Climate Change Denial

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July 21, 2006


George Marshall @ 4:03 pm

One of the reasons that people don’t accept climate change is that it is set too far in the future and that people only respond to immediate threats. Even if it is too late, one hopes that direct experience of freak weather will jolt people and wake them up.

Well, that’s the theory, but I am not sure that humans work like that. People across Europe and the US and being directly confronted with the excessive summer temperatures predicted by the climate models. Yesterday was the hottest July day in Britain since records began in the mid 17th century. Temperatures on buses in the hottest parts of Britain hit 52C yesterday while the London Underground reached 47C, 20 degrees higher than the maximum temperature allowed for transporting cattle.

But people are not making the connections. Everyone I talk to is saying how ‘lovely’ it is. ‘What a lovely day’ they say or ‘bit hot today- won’t it be nice to have a good lie down in the shade with a cold drink’. The media- or at least the liberally inclined parts of it- are talking about climate change, but the overall message undermines any sense of public concern.

All of the images in the newspapers are arty shots of bikini clad swimmers, people in deckchairs or, bizarrely, lions eating giant ice lollies made of blood. The evening news took us to a “local pub” to meet the people “celebrating”- yes they did use that word- the heatwave. And they they were, all ruddy faced and pickled giving a good cheer for the year long  beach party to come. And then we went over to some boring and ambivalent scientist who told us that the “evidence suggested” that this “may” be due to climate change. Boring! Bring back the babes in bikinis!

People take their cues from the people and images around them. I think of all those fantastically happy people cheering Hitler’s arrival in Vienna during the Anschluss. How easy it is to be swept along by the crowd. How hard it is to stand apart.

We can choose how to respond, but at present we are actively conspiring to celebrate this catastrophe. 

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11 responses to “WHAT A LOVELY APOCALYPSE”

  1. Annie Levy says:

    There’s also a conspiring to silence about it all. It’s as if in personal conversations about the weather, to take a complaint (“it’s so damned hot) one step further to “Oh God, it’s climate chaos…” is taboo. Keep it light, keep it positive…. Even among those of us who know it’s happening. Who wants to be such a downer, a prophet of doom?

  2. Martyn says:

    Bravo! for the apt-worded – and so true as to be disturbing – statement; you took the words right out of my mouth. Unfortunately, this is an only too accurate portrayal of society’s indifferent – if not down right wilfully ignorant – attitude towards climate change. Those that speak of “It’s so lovely at present” and “Let’s get the barbecue rolling!” and such like are clearly forgetting that each year a new temperature record is being shattered – and Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph just keeps sky-rocketing upwards. Where do we honestly think this is taking us, if not to a world which is quickly becoming to hot to be inhabitable? We really are deluding ourselves, and it is no longer a joke.

    When the biblical prophets foretold that all things will end by intense heat and fire, it appears that they got it right (2 Peter 3 v. 10). The Apocalypse, unfortunately for us, it appears is right on schedule.

  3. Michelle Holloway says:

    Minutes after looking at this blog for the first time, I took myself to the living room and starting absently mindedly flipping through a newspaper on the table, and read this headline: “Reindeer thrive in warmer world”. This is from The Sunday Times (July 23). A sample? “In spite of dire warnings about climate change, the most northerly reaches of Scandanavia are basking in good news: reindeer are growing stronger and the salmon larger.” There follows a rosy account of happy Norwegians and Fins who can now harvest their hay twice in a summer instead of once. In fairness, the last two sentences of the article throw in a caveat: “Experts warn that while looking at the advantages of climate change is ‘refreshing’, the damage will far outweigh the benefits overall. ‘There will be gainers in this but the cost worldwide will be astronomical'”. Still, the idea of fattened reindeer and a growing wine industry in Scandanavia being described as “good news” and a comfort in the face of “astronomical” costs across the world is either worthy of tearing out one’s hair or hearty guffaws. Surely they’re not serious.

  4. Peter Winters says:

    Good luck with this website. A fascinating area and I think Julius Cæsar had an insight here ..

    “libenter homines id quod volunt credunt” (men willingly believe that which they wish for) Cæsar

  5. Derek Wall says:

    Essentially it comes down to the fact that economy cannot grow for ever without wrecking the biosphere….this simple but enormous insight must made clear.

    One solution = ecosocialism…

    We need to introduce some scepticism about growth, markets, conventional economics if we are to have a sustainable future moving from planet money back to planet earth.

  6. Chris Shaw says:

    I am just finishing a masters on the possibility of people voluntarily forgoing the benefits of capitalist society whilst continuing to suffer its privations.

    Anyway, following your comments George, I am also struck by the lack of what I would describe as a revolutionary response to this crisis, the absence of a ‘I know, what can we do, we need to organise’ response from people when I try and discuss the real and present truth of the climate catastrophe.

    I don’t have the answers, only that to me it seems a drastic reordering of society is needed in order to achieve the required 80% – 90% cuts but that can only begin once people are willing to sit down with their fellow humans and talk about how this can be achieved.

    Unfortunately people seem completely unable to think imaginatively, people have been forced into a corporate intellectualism which allows for people to only use their minds in support of the status quo. Any discussion of breaking free of that mind set is met with blank stares.

  7. Douglas Coker says:

    A Climate Denial site. Well done George – thank you.

    I only really “got it” on AGW/CC just over 2 years ago as a result of reading High Tide by Mark Lynas. Since then I’ve joined the Green Party, read a bunch of books and do some of this new fangled blogging business. Google me – it’s all out there.

    Before getting into various thoughts about denial I’d like to air some concerns about how I figure in this CO2 global warming business. While I certainly don’t think I’m in denial I do eat meat and drive a car and am (currently) a second hand car dealer. I feel increasingly uncomfortable with the car dealer thing and the business is up for sale. Ideas for other sources of income welcome! I’ve sold second hand cars since 1995 following redundancy from further education.

    I reckon there are loads of people out there who are engaged in some form of “essential” economic activity with which they are increasingly uncomfortable. We need a whole raft of routes out of these situations.

    I’ve been into things with wheels and then wheels and engines since I was very young. Riding a motorbike fast and driving a car fast round a race track are seriously exciting experiences (for some). I know many don’t get it but then I don’t get football. I did try recently but … what a yawn. And cricket … what’s all that about.

    My car mileage has halved recently and I did ride a bike 15 mile on the Isle of Wight recently so I can wean myself off the ICE and onto more public transport to some extent. But how do I visit half-a-dozen folk scattered around various relatively remote parts of England and Scotland in the space of a few days? Using public transport in greater London puts my blood pressure up never mind trying a tour like that on buses and trains. The overground from Liverpool Street to Enfield has not run on many occasions on recent weekends. I was turfed off the Victoria line the other day at Highbury due to “works”. Many elements of the infrastructure in this country especially in the South-East are very old and very, very tired. Too much consumer consumption and not enough public investment?

    My point is … with the best will in the world … giving up certain CO2 emitting activities is very difficult. Tuning the toilet (to use less water!), buying less “stuff” and stopping flying are actually (for me) very easy.

    We need help to crack this! More another day.

    Douglas Coker

  8. Naresh says:

    We have just started a Eco psychology ‘wing’ of the Transition Town Totnes project- stated aim: to create a localised, sustainable bioregion, and we are looking at how best to engage (something that your conference was useful for addressing) and change behaviour. But also to use this opportunity to work with deeply held addictive patterns within ourselves.
    Albert LaChance has written a v interesting book you may have seen called Greenspirit, the 12 steps in Ecological Spirituality. He sees the problem as one of addiction to consumerism, and uses the 12 step program (the AA model) in the same way are AA uses addiction to alcohol to stimulate personal changed behaviour.
    There is also an excellent book, called Ecopsychology- Restoring the Earth/Healing the Mind, that is a basic primer on a body of work that is now becoming a more widely known . So people are doing work on this v interesting topic, and it is possible to draw on it. Exciting! I have just finished Echhart Tolle’s new book, ‘A New Earth’ which i liked v much.
    Hope this helps.

  9. Biff Bixby says:

    All this global warming denial reminds me of the guy in his twenties who is losing his hair. At first, he thinks “this just CAN’T be happening to ME!”
    Then he thinks, “nothing a good combover won’t handle—h*ll, this is hardly noticable.” Finally he sees overwhelming evidence that there is a growing bald spot on his head when he sees a photo of himself taken with a flash camera.
    Yeah, denial—it works for awhile. Then this little annoying thing called REALITY intervenes. That’s what is happening to the fossil fuel addicts right now. They’re busy trying to “comb over” the problem. But like the clown with the obvious combover that everyone can see except them, they just end up making fools of themselves. Nice combover site, Mr. Marshall…

  10. Chris Shaw says:

    Douglas – I agree with you about the difficulty of voluntarily forgoing CO2 emitting activities. Given what is at stake the only solution is a very profound restructuring of our lives. I do not agree with the idea of wagging ones finger at the consumer and telling them to change their ways – the impacts of most of the proposed changes in lifestyle are minimal and extremely hard to achieve. I make no apologies in choosing revolution over reformation. There are no technological fixes to this problem.

  11. Douglas Coker says:

    Chris. Thanks for the supportive comment but you know … I disagree with you … in quite a significant way. First there are technological fixes in the sense that solar pv panels exist, wind turbines exist and so on. We can go local in terms of energy generation and food sourcing – technology can help with these ventures.

    Choosing revolution over reform means waiting and waiting and waiting until the agent of the revolution emerges, builds the movement and acts. We can’t wait for the promise of some distant revolution which may not be successful. I know I’ve been there … SWP … decades ago. Scotland … car factories … maybe before your time? Right thing to do at the back then but … !!

    We need to act now and it may be that in some years or decades time we look back and decide that cumulatively …. yes there was a revolution. Today we need to pursue a range of measures, pressuring business and governments with our spending patterns and votes and deploying other tactics. I include changing individual behaviour. Obviously one person making a minor adjustment to CO2 emitting behaviour won’t register on any scale. But we are not acting alone in this. There is a movement emerging. Every week there is evidence of yet another person or organisation engaging, starting up and campaigning or doing something to reduce CO2 emissions. My favourites list grows and grows – this internet thing is a wonderful tool.

    I think there a real contradiction evident when people say they are not going to take action at an individual level to reduce emissions but they are expecting government to do more. Don’t they understand that if the government does eventually do more part of that “more” will be, using either carrots or sticks, introducing incentives and measures to persuade us to do what we’ve just refused to do individually. I don’t get it … we know how urgent the situation is … act now individually AND pressure government etc to encourage others to act in concert.

    If there is a flaw in this argument would someone please point it out to me!

    Anyway debate is good.

    Onwards and upwards

    Douglas Coker

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