On September 23, the United Nations opened its Climate Action Summit here in New York, three days after the Global Climate Strike, led by Greta Thunberg, swept through thousands of cities worldwide. To mark the occasion, Intelligencer is publishing “State of the World,” a series of in-depth interviews with climate leaders from Bill Gates to Naomi Klein and Rhiana Gunn-Wright to William Nordhaus interrogating just how they see the precarious climate future of the planet — and just how hopeful they think we should all be about avoiding catastrophic warming. (Unfortunately, very few are hopeful.)
A geologist turned historian of science, Naomi Oreskes is the world’s preeminent chronicler of climate denial and disinformation, primarily thanks to 2010’s Merchants of Doubt, which she co-wrote with Erik Conway. A couple of years later, they collaborated on a work of climate fiction, The Collapse of Western Civilization, and the following year, Oreskes wrote the introduction to the American edition of Pope Francis’s climate encyclical. Her new book, Why Trust Science?,draws on the Tanner lectures she delivered at Princeton University, and was inspired, she says, by all the people who came up to her after lectures to ask how it was she knew whatever it was she was claiming to know. We spoke in early September about how much consensus it takes before we can take action on something like climate change, why people can’t properly process the science we do know, and whether we need to give up on GDP growth to properly address climate change.