This is probably my 4th “final thoughts” on this particular article, but here goes:
This 7,000 word megastory on worst-case climate scenarios is now the most-read article in New York Magazine’s history, despite some imprecise science. Two years ago, I had my own similar megastory (a 3,000 word story in Rolling Stone that became the most-read article in that magazine’s history and, I can’t resist, was rated a bit more highly in terms of scientific accuracy.) To NY Mag’s credit, they published a new version of the piece on Friday with 169 footnotes that helps readers understand the scientific context a bit better.
Here’s what I’ve learned from the past week: Both the Rolling Stone and NY Mag articles have given me new hope that there’s a formula to engage massive audiences on climate: The science (and transparency about likelihood of extreme scenarios) comes first when engaging these kinds of worst case scenarios, and you’ve got to provide some tangible takeaway for readers to hold onto at the end, some nod that extreme outcomes are still avoidable. AND, that there’s something we can all do about it. But beyond that, I think these two pieces have helped pave a new path toward engaging with the inherently terrifying possibility that absent substantial and sustained emissions reductions, humanity is heading full-speed into a nightmare Earth.
My advice for climate journalists going forward:
1. Don’t hold back. Readers can take it. (As long as it’s rigorously grounded in the science, of course.)
2. The weird shit that climate change could cause—the tail risks, the megastorms, the blinking out of entire ecosystems—is compelling.
3. Climate journalists should find those stories—things scientists wouldn’t bother with b/c they’re unlikely—& report the hell out of them.
4. AND THEN (this is the most important part) you plant the seed of possibility at the end & invite the reader to become part of the story.
Because that’s the reality: We are all part of this story. This is our story, we are shaping it every day.
And speaking of optimism, a few other late-week things that caught my attention: This response to the NY Mag article from Joseph Majkut, about keeping multiple versions of the future in your head at the same time, is a critical read. This observation, from economist John Quiggin, is the first credible analysis I’ve seen that could reasonably argue that—maybe, just maybe—we are on track to address climate change after all.
Thanks for reading,