April 13, 2018
As a long time Harvard professor who has spent almost 40 years working to prevent nuclear war and to mitigate global environmental change, it is important to point out that Steven Pinker, as many who are self-appointed “public intellectuals,” as people who can speak with authority on almost any subject, knows almost nothing about nuclear weapons and nuclear war and perhaps even less about global environmental change. His extremely high opinion of himself is not shared by the scientific community. Pinker taps into the need we all have to reassure ourselves not to be terrified about the trajectory we are on–about the risk of nuclear war, about the inexorable (unless we dramatically change our ways) march towards a climate change world, one with a devastating loss of biological diversity, a world we would all have trouble recognizing. “Everything will be all right folks, these are ‘sky is falling’ people,’ not looking on the bright side of things” he might say. He might add “we are better off today than we have ever been before,” a comment that a Pacific islander whose land was slipping beneath rising seas would find hard to accept. When we don’t recognize and understand the dangers we face, we will never find the means or the will to prevent them.
Pinker’s scolding of those who warn of these dangers is hardly what one would expect from someone who extols the Age of Enlightenment.
Editor’s note: At the request of the author, the original submission of this comment has been edited.
Founder and former director, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School
Co-founder, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize