Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Scientific American thinks we are all so worried about climate change, our minds have snapped – that we’ve all turned to “climate denial” as a coping mechanism.
Are We Feeling Collective Grief Over Climate Change?
The idea is highly controversial, but at least one psychiatrist is convinced that we are, whether we know it or not.
In 1977, I was in middle school in Michigan, and a science teacher shared a tidbit off-curriculum. Some scientists had postulated that as a result of “pollution,” heat-trapping gasses might one day lead to a warming planet. Dubbed “the greenhouse effect,” the image was clear in my 12-year old mind: people enclosed in a glass structure, heating up like tomatoes coaxed to ripen. It was an interesting concept, but something in the very, very distant future.
Fast-forward ~ 30 years later. The year was 2006, my daughter was three, and my dreams of a White Christmas were going to hell in a hand basket. There wasn’t a snowflake to be seen in Brooklyn and it was DECEMBER—a far cry from childhood memories of jumping off the roof into fluffy mounds after a blizzard. Something was awry. An Inconvenient Truth had just been released, and those graphs and slides were suspiciously coinciding with what we were beginning to see in the form of extreme weather, à la Hurricane Katrina. Any number of idioms might well have marked the juncture: “canaries in the coal mine” comes to mind.
So why weren’t we coming together to nip this in the bud? Why were we failing to embrace what appeared to be so obvious?
The deterioration of our planet—the only home we have ever known and an assurance we used to take for granted—is bound to elicit a wide range of emotions in different individuals. Mourning is personal, but as a species, could it be that we are making our way through the stages of grief as outlined by the late Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross?
Psychiatrist and climate activist Lise Van Susteren, M.D. doesn’t necessarily think so. She points out that the Kübler-Ross framework was a response to people who hear devastating news and feel personally very involved, extremely vulnerable and know that the diagnosis is essentially inescapable.
“That’s not where most people are with climate,” Dr. Van Susteren states. “It takes a long time for some people to lay down the sense within that something is true.”
[James] Hansen believes people are moving in the direction of accepting that climate is changing and that humans are at least a factor if not the dominant factor.
But there is also the matter of our wiring.
“Denial is something that allows us sometimes to get through the day,” says Dr. Van Susteren. “And in some cases that’s really good, that’s adaptive, but in other cases it’s going to kill you . . . and this one’s going to kill you.”
If I’m feeling any grief, it is grief that an allegedly scientific magazine which I once respected could publish such mush. Few credible skeptics ever claimed humans have absolutely no influence on climate, but there is a huge gulf between predicting a mild, almost undetectable climatic nudge, and predicting an immininent planetary emergency.
If there is any “climate denial” occurring, it is a refusal by some parties to face the fact that climate models which predict global catastrophe have failed. There is no surge in sea levels, there is no accelerated rise in temperature, other than the gentle warming which started well before anthropogenic CO2 became a factor, and there is no increase in storm activity.
Claims that previously unanticipated “inertia” is preventing the manifestation of all these apocalyptic events, in my opinion is a frantic last ditch effort to defend broken theories from falsification.