26 March 2009

Grieving for the climate

So, right, I've been working on and off in the area of climate change for a while now. (As if you didn't know). Since 2000 to be precise. Lately I've had a niggling feeling that the vast majority of western people are straight-out deniers. This is because of the comments attracted to every major and important article I read in a proper newspaper. I'm talking here about the ones that give space to those who think national governments need to stop weaseling out of real carbon cuts, not the crazy mis-information mafia like The Australian and The Washington Post.

Newspapers obviously are available to the everyone. From someone who has been campaigning on climate change since the 80s, like a colleague of mine, to someone who only just heard the term last week. They might have voted for Obama, but they're like "whaddya mean climactic change? Global warming.. hey-l it was snowing here last week." .. and so on.

My latest take on it is that large chunks of the Australian and US citizenship are going through the classic stages of grieving. Take this quote:
Whenever one's identity and social order face the possibility of destruction, there is a natural tendency to feel angry, frustrated, helpless, and/or hurt. The volatile reactions of terror, hatred, resentment, and jealousy are often experienced as emotional manifestations of these feelings.
from The Grieving Process by Michael R. Leming and George E. Dickinson

And you don't have to check out the links, as it's too depressing dear readers, but recent tell-it-as-it-is articles by NASA scientist James Hansen, and long time environmental commentator George Monbiot have attracted a wail of denial, attack, ridicule and defamation. I don't remember it being this vitriolic when I started on the issue.

Leading Climate Scientist: Democratic process isn't working (Hansen Interview 19 March)

Opportunity for 2 degrees lost (Canberra times, 23 March, reprinted from the Guardian)

The first one in particular attracted every single tired and disproved point from the denial camp that have all been carefully dismantled; some years ago.* (Btw.. it's clear that from about number 50-on the commentors are coming from the US, they talk about "our tax dollars.")

My mate who's been in this game longer says it's reflection of an anti-global warming campaign that has had a long time to work on its strategy and has been successfully selling doubt for about 10 years, and the efforts are now paying off.

Kind of weird for me, though, who worked in a fully government-funded department nine years ago, whose main remit was based entirely on the premise that global warming was real. Oh yeah, and quite bad for the economy. Back then, mind you, the preferred actions were education, PR and voluntary business programs rather than legislation. Maybe the risk of accepting the science wasn't so high.

And another thing - everyone I know personally is convinced to some degree, whether it is just to recycle when they didn't before (I know recycling has very little to do with climate but, hey at least it's acceptance that humans change their environment) to avoiding flying at all costs, to building low-energy homes, organising protests, or generally de-carbonising their whole life.

Since the turn of this century, the real science has gotten scarier, more urgent and some top scientists have broken ranks, going from simply analysts and predictors to urging strong action and even civil disobedience. Goodness.

But these days, it looks like all the cool kids post to blogs, with these angry, hurty and shouty messages. Hopefully it's an illusion. Perhaps web-zines, blogs, Youtube, etc, just attract a shouty minority of people. Perhaps the format lends itself better to flaming than to constructive discussion. Perhaps those who have read a paper more than once in their life and understand the basics of climate change just can't be bothered posting to say that the deniers are mad and bad. They spend that two minutes to sign an online petition for good solar tariffs instead. They are too busy changing the baby's cloth nappy and getting their gear on for the cycle to work to care.

I dunno. I hope so.

- - -

* In case anyone else has the energy to ever patiently talk to someone in real life who really is undecided and has heard about sun-spots, mini-ice-ages, water vapour, etc... without raising your voice ... This website has a long list of answers: http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics

Personally, I don't have the patience, I just screech "well when you are evacuating your million dollar-home due to flash flooding, don't come crying to me!". Because I'll be living in a hemp treehouse eating nothing but squid and lentils, with solar panels, a CB radio and a bike-pedal washing machine. Come the revolution. There's no room for you and your denier ass in my woven pandanus-leaf hammock.


J said...

I love it! I think I should make you a t-shirt with those exact words on it - save you the hassle of screeching it :) I think exactly the same thing. But in general, I dunno, I get the feeling a bunch more people are getting with the program - taxi drivers talk to me unprompted about alternative fuels - and that never happened five years ago. Climate change is seriously on the agenda and I guess in plain terms a majority of folk must generally 'believe in it' here in oz or no government would be crazy enough to try to make it national issue, with legistlation to boot.

And (not to sound pernickety) I think recycling has heaps to do with climate change. In a literal, emmissions reduction, embodied energy type way of course, but also because in terms of mind shift, it's all about accepting that we live in loopety loop system, and that what we do affects stuff elsewhere. "Stuff goes places, and stuff has an impact on the place it goes to." There is no 'somewhere else' that we are not connected to. Whether that stuff is greenhouse gas emissions, plastic wrap thrown in landfill, toxics going into the ocean, soil being blown off agricultural land - whatevs. To my mind, if most people could just really engage with that idea, we would be halfway there.

BSharp said...

Yuh, I reckon the same on recycling really : ) Just really thinking of some extended family who say they recycle just coz I told them too! Eek. Not a great deal of engagement on the reduce/reuse side, but oh well. (Mind you they had plenty of experience of rationing from WW2, so hey, what do I know).

Yes, less landfill, less badness.

meririsa said...

I've raised the topic of limiting the number of children we have amongst other parents a few times, and got embarrassed, startled laughs. No matter what the gender of my 2nd child, I will stop at two. I won't "play again a 3rd time for a girl, thanks Tony" if I have two boys. Two boys would be lovely. So would a boy and a girl.
Amazed that apparently noone else seems to be considering world overpopulation, despite regular coverage in the mainstream media about what Australia can handle population-wise (not to mention the globe as a whole). Or is that just that I mostly follow the ABC news? Not that they're perfect - a lot of their reporting leaves me with more questions than answers too.

Anonymous said...

I think part of it is that we're grappling with the sheer complexity and enormity of climate change and what doing something about it actually means. Because it's everything, it's not in nice bite-size bits like recycling. And that's very very hard for most people to get their heads around, which clears the space for the shrilling deniers who have a nice simple message, which is, do nothing, don't worry.

The other thing that people are realising and grappling with is that voluntary action by good hearted people is not enough. And that it's not just the deniers who will come screaming to you in your hammock, it's a bunch of other people, a very large bunch, who will really be in the shit through (mostly) no fault of theirs.

BSharp said...

Yuh, I totally agree about complexity. And yes I agree that those who will suffer a lot (e.g. those who lost their loved ones and houses in Vic bushfires) haven't created the problem of dry and hot conditions, and probably most even weren't climate deniers either.

I even kind of sympathise with those who say bloody-mindedly bugger recycling and small individual action because it's pointless, this is too big a problem. (I don't really agree with the attitude, but I do get it.)

It's more those that make the screeching attacks on people like James Hansen/ George Monbiot/ Al Gore, etc etc. They are advocating more much more than individual voluntary action (I think the greenie catch-cry is tough, global measures).

To me, Hansen et al are trying to take care of people as much as possible, but still these horrible, negative nay-sayers jump up and down as if the best way to protect people is to deny science, deny action, blatantly lie, and defame. In the political/ news arena they seem to be making a frenzied attack on a concept that, although unpleasant and difficult, has been more or less proven many times over for ten years.

This is why I mention the counter-campaigns. I think they are cynical big-industry parries to protect profits, and they are using people to get out and fight against the "global warming conspiracy". The kind of people who wheel out sun spots and heat islands and blah blah, don't seem to be just grass roots citizens as far as I can tell.

On a bright note - my comment got published on the Canberra times article ! Yay.

BSharp said...

Hm just re-reading, the point I made as a comment there does seem to contradict the point in the post about "large chunks of the population" going through grieving. Sorry to any readers who expect an academic level of consistency.

I think what I mean is there are organised discrediting campaigns out there,that make it look like huge numbers of ordinary people are rabid deniers. But its really hard to tell if that is actually the case or not! Or if they are just a small army of mean beans.

meririsa said...


You might find some like-minded folk here...