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2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #29

Posted on 22 July 2017 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week. 

Editor's Pick

The Planet Is Warming. And It's Okay to Be Afraid

Why being fearful can be part of a healthy, heroic response to the climate crisis

 Climate Warrior

Climate warriors from around the world, like those facing rising seas in the Pacific islands, have turned the fear of lost homes and future devastation into the courage to confront the most powerful industries on the planet. (Image: via

Last Week, David Wallace-Wells wrote a cover story for of New York Magazine, "The Uninhabitable Earth," on some of the worst-case scenarios that the climate crisis could cause by the end of this century. It describes killer heat waves, crippling agricultural failures, devastated economies, plagues, resource wars, and more. It has been read more than two million times.

The article has caused a major controversy in the climate community, in part because of some factual errors in the piece—though by and large the piece is an accurate portrayal of worst-case climate catastrophe scenarios. But by far the most significant criticism the piece received was that it was too frightening.

"Importantly, fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it," wrote  Michael Mann, Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles at the Washington Post.

Erich Holthaus tweeted about the consequences of the piece:

"A widely-read piece like this that is not suitably grounded in fact may provoke unnecessary panic and anxiety among readers."

"And that has real-world consequences. My twitter feed has been filled w people who, after reading DWW's piece, have felt deep anxiety." 

"There are people who say they are now considering not having kids, partly because of this. People are losing sleep, reevaluating their lives."

While I think both Mann and Holthaus are brilliant scientists who identified some factual problems in the article, I strongly disagree with their statements about the role of emotions—namely, fear—in climate communications and politics. I am also skeptical of whether climate scientists should be treated as national arbiters of psychological or political questions, in general. I would like to offer my thoughts as a clinical psychologist, and as the founder and director of The Climate Mobilization.

Affect tolerance—the ability to tolerate a wide range of feelings in oneself and others—is a critical psychological skill. On the other hand, affect phobia—the fear of certain feelings in oneself or others—is a major psychological problem, as it causes people to rely heavily on psychological defenses.

Much of the climate movement seems to suffer from affect phobia, which is probably not surprising given that scientific culture aspires to be purely rational, free of emotional influence. Further, the feelings involved in processing the climate crisis—fear, grief, anger, guilt, and helplessness—can be overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean we should try to avoid "making" people feel such things. Experiencing them is a normal, healthy, necessary part of coming to terms with the climate crisis. I agree with David Roberts that it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. As I argued in a 2015 essay, The Transformative Power of Climate Truth, it's the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.

Holthaus writes of people feeling deep anxiety, losing sleep, re-considering their lives due to the article… but this is actually a good thing. Those people are coming out of the trance of denial and starting to confront the reality of our existential emergency. I hope that every single American, every single human experiences such a crisis of conscience. It is the first step to taking substantial action. Our job is not to protect people from the truth or the feelings that accompany it—it’s to protect them from the climate crisis.

I know many of you have been losing sleep and reconsidering your lives in light of the climate crisis for years. We at The Climate Mobilization sure have. TCM exists to make it possible for people to turn that fear into intense dedication and focused action towards a restoring a safe climate.

In my paper, Leading the Public into Emergency Mode—a New Strategy for the Climate Movement, I argue that intense, but not paralyzing, fear combined with maximum hope can actually lead people and groups into a state of peak performance. We can rise to the challenge of our time and dedicate ourselves to become heroic messengers and change-makers.

I do agree with the critique, made by Alex Steffen among others, that dire discussions of the climate crisis should be accompanied with a discussion of solutions. But these solutions have to be up to the task of saving civilization and the natural world.  As we know, the only solution that offers effective protection is a maximal intensity effort, grounded in justice, that brings the United States to carbon negative in 10 years or less and begins to remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere. That's the magic combination for motivating people: telling the truth about the scale of the crisis and the solution.

In Los Angeles, our ally City Councilmember Paul Koretz is advocating a WWII-scale mobilization of Los Angeles to make it carbon neutral by 2025. He understands and talks about the horrific dangers of the climate crisis and is calling for heroic action to counter them. Local activists and community groups are inspired by his challenge.

Columnist Joe Romm noted, we aren't doomed—we are choosing to be doomed by failing to respond adequately to the emergency, which would of course entail initiating a WWII-scale response to the climate emergency. Our Victory Plan lays out what policies would look like that, if implemented, would actually protect billions of people and millions of species from decimation. They include: 1) An immediate ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure and a scheduled shut down of all fossil fuels in 10 years; 2) massive government investment in renewables; 3) overhauling our agricultural system to make it a huge carbon sink; 4) fair-shares rationing to reduce demand; 5) A federally-financed job guarantee to eliminate unemployment 6) a 100% marginal tax on income above $500,000.

Gradualist half measures, such as a gradually phased-in carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, that seem "politically realistic" but have no hope of actually restoring a safe climate, are not adequate to channel people's fear into productive action.

We know what is physically and morally necessary. It's our job—as members of the climate emergency movement—to make that politically possible. This will not be easy, emotionally or otherwise. It will take heroic levels of dedication from ordinary people. We hope you join us.

The Planet Is Warming. And It's Okay to Be Afraid by Margaret Klein Salamon, Common Dreams, July 17, 2017

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Margaret Klein Salamon, Phd is co-founder and director of Climate Mobilization. Klein earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from Adelphi University and also holds a BA in Social Anthropology from Harvard. Though she loved being a therapist, Margaret felt called to apply her psychological and anthropological knowledge to solving climate change. Follow her and Climate Mobilization on Twitter: @ClimatePsych /@MobilizeClimate

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Blatant scaremongering about worst case one in a million chance scenarious isn't going to help. People could get fatigue over too much of all this, and a sense of hopelessness can prevail, and cynicism because some scares in the past have come to nothing. I find myself tempted to scaremonger, and I'm an inveterate worrier, but I'm just going to pull back.

    Of course climate change is very serious, and well proven now, and even the likely scenarious are grim enough to anyone remotely intelligent.

    I think we need "controlled" and measured scary stuff. Scary enough to get the seriousness across to people, but without going overboard or spending media time focussing on very unlikely doomsday scenarios too much. (although I personally find these fascinating). People lead busy lives, and only have so much time available to digest news on global problems, so its important to get messages on climate change sensible and measured. We need an urgent message, but not crazy low probability messages.

    There are plenty of things happening that are scary enough with weather changes,  and changes in rates of ice loss in the antarctic. Just highlighting this in a concise, measured, urgent way should be enough, and the right approach to get through to most people.

    Of course you are right people will feel still fear, and it's completely absurd to water down the message to prevent this, but neither should the message be exaggerated.

    I also agree you have to wonder if demand driven responses like rather weak looking carbon taxes ar cap and trade will be enough (and I admit I have promoted these).

    We are delicately walking around the issue, trying to find something gentle that may be politically acceptable, and the trouble with this approach it sends a message that the problem is not considered that urgent, so people then take it even less seriously with less pressure put on politicians for change. Perhaps it's necessary to cut through everything with much sharper policies that just keep fossil fuels in the ground.

    Ideally it would be good for a market lead response, but because attempts at this have been so weak, we are now left with limited time, and a need for more of a more government lead response. The stuff needs to be simply kept in the ground.

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  2. The following was written  by some guy on another website. I hope he doesn't mind me copying it to here. Its rather brilliant and amusing, on climate denialism, and scaremongering. In fact it's more of an analogy and allegory.

    "One hot morning near a remote village at the edge of a large forest, a group of villagers discovered a strange large animal in a clearing, apparently asleep. They went back and inform the village elders, who called in the local chamber of commerce, and also summoned the only biologist in the region.

    Later, the biologist arrived and reported back to the village. “This is a very dangerous situation. That animal is a large predator. It has huge canine teeth, an absence of molars, eyes relatively close together for focused hunting, and large claws. My best estimate from the body pattern is that it is a large feline. Judging from the stripes, it is a “tiger”. While it is still asleep, it will wake and hunt, perhaps tonight. I got a rough reading from my infrared camera, and its metabolism seems consistent with a large cat. You would do best to evacuate the village, but you MUST keep a large distance, and DO NOT DROP OBJECTS ON ITS TAIL.”

    The chamber of commerce spokesperson replied “Don’t listen to this alarmist! It’s a good thing that we invested in an internet satellite station for the village. The pictures of locals dropping sand on its tail have gone viral. We’re making tons of money and creating jobs. Next step is pay-per-view when they drop something bigger. Besides, the epistemology of this job-killing so-called expert is completely warped. The teeth and claws could be for symbolic threat displays during mating season. Besides, you haven’t even observed it move, let alone what it eats. It may not even have any nerves in its tail. We suggest that it’s an estivating herbivore that will be in a torpid state for months, and slow-moving when it does awake.”

    The biologist exclaimed “This is nonsense! It can’t be an herbivore with those teeth, and cats have never been observed to estivate, although they do sleep a lot after a large meal.”

    The chamber spokesperson scoffed “You haven’t even proven it’s a cat. You’ll need an autopsy or a DNA sample for that. You didn’t get one, did you? You haven’t even demonstrated that it has nerves in its tail. They’re your assumptions, and you’re obliged to demonstrate them. Otherwise, it’s the null hypothesis that it’s not dangerous, won’t wake for a long time, and has no nerves in its tail. You’re illogical. Leave now.”

    “Leave now, leave now,” the villagers chanted.

    The pay-for-view was the sensation of the season, but nobody from the village ever appeared at the big city bank to collect their money.

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  3. nigelj @2

    Methinks there should be a postscript:  "The biologist did leave as requested and is currently working at a top university in Europe."

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  4. nigel, is it possible that one of the concerned villagers in your story might have said to the scientist, who was trying to warn people about just how dangerous a large tiger could be, somdthing like:

    "Blatant scaremongering about worst case one in a million chance scenarious isn't going to help. People could get fatigue over too much of all this, and a sense of hopelessness can prevail, and cynicism because some scares in the past have come to nothing."


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  5. I would like to thank SkS for publishing and highlighting the thoughtful and insightful piece by Margaret Klein Salamon. I'm afraid that, when it comes to psychology, many of us have the same views that some denialists have about climate--just as some of them seem to think: "We are in climate all the time, so they think we know all there is to know about it and don't need 'experts' to tell us the truth." with psychology...may of us seem to think, basically, something like, "We are observing our own and others psychology all the time, so we can just rely on our common sense to know all about it."

    This piece is an important corrective to that attitude.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You're welcome.

  6. Quote: "2) massive government investment in renewables..."

    This recommendation (demand?) is an illogical insult to one's intelligence in at least two ways: (1) The claim that renewables, by themselves, are the best available response to the threat of climate change; and (2) governments are wholly responsible for the cost of transition to low CO2 emitting technologies.

    We need to ensure that our future is energy-rich.  I'm convinced that this will require, as a minimum, two essential features:

    1.  That the desirable shift is to low- or zero-CO2 emitting technologies.

    2.  That renewables, ie wind and solar energy plus percentages of geothermal, wave and tidal sources, will not by themselves be an adequate response - nuclear power is an essential component of the mix, as also severely reductions in industrial processes that result in CO2e emissions, such as current primary methods of smelting iron and manufacturing cement.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please speify the source of the quote you have cited.

  7. SingletonEngineer... While it's likely nuclear will be a part of the future energy generation mix, there's plenty of research that demand can be 100% supplied by a variety of renewables.

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  8. No, RobH. There is not "plenty" of research to that effect. Jacobson's work is a huge outlier and widely rejected by most researchers in the field. 

    Granted, Leo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo endorse it. But other scientists, not so much. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Recommended reading:

    100% Clean, Renewable Energy Is Possible, Practical, Logical — Setting The Record Straight by Karl Burkart, Clean Technica, July 22, 2017

    The Attacks On Cleantech Leaders Have Begun — Expect More by Zachary Sahan, Clean Technica, July 23, 2017

  9. Wili @4, yes I understand your point. I knew someone would post a response something like yours.

    But how far do we go scaring people? Sometimes I want to say very scary things to wake people up and get their attention, but this can totally backfire.

    I'm with Michael Mann. Doomsday scenarious will just be depressing and won't convince hardened denialists or politicians. I like Steven King novels, but we probably dont want to present climate change in that way do we?

    Like I tried to say, and you seem to have ignored it, is we should have controlled scary stuff that frames the issue urgently, but in a measured, intelligent, adult way.

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  10. Singleton engineer, You say nuclear must be in the mix, but have not provided an actual reason?

    Provided countries have a reasonable mix of renewable options, they are unlikely to need nuclear. As evidence, my country is quite small and already has over 80% renewables and are told we can get to 100%. We have good renewable resources, so simply dont need to even consider nuclear power. Its more expensive than wind power for us, and has obvious safety issues. So please explain to me why nuclear would have to be in our mix?

    But I can see that a country with poor levels of sunlight and wind may consider nuclear. Its a geographical issue, and a costs and benefits issue.

    But I would say countries should explore other options first in preference where possible, because I dont particularly think we should encourage wide proliferation of traditional forms of nuclear given safety issues.

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  11. Rust... Being that I'm responding to someone claiming definitively that renewables "will not by themselves be an adequate response", I believe there is enough research to suggest that might not be the case.

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  12. Even criticisms of Jacobsen admit he is right in theory, and its more practical and cost criticisms. However from what I have read, the criticisms are none too robust anyway.

    Renewables can work without nuclear or gas fired, provided they had a lot of wind and solar, enough wind surplus to ensure theres enough electricity even in low wind conditions, or alternatively storage options of various types. This might however become more expensive than the nuclear option in some countries, so nuclear might be preferable in some cases.

    What happened to thorium reactors? They were supposed to solve all the usual nuclear problems.

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  13. Some thoughts on why inaction will produce massive disruption based on the simplest analysis of  historical record of climate change.   Its a tecky, non - climate scientists view. At ....

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] fixed link. Please learn how to do this yourself with the link tool in the comment editor.



    100% renewables powering the US by 2050 ? - I have provided likes to PNAS critique of Jacobson along with his response.  I have to go with Rust on this one.  

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  15. What happened to thorium reactors? They were supposed to solve all the usual nuclear problems.

    @nigelj I've been following thorium & Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) with interest, and my impression of the biggest problem is that it's hard to get investors - unlike renewables there are no subsidies for this, and it takes hundreds of millions of dollars to build and certify a prototype, legally acquire highly-enriched uranium to jump-start a thorium reaction, etc. A secondary problem in the U.S. specifically is that the NRC has to certify all reactors, and no one knows quite how the NRC will decide to regulate thorium/MSRs. Plus, anyone building a new kind of reactor has to pay for all the NRC's work. These factors create a "first-mover disadvantage" where no one wants to incur the expenses of being the first to build a Thorium reactor. Work is definitely moving along, but it's slower than it could have been, and the first reactors will probably be anywhere but the U.S.

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  16. So what is the bet the US programme will accelerate when China and India have MSR on stream? India should commission a Thorium fast breeder to feed a convention nuclear plant later this year. I suspect China will the race to full Thorium cycle.

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