Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Climate Change - Will Drive You Nuts, Really.

It's something that's been getting a lot of attention lately - the emotional, psychological overload being experienced by climate scientists and advocates having to deal, up close, day in and day out, with the reality of what is happening to our world.

An article in today's Sydney Morning Herald (via WaPo) explores how those most intimately involved in the field are struggling to cope in a world that really doesn't seem to care. They're coming down with a form of post traumatic stress disorder now sometimes labelled "climate trauma."

One victim is American professor, Camille Parmesan, who eventually had to find refuge across the Atlantic, in England.

As recently as 2009, Camille Parmesan had a career that most scientists can only dream of.

That year, the University of Texas professor was named one of Atlantic Monthly's 27 "Brave Thinkers" for her efforts to save species whose habitats are threatened by climate change.

...But beneath the acclaim, Parmesan recalls, her work left her "professionally depressed" and panicked — so much so that she eventually abandoned her life in the United States for a new one on the other side of the Atlantic, according to the environmental news website Grist.

"To be honest, I panicked 15 years ago — that was when the first studies came out showing that Arctic tundras were shifting from being a net sink to being a net source of CO2," she told Esquire's John Richardson for a recent piece about the emotional toll of climate science. "That along with the fact this butterfly I was studying shifted its entire range across half a continent — I said this is big, this is big. Everything since then has just confirmed it."

Today, Parmesan is a professor at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, where, she told Grist, she is no longer forced to spend the first half of her talks convincing audiences that climate change is real.

,,,As climate change accelerates, weather patterns around the world become more extreme and models become more dire, scientists find themselves fighting a war on two fronts. The first battleground is a professional one and carries with it the burden of charting humanity's potential demise, all while enduring targeted attacks that, according to Esquire, include "death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defence fund."

The second front is a personal one and involves finding ways to maintain hopefulness when days are spent digging into apocalyptic scenarios that go largely unnoticed — or fiercely dismissed — by the general public.

"So many of us are exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic disorder — the anger, the panic, the obsessive intrusive thoughts," Dr Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and climate activist, told Esquire.

Among them is Gillian Caldwell, a human rights activist and former director of WITNESS, who has investigated human trafficking in Russia and rape as a tool of war in Sierra Leone. And yet, Caldwell writes, her efforts to get her country to tackle global warming remain the most emotionally demanding task she's ever performed.

Sometimes the struggle is as simple as going outside and looking up at the sky. In a tear-filled interview about "climate advocacy trauma," Caldwell says that one of the sacrifices climate activists make is never being able to experience weather the same way again.

...Adding to the mounting stress faced by climate change scientists is the inevitable backlash they can expect to encounter from unqualified critics of their research, according to Jeffrey Kiehl, a senior scientist for climate change research at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

"How would that make you feel?" Kiehl told Grist. "You take this information to someone and they say they don't believe you, as if it's a question of beliefs. I'm not talking about religion here, I'm talking about facts. It's equivalent to a doctor doing extremely detailed observations on someone and concluding that someone needed to have an operation, and the person looks at the doctor and says, 'I don't believe you.' How would a doctor feel in that moment, not think, but feel in that moment?"

"I don't know of a single scientist that's not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost," Parmesan is quoted as saying in the report, in reference to an ocean reef she has spent more than a decade studying. "It's gotten to be so depressing that I'm not sure I'm going to go back to this particular site again, because I just know I'm going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae."

Dr Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, told Esquire that climate-change deniers have demoralised his colleagues, leaving one suicidal. Despite promising developments, such as increased public awareness and the recent agreement between the United States and China on emissions, Mann continues to battle nightmares and struggle under the weight of his own environmental awareness.

He has broken down in front of his students and can't shake the fears he has about his daughter living in an alien planet that no longer resembled the one she was born into.

"I don't want her to have to be sad," Mann told Esquire. "And I almost have to believe we're not yet there, where we are resigned to this future."

Yet look around and you'll see compelling signs that we are indeed "resigned to this future." Here in Canada none of the mainstream parties is prepared to break with our extractive, fossil fuel industries.  Not one will even talk about shutting that down and moving Canada into a post-carbon future.  Not Harper, not Trudeau, not Mulcair.  

They're not stupid men.  They've heard the warnings, the scientific consensus that, if our grandkids and future generations that will follow, are to have a reasonable chance at any viable life, we need to leave most fossil fuels and all of the really high-carbon fossil fuels in the ground, untouched.  They know that transitioning into a decarbonized society and economy is the only hope these future generations have and yet we're writing their fate indelibly today sacrificing the future to the immediate demands of partisan political opportunism.

Why do they do it?  That's easy. It's because you, me, all of us let them get away with it.  If you're a Lib you'll vote for Justin. If you're a New Dem you won't let it stop you from voting for Mulcair. And with every ballot cast, we're proving that we are indeed "resigned to this future."


Dana said...

"If we shed our anthropocentric blinders, the harsh reality is that nothing of substance is being done to prevent our own extinction, and after looking back at humanity’s track record for slowing down this beast of globalized industrial civilization even one iota, any sane and rational person would have to conclude that there are forces at work well beyond the control of any one group of people, any state, or even any one country. Humans have the dubious honor of being the earth’s first sentient beings to have thoroughly documented their own demise while arguing with each other over whose fault it is."

The Mound of Sound said...

Unfortunately, Dana, that's all very true. Our civilization, our societies, our communities have become absolutely even mortally dependent on perpetual growth in levels of production and consumption that are already far beyond our planet's carrying capacity. As I've written far too many times, the evidence of this is indisputable and a good deal of it is even visible to the naked eye from space. With each passing year, the date on which mankind consumes an entire year's worth of renewable resources arrives four to six days earlier than in the previous year. I think World Overshoot Day falls on August 15th this year. Six or seven years ago that line wasn't crossed until late October.

It's not just that we're overconsuming the Earth's resources and can simply stop. We're dependent on it for our continuation, our survival. For example, we're dependent on a supply of freshwater that cannot be maintained, even as we empty our aquifers, our essential groundwater. Those aquifers were once our safety net, our fall back for times when the rains didn't arrive as expected. Then we decided not to hold them as a reserve but to use them for expanding our agricultural production, draining them without regard for their recharge rate.

We've done the same thing with our topsoil. In March the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report warning that most of the world's topsoil could be gone by 2050, exhausted by intensive, industrial agriculture and depleted by ever increasing applications of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The report grimly observed that it takes a thousand years for nature to create just 3 cms. of topsoil so, once it's gone, it's effectively gone for good. Yet we can't stop ourselves or we'll starve.

This enormously self-destructive, perpetual exponential growth economy is carbon-fueled and, despite hopeful words, we don't seem inclined to stop that either.

We know that with population growth already in the pipeline, we're going to need up our food production by a minimum of 40% in the next two decades. How are we to do that when our groundwater reserves are drying up and we're rapaciously exhausting our top soil? Why is there no Plan B? It's said that we will need a similar increase in energy production so that, even if a miracle occurred and we did decide to transition to alternative energy it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to decarbonize during this expansion in demand.

Even in Canada, where we still have climate change options enjoyed by no more than five or six countries today, we won't give up our petro-statehood. It's become a mental illness based on an alternate reality that's completely fabricated, a delusion. Those options, the advantages that we still have a very limited shelf-life. We either avail ourselves of them or like, other nations before us, they'll simply be lost, forfeited. And that is the very path that Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau have us on.

Dana said...

This is so much wider, higher, deeper an issue than has perhaps ever before been faced on earth.

We, by which I mean humanity, are in the process of altering some fundamental qualities of several of the life supporting systems of our one and only home.

And what do we do? We continue along the path that has led this existential crisis and we accelerate the process. As though we were ignorant of the results of that continuation, that acceleration.

Every passing month reveals to me just how shallow a species we really are.

We know that this is a global issue that requires drastic and global action and, even in highly educated First World countries, we reduce consideration of it to parochial partisan squabbles that do nothing to address our species impending, in geological terms, self extermination. PLG will be along in a second with some kittens I'm sure.

I think it's time to seriously think about building a repository of the best of human creation.

It will be bad enough to leave the record of how we destroyed ourselves but so much worse if we left the impression that we never created anything of beauty.

Northern PoV said...

Saw your post ... and glanced at the Wapo article...
which seems to be a rip-off of the Esquire article I linked to in your comments section a few days ago..

Purple library guy said...

Somebody taking my name in vain and ludicrously distorting my positions? You have a nice day too, Dana.

Purple library guy said...

It's really amazed me just how viscerally Dana reacts to someone claiming that collapse /= extinction.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ NPoV - I think these reports go back a good deal before the Esquire article.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ PLG - these topics, especially when they touch on the Liberals and New Democrats, do seem to stir people up. I take a good bit of heat on this, especially from certain Dippers who don't like anyone pointing out that they've crapped their drawers.

Toby said...

There was a time3 when we could say that feeding the world's population was primarily a matter of distribution. I think those days have passed. There are too many people, not enough food and desertification is making the problem much worse. We have already seen mass starvations but none like we will see.

Dana said...

Jeez, and here's me thinking I was being lighthearted and amusing what with the kittens and all. Since I know full well you think me an unlettered barbarous dolt incapable of perceiving the difference between death and a deep sleep.

Ah well, let that be a lesson to me then...he who must not be named must also not be teased.