Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Psychology Today contributors Sara Gorman, Ph.D., MPH, and Jack M. Gorman, MD, psychologists are united in their determination to help climate “deniers” face the need for urgent climate action to prevent imminent human extinction, though they are uncertain about how to deliver group therapy to millions of people in the same session.
Climate Change Denial
Facing a reality too big to believe.
Posted Jan 12, 2019
Sara Gorman, Ph.D., MPH, and Jack M. Gorman, MD
Denying to the Grave
But there are also many points that are clear and not subject to legitimate debate. We can affirm without doubt that anthropogenic climate change is a real phenomenon that is already apparent and will, if not mitigated, cause terrible suffering and destruction before this century is over. A recent report from the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us we can still hope to avert some of the catastrophic consequences of climate change, but only if we “abandon coal and other fossil fuels in the next decade or two.” Scientists may disagree about how fast the atmosphere is warming or what the best solutions are, but except for a small number of outliers, none doubt that we are rapidly approaching climate catastrophe.
That a few misguided politicians believe climate change predictions are exaggerated or even fabricated is lamentable. But perhaps more puzzling is the lack of alarm among the general public. As monumental hurricanes lash out in Houston and Puerto Rico and California forests burn out of control, it would seem that the evidence that climate scientists are right would be clear enough. Almost annually meteorologists tell us we have just experienced the warmest year in recorded history. Yet even people who experience extreme weather events often still refuse to report the experience as a manifestation of climate change. Polls tell us that many people are worried about climate change, but that does not seem to motivate much willingness to take action to mitigate it. Others deny that climate change is either occurring at all or that it represents any significant threat to civilization.
Too Large to Believe
Among the myriad reasons that we shun this problem is its enormity. We aren’t “merely” being told that unless we take action our identities will be stolen, we will lose thousands of dollars, or even that it will take a few years off our lives. What the climate scientists are telling us is that if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels the human race faces extinction. The fact is that many people born this year will not survive global warming if it continues at the current pace and exceeds 3.50C by 2050.
Climate change denial is in some ways a new mental process for psychologists to understand. Of course, the concept of denial itself is well understood. Psychologists consider denial—the refusal to accept facts in order to protect us from uncomfortable truths—to be a primitive defense mechanism.
But despite the fact that psychologists know a lot about denial, they have never had to face denial on this scale before. Millions of people share the phenomenon of climate denial. This is clearly not something that is amenable to individual or even group psychotherapy.
Organizations like Climate Psychiatry Alliance and Climate Psychology Alliance have been formed not only to point out the severe consequences of climate change for emotional and behavioral health but also to lend expertise in determining how best to overcome climate change denial. For these and similar organizations, climate change denial constitutes an emergency that demands immediate attention. We need urgent attention to developing and implementing the best practices for overcoming public despair and inaction and increasing the motivation to demand large-scale climate change mitigation action.
If Dr. Sara Gorman and Dr. Jack Gorman had even the most basic grasp of the science, they would know that the “current rate” of global warming, between 1-2C / century depending on how you measure it, is not even remotely on track to hit 3.5C by 2050. An enormous acceleration of the current rate of warming would be required to hit 3.5C by 2050.
The evidence for imminent climate catastrophe is far from unequivocal.
Even the IPCC leaves room for doubt about the significance of global warming. The IPCC’s lower bound climate sensitivity of 1.5C warming / doubling of atmospheric CO2 would make global warming a complete non-event, even if we burned every scrap of recoverable fossil fuel on the planet.
There is substantial peer reviewed evidence climate sensitivity is even lower than the 1.5C lower bound provided by the IPCC.
By making unsupported assertions about climate science and the future fate of the human race, and by attempting to dispel legitimate doubts about the urgency of the alleged climate crisis, in my opinion Dr. Sara Gorman and Dr. Jack Gorman are potentially doing unspeakable harm to the lives and wellbeing of people within their sphere of influence. Let us hope Sara and Jack realise the enormity of their error.