Wednesday, 14 November 2007

My first _Guardian_ online article: RR on the climate emergency


Sad to see the many comments below the article from those many who are in one way or another in denial... [Join the conversation? But if you do so, I would urge you to try to exercise some respect and restraint towards those you disagree with in the conversation, even where that respect has not been shown to me...] ...Anyway, don't worry: this messenger isn't for shooting... ...The very real danger -- the likelihood, unless we make something very big happen, very fast -- of climate catastrophe within the lifetime of many of us, means that the insults and ignorance of certain vocal commenters [some of whom are the usual suspects, who will be known to some of you from other unpleasant virtual encounters] is no more than water off one's back...

Here, for the keen, is the original unexpurgated article before it was edited down to standard Comment-is-free length by the _Guardian_ team:

To speak of ‘climate change’ is still to be in denial

Rupert Read; _Guardian_ online.

We are all all-too-familiar with the shrill voices of the ‘climate-change-deniers’. But with each passing year – indeed, each passing week – they become more and more irrelevant, as the evidence piles up of the risibility of their ‘scepticism’ about the reality of man-made climate change. They are, in a nutshell, in denial. The issue now is not whether or not we are certain that dangerous climate change is real, and indeed is happening – the issue is only how we are going to tackle it. Both in terms of policy-measures, and, crucially, in terms of how to get people to think about it, and relate to it. In short: how to motivate people appropriately with regard to this phenomenon. How to persuade people not to merely find refuge in psychological defence mechanisms (e.g. denial…) against this frightening reality.

In this connection, an increasing number of voices who are very far from being climate-change-deniers have been arguing that using graphic terms to scare people about man-made climate change is counter-productive. That it merely scares, or (worse) precipitates denial or ‘eco-fatigue’, and does not motivate effective action. One of the most intelligent of these voices is Leo Hickman, who in this newspaper (“Cry wolf, but gently”, Nov. 10) quotes with approval my colleague at the University of East Anglia, the eminent climate scientist Prof. Mike Hulme, warning us off using terms such as “catastrophe” in describing the potential future impacts of manmade climate change for just this reason. Some have gone further, lambasting the graphic description of what will happen if we do not act effectively to stop CO2 emissions from going through the roof as ‘climate porn’.

Now, I agree that it is absolutely not enough to scare people. I agree that one needs to emphasise how the socio-economic changes needed to stop man-made climate change are in themselves life-improving (e.g. that localising life rather than globalising everything will actually make us happier in itself, even leaving aside how crucial it is to reduce carbon emissions from travel and transport). And I agree that one needs to ensure that people don’t think that the mountain is too big to climb: people need to be given tools to see that preventing catastrophic climate change is doable. But, as my chosen wording of the previous sentence already implies, the burden of my argument here is that it is not wise of us to tone down our language, in response to this situation. I do not, that is, agree that we should leave aside talk of ‘catastrophe’. In fact, by sticking to talking of ‘climate change’ rather than of ‘climate chaos’ and ‘potential climate catastrophe’, one is in fact playing the same game as the more subtle and intelligent of the climate-change-deniers. One is talking their language. That ought to be enough to make anyone stop, think, and question what they are doing.

The Guardian’s own Steven Poole has shown this, in his important book ‘Unspeak’. Poole documents how the term ‘climate change’ became the term of choice for the Saudis, for the U.S. oil companies, for the Republicans, displacing even the fairly anodyne ‘global warming’. It is the very people who have wanted us to go on simply burning fossil fuels as if there was no tomorrow (sic.) who have insisted that the issue be described as one of ‘climate change’. Because, as leading Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it, in a secret document that was leaked (http://www.politicalstrategy.org/archives/001330.php#1330 ): “1) "Climate change" is less frightening than "global warming". As one focus group participant noted, climate change 'sounds like you're going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.' While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.”

A less emotional challenge… But shouldn’t we be willing to get a little ‘emotional’, over the potential destruction of our entire future as a civilization? Frank Luntz wants us all to stay cool-headed over ‘climate change’. A goal that he shares with Mike Hulme. Whereas I say that people ought to be scared, and angry, and itching to do something about it. There is a wolf coming, that over time will eat almost every last one of us unless we stop it…

There I go again, using scare tactics, dramatizing… But how might the total destruction of human civilisation outside a few outposts in Antarctica not constitute a “catastrophe”? Several billion deaths: since when is that not catastrophic? This is the scenario that the government’s Chief Scientist (Anthony King) described as a factually likely outcome, if no effective action is taken to prevent global over-heat.

This is not crying wolf. This is simply telling the truth. Runaway climate change could within a century or so collapse civilisation on lifeboat Earth entirely, just as (for example) civilisation and population levels on Easter Island collapsed over a much-shorter period.

My linguistic proposal is pretty straightforward. ‘Climate change’ is an Orwellian , and should be dropped. To use that term is to be complicit with the agendas of Exxon and Bush. It is, I believe, still to be in denial. It is a term used by those who at some level still hope that maybe this problem is going to go away, or that it isn’t too bad, or who at least prefer not to think about just how desperately bad things will be if effective action is not taken to stop it getting out of control. …We should speak honestly, instead. That is: we should speak of ‘climate chaos’, ‘climate crisis’, ‘global over-heating’, and the risk of ‘climate catastrophe’. To do so is to do no more than call attention directly to the utterly drastic consequences of untrammelled consumerism. It is, literally, truth-in-advertising.

Prof. Hulme wants to maintain scientific decorum. But it is not the job of climate scientists to tell us how to describe what the human consequences would be of us ignoring their predictions. That is rather the task of artists, activists, politicians and philosophers. It is they who will give us the wake-up call that we still evidently need, if anyone will.

Talking about averting “climate catastrophe” is not alarmism. It is simply calling things by their true names.

1 Comments:

Blogger GreenBob said...

Key points which I feel the 'deniers' should take on board are threefold:

1. 'Runaway' climate change is the biggest worry and scientifically very likely. This would/will be due to so-called 'positive feedbacks'. These include melt-induced methane release in the permafrosts of polar latitudes, reduction in reflectivity of the earth's surface at the poles due to ice loss, lack of CO2 absorbing capacity due to tree loss. (There are others!) The key idea is that it's getting warmer because new warming factors are being triggered by the warming already caused. Compound interest which is running away with our original investment of warming!

2. Lack of perception of timescales by the general public. The many comments from those who point out that the climate has 'always changed' are of course correct. However, the time scales of these changes are, in human terms, unimaginably long. Britain was a desert when we were located in the tropics. But the movement of continents takes millions of years. Even the super-quick (in geological timescales) fluctuations in ice ages and interglacial warm periods are slow in relation to the warming which in now taking place. The science tells us that rapid warmimg is likely and the fact that it is measurable within even parts of a human lifespan should give rise to extreme concern!

3. The lifestyles that are causing CO2 (and other greenhouse gas release) are those aspired to by the rest of the world outside the, polluting 'west'. (Yes, I know China pollutes, but it is our pollution by proxy, after all.) India produces twenty times less per capita greenhouse gas than the US level. Indians want to live like Americans. The world population is 6.7 billion, set to rise to 9 billion before demographic stability arrives. If we all want to live like Americans we are really in trouble.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the repetition of these factual points in all discussions is the way forward for Greens. There is no point in becoming 'shrill'. Just deal in facts. They are alarming enough. People not taking them on board are indeed 'in denial'!

Bob Gledhill. Green Party City Councillor, Norwich.

14 November 2007 at 14:40  

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25. 26. My first _Guardian_ online article: RR on the climate emergency 27. 28.

29.
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/rupert_read/2007/11/emergency_talk.html

Sad to see the many comments below the article from those many who are in one way or another in denial... [Join the conversation? But if you do so, I would urge you to try to exercise some respect and restraint towards those you disagree with in the conversation, even where that respect has not been shown to me...] ...Anyway, don't worry: this messenger isn't for shooting... ...The very real danger -- the likelihood, unless we make something very big happen, very fast -- of climate catastrophe within the lifetime of many of us, means that the insults and ignorance of certain vocal commenters [some of whom are the usual suspects, who will be known to some of you from other unpleasant virtual encounters] is no more than water off one's back...

Here, for the keen, is the original unexpurgated article before it was edited down to standard Comment-is-free length by the _Guardian_ team:

To speak of ‘climate change’ is still to be in denial

Rupert Read; _Guardian_ online.

We are all all-too-familiar with the shrill voices of the ‘climate-change-deniers’. But with each passing year – indeed, each passing week – they become more and more irrelevant, as the evidence piles up of the risibility of their ‘scepticism’ about the reality of man-made climate change. They are, in a nutshell, in denial. The issue now is not whether or not we are certain that dangerous climate change is real, and indeed is happening – the issue is only how we are going to tackle it. Both in terms of policy-measures, and, crucially, in terms of how to get people to think about it, and relate to it. In short: how to motivate people appropriately with regard to this phenomenon. How to persuade people not to merely find refuge in psychological defence mechanisms (e.g. denial…) against this frightening reality.

In this connection, an increasing number of voices who are very far from being climate-change-deniers have been arguing that using graphic terms to scare people about man-made climate change is counter-productive. That it merely scares, or (worse) precipitates denial or ‘eco-fatigue’, and does not motivate effective action. One of the most intelligent of these voices is Leo Hickman, who in this newspaper (“Cry wolf, but gently”, Nov. 10) quotes with approval my colleague at the University of East Anglia, the eminent climate scientist Prof. Mike Hulme, warning us off using terms such as “catastrophe” in describing the potential future impacts of manmade climate change for just this reason. Some have gone further, lambasting the graphic description of what will happen if we do not act effectively to stop CO2 emissions from going through the roof as ‘climate porn’.

Now, I agree that it is absolutely not enough to scare people. I agree that one needs to emphasise how the socio-economic changes needed to stop man-made climate change are in themselves life-improving (e.g. that localising life rather than globalising everything will actually make us happier in itself, even leaving aside how crucial it is to reduce carbon emissions from travel and transport). And I agree that one needs to ensure that people don’t think that the mountain is too big to climb: people need to be given tools to see that preventing catastrophic climate change is doable. But, as my chosen wording of the previous sentence already implies, the burden of my argument here is that it is not wise of us to tone down our language, in response to this situation. I do not, that is, agree that we should leave aside talk of ‘catastrophe’. In fact, by sticking to talking of ‘climate change’ rather than of ‘climate chaos’ and ‘potential climate catastrophe’, one is in fact playing the same game as the more subtle and intelligent of the climate-change-deniers. One is talking their language. That ought to be enough to make anyone stop, think, and question what they are doing.

The Guardian’s own Steven Poole has shown this, in his important book ‘Unspeak’. Poole documents how the term ‘climate change’ became the term of choice for the Saudis, for the U.S. oil companies, for the Republicans, displacing even the fairly anodyne ‘global warming’. It is the very people who have wanted us to go on simply burning fossil fuels as if there was no tomorrow (sic.) who have insisted that the issue be described as one of ‘climate change’. Because, as leading Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it, in a secret document that was leaked (http://www.politicalstrategy.org/archives/001330.php#1330 ): “1) "Climate change" is less frightening than "global warming". As one focus group participant noted, climate change 'sounds like you're going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.' While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.”

A less emotional challenge… But shouldn’t we be willing to get a little ‘emotional’, over the potential destruction of our entire future as a civilization? Frank Luntz wants us all to stay cool-headed over ‘climate change’. A goal that he shares with Mike Hulme. Whereas I say that people ought to be scared, and angry, and itching to do something about it. There is a wolf coming, that over time will eat almost every last one of us unless we stop it…

There I go again, using scare tactics, dramatizing… But how might the total destruction of human civilisation outside a few outposts in Antarctica not constitute a “catastrophe”? Several billion deaths: since when is that not catastrophic? This is the scenario that the government’s Chief Scientist (Anthony King) described as a factually likely outcome, if no effective action is taken to prevent global over-heat.

This is not crying wolf. This is simply telling the truth. Runaway climate change could within a century or so collapse civilisation on lifeboat Earth entirely, just as (for example) civilisation and population levels on Easter Island collapsed over a much-shorter period.

My linguistic proposal is pretty straightforward. ‘Climate change’ is an Orwellian , and should be dropped. To use that term is to be complicit with the agendas of Exxon and Bush. It is, I believe, still to be in denial. It is a term used by those who at some level still hope that maybe this problem is going to go away, or that it isn’t too bad, or who at least prefer not to think about just how desperately bad things will be if effective action is not taken to stop it getting out of control. …We should speak honestly, instead. That is: we should speak of ‘climate chaos’, ‘climate crisis’, ‘global over-heating’, and the risk of ‘climate catastrophe’. To do so is to do no more than call attention directly to the utterly drastic consequences of untrammelled consumerism. It is, literally, truth-in-advertising.

Prof. Hulme wants to maintain scientific decorum. But it is not the job of climate scientists to tell us how to describe what the human consequences would be of us ignoring their predictions. That is rather the task of artists, activists, politicians and philosophers. It is they who will give us the wake-up call that we still evidently need, if anyone will.

Talking about averting “climate catastrophe” is not alarmism. It is simply calling things by their true names.

30. 31. 32.