In Senegal, to politely say someone has passed away, you say their library has burned.
We learned that Sir John Houghton passed away at 88 of COVID-19 complications. He is someone to whom we owe an immense debt, and his obituary in the New York Times on Sunday, April 26th – notably part of a series on the virus called “Those We’ve Lost”- was a resounding triumph.
He helped make the world pay attention to climate change, he won a Nobel Prize shared with Al Gore, and he moved the climate conversation towards the truth by pointing to science again and again. His physics degree included atmospheric, oceanic and planetary physics, meaning his work with NASA overlapped naturally with studies of the atmosphere. There the effects of our economic choices upon our earth’s climate were laid bare: we were developing in detrimental ways and warming our globe.
Mr. Houghton wrote “Global Warming: The Complete Briefing” in 1994, among others. He was chairman of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and went toe to toe with fossil fuel companies and their defendants, but as a gentleman. The facts and science were too conclusive to be misconstrued as long as Mr. Houghton was in the room. He was also a devout Christian, insisting that it was the responsibility of God’s children to be good stewards of His creation. In a controversy teeming with people happy to pit faith against facts (or vice-versa), this ability to fuse the two helped bring Christians to the climate change conversation in an important way.
It makes sense that someone defending the facts would also chaffe at being misquoted. In correcting a publication’s erroneous printing, he asserted this was his actual statement:
If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster. It’s like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there’s been an accident.
It’s safe to say, we are at accident levels.
Here at MagicLinks, we had not previously known of Mr. Houghton and admit we wish we had sooner. Barring that, we encourage others interested in science, in our responsibility to one another, this precious planet home, and in the power of human choice to carry on the spirit of his work. The only answer to the burning of a library is to shore up as many others as you can.
Try to learn something new about the environment today, in Mr. Houghton’s honor.
We must all carry the torch,