Seeing red: temperature change over time and by region

February 25, 2014

Yap yap yap, it’s what a blog is for I guess.  But a good climate science picture is worth at least 997 more yaps. And an animated longitudinal data set, well, there just aren’t enough yaps to compare.

This one from NASA packs a wallop.   It’s data, but it’s alive.  53 seconds of eerie, scorching silence.

President Obama and the ecosystem of denial

May 17, 2012

America’s resistance to climate reality is like an Altoid Mint: curiously strong.   Nowhere else is denial so rampant, so acceptable and so overrepresented in government.

Call me a romantic (you won’t be the first), but I have to think the President of the United States has a role in battling this national psychosis. 

No, I’m not waiting for the President to ride in on a white horse and make everything right. (I stopped doing that after Copenhagen).  But he shouldn’t allow denialism to flourish in an official Presidential communication void.

….which has been the norm for the better part of President Obama’s first term.  Silence isn’t quite as bad as outright denialism, but the combination of the two has proven lethal to the nation’s climate conversation.  One political party is off in anti-science la-la land, and the other fears (weakly and incorrectly) that climate doesn’t poll well enough to talk about.  They are both filling vital niches in the ecosystem of denial.

Ironically, fossil fuel interests are pushing climate and energy back on to the national agenda, with a firestorm of attack ads on the President.  If anybody has enough money to convince the public that night is day, it’s Big Fossil.  But persuading Americans that clean energy is bad and science is bunk is a tall order.  And by pushing the politicians they support to embrace these extreme positions, they may well be leading their friends in public office to a slaughter.

There’s every reason to believe that political proponents of clean energy and climate reality can win this fight…but only if they’ll fight it.

So it’s encouraging to see the President starting to feel his way back into the politics of climate reality and clean energy.  His political team seems to be sensing the tremendous vulnerability of opponents who deny climate science and cozy up to fossil fuel interests.

You have to hope there is a political price to be paid for militant resistance to facts, especially when the fact in question is a civilization-threatening emergency.  Given the relentless negativity of politics generally and the Citizens United-juiced 2012 cycle in particular, maybe the only open door back to climate reality is the political exposure of those who shun science and shill for fossil fuel interests.

I’ll take it.


Much was made of the President’s remarks on climate in his recent Rolling Stone interview – (too much, in my view, and I’m a glass is 10% full kind of guy.)  But the President’s comments on climate and the Keystone Pipeline are worth discussing.  So I do, here.

Disrupting the ecosystem of denial and building a culture of responsibility – Part 1

April 22, 2012

How can climate science denial continue to exist, in the face of so much evidence?  To get to the answer, I think we have to ask a different question:  How can the rest of us – the majority who accept the reality of climate science – continue to act as though we don’t believe it?

We’re all climate deniers now.  We’re functioning (kinda) in an elaborate ecosystem of denial, playing roles that keep the whole freak show working.   (The Discovery Channel’s Frozen Planet series  – which lavishly documents polar thawing while avoiding any discussion of the causes of climate change – is a conspicuous example.)

Since Jim Hansen’s landmark testimony to Congress on climate change in 1988, we have all had to adapt to life in the enormous chasm between what is physically and morally necessary to address the climate crisis and what we are in fact doing.  The dissonance between the conclusions of climate scientists and the scale of our response is intolerable, so something has to give.

For most people, what gives is engagement.  They just avoid the subject.  For those of us who work on climate and don’t have the option to disengage, managing the dissonance sometimes feels like walking a tightrope, with despair on one side and insanity on the other.

Every day, hundreds of things happen around us that would not be happening if we were remotely serious about preventing catastrophic climate change.  Every day, each of us does things that rational people would not be doing if they fully accepted the moral challenge that climate disruption presents.   And all those things become part of the cognitive infrastructure of our own denial and everyone else’s.

The scariest thing about the ecosystem of denial is how it reinforces itself — how each act of denial makes every other act of denial more likely and inescapable, in a vicious circle.  But the converse is also true.  Every act of responsibility helps reverse the circle, making every other responsible act more plausible.

So with this post begins a new feature of GRIP in which we’ll focus on reversing the toxic cycle of denial and inaction, replacing it with a healthy cycle of responsibility and action.

I will shine an unforgiving (but not humorless!) light on our complicity in denial.  The ecosystem of denial functions best in darkness, so relentless daylight can wither it.  (We’ll have fun with this, I promise.  Because denial isn’t just scary, it’s a hoot!  And we all do it, so we’ll be laughing with, not at each other.)

But documenting our role in denial is less than half the battle.  Denial has necessary functions that cannot be eliminated:  It is a psychological bridge, spanning the abyss between the dimensions of the climate crisis and the dimensions of our demonstrated willingness to deal with it.  So the ecosystem of denial cannot simply be named and removed;  nobody wants to dive into that abyss.

The ecosystem of denial must be replaced by something better – a culture of responsibility.    More on that in Part 2.

Disrupting the ecosystem of denial and building a culture of responsibility – Part 2

April 22, 2012

In part 1, we named some of the cognitive systems that sustain climate denial, and explored our roles in those systems.  Now let’s build a better system.

Using a conventional model of cause and effect, we act as though climate science denial were the primary obstacle to action.   Following that model, we foster understanding of facts, hoping that action will follow.

But it turns out that the relationship between denial and inaction is circular, not linear.  Inaction is both an effect and a cause of denial.

I often come back to the most illuminating result we ever got in a focus group, from the woman who said to us, “I don’t think climate change is a big issue, because nobody’s doing anything about it.”  She made the eminently logical inference that if it were really as bad as all that, the responsible authorities would be doing something.

This is roughly the logic I used to cope with the election of 2000.  I remember thinking:  “The election can’t have been stolen.  I don’t even want to look at the evidence for that, because if it were true, then we would be in open revolt.  And we’re not, and it’s not my job to declare a revolt.  So it must be ok.”  Did I really believe that, on the basis of looking at the evidence and arriving at a conclusion?  Of course not.  I refused to look at the evidence, because in the absence of collective will to deal responsibly with the implications of any other conclusion, I just couldn’t handle it.

The only thing that would have overcome my denial was engaging in a serious effort to deal responsibly with the consequences of a stolen election.   I needed a mode and a culture of responsibility to be a part of, and I didn’t see one.  (It was there, of course.  It just didn’t seem very robust, or scaled to the challenge.  Besides, denial was a lot easier, and it seemed to be working for everyone else, and I had this other big, scary, intractable reality on my hands.)

But there is an emerging culture of responsibility for climate solutions.  It’s everywhere.  It rocks.  You can build it, today.  You don’t have to extinguish denial first. It’s not like a 12 step process, where you have to get all the way through step 1 before beginning steps 2-12.  Fully having the problem may not be possible until we get real about solving it.  I know, it sounds like a Catch-22.   Just start.   Ask questions later.

So this feature in GRIP will focus both on exposing our own role in denial, and celebrating the growing profusion of a culture of responsibility.  Our global and national institutions don’t seem to be up to the task, but in communities everywhere, people are finding ways to just do solutions.  Their efforts are delivering more than carbon reduction, more than the many economic, environmental, and social “co-benefits” of solutions.  They are defying and disrupting the ecosystem of denial.  They are making it more possible to believe that the problem and the solutions are real.

Will this growing, distributed uprising of solutions “add up” to carbon reduction at scale?  No.  But it can multiply up.  It will help reverse the vicious circle of denial and inaction, turning it into a virtuous circle of responsibility and solutions.   Each action will make every other action more plausible, more likely, more hopeful.   And if we can build a fully functioning culture of responsibility, it just might make what’s necessary seem possible.

More to come.