The Common Good
April 2011

Extended Interview with John Cook

by John Cook, Elizabeth Palmberg | April 2011

The reasons for raising doubts about the human causes of global warming, explains Skeptical Science's John Cook, are often political rather than scientific.

The reasons for raising doubts about the human causes of global warming, explains Skeptical Science's John Cook, are often political rather than scientific. Cook hears from climate change skeptics that '"it's all a liberal plot to spread socialism and destroy capitalism.' ... However, what is causing global warming is a purely scientific question." Cook tries to remove the politics from the debate by concentrating on the science.

Sojourners: How does your faith motivate your work?

John Cook: I’m very challenged by Bible passages such as Amos 5 and Matthew 25, which tell me that God cares strongly about social justice and expects us to. Climate change will affect poor, vulnerable countries that have contributed to it the least and are least equipped to adapt. Developing countries such as Bangladesh are vulnerable to rising sea levels; African countries are vulnerable to drought.

What are barriers that prevent people from accepting the reality of climate change?

Cook: When confronted with difficult information, it's a human instinct to deny it. But I believe the dominant roadblock is ideology, which can get in the way of accepting the scientific evidence. There is a large overlap between people who advocate for smaller government and climate change skepticism. Ironically, failing to act on climate change now will lead to worse impacts down the track, which will require more aggressive government intervention. For example, in southeast Queensland, Australia, where I live, we've just experienced strong flooding; tens of thousands of houses were affected and at least 35 people died. The cost of recovery is more than $5 billion, requiring strong government assistance. Over the last 50 years, the global number of extreme rainfall events has been steadily increasing -- and this is directly linked to warming temperatures, which lead to more water vapor in the atmosphere.

3) Who or what is the most unexpected ally you've found in your work to raise awareness of climate change?

This is a tough one to answer as I've encountered so many wonderful and passionate people over the last few years, it's hard to single anyone out. In a general sense, the phenomena of social media has been a powerful yet unpredictable ally. By starting a website and building a community around it, it has exposed me to the ideas and creativity of a wide range of people. This has taken me in many unexpected directions which I would never have anticipated. Two years ago, a Sydney environmental scientist suggested writing a book on climate change denial (which finally comes out this year); last year a Melbourne software company helped create an iPhone app of our website; and perhaps the most powerful aspect of Skeptical Science is the group of authors who discuss and collaborate, and have already produced some fantastic articles this year.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor at Sojourners.

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