Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Climate Change, Mixed Messaging & Superfreakonomics

A really important comment was brought up this week in my environmental epidemiology lecture on climate change. I wanted to speak to this point a bit more after coming across a series of writings about a recently published book called Superfreakonomics by Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

The comment in class was about the difficulty of sorting through the mixed messaging surrounding climate change, and the role that health promoters need to play in order to address this issue at the individual level. This was a really important point to bring up because it is difficult to know what our role as individuals is when we speak about climate change. This point is particularly important not only because lifestyle changes need to be made, but also because political will needs to be generated.

I came across a prime example of this mixed messaging after watching a CBC interview of Steve Levitt. One of the chapters in his new book is about climate change and why he thinks that the current climate change efforts are flawed. This peaked my interest, and so I tried to track down his chapter online. Instead I came across an interesting series of blog posts between the author and a climate change economist. Thankfully, the chapter doesn't refute the current scientific consensus about climate change, but rather argues that the "solution" isn't in changing human contributions to the problem (adaptation strategies). I don't fully understand what aerosol geo-engineering is, but the authors present this as a harmless and cheap quick fix for global warming. Skeptics have highlighted that the authors ignored readily available literature detailing the severe risks associated with aerosol geo-engineering and reasons why emission reduction is the dominant strategy chosen. Even though I have not read the chapter myself, I remain quite uncomfortable with the thought that if this book was even remotely as successful as the first Freakonomics, 4 million people could potentially be mislead by the message in this chapter.


  1. In the video clip you linked to, Levitt defends the chapter by saying it will at least create discussion -- which is happening right here. However, you bring up a very good point that this mixed messaging could cause even more confusion and uncertainty for a majority of people.

  2. Thanks for the comment Mark!

    I agree with Levitt that discussion is important, but downplaying the severity and urgency of climate change isn't the sort of message that an "expert" researcher should be portraying. In my opinion the authors are trying to boost their book sales by presenting an extreme perspective. I think this does more harm than good.

  3. Although the core concept of reducing consumption is there, I think this post takes you in other directions with a very different kind and type of “evidence”, that might be better on another blog. Here you might link the topical discussions re CC and e-waste, particularly burning versus other better recovery methods. Any idea on the carbon emissions coming out of the smoking waste sites?

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