Hans Rosling on Al Gore and fear

From Rosling’s Factfulness:

“We need to create fear!” That’s what Al Gore said to me at the start of our first conversation about how to teach climate change. It was 2009 and we were backstage at a TED conference in Los Angeles. Al Gore asked me to help him and use Gapminder’s bubble graphs to show a worst-case future impact of a continued increase in CO2 emissions. I had a profound respect at that time for Al Gore’s achievements in explaining and acting on climate change, and I still do. I am sure you got the fact question at the top of this section right: it’s the one question where our audiences always beat the chimps, with the large majority of people (from 94 percent in Finland, Hungary, and Norway, to 81 percent in Canada and the United States, to 76 percent in Japan) knowing very well what drastic change the climate experts are foreseeing. That high level of awareness is in no small part thanks to Al Gore. So is the enormous achievement of the 2015 Paris Agreement on reduction of climate change. He was—and still is—a hero to me. I agreed with him completely that swift action on climate change was needed, and I was excited at the thought of collaborating with him. But I couldn’t agree to what he had asked. I don’t like fear. Fear of war plus the panic of urgency made me see a Russian pilot and blood on the floor. Fear of pandemic plus the panic of urgency made me close the road and cause the drownings of all those mothers, children, and fishermen. Fear plus urgency make for stupid, drastic decisions with unpredictable side effects. Climate change is too important for that. It needs systematic analysis, thought-through decisions, incremental actions, and careful evaluation. And I don’t like exaggeration. Exaggeration undermines the credibility of well-founded data: in this case, data showing that climate change is real, that it is largely caused by greenhouse gases from human activities such as burning fossil fuels, and that taking swift and broad action now would be cheaper than waiting until costly and unacceptable climate change happened. Exaggeration, once discovered, makes people tune out altogether. I insisted that I would never show the worst-case line without showing the probable and the best-case lines as well. Picking only the worst-case scenario and—worse—continuing the line beyond the scientifically based predictions would fall far outside Gapminder’s mission to help people understand the basic facts. It would be using our credibility to make a call to action. Al Gore continued to press his case for fearful animated bubbles beyond the expert forecasts, over several more conversations, until finally I closed the discussion down. “Mr. Vice President. No numbers, no bubbles.”

I’m with Rosling on this. Rosling has passed. But here is Gore in 2019.