Certainly not now, when it looks like there is solid progress being made in stimulating the kind of change that many of these activists have been working for for years. In my mind, the rational presentation of geoengineering as one of many potential solutions to the huge challenge is extremely disturbing to them because it may divert attention and reduce the progress that is being made.
If I am right, it explains the hyperbole and emotional reaction to this book. There is fear evident in this reaction. Fear that the science and reason behind a geoengineering solution might just be sound and the sounder it is, the more it diverts from the mission.
What does this have to do with issue management? A lot, because it doesn’t really make sense to conduct a debate on one level when the real debate is going on at a different level. I’ve dealt with similar situations on not such a global scale several times. I think it is useful to take a step back, try to understand where the objections really lie, and address them as directly and openly as you can. For Dubner that would probably mean asking a question–if saving the world from catastrophe is the main goal, wouldn’t any and all potential solutions be welcomed? And if those solutions are not welcomed, is it because saving the world from catastrophe is not the goal but perhaps, getting people to live and act and behave in ways better for the planet is really the goal? The two are not the same. That is where this debate is really at in my mind–what is honestly and truly the goal.