The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track global extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. Some major news items of the day will be listed below those reports I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: The Rise of Climate Doomism and Why Despair Is Not an Option
Dear Diary. Yesterday’s post had the following title: Greenland Ice Sheet Maybe Beyond Hope of Saving. I didn’t state that there was no hope to save Greenland’s ice sheet. Inadvertently on Twitter this headline brought out an increasing number of climate “doomists,” who believe that our climate is beyond hope of being fixed no matter how much mitigation efforts are put forth via individual lifestyle changes and international cooperation. For our goals doomists are just as bad as “denialists,” who think that the climate is fine and that any global warming is naturally occurring. It seems like we are now fighting the Climate War on two fronts. Like denialists, doomists play right into the hands of the fossil fuel industry.
Again, I look back to history to see how victory came out of adversity. Churchill’s Britain appeared to be losing WWII back in 1940, but the British people never gave up despite the Blitz and odds not in their favor. Eventually victory was achieved after five long years of fighting Hitler’s war machine.
Humans have a knack for self-fulfilling prophecy. If a sports team thinks that it will lose going into a game, it probably will do so even though the talent making up that team might be sufficient enough for victory. This Climate War isn’t a game though. Our species is on the line. Also, there are good scientific reasons why there is still room for hope as Dr. Mann pointed out yesterday. Achievements so far should limit warming of global temperature averages to just below +3.0°C above preindustrial conditions, but much more work will be needed to keep that figure below the recommended +2.0°C figure.
For today’s purposes, let’s use a Washington Post article describing the rise of climate doomists and why their attitudes won’t help our climate change fighting cause (click on the link below to see an embedded video):
Why climate ‘doomers’ are replacing climate ‘deniers’
How U.N. reports and confusing headlines created a generation of people who believe climate change can’t be stopped
March 24, 2023
(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)
When Sean Youra was 26 years old and working as an engineer, he started watching documentaries about climate change. Youra, who was struggling with depression and the loss of a family member, was horrified by what he learned about melting ice and rising extreme weather. He started spending hours on YouTube, watching videos made by fringe scientists who warned that the world was teetering on the edge of societal collapse — or even near-term human extinction. Youra started telling his friends and family that he was convinced that climate change couldn’t be stopped, and humanity was doomed.
In short, he says, he became a climate “doomer.”
“It all compounded and just led me down a very dark path,” he said. “I became very detached and felt like giving up on everything.”
That grim view of the planet’s future is becoming more common. Influenced by a barrage of grim U.N. reports — such as the one published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this week — and negative headlines, a group of people believe that the climate problem cannot, or will not, be solved in time to prevent all-out societal collapse. They are known, colloquially, as climate “doomers.” And some scientists and experts worry that their defeatism — which could undermine efforts to take action — may be just as dangerous as climate denial.
“It’s fair to say that recently many of us climate scientists have spent more time arguing with the doomers than with the deniers,” said Zeke Hausfather, a contributing author to theU.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and climate research lead at the payments company Stripe.
Wildfire smoke darkens an orange sky over San Francisco on Sept. 9, 2020. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)
There are different flavors of doomers. Some are middle-aged and have been influenced by outspoken scientists — like retired ecologist Guy McPherson — who claim that human extinction, or at least the breakdown of society, is imminent. (“I can’t imagine that there will be a human left on the Earth in 10 years,” McPherson has said.) These doomers drift toward conspiracy theories, sometimes claiming that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is downplaying the seriousness of the issue.
McPherson said in an email that while he’s “no fan of extinction … so called ‘green energy’ based on PV solar panels and wind turbines offers no way out of the ongoing climate emergency.”
Others are young people, active on social media, who have become demoralized by years of negative headlines. “Since about 2019, I have believed that there is little to nothing we can do to reverse climate change on a global scale,” Charles McBryde, a TikToker, said in a video last year.
The origins of doomism stretch back far — McPherson, for example, has been predicting the demise of human civilization for decades — but the mind-set seems to have become markedly more mainstream in the past five years. Jacquelyn Gill, a climate scientist at the University of Maine, says that in 2018she started hearing different sorts of questions when she spoke at panels or did events online. “I started getting emails from people saying: ‘I’m a young person. Is there even a point in going to college? Will I ever be able to grow up and have kids?’” she said.
Wellbefore the coronavirus pandemic, a few factors combined to make 2018 feel like the year of doom. 2015, 2016 and 2017 had just been the three hottest years on record. Climate protests had begun to spread across the globe, including Greta Thunberg’s School Strike and the U.K.-based protest group known as Extinction Rebellion. In the academic world, British professor of sustainability Jem Bendell wrote a paper called “Deep Adaptation,” which urged readers to prepare for “inevitable near-term societal collapse due to climate change.” (The paper has been widely critiqued by many climate scientists.)
And then the United Nationsissued a special report on 1.5 degrees Celsiusof globalwarming, released in October 2018, which kicked many people’s climate anxiety into overdrive.
The report, which focused on how an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels might compare to 2 degrees Celsius, included grim predictions like the death of the world’s coral reefs and ice-free summers in the Arctic. But a central message many took from the report — that there were only 12 years left to save the planet — wasn’t even in the report. It came from a Guardian headline.
In three of the four pathways the report charted for limiting warming to 1.5C, the world would have to cut carbon dioxide emissions 40 to 60 percent by 2030. “We have 12 years to limit climate catastrophe,” the Guardian reported, and other outlets soon followed. The phrase soon became an activist rallying cry.
“‘Twelve years to save the planet’ was actually: We have 12 years to cut global emissions in half to stay consistent with a 1.5C scenario,” Hausfather explained. “Then ‘12 years to save the planet’ becomes interpreted by the public as: If we don’t stop climate change in 12 years, something catastrophic happens.”
“It was really a game of telephone,” he added.
Hausfather said part of the problem is that climate targets — say, the goal to limit warming to 1.5C — have become interpreted by the public as climate thresholds, which would drive the planet into a “hothouse” state. In fact, scientists don’t believe there is anything unique about that temperature that will cause runaway tipping points; the landmark IPCC report merely aimed to show the risks of bad impacts are much higher at 2C than at 1.5.
“It’s not like 1.9C is not an existential risk and 2.1C is,” Hausfather said. “It’s more that we’re playing Russian roulette with the climate.” Every increase in temperature, that is, makes the risks of bad impacts that much higher.
Meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet flows into Baffin Bay on July 17. (Karem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)
Still, scientists who try to clarify those nuances sometimes encounter hostility, particularly online. “If you try to push back on this in any way, you get accused of minimizing the climate crisis,” Gill said. “I’ve been accused of being a shill for the fossil fuel industry.”
The problem with climate “doom” — beyond the toll that it can create on mental health — is that it can cause paralysis. Psychologists have long believed that some amount of hope, combined with a belief that personal actions can make a difference, can keep people engaged on climate change. But, according to a study by researchers at Yale and Colorado State universities, “many Americans who accept that global warming is happening cannot express specific reasons to be hopeful.”
And it’s not just Americans. Andrew Smith, a retired engineer from Yorkshire, England, is slightly turned off by the term “doomer.” It provokes, he says, a sense of being on the fringes of society, or visions of doomsday preppers filling their bunkers with canned food. “For me, a climate doomer is simply a person who’s taken a look at the peer-reviewed science, taken stock of the natural world around them, and come to a conclusion,” he wrote in a message via Twitter. Smith believes that the world is on track to warm 4 to 8 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial times.
For some, however, doomism isn’t permanent. Youra, the former engineer, still remembers how strongly he felt that humanity was done for. He believed that the IPCC and other scientists were covering up how bad climate change actually was — and no peer-reviewed research could convince him otherwise. “I think it’s kind of similar to what deniers feel,” he said. “I wasn’t being open-minded.”
In 2018, he briefly considered quitting his job to travel the world — hoping to see what he could before society and the natural world collapsed. Slowly, though, he started getting involved in local climate groups, and when he attended a meeting in Alameda for the California city’s climate plan, something clicked. “I think that for me was key,” he said. “It made me start realizing the power of good policy.” Now 32, he has earned a master’s degree in environmental science and policy and works as the climate action coordinator for the California towns of San Anselmo and Fairfax.
Worry — and even occasional despair — about the climate crisis is normal. Most scientists believe that, without deeper cuts, the world is headed for 2 to 3 degrees Celsius of global warming. But higher temperatures are still possible if humans get unlucky with how the planet responds to higher CO2 levels. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute, has said that while humans probably won’t go extinct due to climate change, “not going extinct” is a lowbar.
“It’s a question of risk, not known catastrophe,” Hausfather said.
But finding the balance between constructive worry — that is, concernthat motivates you to do something — and a sort of fatalistic doom is difficult. Nowadays, climate scientists try to emphasize that climate change isn’t a pass/fail test: Every tenth and hundredth of a degree of warming avoided matters.
For his part, Youra has advice for those who are suffering from the same sort of fatalism that he once felt. “Stop engaging excessively with negative climate change content online and start engaging in your community,” he said. “You can be one of those voices showing there is support for the solutions.”
More on climate change
Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.
What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.
What about your role in climate change? Our climate coach Michael J. Coren is answering questions about environmental choices in our everyday lives. Submit yours here. You can also sign up for our Climate Coach newsletter.
Here are some “ET’s” recorded from around the planet the last couple of days, their consequences, and some extreme temperature outlooks, as well as any extreme precipitation reports:
Here is a bit more February 2023 climatology:
Here is more climate and weather news from Wednesday.
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)
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Guy Walton… “The Climate Guy”