Climate Depression an optimistic outlook

The five stages of Acceptance

or the way in which people cope with unwelcome news are commonly described as –

denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Several commentators have applied those stages to the climate change issue as a metaphor about the way various groups have responded to the finding that the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels is very likely to to impose significant and unpredictable amounts of warming,  changes in ocean chemistry and unprecedented changes in sea level.


The stages are not necessarily sequential, many different groups are at different stages and it seems possible for even one individual to exhibit different stages, sometimes simultaneously.

Fred Singer was probably the leading proponent of this first stage.
“But unlike the land surface, the atmosphere has shown no warming trend, either over land or over ocean — according to satellites and independent data from weather balloons. …And finally, we have non-thermometer temperature data from so-called ‘proxies’: tree rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, stalagmites. They don’t show any global warming since 1940!

It is easy to find examples of this, most(?!) of the posts at WUWT, the Serengeti stratergy employed against certain scientists, the accusations of hoax, fraud and conspiracy – agenda 21 – can be classified as angry responses.

This seems to be the prominent response at present. the observable warming, the warmest year, ice melt and sea level rise have made denial untenable, and anger is usually abandoned when its effects rebound. So negotiations on the value of climate sensitivity suddenly become dominant. The inherent uncertainties, known and unknown are raised. Usually with far more emphasis on the chance that things might be less worse than the balancing more bad.

I would like to think that just perhaps the latest approach is an example of this stage. There has been a sudden upsurge in what is characterised  as the –
“Okay AGW is true, but it is all to politically difficult/expensive to deal with, we must be pragmatic and just go on with BAU and grin and bear it.”

The final stage before acceptance and action might be the abandonment of disputing the science and retreating to the safer, because more aambiguous ground of economic and political arguments. That whatever the science, a cost/benefit analysis is impossible and it is too expensive to solve.

Or that the specifics of the science are irrelevant and too uncertain to be factors in the Art of the Possible. The politics of economic change.

Examples of this can be seen by that long term proponent of the “Its not the science its all too expensive and uncertain” School, R Pielke Jr   and this recent article -in a series with a discernable theme – on pragmatically “taking the science out of the climate debate” From The Conversation by Mathis Hampel

There is a particular paragraph I want to dissect –

“To be sure, a science-based approach to decision-making does have great normative force. It allows governments to claim the high ground, a place from which they can be seen to be acting for the benefit of all.”

All this is true, and justly cynical about the political system.
But it ignores one other important benefit to a science-based approach to decision-making. It is the best way to ensure a political system remains in touch with the real world. Civic authority which abandons science-based information for ideological preference tend to run into significant problems. Lysenkoism is just the most obvious.

” But in the case of climate change it does not work, simply because we are not dealing with a pollution problem to be solved cost-benefit style. Climate change is not a hole in the earth’s ozone layer caused by a set of manageable chemicals.”

This is asserted without supporting evidence other than the history of inaction. It wrongly implies that there is a scientific difference between CFCs and CO2 effects. But the physics and chemistry of both are known sufficiently well to understand the effects they have. AGW, as with the ozone hole, is a change in the physical behavior of the atmosphere,  that is caused by a set of manageable chemicals. The fact they are manageable is shown by the fact that like CFCs it is human technology that IS managing to produce and emit them.

“This time an international treaty won’t do the trick.”

Several international treaties of increasing specificity will undoubtedly be part of any solution. Unlike true ‘Wicked Problems’ AGW does have a clearly defined goal or end point measure for any solution. The stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 levels. As with CFCs, because of the long term accumulation the less total emissions and so the sooner, the better.
I suspect that eventually international treaties will be lagging behind local, national agreements that will constrain high CO2 generating processes and its products.
The problem and the causative agency CAN be clearly defined, the solution, end-point or goal can also be explicitly described.
It is the political and economic means and management that is the ‘wicked’ part.

The internal cynic suspects that seeing this ‘pragmatic’ approach as the final stage before acceptance is unduly optimistic. (That doubt is bolstered by an unchecked suspicion that Mathis Hampel may have had some influence from Hulme…) That the stages towards acceptance is a concept from another emotional arena imposed on social group beliefs rather than individual states. And that as F.Z and others have observed before the most common element in the universe is not hydrogen but stupidity. And the most common form of energy is not light but inertia.

A final reminder of the science, I am trying different graphical representations of the GHG effect, here is a work in progress –


Comments welcome on the clarity, or otherwise! of the concept of GHG that I am trying to depict.


2 responses to “Climate Depression an optimistic outlook

  1. The “five stages” trope is becoming more than a little worn from over-use, against anything and anyone with whom the writer disagrees. Believe me, I’ve heard it used against warmists far more than you’ve heard it used against sceptics. Though admittedly emotionally satisfying to employ, it sheds little light, while generating much, um, heat.


  2. I agree, I am not even convinced it is a very good template for how individuals respond to bereavement, never mind any other message and its application to social groups.

    Despite the well-worn nature of the meme I decided to give it another outing in an attempt to be optimistic about the latest current that I think I can see emerging in the discourse around this issue. The ‘Wicked Problem’ analysis that has been invoked, and the plea that emphasis on the science should be replaced with ‘pragmatic’ solutions to avoid polarizing the debate have in my perception at least, moved forward again as pawns in the game. Or perhaps rooks.

    To be honest I don’t buy it. The AGW problem is no more ‘Wicked’ Than CFCs, Lead, SOx, DDT, Asbestos… It has a clear definition and a specific solution or goal. The renewed appeals that climate is not going to be a significant factor in future problems, that mitigation would do far more harm to Growth than any conceivable effect of AGW coincides with the ongoing temperature rise, calling this year a ‘dead heat’ with the other top 3 would probably be alarmist, but that and the OHC, sea level rise ice melt etc does make the ‘science is wrong’ approach less credible.

    The nasty suspicion I have about these recent articles is also that it marks a resurgence of the errant nonsense and socio-leftist BS about the social Zeitgeist defining the limits of action. That scientific knowledge is valid only to the degree it is widely socially recognised as factual…
    Aaaargh.. if that is the case I may well have to have a post about the egregious epistemological idiocy of Hulme, Ravetz and the rest of that mistaken and misbegotten crowd…and neglect the animation!
    (I think my biases may be showing-grin)


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