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Friday, April 23, 2021

The Climate is Not the Only Existential Crisis in Our Universe

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Sunday’s Times Book Review takes an in-depth look at a novel that confronts several hot-button issues at once. On Oct. 16, Marina Warner will speak with Times Book Review Editor Jon Landeau to discuss “The Ice Storm.”

CHARLES BECAUSE CALL IT what you will, almost everyone believes the earth is warming, that man-made carbon dioxide is the main culprit and that the world’s problems are caused by someone or something (the Soviet Union, the Higgs boson or perhaps Donald Trump) who is called “global warming denier.” This doesn’t, however, change their resistance to taking action. Whether you call it climate change, environmentalism or green energy, you can find no consensus over what should be done — or how to get there. And though those who oppose measures to fight climate change insist that they don’t reject science, it often feels like they do. Or, at least, they say so.

But the climate isn’t the only realm where there’s disagreement. Far too often, the debate over violence in the world — and whether the number of deaths was really a catastrophe, or a statistical aberration — devolves into a fight over statistics. Nobody disputes that, in 2015, more than half a million people were killed in terrorist attacks around the world. But the precise number is, at best, contested. How, for instance, did the high number of people killed in Paris and Brussels, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Yemen, compare with the countries in which people were more likely to be killed by other things?

Next week, Philip Gourevitch will appear in The New York Times Book Review to offer us his thoughts on “uncompromising statistics.” Philip — author of “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Murdered with Our Families” and “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Murdered with Our Families, and Other Terrible Thoughts” — will also give us some ways in which readers can help themselves. The interview can be read here.

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