The Climate Psychologist

The Moral Imperative of Hope and the Wasteland of Climate Cynicism (W/ Glory Clip)

Since making The Climate Psychologist public a few days ago, and publishing my article on Living in Climate Truth on Alternet, I have been extremely pleased with readers’ responses. People have engaged in several ways: commenting, emailing me, and sharing articles on Facebook and Twitter. One reader even offered to help design the App that I describe as part of a strategy proposal! So thank you to everyone for that. It has been a lovely way to kick off.

So far, there is only one type of disturbing response I have received: cynicism. Several people have told me that I am naïve for thinking that climate change can possibly be solved; that there is no hope, and thus no point in trying. The climate is too damaged, the State too fascist, the problem too intractable. I am wasting my breath; the only thing to do now is count down to the apocalypse.

Climate cynicism is all too common.  In casual discussions about climate change with friends and acquaintances, cynicism is frequently expressed. “We are fucked,” people say, which pretty much ends the conversation, short-circuiting any discussion of organizing, or fighting back.

Climate cynicism is an extremely dangerous attitude (in part because is can be both seductive and contagious); it is important to understand how to evaluate cynical claims, what drives cynicism, and how we can fight it in ourselves and others.

Evaluating Cynical Claims

Are the cynics correct? Are we “fucked?”

The only honest answer is: I don’t know. No one knows. There is no way to know, with certainty, what the future holds.

Scientists offer a range of predictions about the impact of climate change. Some of them are incredibly bleak. The most horrifying prediction I have ever read is James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia. Lovelock claims we have forced Gaia into a “hot state” in which the earth’s carrying capacity will be reduced to only a few hundred million people within decades.  That would mean the death of more than 5 billion humans. Its pretty horrific.

And it is possible that this damage is already locked in, and nothing that humans can do now can change it. This is a possibility that must be admitted.

But I fundamentally disagree that it is the only possibility, and that what humans do now will have no impact on our fate. Human induced climate change has never happened before; there is no test case. No one, not the IPCC, nor James Hansen nor a climate denier nor a climate cynic can know, with certainty, what the future holds. The future is unknown and unwritten.

This gives us a huge responsibility. In all likelihood (and according to most scientists), what we do now will have a fundamental impact on the fate of the climate, and on humanity. Though we cannot stop climate change in its tracks, if humanity acts with focus and urgency, we can prevent the worst damage, and thoughtfully respond to the changes in the climate we have already caused. The question is how to achieve the political will necessary to fight back. As David Roberts puts it, we are stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable. It seems impossible to muster the level of societal change that we need to protect our collapsing climate, but the alternative—the collapse of our climate and of human civilization— is unthinkably terrible, and must be avoided at all costs.

It is likely that a WWII level effort against climate change would save human civilization from chaos and ruin. This is a critical period. Our actions, and our attitudes, may be decisive in the scope of human history. That is a huge responsibility, and a terrific opportunity to do good in the world.

David Orr, discussing the climate crisis, said that “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”  Our situation is indeed grave, but the hopeful, moral response is to work, to fight, not to give up. Cynicism is a noun sitting on the couch. It is our moral responsibility to get off the couch, find hope, , and roll up our sleeves.

What Causes Climate Cynicism?

Cynicism is a defense mechanism. The cynic has been hurt, and is attempting to protect him or herself from further disappointment.  Do you know people who are cynical about romantic relationships? These people say, “All men are pigs” or “Women just cause trouble, who needs ‘em?” or something along those lines. People adopt this attitude make because they have been badly hurt, disappointed by love, and are afraid to risk having their hopes dashed once again. Instead of admitting their desire, and their vulnerability, (ie. “It would be great to meet someone new, but I’m frightened that it wouldn’t work out”) they pretend to have neither. Cynics are trying to pack their broken hearts with ice to numb their pain.

It is understandable that people would be cynical about climate change. The pain of reality is very great. It makes sense that people would pack their hearts with ice; numbing their fear and despair.

This also explains why climate cynics get angry at people, such as myself, who carry a message of hope. Hope threatens the defense. Some of the ice starts to melt, and raw emotions start to come through. “You are naïve!” They tell me, trying to maintain the safe, numb feeling “You are a fool.” People cynical of romance are similarly negative towards those in love; its painful to be reminded of what you have forsaken, so they attack the reminder.

The Moral Imperative of Hope

The terrific 1989 film Glory contains one of the greatest scenes I have ever watched, and an excellent lesson on hope and courage. Glory chronicles the 54th of Massachusetts, an all African American regimen that fought during the Civil War. The campfire scene takes place the night before the 54th was leading the charge on Fort Wagner, which was heavily defended. The men knew they would  likely die the next day. But tonight, they gathered around the campfire, singing, praying, sharing hope and mustering courage.

 

Our attitude and our actions are the only things that we can control.

When Denzel Washington’s character says, “Ain’t even much a matter what happens tomorrow, ’cause we men, ain’t we?” he is expressing a courageous moral stance. He is saying, “To fight with you all tomorrow, is the best that I can do. I am giving my all, risking my life, everything I have, for the cause I most believe in.  This is what gives me honor, what makes me a man.  The outcome, what happens tomorrow, is irrelevant, it is out of my hands.”

None of us caused climate change, none of us chose to be born into this world, or this era. But here we are. This is our challenge. We have a responsibility to fight back. Declaring defeat at this point is abdicating any and all responsibility. Climate cynicism violates the most basic of social contracts. It says, “Even though I recognize calamity is upon us, I will not fight back. I will not fight for myself, or my family, nor for you or your family. The odds are against us, and so, I will give up.”

A more moral, hopeful, honorable stance is one that says, that Morgan Freeman describes:

“(God, if we die tomorrow)… we want you to let our folks know that we died facing the enemy! We want ‘em to know that we went down standing up! Amongst those that are fighting against our oppression. We want ‘em to know, Heavenly Father, that we died for freedom!”

As we face the terrifying, unknown future, we have a moral imperative to maintain hope; to keep our sleeves rolled up and keep fighting. We might lose, that is true, and it would be a terrible thing. But if we should fail, let us die facing the enemy; let us go down standing up.

Some people call this naïve. I call it hope. And it takes plenty of courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43 thoughts on “The Moral Imperative of Hope and the Wasteland of Climate Cynicism (W/ Glory Clip)

  1. Robert Cable (Bob Cable)

    Excellent discernment and an excellent essay.! I will share it with friend Dr. John Spritzler, who is an activist and blogger ( http://www.NewDemocracyWorld.org )against similar cynicism regarding our corrupt political system. Unfortunately, we disagree about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Rather than a factually-demonstrated reality, he thinks that the idea of AGW is a scare tactic by governments to attain greater social control, a prinicipal which–I agree–they generally follow.

    I look forward to your further hopeful, helpful writing.

  2. richard pauli

    Who is the enemy that we face?

    Is it the scientific reality of climate calamities? Is sea level rise and drought the enemy?

    I can agree with promoting the heroic act and to die fighting. But that only works when the team is unified and we all know the goals.

    What happens when half the team doesn’t want to fight? What should we ask of our heroes when some in our species act to make things worse?

    When there is organized opposition to positive action, when there is deliberate misinformation, then again, who is the enemy? Do we support our heroes properly?

    You almost label the cynic as the enemy, but what about the carbon capitalist, the denier, or the coal baron? Or even the calmly passive ones?

    And as for the cheer-leading, I prefer Shakespeare’s Henry V.

  3. rickertel

    Ms. Klein, I concur heartily with what I read as your overarching point, and am thrilled that you have brought your unique personal and professional perspective to bear on this topic in such a public way. Cynicism does threaten to derail the climate movement. I used to think hope was the antidote, or the vaccine, but I’ve come around – kicking and screaming – to believing that hope springs from action, not the other way ’round. Forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted that part your argument, which, as I said, I agree with generally. And pardon me if the point seems academic. I do appreciate your stress on the need to engage and act. That, I think is the real moral imperative. I’ve laid out my thoughts on the question of hope here: http://www.climatechronicle.com/2013/03/a-lenten-reflection-the-hope-cycle/ and would value your views on them. Meanwhile, I will add your blog to my blogroll. Thanks, again, for addressing this important topic, and for your contribution to this extremely important conversation.

  4. Jeff Cope

    “I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. “ Adrienne Rich

    Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics, or picking out just one facet of a light-sucking black diamond, but even more than cynicism, I’d say what the people we’re talking about here are feeling most is despair. Cynicism doesn’t seem to sink to the depths necessary in the circumstances—global apocalypse and all. I think only a full-blown hope-despair complex suffices for protection. That makes it personal first, before it’s political. Despair over a future that can’t be known must come from personal history and psychological reaction rather than conscious, “rational” or knowledgeable response.

    Though it doesn’t seem it at first, it’s the easy way out. Rebecca Solnit talks1 about the comfort of giving up, for the well-off, who can afford to simply let things deteriorate elsewhere (or so they think) while they console themselves with the extravagance that goes with their privilege and position. By global standards, well off includes everyone posting here; we’re probably all among the richest 10% of people on Earth at least. Poor people, statistically speaking, don’t have the luxury of despairing; they have to struggle on just to keep what little they have for their families. That can become unbearable, even impossible while despairing. The suicide rate and rates of alcoholism, drug addiction and imprisonment are only a tiny bit of the evidence of the difficulty of managing the emotional gymnastics involved. It can become as unbearable to live with hope, if hope is wishing or expectation. Wishing can be thought of as the Disney Rule: Wishing can make it happen. But it can’t, and crushed expectations are the generator of despair. The great psychological and political danger of hope as wishing for and expectation of a better (near) future must be contained by whatever means necessary—television, celebrity melodrama, electronics, religion, eating, alcohol and drugs and a profit-making prison-insecurity2 industry… Without containment and distraction, people might work for change, and that would be intolerable for a society whose illusion of progress is utterly dependent on not making any.

    Despair isn’t the opposite of hope; it’s the obverse; the other side of the coin. For people seemingly mired in one or the other, the coin flips back and forth constantly, according to imagined milestones we pass, or don’t pass: We’ll be alright if we can just…[fill in the blank]: get a Democrat in the White House…capture the House…get a carbon tax…) Or… we’re screwed if we… end up with a Republican, lose the battle to take money out of politics. Hope, despair, hope. That flickering strobe is the coin flipping freely in air. Whether it’s the opposite of both, or some third, middle way, our other choice might be variously thought of as acceptance, tolerance of uncertainty; or the Buddhist art of holding oneself in beginner’s mind. But that holding takes a practice; it’s not an easy choice or an easy life. We are able to maintain such a practice and attitude, but are we willing? In a long list of sacrifices survival will demand of us, this is the first, and maybe the hardest, because if we can really attain it, everything else could be a roll downhill.

    We also not only have the ability to virtually eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions, we can actually recall those we’ve already emitted. By planting trees and growing crops organically, we can increase the organic material in soils, especially with perennials, grasslands and forests, especially edible forest gardens. We can thus resequester all of the greenhouse gases emitted during the industrial era and even during the long slow clear-cut of the last 10 millennia. A recent study shows trees continue to withdraw carbon from the atmosphere at an increasing rate as they get older, so using the process of succession to graduate from fast-growing short-lived pioneer trees to larger, enduring trees, spread far enough apart to grow several other levels of perennials and annuals between and underneath, we can feed ourselves better and more equally than before while reconstituting the world.

    That ability to come back from the brink is what I think of when Dave Roberts says in the same piece as your “impossible and unthinkable” quote, “Remember, there is no “too late” here, no “game over” — it will be a tragedy to shoot past 2 degrees [C] to 3, but 4 is worse than 3, and 5 is worse than 4. Being unprepared for any of those will be much worse than being prepared.”

    Knowing that 6 degrees is worse than 5, 8 is worse than 7 and 1100 ppm is worse than 450, I dole this information out miserly-ly. It’s so hard to convince most people we have to do something now, anything meaningful at all—that the only ones I tell we might be able to come back from the cliff-edge are those flipped to the far end from Disneyland and deep in the exercise of the luxury of rich despair. And it’s why I think the way to tell people the worst non-personal news they’ve ever heard is in community, with a healthy dose of the practice to develop beginner’s mind, as well as strategies and acceptance of emotion so they work through it on a accelerated timescale and come through it as effective citizens and activists.

    1. see also Solnit’s several posts on hope at TomDispatch.com
    2. local, state and national police forces in the US and elsewhere are increasingly militarized, in weapons, tactics and attitude toward civilians and conflict, while the military is increasingly seen as a Rubicon-crossing guard. With seizure laws, police increasingly have a profit motive as well, and everything is facilitated and coordinated by what I can only call the Heimat Seguridad Dept. (because the name it’s been given by its masters makes me gag and cringe)

    1. Jeff Cope

      Some hyperlinks in the last comment were removed on submission:

      Footnote 1. Rebecca Sonit on hope: http://behindthelinespoetry.blogspot.com/2008/07/despair-is-luxury-rebecca-solnit.html

      Study about old trees and carbon: http://grist.org/news/older-trees-best-at-fighting-climate-change/
      http://theclimatepsychologist.com/?p=258

      1100 ppm: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/04/26/202588/is-450-ppm-or-less-politically-possible-part-0-the-alternative-is-humanitys-self-destruction/

  5. Eric Brooks

    Some constructive criticism..

    I am convinced that we can succeed in turning civilization and the planetary ecosystem away from a complete catastrophe, save enough of what we now have to have a livable and beautiful future.

    But I don’t believe that an appeal to a heartstrings film clip that conjures up the old song of religious faith and the patriarchal refrain of “what matters is that we are men who will stand up and fight for what’s right, and die with that fire in our hearts” is what will either convince the cynics, or protect us from their negativity.

    So I recommend losing the video, and instead, take these cynical fools head on with some realities that challenge their juvenile assumptions. Lovelock’s apocalyptic thesis is so full of obvious scientific and logical holes that it couldn’t stand past 2 minutes in a debate. McPherson’s nonsense is based on totally faulty assumptions that are easily turned aside in a debate as well; with the key rebuttal being that (as you say above) there is no possible way that any scientist or prognosticator can possibly know what is achievable, or what is about to actually happen, or how bad it will be; so our responsibility, and wise action, is simply to get off of our asses and -do- something. Now.

    But most importantly, we have an ironclad argument in our recent history that is perfect for rebuffing the cynics, as follows:

    When both the movement to abolish slavery, and the civil rights movement, either one or both, was at its turning point, it is -absolutely- clear that winning must have seemed at that time to be -far- more impossible than the odds we now face against the climate crisis.

    And yet those civil rights activists and the people in the streets who believed in that cause, got up, and fought anyway.

    And they won.

    End of debate.

    And any cynic that is still preaching doom at that point, is welcome to shut the hell up, go home, and make a cup of tea.

  6. Charles Kinsley

    I thought you said no one can know the future completely – “The future is unknown and unwritten.” and then in the next paragraph – “if humanity acts with focus and urgency, we can prevent the worst damage,” Sounds like you know what can happen in the future! I stopped reading at this point. Really, just another essay based upon belief. Show me any historical example where all humanity “fixed” the environment. WWII is not a good example. Humans can affect the course of humans fighting humans pretty easily. I think our only hope is an admission of our limits wrt the environment. Then we might NOT do things that we cannot control.

    1. j4zonian

      Acid rain. Not only an example where we “fixed the environment” i.e. “repaired some or most of the damage we had done” but an example of a largely successful cap and trade model, combined with changes in government policy and permissible destruction that could be used to heal global climate catastrophe (though a cap and dividend and/or carbon tax combined with such government policies would be better.) You’re absolutely right; we can never completely repair ecological damage we do, which tells us we need to do less damage in the first place. But we can and have repaired damage. I won’t just give you one.

      Lead pollution–no more Mad Hatters or angry, aggressive, neurologically stunted children.
      Smog and particulate pollution from both industry and vehicles
      Whale spp. extinction
      DDT
      “Fixing” the dust bowl through government action–CCC and other programs repaired the damage overgrazing and overplowing did in the western US.
      Thousands of other examples, especially since the 1970s.

      The fact that we don’t know every detail about what will happen in the future, and especially about the human response to climate catastrophe, doesn’t negate the fact that we do know with very good certainty what will happen as the Earth continues to warm from human-emitted greenhouse gases and land-use changes. We don’t know exactly when, but the fact that the changes continue to outpace our estimations of when they happen means we need to act as rapidly and as massively as possible.

  7. richard pauli

    And go back to the smog choked cities of London and LA – cleaned up since the 1950s. Those were local

    Globally, there was decent success in banning chlorofluorocarbons to fix the stratospheric ozone hole and the changes to kinder refrigerants – .significant, Although the success could be better.

    One might say that the atmospheric A-bomb test ban treaty certainly stopped the horrific consequences of popping off nukes in the atmosphere — although mostly the effects were EMP pulses.

    There might be some others.

  8. markcprosser

    If we are doomed it would be better to be doomed in 2060 than in 2050. This may not inspire motivation in other people, but it kind of works for me. As it is a more realistic goal than stopping climate change, it might be an alternative to the ‘we’re fucked’ attitude. Also it might just give us the crucial time we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

  9. peak moment tv

    Take a look at the work of Guy McPherson, prof. emeritus of U of Arizona. Nature Bats Last is his blog. He considers the high likelihood of the extinction of human species by 2030 or 2040 or so. His evergreen list of indicators/potential tipping points – all research data reports — points to accelerating positive feedback loops.

  10. Eric Brooks

    I’ve both looked at McPherson’s ‘work’ and trounced him in debates about it.

    His theories have essentially no basis in reality and are self reinforcing apocalyptic delusions created by very selectively cherry picking scientific research out of context in order to support a thesis that is nothing more than a Revelation style religious second-coming narrative.

    McPherson started with the peak oil crowd, (which has concocted very similar loosely cobbled together apocalyptic claims that never came true). So he saw the peak oil predictions failing, and simply shifted his Armageddon arguments to the climate crisis (where they make a little more sense, but are still deeply flawed and illogical).

    The last time I debated McPherson about his nonsense (about a year ago), he claimed with a straight face that the Southwestern U.S. would be abandoned within three years.

    So when you read McPherson, that is the level of thought process that you are getting.

  11. richard pauli

    Gosh Eric, Just today the Union of Concerned Scientists reframed sea level rise as something where a mortgage holder today would see as a foot of sea level rise before their house was paid off. There has only been an inch in my life time, yet Miami and Virginia and Louisiana are having horrible problems

    Sea level rise seems fairly certain to me. Not alarmist, just factual. Sorry that you care to ignore upsetting predictions. Sea level rise is the most solid and well proven of the prediction models.

    Perhaps you just object to the extreme predictions of McPherson. They are harsh and uncertain. But many banks, insurance industries, water companies and agricultural scientists regard the cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas as short term places to live. Most of the agricultural water in the South West comes from underground aquifers 75% ..not from above ground run off. Perhaps you know something they do not ? Please share.

    http://blog.ucsusa.org/charles-mann-and-the-atlantic-miss-the-mark-in-a-confused-climate-piece-630

  12. Eric Brooks

    Richard, I totally agree. The climate crisis is the worst calamity that has ever been faced by the human species, could cause our extinction, is incredibly dire (right now, not a century from now), and is tragically creating the largest great extinction event since the Permian collapse.

    I’m only debating -against- the totally disempowering, negativist defeatism in the wildly inaccurate apocalyptic fairy tales of pseudo-scientists like Lovelock and McPherson.

  13. Eric Brooks

    No Guy. I have had enough of wasting my time debating with you, and putting forward -lots- of facts, only to have you falsely claim in return that I haven’t done so. Anyone who actually digs into your work with proper skepticism will quickly realize that it is cherry picked to fit a biased predetermined conception and is simply not credible.

    I’ll just let stand here, the absurdity of your belief that the U.S. Southwest will be completely uninhabitable well before the end of the decade, as pretty clear proof that your thesis has no basis whatsoever in sound science.

  14. Eric Brooks

    I believe that Lovelock is an even more experienced tenured professor who has spent many more decades studying the planetary ecosystem, and yet his thesis is even more flawed than yours.

    There are lots of tenured professors putting out lots of extremely poor work. Some of them (like Lovelock) even support the insanity of nuclear energy as a safe environmental alternative.

    So your degree and your study do not by any means automatically give you any credibility whatsoever. You need to put forward an argument that actually has credibility in and of itself (and you haven’t).

    I have also, as a professional environmentalist, carefully studied the climate crisis for 30 years myself, and I indeed see it as quite terrible. But I have (unlike yourself) studied with sufficient objectivity to know that your near-term apocalyptic predictions simply do not meet fundamental scientific, or even basic logical scrutiny.

  15. Guy McPherson

    Wrong answer, you lying troll. I wrote 3-5 years. And there’s no way industrial civilization last 5 years. When it falls, because of global dimming, the southwestern U.S. warms far too much to support habitat for humans. You’re wrong. You’re a troll. And you continue to deny abundant evidence. Meanwhile, you’re trying to sustain the unsustainable, knowing it’s killing habitat for non-human species. We’re done. You’re afflicted with the arrogance of humanism.

  16. Eric Brooks

    Respectfully Dr. McPherson, you’ve just made my case for me by making the totally unsupportable, and frankly totally nonsensical claim, that civilization won’t last 5 more years.

    I believe in one of our debates a year ago, I offered to buy you a beer if the Southwest becomes uninhabitable within 5 years. I’ll go ahead and put that offer back on the table even though it is a full year later.

    I am certain that this exchange around your 2020 date for the total collapse of human civilization and evacuation of the Southwestern U.S. has revealed to nearly everyone, that your claims are indeed totally unsupportable by basic logic or science.

  17. richard pauli

    This civil discussion could use a little overview from Michael Tobis… His drawing originated 5 years ago and might apply now.
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_QNv9CPAjNvE/S06gZ_U0ZDI/AAAAAAAAA0U/Lye6M_XEUPs/s1600/ClimateChangeReporting.jpg

    And does much to explain perceived differences in scientific opinion. Even updated today, the structure of this explains both your positions. Dr. McPherson’s lectures fit within the chart. While I read that not all climate scientists may think the situation is so dire, however few scientist will deny that it is possible. Methane bursts are possible and runaway tipping points likely. We just don’t know when. Abrupt climate change is harder to predict, but not impossible (Interesting that except for the case of volcanoes, I see no way for abrupt global cooling to take over – and I have heard no scenarios for that)

    Nobody WANTS catastrophe, but few are willing to say that it is somehow impossible. But what seems impossible is that somehow humans are immune to the predictable warming. Politics and ideology have nothing to do with it.

    http://init.planet3.org/2010/01/ok-getting-serious-again.html
    Mostly the graph illustrates the failure of mass media to convey the situation.
    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2009/03/how-debate-works.html

  18. Eric Brooks

    Nope. I am definitely not that Eric Brooks. In fact, I despise everything the Heartland institute stands for.

    I am a grassroots environmental and social justice organizer living in San Francisco. I make less than $25k per year, and live purposely by a code of voluntary simplicity.

    I am a radical progressive who knows full well that the climate crisis is very real and extremely dangerous in the near term and is threatening to cause a total civilizational collapse by the end of the century unless we do something to reverse it.

    Anyone who wants to see what my politics and environmental ethics are about can look at the page for the grassroots organization that I coordinate at https://www.facebook.com/OurCitySF

    1. witsendnj

      Eric, with all due respect since I am no more pure myself, I feel compelled to mention that no volunteer level of living purposely in “simplicity” amounts to anything other than egotistical posturing when that “simplicity” includes using a computer, fueled by electricity, derived from mining, manufacturing, transporting, and powering the very grid it depends upon for burning fuel (and NOTE I don’t even say *fossil* fuels since ANY burning of ANY fuel propels nature out of balance when 7 billion people are emitting fumes.)

      I guess what I mean to say is, that, you doth protest too much.

  19. Margaret Klein Post author

    Lets keep comments respectful, everyone, and avoid name calling.

    The point of the entire article– and where I completely part ways with Dr McPherson– is that I believe we have a basic moral duty to fight for civilization, and to save as many human lives, and as much of the natural world as possible. On the feedback loop arguments– I am not a climate scientist, but I tend to believe them when they say, McPherson is exaggerating the data: http://planet3.org/2014/03/13/mcphersons-evidence-that-doom-doom-doom/

    Dr McPherson certainly has a lot to gain (emotionally) by the role of angel of doom/ prophet of despair. He becomes intensely important to people who are looking for how to cope with the climate crisis. They elevate him to a quasi-religious status. They admire him and fight for him.

    But having a band of passionate followers doesn’t mean you are right, it means you are offering something very appealing. As I say in the article– it is EASIER to say, “OK thats it, game over” and absolve oneself of responsibility to fight another day. It takes courage to say, “Holy shit, climate change is the scariest thing I have every faced. No one knows how this is going to turn out. But I will give my all to creating a better outcome.”

    People should be aware when evaluating Dr McPherson’s arguments that he believes that the end of civilization is a good thing. He, like author Derrick Jensen, see civilization as a terrible evil, that inherently destroys nature and should be ended as quickly as possible. I think that it is this political belief that motivates him to make such dire, solution shutting down arguments.

    HOWEVER– it is critical that we not use the defense of PROJECTION to evacuate our own feelings of terror and despair onto McPherson. Anyone who knows about climate change has experienced plenty of frustration and despair. I wrote an article about this particular topic: “Terror, hatred, despair, and hope must co-exist” http://theclimatepsychologist.com/?p=441

    1. Guy McPherson

      You fight for civilization, which is killing us and the living planet. I fight to terminate the omnicide. I’m pro-life. You’re in favor of driving 200 species each day to extinctinon, and more. Why am I not surprised?

  20. Eric Brooks

    With respect, Guy McPherson’s predictions simply do not fit with this or any other science, because he is claiming that the collapse absolutely -will- happen and now in five years.

    Not only does such a five year scenario not even fit with the know laws of physics, but as you say, no one can predict with certainty what absolutely will happen in the next five years, or the next 500 years, and any scientist who does so, has in fact abandoned scientific method for pseudo-religious proselytizing.

  21. richard pauli

    The basics of climate science is not well represented in this discussion.

    Sea Level Rise of 3 to 6 feet by 2100 is widely accepted by scientists – but not widely discussed by lay readers is that this sea level rise will continue rising past the date of 2100. Rise of about 27 feet are pretty much impossible to prevent. We can mitigate it. But don’t think for a moment that it will not happen.

    Scientist describe models of average temperature rise with a deadline of 2100. That is an arbitrary mark on a calendar From what I read, two degrees is the inescapable minimum, Many scientists think 4, 5 and 6 degrees C average is more likely. And again this does not stop at 2100. It will continue to warm.

    Now Margaret, I have to part ways with your thinking. I don’t think it is easy to ponder these projected models. I think it is far easier to live today as we lived the past. Radical change necessary to mitigate warming will be most difficult. So difficult, that some people think we should accept whatever we face.

    All we have is a window of mitigation. Any changes, including adaptation will be tremendously disruptive. And tremendously disruptive changes are preferred for our long term survival. And it is not easy to view. While I cannot agree with Guy about the timetable for change – the severity, inevitability are physically possible and widely accepted. He performs a valuable service in asking us to ruthlessly face the facts of global warming.

    This is not a binary issue. It is an easy trap to take sides of one stance against another, We are just facing laws of physics, and how we adapt to those changes is made more difficult now that it was 20 or 30 years ago – and carbon fuel forces decided to remove the political response. We pay the price today – now our range of influence is far less than it was back then. It means that our changes need to be more extreme. – and that extreme thinking should not be surprising to you. It is a reflection of human reaction to our situation . Dire and more dire. And more to come. It is not easy to face.

    1. j4zonian

      richard,

      You should read this blog; you seem to be mistaking disagreement with apocalyptic prophesy for outright denial of science. It’s possible to believe the science and not believe we’re doomed–yet. In fact, that’s the only conclusion possible if one is feeling and thinking clearly. McPherson doesn’t talk about the possibility of complete cataclysm; he says it’s unavoidable, and in less than a decade. That disagrees with the best scientific knowledge we have. It’s very easy to allow this to become polarized; accurate ecological, psychological and personal assessment call for a more nuanced view.

      The situation is dire; we have to change our ways drastically in the next decade or so to avoid catastrophe, but because of the lag time between emission of ghgs and their full effects, that utter catastrophe won’t happen for decades at least–as far as we can tell. Certainly we’re already seeing some effects–droughts, heat waves, SLR, storms, fires, floods, crop failures, spread of disease vectors, pests and pathogens, social, political and technological disruptions… and these will continue to worsen no matter what we do now. But to claim as McPherson does that 1. we’re doomed, 2. there’s nothing we can do about it and 3. it’s definitely going to happen in the next 5 years, is not only wrong, it’s criminal. It’s every bit as disempowering as the Koch-Exxon-ALEC et al denying delayalist campaigns. While denying delayalism should be prosecuted as a crime against humanity and the biosphere, we probably don’t need to go so far or condemn so strongly those who let their personal despair overwhelm their good sense. We should however, stop paying attention to it except as an indication of a person’s extreme distress. To do that we need to be able to clearly differentiate between science and fantasy, on both extremes. I love the chart you linked to; I’ve used it often. But McPherson isn’t on it, and just because most people don’t know how serious it is doesn’t mean we should listen to every apocalyptic nut case who puts up a blog or You tube video. if you want realistically dire but still scientific and rational, see what Kevin Anderson says.

      Those competent to treat emotional distress should be aware that the source of much of it now is not merely interpersonal or intrapersonal but political, social and ecological. Those not trained in such things can get trained, with traditional degree routes or with training programs like emotional first aid, conflict resolution, Hakomi therapy, and other “lay psychotherapy” programs. In addition, Transition Towns, the Pachamama Alliance’s Symposium and Game Changer education programs (a free online beta-testing of the Game Changer is starting soon) and many other groups are available to help people get information and direction. Psychologist Judith Lipton said “The therapy for despair is action.” We should all take whatever personal prophylactic actions are needed, changing our lives with joy and love to inspire others, and also realizing that massive political and economic change is needed as well. Arguing over whose despair is more accurate is not going to help.

    1. j4zonian

      I think you’re replying to me, Guy, and if I got that wrong please correct me. Have you not said that? This is a quote from you, above: “Wrong answer, you lying troll. I wrote 3-5 years. And there’s no way industrial civilization last 5 years.” I don’t know what they’re teaching now but when I went to elementary school 3-5 was less than 10 Admittedly that was a long time ago and my memory was never great and now is less than never great. But please tell me if I’ve misunderstood.

      1. Guy McPherson

        I’ve never predicted extinction within 10 years. End of the omincide — aka, industrial civilization — within 5 years, yes. And almost everybody I know — certainly you and Brooks and the woman running this show — want to sustain the unsustainable and ramp up the killing.

        1. j4zonian

          In the bicycling world there’s a saying: “true, but out of round”. Wheels with spokes bent, broken or tensioned wrong can wobble from side to side (be ‘untrue’) or can be less-than-perfect circles (out of round). Sorry, Guy but you’re either untrue or out of round or both on every count, there–and about as ungracious as one can get legally outside of a hockey game, while being them. You seem to leap to conclusions, assume things not in evidence, and take the worst possible view of everything (most contentious, most negative, most aggressive…). It seems to be the case here, and come to think of it, I bet that’s where your theories come from, as well–which is exactly the problem we’re talking about. People often behave differently on the net, but if it’s also true in your personal life, that’s probably been a problem for a while, and maybe it would be good to see someone about that. I mean that with the most compassion possible on the internet.

          Again, if you’re talking to me, I didn’t say anything about extinction, either. I quoted you, above. You can check and I think you’ll find you wrote it exactly as I quoted. I’m pretty sure I got it right because I just copied and pasted; it makes accurate quoting almost certain and really easy.

          None of us here, I think it’s safe to say, wants to continue civilization as is. But speaking just for myself, I want civilization as it is to end as rapidly as possible but in a way that will not take all other life on Earth with it. As social and political chaos increases it seems to me there’s a damn good chance that the combination of toxicity, climate catastrophe and war, especially nuclear war, could destabilize the cybernetic system of all life on Earth we’ve recently come to call Gaia, and wipe out all life on Earth.

          Sheer math as demonstrated by Karl Sagan says it’s unlikely, but still possible that life on Earth is the only life in the universe, and killing it all would be a shame, don’t you think? I would love it if civilization lasted just long enough to finish putting its toys away–moderating the toxicity of everything, including all nuclear facilities, that is or should be in the global equivalent of superfund. I hope this happens before SLR washes all the leaking rusting drums and biohazard labs out to sea, but, that seems a long shot at this point…

          Meanwhile, it would be nice if those who are aware of the problem could find a way to convince (sarcasm alert) those who refuse to be aware to change energy sources, transform industrial agriculture to local organic low-meat permaculture, reforest the Earth, replace industry with benign, biomimicing closed-loop craft industry, and, you know, do some other things. That would make us less poisonous to other beings. Will that happen? Hell, no, if people split (both internally and by group identity) between the Disney rule (Wishing will make it happen) and bone-crushing despair, while the few who are left in complete denial still control all the oil, coal and gas in the ground. Changing all of that that we can change will take massive (and/or laser-focused), brilliant, courageous and relentless activism, and that’s virtually physiologically impossible to get out of people who are convinced everything is hopeless and it’s just a matter of 5 years before it all collapses. Rebecca Solnit (A Paradise Built in Hell) suggests that while most folks will behave relatively well no matter what, the rich will cause endless trouble by preemptively and reactively hoarding, killing, imprisoning and scapegoating (the “Population Is the Problem” meme is a perfect example of that last) and basing their actions on that scapegoating, aka projection. To even begin to avoid that, or rather, to stop doing it, people have to be extraordinarily motivated because many people (no one here, I’m sure) seem to find it painful and distressing to face their own emotions and unconsciousness. They’ll be more motivated to accomplish all the things you claim you want if people stop 1. denying the problem and 2. spreading despair when the evidence doesn’t support it.

  22. richard pauli

    j4zonian – At risk of writing dangerously close to Godwin’s Law – I must observe that you seem to demand optimism in a very strong way. Unfairly so.

    I must pay tribute to a dear friend who gets her global warming information from the newspaper – and does not know any Guy McPherson – But she has never-the-less decided to disengage from society, from consumerism, from affluence and she does all she can to not consume carbon energy.. She calls herself a positive nihilist. And she would have no interest in joining our discussion. She is not anxious as she tells me she sees no solution that could allow humans to survive much past our current generation Z. She appears quite happy today. And will be tomorrow too, and presumably until she has to fold her hands for the last time,

    How do we criticize her? She sees the same end that a despondent, despairing alarmist might see, but she has no emotional baggage. What’s wrong with her?

    She works hard to minimize her impact on earth. And would not do anything to unduly hasten the impact on our atmosphere. But strangely, she would refuse to engage with us in arguing about whether she must have hope about the future of humans.

    I share my personal conclusions – based on climate coursework university graduate level – that what we are struggling for today is only to extend the window of survival. I don’t dare make a prediction, but it is easy to conclude we face increasing severity to come, as well as exponential increases in rates of change. . Humans as a species has been driving the car at full speed with our eyes closed — as if on a dare. Open them up or not, but the wall still approaches.. it’s just physics. All we can do now is open our eyes, see the wall, swerve and hit the brakes, but that is not going to prevent the impact. We can only lessen the severity. And who are we to criticize someone who folds their hands and waits?

    Who is pumping the gas here? Who is selling the coal? What do you define as a criminal? What is treason to our species? And is it a crime to allow a system that harms everyone?

    If someone says we have a year left – and they use that to consume and devour all they can, even if they burn all the carbon fuel they can find, then where do you define the crime? Are you saying the crime is in the declaration of how much time we have? Shouldn’t the crime be producing carbon emissions? What are you planning on for punishments for expressing anxiety — is it a crime to express anticipatory grief?

    The danger of hope and optimism is that it nurtures magical thinking that limits choices.
    Instead we might favor a positive awareness and mindful response.

    1. j4zonian

      I attempted to paste in something that made my first reply disappear. Pardon me if this is a duplicate and feel free to remove the first.

      richard,

      It may seem I’m demanding optimism but as you’ll see if you reread my first post here, many months ago, I don’t demand any optimism at all, even from myself. I’m not optimistic. To be clear, I’m not pessimistic either. I don’t know what’s going to happen and have a sufficient familiarity with complete surprises that I’m aware almost anything can happen.

      I wouldn’t criticize or diagnose your friend on the net, especially second-hand, and there may very well be nothing at all wrong with her in this context except that she’s probably wrong about our chances. But many people who seem or say they’re apathetic or happy or “fine” are actually terribly anxious and have such strong feelings both ways without the resources to deal with them they shut themselves off from those feelings and stop being aware of them. They do however, continue to leak random bits of them to sour or even poison everything they do. Most of us are very studious at not noticing, having been well-trained by our parents, teachers, siblings, churches, jobs and well, almost everybody. Most intellectual arguments are not the reasons we do things but the justifications and rationalizations we make up after our emotions and unconscious fears and desires have already decided for us. And yes, people can seem quite happy—or smug or self-satisfied or complacent or defensively cheerful or any number of other things—and still be anxious. None of that may apply to your friend; she may be in a place of acceptance… well, no.

      …because she knows hardly anything about the ongoing most dire crisis in human history that threatens to tear apart the society she pretends to be AOK with. She doesn’t see the same end, because she knows nothing about the problem because she gets her news from the newspapers, and the newspapers are organs of pathetically transparent delusion. She obviously has anxiety about it; it’s impossible not to without being in a Buddhist-like place of beginner’s mind or acceptance, and she’s not there. We know that because she knows nothing about it (except that there are 2 radically polarized sides, possibly), is doing nothing to find out about it, and would refuse to discuss it, undoubtedly because it would risk triggering those feelings. She despairs of politics being able to affect anything, despite the fact that there’s no physical, technological or other reason except psychological that we aren’t doing it. But that’s just a guess. Despite the hundreds of millions of people who are like that, I can’t say for sure your friend is. If someone says we have a year left they should be damn sure they’re right because if they’re wrong, they’re not just committing suicide but collaborating to take billions of other people and simply uncountable other beings with them by choosing not to change.

      We are all part of the system. I gave up driving and flying years ago; I travel by foot, bicycle and train. I raise about half my own food with organic permaculture and am always trying to increase it and produce fiber, materials and eventually medicines besides, while sequestering as much carbon as I can and reducing the other ecological impacts of all that and offering education about the systems I use to anyone who will accept it. But I use some coal, gas and nuclear electricity; the rest of my food arrives by truck in the stores where I buy it… and on and on. I’m part of the system of destruction, too. We have little choice, and especially at the extreme reaches we’re faced with a trade-off—the more pure we get about such things the less political influence we have, at least in conventional ways, in the US as it lives now. Living within the system is not the crime—(actually just an idea of a crime since none of this is illegal and in fact as the US is currently constituted opposing the destruction has been virtually made a crime by the criminals).

      Lying about the facts and trying to delay needed action are the crimes. Denying the OVERWHELMING weight of science for the purpose of either profits (the accepted reason but hardly ever the real reason) or fear. Superficially there’s a difference between denying while knowing and denying while ignorant, but really, the only way to not know at this point is to deliberately not know because you already know and can’t face it. (Derrick Jensen’s painting analogy) At this point on this subject there are only 3 possibilities for public not knowingness: insanity, stupidity, and lying. And except for those people who truly are of very low IQ, all 3 are the same. As products of this sick society we get numbed by and used to even the most incredible phenomena—both joyful and horrific—but knowing the truth, or knowing enough that one refuses to know the truth, while lying to delay needed action is both monumentally, inconceivably stupid, and so psychotic (out of touch with reality) and psychopathic (unable to connect with other beings or feel life, including the life within ourselves) that either 1. we really, really need to heal ourselves, or 2. not only human civilization but the human species itself should end before we do any more damage. I don’t believe ending is the right course as long as there’s hope of surviving the crisis relatively psychologically able, that is, as long as we can heal. Actions to help us survive—renewables, permaculture, reforesting, biomimicing—are valuable for 3 things—reducing the harm we do to others, putting us back in touch with nature and our own nature, and buying us time to fix the real problem—our psychological condition.

      Expressing anxiety is not the crime. Expressing anxiety—and fear, and anger, and grief and shame and guilt—is the solution. We should express those not by acting out unconsciously, but in appropriate places and with appropriate help. That’s what I plan to do with the rest of my life—give appropriate help (right after I enjoy the Cape Gooseberry ice cream I plan to make tomorrow, sitting outside contemplating the next project to improve the homestead, make my life both easier and more productive.)

      * Mentioning corporate organs made me think of this: “If corporations were persons, they’d have gender-specific parts. Men have penises. Women have vaginas. Corporations just have assholes.” (And media outlets, of course)

  23. Eric Brooks

    No Guy, we actually do not want to perpetuate the status quo at all. But you seem to, as is evinced by the following..

    Here from your 2009 ten step plan to save the planet by terminating industrial civilization, is step 8, in which you actually direct people to use -more- oil and electricity.

    And readers, please note Guy has been asked, and has confirmed, that his step 8 is not meant as a joke or sarcasm; he really means it..

    “8. Increase your consumption of oil or electricity, both of which are nearly too cheap to meter in the United States. Use as much of both as you can afford, then use some more. The future of the world is at stake, along with the future of humankind. Leave the lights on in every room. Turn on the lights in every public building. Use the doors that rely on motion sensors every time to enter and leave a building. Exceed the posted speed limit. And so on. Waste energy until it becomes a habit. According to Jevons’ paradox, somebody else will use it, if you don’t. Burn those fossil fuels while you can.”

    The logic behind this recommendation is apparently that if we waste fossil fuel energy more quickly (and also thereby spike the price of oil) the collapse of civilization will happen sooner, and so this orgy of costly, polluting waste will thereby supposedly save the planet.

    You can read McPherson’s entire unfathomably absurd 10 step ‘plan’ at:

    http://guymcpherson.com/2009/12/terminating-the-industrial-economy-a-ten-step-plan

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