Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Governor Jerry Brown recently called events like the California Fires “The New Normal”, but climate scientists don’t want to be normal. One environmental scientist at least worries that Browns’ statement amounts to an admission of acceptance of climate change, and will lead to complacency.
In defense of using “the new normal” to describe climate change
While government officials and the media like to throw the phrase around, scientists kind of hate it
AUGUST 18, 2018 4:30PM (UTC)
“Over a decade or so, we’re going to have more fire, more destructive fire, more billions that will have to be spent on it,” California Governor Jerry Brown said last week. “All that is the ‘new normal’ that we will have to face.”
Why on earth is the word normal being thrown around to describe such extraordinary times?
While government officials and the media like to throw the phrase around, scientists kind of hate it.
“It sounds like we left the old normal, the old conditions, and arrived at a new normal, a new stasis,” Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at the University of Idaho, tells me. “Unfortunately, that’s not what our climate projections are telling us. They’re telling us that this is one step on a very long staircase that’s heading toward extreme conditions.”
I, too, was poised to write another takedown, until I spoke with Kory Stamper, lexicographer and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Her quick survey of the history of the phrase shows that scientists’ concern may be misplaced. After all, the word normal has a notoriously slippery definition outside of climatology.
“The idea that normal is this fixed star by which we orient everything else around us — that’s not rooted in actual reality,” Stamper says.
While it is entertaining to see an academic criticised by Salon for being too radical about climate change, Crystal Kolden’s frustration at Governor Brown’s use of the word “normal” hints at a deeper problem which afflicts the entire climate movement.
What climate scientists have to say usually isn’t that interesting. I mean, when is the last time you heard a climate scientist say something new?
This growing climate message fatigue may be why scientists like Michael Mann have taken to promoting their speaking services.
— Dr. Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) July 27, 2018
Perhaps if you ask, Mann will guarantee that during his speech at your event that he will say something new.