On the shelf
The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial
By David Lipsky
Norton: 496 pages, $33
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A midday interview with David Lipsky emerges, covering everything from the flaws in bootleg copies of 19th-century “Moby-Dick” to the finer details of Mr. Show’s 1998 sketch “The Audition.” That seems to be the range of Lipsky’s pursuits and the breadth of his writing.
Lipsky, award-winning author of books about West Point and a road trip with David Foster Wallace, uses his wide-angle lens to capture global warming in “The parrot and the igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial.”
The book covers everyone from Benjamin Franklin, who started the Industrial Revolution, to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who benefited financially from challenging research on tobacco and global warming. It’s not just about the science of climate change, it’s also about the self-serving denier who constantly works to undermine it — “more research is needed” is a key strategy — and wreak long-term damage in the process. Lipsky strives to make the book as readable as possible by referencing The Beatles and “The Simpsons,” but his in-depth research and outrage keep coming through.
This interview at a restaurant near New York University, where he is a professor, has been edited for length and clarity.
You were working on a different book when you read about it Roger RevelleThe 1956 research proving climate change and the work that confirmed it in the 1970s. You write: “Everyone knew it. And nothing was done.” So what will writing more about it accomplish?
A 1979 panel said: “We have no reason to doubt global warming and no reason to believe that the changes will be minor.”
If Reagan hadn’t become president, everything would have turned out differently. Eventually we have to start and if we had done that then economies of scale would have kicked in and we would have gotten used to things. Nowadays, people seem comfortable driving electric cars, and it could have been 30 or 40 years ago.
But it can be a very dry story. I think if people really knew the story, they would react. For this reason I wrote the book. But I was also fortunate to be able to tell this great story outside of public service.
They write about “signal versus noise” and how the climate deniers successfully distract by making noise.
According to one climate denier, there are only 25 professional climate deniers, but 25 people can thwart the will of the world. That’s stunning.
So educated people somehow read the one scientist out of thousands who doubts the evidence and believe him – even after he has been discredited – and not the 999 others. How do you fight that?
give them my book To quote John Tyndall: “It is as fatal as it is cowardly to ignore facts because they are not to our liking.”
Then they said, “But my guy says…”
I don’t think they would do that. If you can show people that your good faith energy has been abused by people who just want to make money without caring about the consequences, they would say, “Oh, I didn’t realize that.”
When they then say, “Climate change is true, but it’s not worth the money,” kicking people out and acknowledging that global warming is happening is still a big change. Then we’re negotiating how much we’re going to spend on it.
This is a somber subject, but it reads like you had fun researching and writing it. you write that Richard Nixons “Hugged the environment like an older man buying his first Beatles album. Don’t play the titles, but leave them on the coffee table as an up-to-date signal for the guests.”
Nobody I know wants to read more about global warming, and people don’t recommend books about it to their friends because they’re not fun to read. I was very conscious of writing a book for readers that is a great story. It’s like a Coen Brothers film: We’re warned about something in 1956 and we keep saying, “It’s bound to happen,” but we never do anything. This is a comedy.
Explain your title in shorthand.
It has been said that America has the most extremely controversial culture. Once you have a problem, it’s binary and people are incredibly aggressive. We embrace the problem and instead of saying, “Here’s something we can solve,” it becomes, “Either it’s going to be a tropical jungle with parrots, or it’s going to be an igloo.” That keeps us from solving things. We get the right answer, run it through the machinery of modern America, and get the wrong answer.
Men who aren’t in a supportive couple relationship stop going to the doctor because there’s no one around to say, “You should get this checked out.” This is men at their worst. The same applies here to every president going back to Carter. Everyone had the same thought: someone else will take care of it.
In 1979 politicians asked, “When is this all going to become clear?” And they’re told 40 years, so they say, “Come back to us in 39.” Go to the doctor.
Did Joe Biden take us to the doctor with his? climate legislation? Scientists have estimated that his actions will reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 30 to 40 percent in 2030 from 2005 levels. Would his re-election have a major impact?
People don’t appreciate that he was a really effective president. He seems to understand what global warming is all about and he is a professional politician who knows how to enforce the law. He did what no one else has done in 40 years.