Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate

The two greatest myths about global warming communications are 1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and 2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive!

These myths are so deeply ingrained in the environmental and progressive political community that when we finally had a serious shot at a climate bill, the powers that be — led by team Obama! — decided not to focus on the threat posed by climate change in any serious fashion in their $200 million communications effort (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“).

These myths are so deeply ingrained in the mainstream media that such messaging, when it is tried, is routinely attacked and denounced — and the flimsiest studies are interpreted exactly backwards to drive the erroneous message home (see “Dire straits: Media blows the story of UC Berkeley study on climate messaging“)

In the Canadian high Arctic, a polar bear negotiates what was once solid ice.

The only time anything approximating this kind of messaging — not “doomsday” but what I’d call blunt, science-based messaging that also makes clear the problem is solvable — was in 2006 and 2007 with the release of An Inconvenient Truth (and the 4 assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and media coverage like the April 2006 cover of Time). The data suggest that strategy measurably moved the public to become more concerned about the threat posed by global warming (see major study here).

You’d think it would be pretty obvious that the public is not going to be concerned about an issue unless one explains why they should be concerned about an issue. And the social science literature, including the vast literature on advertising and marketing, could not be clearer that only repeated messages have any chance of sinking in and moving the needle, as I discuss in my book “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.” One of the most popular quotes in the book is from GOP wordmeister Frank Luntz:

There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.

Because I doubt any serious movement of public opinion or mobilization of political action could possibly occur until these myths are shattered, I’ve been posting on the best work on climate messaging and public opinion analysis (see “Must-Read: A Guide For Engaging and Winning on Climate And Clean Energy” and Krosnick: Candidates “May Actually Enhance Turnout As Well As Attract Voters Over To Their Side By Discussing Climate Change“).

Since this is Oscar night, though, it seems appropriate to update my post on what messages the public are exposed to in popular culture and the media. It ain’t doomsday. Quite the reverse, climate change has been mostly an invisible issue for several years and the message of conspicuous consumption and business-as-usual reigns supreme.

The motivation for this post actually came up last year because I received an e-mail from a journalist commenting that the “constant repetition of doomsday messages” doesn’t work as a messaging strategy. I had to demur, for the reasons noted above.

But it did get me thinking about what messages the public are exposed to, especially as I’ve been rushing to see the movies nominated for Best Picture this year. I am a huge movie buff, but as parents of small children know, it isn’t easy to stay up with the latest movies.

That said, good luck finding a popular movie in recent years that even touches on climate change, let alone one a popular one that would pass for doomsday messaging. Last year, Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life was been billed as an environmental movie — and even shown at environmental film festivals — but while it is certainly depressing, climate-related it ain’t. In fact, if that is truly someone’s idea of environmental movie, count me out.

This year Beasts of the Southern Wild is an environmentally-themed movie that has won its share of awards and is nominated for Best Picture. It is seemingly related to climate change. But it hardly counts as a popular movie, scoring a whopping $12 million in domestic gross to date, which means it was seen by somewhere north of one million Americans.

The closest to a genuine popular climate movie was the dreadfully unscientific The Day After Tomorrow, which is from 2004 (and arguably set back the messaging effort by putting the absurd “global cooling” notion in people’s heads!) Even Avatar, the most successful movie of all time — $2.7 billion global gross — and “the most epic piece of environmental advocacy ever captured on celluloid,” as one producer put it, omits the climate doomsday message. One of my favorite eco-movies, “Wall-E, is an eco-dystopian gem and an anti-consumption movie,” but it isn’t a climate movie.

I had some hopes for The Hunger Games movie. I’d read all 3 of the bestselling young adult novels — hey, that’s my job! — and while post-apocalyptic, they don’t qualify as climate change doomsday messaging. And the movie has nothing to do with global warming. So, no, the movies certainly don’t expose the public to constant doomsday messages on climate.

Here are the key points about what repeated messages the American public is exposed to:

  1. The broad American public is exposed to virtually no doomsday messages, let alone constant ones, on climate change in popular culture (TV and the movies and even online). There is not one single TV show on any network devoted to this subject, which is, arguably, more consequential than any other preventable issue we face.
  2. The same goes for the news media, whose coverage of climate change has collapsed (see “Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011“). When the media do cover climate change in recent years, the overwhelming majority of coverage is devoid of any doomsday messages — and many outlets still feature hard-core deniers. Just imagine what the public’s view of climate would be if it got the same coverage as, say, unemployment, the housing crisis or even the deficit? When was the last time you saw an “employment denier” quoted on TV or in a newspaper?
  3. The public is exposed to constant messages promoting business as usual and indeed idolizing conspicuous consumption. See, for instance, “Breaking: The earth is breaking … but how about that Royal Wedding?
  4. Our political elite and intelligentsia, including MSM pundits and the supposedly “liberal media” like, say, MSNBC, hardly even talk about climate change and when they do, it isn’t doomsday. Indeed, there isn’t even a single national columnist for a major media outlet who writes primarily on climate. Most “liberal” columnists rarely mention it (Tom Friedman being the main exception).
  5. At least a quarter of the public chooses media that devote a vast amount of time to the notion that global warming is a hoax and that environmentalists are extremists and that clean energy is a joke. In the MSM, conservative pundits routinely trash climate science and mock clean energy. Just listen to, say, Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe mock clean energy sometime.
  6. The major energy companies bombard the airwaves with millions and millions of dollars of repetitious pro-fossil-fuel ads. The environmentalists spend far, far less money. As noted above, the one time they did run a major campaign to push a climate bill, they and their political allies including the president explicitly did NOT talk much about climate change, particularly doomsday messaging.
  7. Environmentalists when they do appear in popular culture, especially TV, are routinely mocked.
  8. There is very little mass communication of doomsday messages online. Check out the most popular websites. General silence on the subject, and again, what coverage there is ain’t doomsday messaging. Go to the front page of the (moderately trafficked) environmental websites. Where is the doomsday?

If you want to find anything approximating even modest, blunt, science-based messaging built around the scientific literature, interviews with actual climate scientists and a clear statement that we can solve this problem — well, you’ve all found it, of course, but the only people who see it are those who go looking for it.

Of course, this blog is not even aimed at the general public. Probably 99% of Americans haven’t even seen one of my headlines and 99.7% haven’t read one of my climate science posts. And Climate Progress is probably the most widely read, quoted, reposted, liked and retweeted, climate science blog in the world.

Anyone dropping into America from another country or another planet who started following popular culture and the news the way the overwhelming majority of Americans do would — at least until Superstorm Sandy — have gotten the distinct impression that nobody who matters is terribly worried about climate change. And, of course, they’d be right — see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2.”

It is total BS that somehow the American public has been scared and overwhelmed by repeated doomsday messaging into some sort of climate fatigue. The public’s concern did seem to drop several percent — but that is primarily due to the conservative media’s disinformation campaign impact on Tea Party conservatives and to the treatment of this as a nonissue by most of the rest of the media, intelligentsia and popular culture.

Ironically it took the post-apocalyptic horror of an actual warming-fueled superstorm to bring home the message that global warming is here and now.

What’s amazing to me is not the public’s supposed lack of concerned about global warming — another myth, debunked here — but that the public is as knowledgable and concerned as it is given the realities discussed above!

The stunning increase in extreme weather events — 25 disasters exceeding a billion dollars in the past two years — which had long been predicted by climate scientists, has not gone unnoticed by the public:

So the question now is whether the media, politicians, and popular culture will finally catch up to where the public is:

167 Responses to Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate

  1. Is there anyone left to report on climate? Newspapers fired +30,000 reporters last 5 yrs – Sci/Climate journalists first to go.

    — I’m a former MSM enviro reporter

  2. Ray Kondrasuk says:

    After Obama’s SOTU address, FOX’s John Stossel brought up global warming. His guest devoted about thirty seconds to denouncing the Sandy/warming connection as “bunk, no evidence”.

    Later, Peter (greenman3610) Sinclair’s brief video featuring Rutger’s Jennifer Francis sent me to tracking Professor Francis down on YouTube for her full 90-minute presentation about the shifting Arctic Ocillation.

    Harsh reality, as George Lakoff and you, Joe, will likely sadly acknowledge… a lengthy, detailed, documented truth will be ever trumped by a short, simple, repeated falsehood.

    Wasn’t it Sam Clemens who noted that a lie can be half-way around the world before truth even gets its boots on?

  3. Donald Brown says:

    This is, in my view, a very, very important contribution to the climate debate. In my experience, even many environmental NGOs are not talking about climate change in a way that is congruent with the scale of the problem that is being articulated by mainstream scientific organizations. By calling climate change concerned people “alarmists,” the right has successfully intimidated many from speaking out about the scale of the problem facing the world. Even at the March in Washington last week, no one spoke to the crowd about the fact that the mainstream scientific community now believes it may be too late to prevent 2 degrees warming, that to limit warming to 2 degrees will require hard-to-imagine global reductions of 5 to 7 % per year after 2020, that the world has lost 30 years in taking action, etc. When I worked for government, when I simply advocated reporting to the public what the most prestigious scientific organizations including the US Academy of Sciences was saying about climate change, I was told over and over again not to scare people about the threat of climate change, to always talk in “win-win” language, and by one Democratic governor not to talk about climate change at all instead to talk about sustainable energy without ever explaining what a move to sustainable energy was vitally important. Even after Sandy, the US press is still not reporting on the enormity of the challenge before the human race but simply commenting on the fact that climate change has now reappeared on the US political agenda.

  4. John McCormick says:

    Stephen, I will approach Senator Whitehouse and Rep. Waxman to urge they consider establishing a National Renewable Energy Utility. I’d like to share that letter with you and others.

  5. Luntz’s point is dead on. I can’t count the number of times I (or Climate Progess, for that matter) have been accused of preaching to the choir.

    It’s like people on the left are compelled to be jaded. Or to hold themselves to a higher academic standard. They don’t understand mass communication.

    This isn’t academics. This is a battle for hearts and minds. Even if we are talking among ourselves, there’s utility in that reinforcement. It’s called encouragement.

    Every bit of new data that corroborates what we know to be true solidifies our own convictions. That solidarity is vital. It’s what the right has that we don’t.

    Repetition is proportional to social acceptance. The lack of repetition signifies a lack of importance.

    What about information fatigue? That’s a danger. That’s why the messages have to be tied to principles, ideas, and actions, and not be mere handwringing.

  6. Superman1 says:

    PART 1 OF 3
    We get to hear what we want to hear. We want to hear that our unlimited use of fossil fuels has no adverse consequences. That’s why the deniers are popular; not because they tell us the truth, but because they tell us what we want to hear. They give us ‘cover’ to justify our continuing heavy use of fossil fuels. The media is not in the business of offending its readers. The last thing they want to do is make us feel uncomfortable. The problem is demand-driven, not supply-driven.

  7. Superman1 says:

    PART 2 OF 3
    It’s really no different from the smoking-lung cancer denialism we were fed for so long. Way before the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report, we knew people were getting lung cancer, emphysema, Burgers Disease, circulatory problems, etc, from smoking. But, the deniers gave us ‘cover’ to continue smoking, so we could point to their ‘results’ to continue justifying our ‘habit’. If it weren’t for the non-smoking majority-imposed economic penalties, no-smoking mandates, and other controls, we still would be smoking at the same rates, at least according to a NYT reporter I heard interviewed on the topic a couple of years ago.

  8. Superman1 says:

    PART 3 OF 3
    And it’s not different from the cell phone-brain cancer denialism we see today. Lennart Hardell, the top cell phone oncology epidemiologist in the world, and others, have shown that a decade of heavy cell phone use (>30 min/day) doubles the brain cancer risk for adults who start using as adults, and quintuples the brain cancer risk for those who start as children. But, that’s not what we want to hear, so we reference the denier research that gives us ‘cover’ to continue our cell phone addiction. No different from climate change.

  9. Great article and advice. Thanks, very helpful to me.

    I would sadly add John Stewart’s Daily Show to the list of left-leaning MSM media that refuse to cover the climate crisis. His interview with Al Gore awhile back was classic denier-media. He spent the entire time quibbling about the political optics around who Gore sold a media company to rather than engage in any discussion of climate threat. Gore tried to bring up climate but Stewart refused to engage. Ever. Even smirked a bit.

    Stewart is in the mainstream of media pundits that make very clear that the climate crisis isn’t even worth talking. Pathetic.

  10. And the way to get past denialism is consciousness-raising, to create fertile ground to accept the necessary legal and social changes.

    It worked with the vote for women, it worked with desegregation, it worked with litter, it worked with smog, and it worked with tobacco. Eventually, enough people will shift.

    You’re right, people deny to avoid change. That’s why repetition is important: To keep their illogic and lack of ethics front and center in their own minds.

    Our problem, of course, is time. The ice cap isn’t getting any bigger. That’s why the ice cap itself is such a potent symbol. It’s the very embodiment of the message. It’s the idiot light at the top of the world.

  11. Daniel Coffey says:

    Joe: I very much like your materials, and I think this one is particularly good.

    Oscars? Why did you not mention “Chasing Ice”? I reviewed it in one of my columns and I would say its pretty good at creating a clear narrative about effects of global warming, even as it jumps over detailing the cause. Thus, while it is not solely a climate change film per se, as it involved many other things as well, it gave demonstrable and emotionally relevant information about what is happening. The visual and auditory impacts of the film are stunning.

    With respect to your larger point about messaging, I agree that repetition and reality are needed, and that noting clearly that things are bad may – oh, by the way – create the impression of a repeated “bad” message. However, when the house is on fire, trotting through the halls once with a whispering voice saying “fire” is probably not the way to rouse and save the occupants. Singing “lolly pops and rain drops” is probably not going to get people out of bed and running in the right direction.

    Another major challenge is that so many in the environmental movement – like the public generally – do not really “get” the scale, scope, intensity and duration of global warming, partly because it is not well explained in stark terms that matter. Environmentalists think they get it, but if you test behavior against knowledge, they don’t act like it. Delay remains a big feature of the response, a behavior which belies the urgency for action. if you ask them to explain what is actually happening, more often than not, they can’t. They describe consequences, but are not exactly clear on the cause and how it really functions. This latter point has immense consequences for behavior.

    In my view, the three parts of the challenge are: cause, effects, and solutions. Each one requires considerable study, as each involves radical changes and a scientific clarity which takes time and study to achieve. it is difficult to find people who can talk about and choose between the myriad paths and consequences that those three elements dictate. The forest is thick, the distractions are many, the path untrodden, and time is short.

  12. Ray Kondrasuk says:

    Change, I’m musing over what you said…

    “…Every bit of new data that corroborates what we know to be true solidifies our own convictions. That solidarity is vital. It’s what the right has that we don’t…”

    I have to acknowledge that, and add what Chris Mooney observes in his “The Republican Brain”… that when scientists admit that there is still unfinished research and that they may have to adjust their thinking, their openness is considered a virtue.

    When the right strays from ideology and admits uncertainty, it is assailed as a weakness.

  13. paul magnus magnus says:

    Some sanity.

    Here a good movie on GW … The Revolution

  14. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s not as if the media is being oblivious because they somehow overlooked this subject. Big corporate media companies control newspapers, television (including cable TV), and even movie studios. Telling simple truths about global warming brings howls of protest from advertisers and, more importantly, their own beancounters, who fear loss of advertising.

    The US is in a spiritual descent, as the notion of media’s sacred charge to inform the public has been lost. Climate Progress is a national treasure, but so few Americans know the gravity of our situation that they do not even know about this site.

    Climate Progress and also Skeptical Science are also fun to read. This subject is intellectually fascinating (if sometimes macabre), and touches on everything in our lives, including sustenance and political machinations.

    Big Greens won’t fill the void, ever, because they have been corrupted, too.

    Our key leaders- Romm, Hansen, and McKibben- have gone too easy on our media, since each appears on television, and they fear being blackballed. Mann and Box are two strong thinkers who get it, but unlike the above they lack power centers.

    Just before the American Revolution, the British controlled the press, and people turned to streetcorner broadsheets. Existing media was exposed and discredited, and the people awakened. We need to confront our media directly through boycotts and severe public pressure, and encourage the public to go to reputable online outlets. The hour is getting late.

    Anyone who wants to privately discuss a plan can reach me at

  15. Dan Miller says:

    As someone who gives climate talks that include a discussion about how bad it could get, I have to say that my audiences almost universally appreciate being spoken to like adults and being told the truth.

  16. Joe Romm says:

    I didn’t discuss documentaries. “Chasing Ice” has grossed $1.2 million worldwide. Not a mass media thing, I’m afraid.

  17. Joe Romm says:

    Stewart has been poor on this. Chris Hayes has been great — I should have mentioned that.

  18. CW says:

    There`s a lot worth diving into here. Who exactly is perpetuating this myth? Are they sincere or is this a tactic of some kind to suppress? If it is sincere, what exactly turns them off? What is it about their world view that makes them think that simply mentioning this problem is counterproductive, when they grab ahold of other problems and repeat them ad nauseum for weeks/months/years?

    If it’s too hard to pinpoint any of that exactly, and it may be, then I’ll add one more personal account. I do feel that there are a lot of enviros who do not strike the right balance. And it is about balance. Of course both the inevitable and the likely dangers, as pointed to by science, have to be endlessly repeated. But so do the benefits, including those that tend to reinforce existing systems and those that disrupt them.

    I have stopped going to a lot of eco-films and eco-talks because I’m sold on the problem and that’s so often all they talk about. If there’s one out there that gets on with the solutions for, say, at least 50% of the show, then I’ll be the first to buy tickets and hope it goes Oscar.

  19. PeterM says:

    The vast majority of the American public (over 95%) has never heard of James Hansen, Michael Mann, Bill McKibben) They do not know that we have had 5 ice ages and 5 interglacials over the 500,000 years. Do they know what the Milanokovic climate oscillations are, and how they define climate sensitivity and help access human induced climate change? Does the public realize we have gone from 280ppm to nearly 400ppm in the geologic blink of an eye (or less) Americans are simply to preoccupied with the moment and really do not seem to care or understand the dire future they will face. The MSM of course is very complicit in this cover up.As time progresses however all of the coverups. However in time the lies, misinformation & subterfuge will end. It amazes me how so many in this country will do anything to preserve the capitalist system as it stands today.

  20. John Atkeison says:

    Yes, but many are still deflected by the confusion caused by the lack of genuine alarm they pick up from their environmentalist friends.
    Ross Gelbspan began “Boiling Point” by referencing the play “Rhinoceros” in which characters witness people suddenly becoming horned beasts, but the mention of which was forbidden…
    Yeah, like that!

  21. John Atkeison says:

    It seems clear to me that there is a great pent-up desire to talk about these things.

  22. John Atkeison says:

    The film “Carbon Nation” is good, if slightly dated. I use it as a discussion starter at house parties that are the main activity of of the new local group ENERGYLinc.

  23. John Atkeison says:

    Most of my experience with this myth has been the several times that state-level leaders of the Sierra Club have responded to my suggestions in coalitions that we speak plainly and accurately. Their (apparently) knee-jerk reaction is that such talk will turn people off, and continue with a version of the hope-less doomsday myth as the presumed message. I ask, “Why do you assume that we would be so stupid as to say things that we know are off-putting *and* wrong?” since by now they know this is not the proposal, I hope to never hear it again.
    Do others have similar experiences, and do y’all think I am being fair to the Sierrans?
    (They have been willing to say the words “global warming” sind superstorm Sandy…)

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    To protect their position, their larceny and their destructiveness, the global over-class require a stupefied, dumbed-down, ignorant, greedy and apathetic populace. It’s the MSM’s task to produce such a mass, and they’ve been staggeringly successful.

  25. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Of course the rabble will wake up one day. One day they might even wake up to how the predatory capitalist elites are grinding them into the mud. One fine day brute reality will drive out the effects of years of brainwashing -well at least for some, perhaps many. Then we’ll have to deal with the Right’s reaction to existential threat. And if you believe that Rightwingers will say, ‘Sorry, I was wrong and you were correct’ and set to with others to work together to save humanity, well, then you are more of an optimist than I.

  26. BobbyL says:

    I think it is hard for a doomsday message on climate to get much traction at this point of time because most of the people who hear it will have died before doomsday arrives. The message therefore evokes no real fear. The doomsday message of the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack during the 1950s conversely did evoke actual fear.

  27. But Fox News doesn’t get to write the last word on climate change. Climate change does.

    After years and years of nothing but denialist crap, the “conspiracy of silence” in the MSM and on the presidential campaign trail, economic distractions and so on, events on the ground (or in the air) have majority of people backing action on climate change.

    That’s because IT’S GLOBAL WARMING, STUPID!

    (Stupid doesn’t mean you, it means Fox News.)

  28. Daniel Coffey says:

    You may wish to believe that the time remaining before we see real effects is far off, but that is not the case. We are already seeing the tip of the spear when it comes to drought, food loss, wildlife losses, ocean acidity effects, and just plain destruction. Because of the accumulating nature of global warming, each year we get more net energy in the oceans, ice, atmosphere. That has consequences, not the least is a higher degree of unpredictable behavior. Anyone who has ever looked at water as it heats knows that its motion becomes progressively more disorganized and violent as it heats.

  29. Daniel Coffey says:

    Yes, Carbon Nation was a good film focused on solutions. I talked to the filmmaker quite a bit and inquired about his brief treatment of global warming. He was far more interested in solutions, a wise approach overall.

    Its good for discussion and positive for the most part.

  30. Daniel Coffey says:

    Have your presentations been posted to Youtube or the like? It would be interesting to see.

  31. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, the people do get it and want to help. A couple of weeks ago I thought I was walking into the lion’s den when I was invited to talk to a meeting of mainly rural women about climate change – rural Oz is supposed to be a stronghold of denialism.

    Not a denier in sight! They couldn’t stop talking about the changes they had seen in the last few years and were well aware of the global implications of their crop failures etc. They decided to get their community together for some local planning, ME

  32. Merrelyn Emery says:

    You are certainly a great believer in the power of repetition, ME

  33. Joan Savage says:

    Steinbeck published “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1939. The movie version came out in 1940, when memories of the Dust Bowl were still fresh.

    It’s a durable piece of literature and still a good movie. We like finding out that it is possible to survive, somehow.

    I’m waiting for a contemporary work with similar empathy and depth of context.

  34. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The ‘rabble’ are also victims as you acknowledge in your second sentence. Alienated and apathetic some of them may be, with good reason, but stupid they are not. Isn’t it time to get beyond stereotypes and reification? ME

  35. Daniel Coffey says:

    You raise a series of interesting points. What is most troubling to me is how long it takes to really understand the basics of global warming and what those basics really mean. There is so much focus on the complicated and ubiquitous effects, its no wonder people become confused. The media is made of people who study journalism, not science. If they do study science, it is not typically the kind of advanced, hard-core math, physics, engineering, chemistry, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and modeling needed to deal with the “effects” side of global warming. For their failure to communicate they must be given some slack. Joe is good at this thing partly because of his physics background, or so I suspect. But that is unusual.

    In the law there is a principle summed up in the Palsgraf case. That case helped establish the concept of “proximate cause,” an intentional limitation on how remote a “cause” may be for the purposes of “negligence” so as to limit the scope of liability. Every American lawyer knows the case.

    The principled line of reasoning and proof needed to connect cause and effect was made very short – or proximate – in order to prevent cases becoming too complex and tangential. By radical contrast, scientific reasoning and thought relies heavily upon a whole host of highly abstract ideas, all of which lead us even further into alien realms of thought. Were it not for factual demonstration, I think a good deal of science thought would be considered nutty. But the nutty abstractions turn out to be true and useful – because they can be demonstrated.

    A structured presentation focusing on simple cause and complex effects is worth some thought.

  36. mark says:

    won’t this keep going around in circles until the planet breaks, unless people stop being afraid to connect the dots between climate change and economics. until people admit that the only economic system we’ve ever known is fundamentally at odds with any possible hope at a solution to climate change and own up to the massive insane challenge of reforming globalization and blind dependence on GDP (which were always designed to mostly benefit rich people temporarily) all the good will in the world will only run into more and more resistance, as it always has.

    i can’t think of another instance where world leaders will meet to figure out a solution to a global problem and come out with only things to make it worse. no country has ever reduced its emissions unless it was due to disaster destruction or economic collapse, and vice versa.

  37. Daniel Coffey says:

    For those who adhere to the notion that repetition is a good approach, I offer the following thought: send the right message.

    The biggest challenge now is not repeating things, its repeating the right things that will make a real difference. If we repeat things that disperse or dilute efforts to achieve real, tangible solutions on the ground, it’s as if we did nothing. Oh, yes, that is because we will have created a “movement” that went off in the wrong direction, wasted its time, and did the wrong thing because it heard the wrong message repetitively.

    That is why Republicans know how to sell – they use Madison Avenue techniques, decide what they want to sell and then craft the message. So what do we want to sell?

    If the anti-global warming message is cold houses, dark offices, no fuel in the car, and hungry children, as the Beatles wonderfully put it, “you can count me out.”

    The message must be a far better future with abundant energy resources – which is the truth, by the way. Large-scale Solar and wind are being fought at every turn because they are too effective at displacing fossil fuels.

  38. Superman1 says:

    Truth cannot be repeated enough!

  39. Daniel Coffey says:

    Agreed. Now, for the good news. We can craft a simple message in response. Cut to the chase. My message is simple: decarbonize electricity and electrify transportation to the maximum extent possible as fast as possible by using large-scale solar PV, wind and geothermal. It produces a better world, can be done with items of the shelf, is cheaper and relies on easily found, local energy resources that won’t run out. Half measures are not enough. Time is running out. We won’t get a second chance to deal with global warming. There is no off switch. Let’s support the good guys who are trying to deploy the solutions we need. If you want to rally, show up to support a large-scale solar, wind or geothermal project. That will actually scare the oil and coal and natural gas companies. Oops, I gave away my whole plan.

  40. John McCormick says:

    Our fault!

  41. John McCormick says:

    If our big greens had more sense than god gave geese, they would be out on the streets shouting chaos and writing screen players for their Hollywood benefactors to produce.

  42. David Goldstein says:

    Peter- you make great points. It seems that every bit of nuance has been leeched out of public discourse. Climate change is actually not all the nuanced in a sense; the points you covered- Milankovitch, 40% GHG rise, etc are really pretty basic and could be explained in about 15 minutes or so to at least give the overall picture. But…gosh…even this bit of ‘nuance’ seems very very challenging to achieve traction with. Even my intelligent and liberal friends kind of get the ‘eye glaze’ thing when I even start to go into it. The ONLY thing that seems to penetrate is catastrophic weather- that, I am afraid, is what we are going to have to wait on. hmmmmm…anyone up for a ‘nuanced’ discussion of what happens when the permafrost melt/carbon-methane release really gets going??

  43. Lore says:

    You’re exactly right, but small voices over big money makes for a poor messenger.

  44. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The same denialist media can’t resist the temptation of showing the great visuals of wildfires and floods wiping out communities, and people with their pattern-making minds get the message – they are undermining their own strategy, ME

  45. All true, but there is one serious side of criticizing doomsday predictions. It occurs because of the unnecessarily narrow way in which climate scientists frame the problem.

    Most of the statements, made even by my favorite climate scientists, have an unspoken frame of reference that the public is not likely to notice. When you hear them say words like irreversible, it should usually be prefaced by “Unless we clean up most of the excess CO2 already in the air, and cancel out continuing emissions by removing equal amounts elsewhere, then irreversible damage or runaway conditions will happen….”

    By omitting such a preamble, their message of “This is a very serious matter” tends to imply that there is nothing we can do about it.

    Climate scientists are trained to analyze what’s going on, but they usually avoid claiming any expertise regarding what to do about it. They will state the obvious–fewer emissions will slow down the rate of things getting worse–and even do climate simulations based on the economists’ industrial scenarios.

    But emissions reductions are not climate solutions, not any more that brushing your teeth more often is a fix for a painful tooth that you already have. What we now need is climate repair, yet everyone keeps talking about preventative measures. The 1970s mind set is not going to get us out of this mess.

  46. Joan Savage says:

    Hm, indeed. I didn’t know you’d written a climate change fiction book until I checked your link, and I haven’t read it. Best wishes.

  47. Omega Centauri says:

    Regarding the MSM media undercutting their own case, but showing the spectacle of events like fires/floods etc. Shhh, so far the Koch’s etc. have given them the pass on this. But they may figure this out, and strat applying pressure against these sorts of stories.

  48. Zach Shahan says:

    I’d certainly agree — there hasn’t been the “meeting” to decide what the message should be. My 3 cents:

    1- Global warming is a huge threat, probably the biggest threat humanity has ever faced, a threat that could (if worst came to worst) make the world completely unlivable for humans. (

    2- The solutions to global warming are available today. (

    3- The solutions would also create jobs, clean our air, clean and save our water, and boost the economy.

    I’m open to suggestions.

  49. Zach Shahan says:

    But the thing to remember is that, while these rich industries will try to bribe their way to civilization’s death, the masses are on the side of honor and stopping global warming — that can go a long way.

  50. Joan Savage says:

    Sidebar, or crosslink, depending on how you look at it.

    A recent BBC business report, “Why speaking English can make you poor when you retire,” highlights a study on the savings habits of people with differing linguistics.

    Get this.
    People who speak of the future in the present tense are more likely to prepare for it.

    The research results are controversial, of course.

    Chinese is an example of language with no clear future tense.

    Surely messaging on climate change can take a clue here.

    “It actually seems like encouraging yourself to think in the present tense makes it a little bit easier to engage in self-control.” – Dr. Chen.

  51. Superman1 says:

    Daniel, If solar et al are so cheap, how come the Chinese, Indians, and others have these hundreds of coal plants, and other fossil types, on the planning board? They’re not exactly known for throwing away money. Why aren’t these new, easily built, and bargain basement renewable plants on the planning board instead of the fossil?

  52. Merrelyn Emery says:

    In my world there are facts, probabilities, ideas, theories etc, all contextualized and nuanced. ‘Truth’ is an abstraction, ME

  53. John McCormick says:

    John McCormick says:
    February 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Stephen, Mid-March I will hand a letter to Senator Whitehouse and Rep. Waxman to urge they consider establishing a National Renewable Energy Utility. I’d like to share that letter with you and others.

  54. Zach Shahan says:

    Aimed at Joe, but happy to read other responses: Out of curiosity, what do you think is responsible for the majority of the public “getting” that global warming is a real problem (despite the horrid media coverage)?

    An Inconvenient Truth? The IPCC & Gore winning the Nobel Prize? Extreme weather?

    None of these seem to be enough to account for the % of the public getting* it that does so to some extent. But the are the most notable things that come to mind.

    *Obviously, the problem is that the public doesn’t really “get it” to the degree needed, but when asked general questions about whether or not global warming is a significant problem, the majority seem to.

  55. Sounds like a good idea John. There is the newish International Renewable Energy Agency already

  56. John McCormick says:

    Stephen, you haven’t read the letter. Send an email and you can read this good idea.

  57. China increased its solar capacity 400%, wind went up 35% in 2012. But don’t forget their energy use is no where close to US consumption on per person basis.

  58. Superman1 says:

    PART 1 OF 3
    2 C is a meaningless number; we have not been shown the full truth. We are at 0.8 C, and the permafrost is thawing and releasing copious methane. The ice cap will be gone shortly, and, with warm water from the Atlantic pouring into the Arctic Ocean (Alexeev, 2012), the Arctic Ocean will begin heating in Summer. Clathrates have been discovered recently at 290 meters depth, and they are in locations very sensitive to increased water temperature.

  59. Superman1 says:

    PART 2 OF 3
    We have been told by the ‘experts’ that the bulk of the clathrate reserves are located well below the ocean floor, thermally insulated from the effects of warmer water for centuries, if not millenia. However, if even a moderate amount of clathrates are located at the shallow depths, their release may be sufficient to accelerate the other positive feedback mechanisms out of control. These feedback mechanisms are coupled and synergistic.

  60. Donald, this is headline from one my recent articles for IPS, a non MSM news service based in Rome.

    “Experts Fear Collapse of Global Civilisation”

  61. Superman1 says:

    PART 3 OF 3
    The point here is 2 C is not the entre to Extremely Dangerous conditions (in Kevin Anderson’s words), nor 1 C, nor 0.8 C. The entre was before the rapid ice decline was observable, perhaps 0.5 or 0.4 C. With some safety factor allowed, the real temperature ceiling target should have been 0.2 or 0.1 C. If we have under-estimated ‘climate sensitivity’ and ‘aerosol forcing’, the temperature ceiling should be even less. We have no more leeway or time left; Extremely Dangerous is here today.

  62. Superman1 says:

    Those renewables percentages don’t mean very much to Mother Nature. She only cares about those hundreds of coal plants to be built, and the growth in CO2 emissions.

  63. Lore says:

    While Chris has been great on the issue, he neither embodies the cool or mass market coverage of John.

  64. BobbyL says:

    Real effects yes. But that not what this post is about. It’s about doomsday. I would say it is a long way off, unless you happen to live in the Maldives or someplace that is particularly vulnerable. Where I live it is hard to imagine a climate change doomsday scenario for many decades. What is doomsday? 4C? That seems like a good definition; scientists say global civilization could collapse. The predictions are that 4C is likely in the 2080s on our present course. If you are college age you might live that long but it is very far off. If you are much older than college age it unlikely you will still be alive. Therefore there is no physiological response of fear leading to action in order to reduce the fear. Mainly only a do-gooder response in many people and no response at all in many others. Repeating a message that doesn’t produce the desired response seems futile to me.

  65. Zach Shahan says:

    I came here to ask just one question, but have gotten a bit distracted from going through the comments. From that, one additional point comes to mind:

    “The message” needs to be put forth beyond environmental or climate circles. The huge majority of the public will simply never get interested in such circles (well, until the world is getting slammed with enough weather catastrophes and heat records to make people really scared — at which point it could well be “too late”).

    The message needs to be brought into other discussions and circles that are seemingly “unrelated” at first glance. And, of course, not in a way that makes people think “uh oh, it’s the climate guy, don’t get into a conversation with him.”

    As a few examples from my own life:

    1. I have been in charge of for a few years. Initially, the focus was deep green. At one point, I decided I didn’t really have time to focus on that site so much and another (#2 below), and I happened to bring on another writer who was simply more interested in general science news — and in getting a bunch of pageviews. The focus of the site (despite its name) has primarily shifted to hot science news the brings in tens or hundreds of thousands of views on individual posts from Google News and reddit. But here’s why I’m possibly happier with that approach than my own — I’ve lined up the first sidebar on the right with key points and posts about global warming and key solutions. The “general public” who now streams into the site gets some basic messages put right in front of them, and offers the possibility to learn about them in more depth (which a good number of people do). By focusing on what’s popular — what’s being talked about — and then offering a nonaggressive yet clear note (or 10) about global warming and its solutions, we reach a lot more of the people we actually need to reach. And, of course, we still do our best to get some good coverage up of the “hottest” climate science, global warming, and climate action stories up. (However, as stated above, I don’t have as much time for that due to #2.)

    2. I have also managed for a few years now. With a much larger daily readership and a lot of props that get the attention of larger sites and even the mass media, it has become a bigger focus. Also, quite simply, the fast growth of cleantech industries is massively exciting and fun to cover. And, again, the topic brings in a lot more “normal folk.” People love good news. They love solar and wind energy (especially solar). They love new tech. Initially, I thought that the readership was hardcore greens. But the readership is more general. Posting on global warming and corruption within the GOP is not popular amongst some of our dedicated readers, and I’ve received a good number of nasty emails or comments about it. But as a leading (perhaps the leading) site on clean energy and other cleantech, people stick around. Obviously, global warming isn’t our focus, but we post on the big stories that seem like they’ll help to wake people up. And we do a good bit of bashing of the insanely anti-science GOP. And I try to reinforce a couple of key points over and over again — a. global warming is possibly/probably the greatest threat to human civilization that we’ve ever faced, b. the solutions are available today and have many other benefits (e.g. jobs, better economy, better health), c. there are very powerful, rich industries who don’t want us to switch to clean energy, and they are doing everything they can to confuse the public and slow down the inevitable shift to these better technologies. The key point — again, we are attracting the more general populous to our site and then shooting them with a jolt of climate reality (and political reality) on a fairly regular basis.

    3. I was recently invited to give a couple presentations (1 to a renewable energy graduate program and 1 to a high school during a sort of conference on the topic of water). In both instances, I was sure to send some key jolts of scientific reality and scientifically-based concern regarding global warming. (Of course, in the latter, much of the talk was related to global warming and clean energy solutions, as they relate to water.) These were relatively small groups, but how often do they or their friends receive any information and wake-up calls regarding global warming? Every opportunity we have to speak to a good number of people, we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to educate them about the critical issue that is global warming. (Note that both these talks were in Poland, which gets almost all its electricity from coal and is sort of like the GOP of Europe in this arena — even students of renewable energy can be “skeptical” about climate science.)

    <strong?The take-home points: bring the message to people beyond the deep green circle! and don't forget about the great value of attracting people to you first.

  66. Joe Romm says:

    Where precisely is the peer-reviewed evidence for your claim, “the permafrost … releasing copious methane”? It doesn’t exist.

  67. “…because most of the people who hear it will have died before doomsday arrives.”

    Don’t bet on it. The Big Arctic Ice Melt of 2012 arrived 75 years (three generations) ahead of schedule. Unlike Las Vegas, what goes on in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Expect massive, dramatic and fast changes starting last year. Agriculture will be affected, and it is quite possible our food supply will be cut in half within a decade. That, in turn, can trigger wars, riots and so on.

    I’m not saying that this will necessarily come to pass and we need to panic, but it is definitely within the realm of possibility.

  68. Thank you sir! I’ve been jumping up and down saying this same thing for three of four years now. I even said it to Bill McKibben, who answered, “Huh?” (Probably because he’s so focused on stopping emissions that he can’t look at a bigger picture right now.)

    But yes, we have to get back to 350 — back to 280.

    Biochar can help some, but apparently even if it were to be maxed out, biochar production can only remove 10-15 percent of current annual emissions. That means that if we stopped carbonizing the atmosphere and maximized biochar production tomorrow morning, it would take several centuries to get back to 350 with biochar alone.

    We need other means of sequestering existing carbon. Possibly algae-based biofuels?

  69. PeterM says:

    David, I agree with your assertions. I was out socially tonight and spoke to a person who bought property in Florida. About 8 minutes from the Gulf. This guy is an architect. Very respected. I warned him about climate change in Florida. In our conversation he revealed little knowledge of the science. To make things short, without going into C02 concentrations, paleoclimates etc- I flatly told him that the people at this event, and in the state of Connecticut- have NO idea that basically their ‘fate is now sealed’ with the climate- and we will see for the rest of this century a degradation of our society, caused by increasingly violent climate events. He looked very surprised- alarmed. finished his cocktail and excused himself.

  70. For the past couple of years I’ve been saying “Climate change is writing its own story.” Trenberth said, “Look out your window and you can see climate change in action.”

    People kind of know something is going on, in part because the deniers keep flapping their jaws about it. But when they get hit by Sandy, record temperatures and a drought that covers 60-70 percent of the country, the weird derecho and so on all in one year, Mother Nature gets their attention.

  71. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, the MSM may become a disaster free zone but unless they close down every other source of news, it would become a little too obvious. And then there is always eyes and ears, the neighbours and rellies in foreign countries, ME

  72. Merrelyn Emery says:

    China’s last 5 year plan has coal usage capped by 2015, ME

  73. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Just convince Fox (which I guess means Big Brother Rupe and his representatives on Earth) to believe that climate destabilisation denialists are secret Moslems, and we’ll be off to the races. Ditto, in trumps, for Hollywood.

  74. Paul Klinkman says:

    I regularly point to “Wall-E” as having climate change overtones. There isn’t any life on earth at all because of the terrible wind storms.

    Disastrous wind storms? Check. Extinction of millions of species on earth? Check. Sequestering species so that they can be restored in 700 years or so? Check.

  75. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    I know we need the big solutions to make a big enough diffrence. But to engage the general public it has to be on a personal, what can I do right now with my own hands level. The biggest problem I’ve seen and felt was not having somthing concrete to do myself, than I went to a meeting for local solutions that gave me the information and goals that along with my community we have been working on with our own hands. Local food, local suppies, local solar and river power, shop local, hire local, work local. It may seem small compared to the scale of the problems but it is spreading quickly and more people are joining everyday because these are things that we can get done and pass on to others instead of feeling hopeless in the face of the large scale not moving fast enough. It also creates a feeling of hope and in that the message of the need for action, while at the same time being able to act.

  76. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘The Truth’ is, however, eminently falsifiable.

  77. BobbyL says:

    A lecture by Kevin Anderson which uses many graphs shows that there is very little we can do about climate change. Anderson points out that it is pretty much impossible to stay below 2C and probably very unlikely that we can stay below 4C. He argues that many people are understating how hard it would be to stay below 2C. Assuming the graphs are accurate it is hard to make a case that we can do much.

  78. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ME, I’m a rabble too. To borrow from Malcolm X, I’m a ‘field rabble’. OK so I’ve got ideas above my station, but the rabble is, in fact, most various in character, temperament and disposition. There are indeed, many who know and care what is going on-let’s call them the Rabble-rousers or Rabbleaisians. They’re our only hope. Unfortunately there are also ‘house rabble’ who do not even realise their status in society, and who imagine that, by endlessly doing what the Murdoch MSM and the talk-back carpet-munchers tell them to do, well, one day, they’ll be rich, too. These ‘aspirationals’, (do you recall that they were once dubbed ‘Howard’s battlers’?)are not beyond hope, but it’s going to take more than one whack to the bonce from climate reality to wake them up. We just have to pray that they don’t develop ‘dementia pugilistic denialitica’ in the meantime.

  79. Omega Centauri says:

    We can also store carbon as carbonates. This is energetically favorable, -it doesn’t take a lot of energy to convert CO2 into a carbonate. Its really a matter of increasing the rate of a natural process. So we could add silicate to carbonate enhanced weathering to bio-char. Still current emissions would require many cubic kilometers per year, so I suspect that like biochar, any realistic maxing out would come up well short of the current emissions rate. But, at least we a long term aggressive policy, we could limit the time for the system to recover.

  80. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The stroke of genius of denialism was to portray climate science and rationality as ‘Leftwing’. Either an active conspiracy, to appeal to Rightwing paranoia, or merely the ‘anti-capitalist’ machinations of ‘do-gooders’, ‘latte-sippers’, ‘morally vain Leftists’ etc. Ever since it has been an article of faith, of true Rightwing ideological religion, to reject climate science outright, to refuse to debate honestly, to lie, distort, misrepresent and ‘do whatever it takes’, simply to defeat the eternal Leftist enemy. We are being destroyed by Rightwing pathopsychology, and in more than just the climate destabilisation dimension.

  81. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Bobby, you’ll see Doomsday when global agriculture increasingly fails to meet global food requirements. And that ain’t very far away.

  82. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s excellent news. I was in Vietnam for a month recently, and no-one I spoke to doubted climate change in the least. People spoke matter-of-factly of the strangeness of the weather.

  83. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Murdoch’s menagerie of screechers hated Wall-E.

  84. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    If you read Joseph Tainter or Jared Diamond, and look at what lead to previous collapses of civilizations and then look at our position you would have to include we are in trouble.

    Perhaps even more trouble than Gwynne Dyer suggests in “Climate Wars”. Peter D Wards “Under a Green Sky” considers past mass extinction events and compares them to our position.

    The PETM looks scary, but the end Permian that was an extinction event. We are changing things so much faster than the lead up to the end Permian.

    The end of civilization is looking probable if not nearly certain. The end of man is starting to look decidedly possible. Do we want to make our own extinction a certainty?

  85. Merrelyn Emery says:

    When you try to give ‘truth’ a serial genetic or functional definition which would make it falsifiable, it comes out looking like ‘fact’ or ‘theory’, ME

  86. David Goldstein says:

    Bobby- yes, I also use 4C as an ‘its essentially over’ marker. I am making a 6 minute video/short film which begins with a scene of a grandparent apologizing to his grandchild for the world we live in. After the scene, excerpts from the recent Potsdam Institute/World Bank study which show possible 4c by the 2060s and the consequences of such a world. Near the end, I ask ‘how old will your grandchild be in 2060?’ THIS is what we are doing.

  87. todd tanner says:

    Good post, and some excellent comments. One point I’d like to raise. The gloom & doom/ doomsday messaging actually plays far better on the other side of the political spectrum. I’m always amazed at how few people choose the following frame: “Climate change is a huge threat to our American heritage and traditions.” Not only is it incredibly effective, but it’s 100% true.

    I suspect that if climate change had turned out to be a conservative issue, we would have dealt with it long ago. So why do so many otherwise intelligent people right off half of the political spectrum and focus on strategies that have failed time and again?

  88. todd tanner says:

    By the way, the WaPo’s Eugene Robinson deserves a ton of credit for his columns on climate.

  89. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There is no doubt that Oz was subjected to a particularly vicious and relentless campaign, funded in part as we know by American money and ably abetted by the Murdochracy. And you don’t have to remind me that it continues in places. However, my recent experience as above, is not an isolated one. There is increasing evidence from the grassroots level that despite all the $ and dirty tricks, the deniers could not make it stick, ME

  90. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Good to have your elaboration of ‘rabble’ Mulga. In terms of the ‘house rabble’, yes I’ve met some of them and some of them are truly attrocious. Their numbers have, I believe from good evidence, to have been exaggerated, in Australia at least. I now look forward to your elaboration of what or who exactly constitutes the Right, ME

  91. But that projection assumes we do nothing to remove the CO2.

  92. BobbyL says:

    I believe the MET office in the UK predicted we could reach 4C between about 2055 and 2060 under a worst case scenario which includes all the known positive feedbacks. I have read comments from climate scientists saying 4C is now a given and the real battle is avoiding 5C or 6C. It seems to me there are two things going on. A pretend effort to stay under 2C which realistically cannot be achieved and an unspoken in public effort to avoid 4C. The voluntary commitments of the Copenhagen Accord would take us close to 4C. The latest international plan that is supposed to be devised would not even be implemented before 2020, too late for sure to stay under 2C. Sounds like they have given up on the 2C goal but will not admit it. Politicians cannot tell people we cannot stay under 2C and that it may be extremely difficult to stay under 4C which means civilization will be in jeopardy. It’s a complete mess politically.

  93. Those are proposals for a long-term strategy. Our current problem is surviving the short term by taking about 30 GtC/yr out of the air via enhanced photosynthesis and burial.

  94. BobbyL says:

    It could be in a few years there will scientific evidence that will really scare the heck out of us. But with climate change the situation is always much worse than it feels like. There is about a 30-40 year lag between emissions and manifestations of the full effects of those emissions. The oceans initially absorb most of the heat but we are mostly concerned about temperature rise in the lower atmosphere. It is often difficult to pick out climate effects from natural weather events. Climate change is happening sooner than predicted but still some of the worst effects seem a long way off. Much of what is really happening is therefore difficult for us to feel since we have evolved to react to immediate threats. There is a huge gap between the threat and actually feeling the threat. It is a real challenge for messaging.

  95. Paul Magnus says:

    Yep. .1C or .2C were the incremental steps we should have been worried about.

    This pretty amazing…. Welcome to Eaarth…

    High Fire Danger For Southern Texas
    News – February 24, 2013; 8:57 PM ET

    A threat for fire will be in effect Texas Monday, just south of a blizzard that will impact the Texas Panhandle.

  96. BobbyL says:

    Any predictions on the year? I assume the richer countries will be affected last if that happens. People living on $2 a day should be most concerned. Could be a long time before Americans have a problem. I doubt if most Americans are going to stay up at might worrying about it. Of course, many already have trouble putting food on the table in the world’s richest country.

  97. Leif says:

    Progressives need to jump on a issue that is black and white enough for even the tin hats to understand on a personal level. IMO that is the unfair taxation of “We the People” to be taxed in such a manor that it leads directly to the astronomical profits of the few and the pollution of the commons for all of us. The original “Tea Party” was the rebellion of taxation without representation. Today the “socially enabled capitalistic economy” is far worse. Taxation in support of the ecocide of the planet as witnessed by all who have the guts to look. All the taxes that I have paid in my life time would not cover one day’s worth of subsidies to the top five richest fossil Barons out there. The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine. A precedent. Why do progressives allow our taxes to subsidize the richest fossil Barons in the world? The the rape and pillage of the Earth’s natural resources? The ecocide of the Planet. The very future of all life forms evolved since the dawn of time itself? The future legacy we leave for our children? The mystery, IMO, is not that the Tea Party is gullible to the big money propaganda but that most progressives are so passive in face of the impending catastrophe we see on the lee shore.

  98. jyyh says:

    I’ve been entertaining a possibility of an ‘official doomsday thread’ which would incorporate all the worst case scenarios in the scientific literature and add some more. Then all the comments containing the word ‘doomsday’ could be directed to it. Anyway, the title of the post should be ‘a long doomsday’ (ref to ‘the long thaw’ by D. Archer), since outside a super-eruption of Yellowstone style (that takes some 3 days, though) and some 3-mile asteroid hit this so called ‘environmental doomsday’ isn’t going to be a one short day of doom. Only locally it might look like it (I thought to write a story about a homeless guy in NY metro system preaching the doomsday before Sandy). But yes, tipping points exist.

  99. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That makes me think of Gogol’s ‘The Nose’. That nose runs away from its owner, Kovalyov, and while searching for it, he comes across his nose, better dressed and apparently of higher rank in the civil service than he. I forget if it was a dream, or whether Kovalyov had lost his marbles. ‘Can death be sleep when life is but a dream’.

  100. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Yet they still vote for intensely anti-environmental creatures like Newman, Baillieu and, so we are assured, Abbott. And the recent environmental record of Labor has been appalling. How do you translate raised consciousness into political action?

  101. sailrick says:

    The Chinese government will spend $450 billion supporting renewables in China, over the next five years and $750 billion by 2020.

    they have set a goal of 15% renewables by 2020

    their new goal for wind power is 1,000 GW by 2050 and 150 GW by 2020

    They have set a goal of 50 GW of solar by 2020

    There is a city in China where over 800,000 people are employed in solar energy
    (though much of it for export)

    There are 120 million installed solar water heaters in China.

    and China just increased their goal for solar.

    [Sept 18 2012
    “China is now launching a major build out of solar electricity generation in the domestic market, aiming for 21GW of installations by 2015, increasing its previous target of 5GW by five-fold.”
    {By Shareholders Unite at Seeking Alpha}]

    1/9/2013 China installed 7 GW of solar capacity in 2012 and will install another 10 GW this year.

  102. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes they have. I could write you a long jargon ridden essay about why people make the decisions they do but I’ll save you from that! We both know that we are in for the long haul here until enough of us finally cut through the representative government, political BS. I see evidence that we are recovering from the Howard era that fuelled bitterness, meaness and hatred across the country but some of our maladaptions, particularly amongst the kids who are deliberately opting out in whatever ways they can, are growing. I had always hoped that we could be the first country in the world to show that a genuine participative democracy is possible in this modern crazy world but I don’t think we have time now. So it looks like we just slug it out until it becomes so bad that nobody can keep up with it and all we are left with is the survivors that, as we know, revert to normal behaviour which is to help, cooperate and make extraordinary efforts to create a modicum, or microcosm of the associative, joyful and wise culture of our first people. Let’s just hope that these survivors have the conscious conceptual knowledge about what caused the problem and how to create a modern form of the cooperative, respectful culture we need, ME

  103. Mark Belgium says:

    thanks for the link Stephen.

  104. Superman1 says:


    Back to reality; what is your specific disagreement with my statement above?

  105. Superman1 says:

    See my post under #3 above. We are now in the Extremely Dangerous regime. If there is even a moderate amount of the shallow clathrates identified recently, they could be released by the warming Arctic waters and accelerate the other positive feedback mechanisms. The danger of the temperatures we are experiencing today has been consistently underplayed.

  106. fj says:

    In a way this is a prescient post since the extraordinary difficulties and conflict that climate change presents are perfect for a whole range of adventure, science fiction, thriller, war and dramatic films perhaps, far surpassing the American Western as a genre by mid-century.

  107. Belgrave says:

    Michael Moore is another one who hasn’t, to my knowledge, shown the slightest interest in climate change.

  108. Superman1 says:

    One of only many examples.

    “Methane from underground reservoirs is streaming from thawing permafrost and receding glaciers, contributing to the greenhouse gas load in the atmosphere, a study led by scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has found.

    The study, published online on Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, is the first to document leakage of deep geologic methane from warming permafrost and receding glaciers, said its lead author, Katey Walter Anthony.

    Release of methane into the atmosphere from any source is troubling because methane has far more potent greenhouse powers than carbon dioxide, climate scientists say. Methane has more than 20 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers said.

    Scientists have speculated about such methane releases and modeling has predicted that it would happen as the cryosphere – the earth’s layer of ice and frozen ground – softens and melts, Walter Anthony said in a telephone news conference on Monday.

    “But no one had ever shown that it was occurring or that it was a widespread phenomenon,” she said. “This paper really is the first time that we see with field evidence that this type of geologic methane is escaping as the cryosphere retreats.”

  109. Superman1 says:


    The Doctor tells Joe he’s 100 pounds overweight, and he needs to substitute vegetables for fat. Joe comes back one month later: ‘well, Doc, I doubled my vegetables, but also gained some weight because I didn’t cut fat yet.’ That’s all you’re telling me in your response.

  110. Superman1 says:

    It’s a done deal; no way it can be avoided. For many people, it’s happening now. When food prices start to skyrocket because of agricultural disruptions due to climate change, the poorest of the Earth will vanish.

  111. Paul Klinkman says:

    Just asking, but won’t a single renewable energy utility hand all the fat contracts to Exxon, which will fail every single time?

  112. fj says:

    Another strategy countering the apocalypse scare is very positive and realistic narratives such as Alex Steffen’s

    Carbon Zero: Imagining Citis That Can Save the Planet

  113. Paul Getty says:

    I have been sending four of my friends doomsday, climate science based posts for a decade. They are smart, well educated guys. None of it has worked.
    They have countered with all the denier bs, and when that didn’t seem adequate to counter my fact filled messages, they then tell me that the world has gone through stuff like this for billions of years and the earth can do it again and new life will form, so, what’s the problem?
    Sometimes I hear from them about how everyone fell for Y2K, and lots of other stuff, like nuclear holocaust, which never happen, so why worry about this one? Stuff just doesn’t happen that the press makes you get scared about.
    I simply cannot get them interested or even slightly concerned.
    For me this has been a bit of an experiment: if I can get these guys interested, maybe there is hope.
    So far, no hope.

  114. John McCormick says:

    Of course. That’s the whole idea.

  115. Superman1 says:

    “won’t this keep going around in circles until the planet breaks,” Yes; forget all the verbiage past this. There is zero evidence we are doing anything to halt this, or will do anything. All we hear is wishful thinking; nothing more.

  116. Superman1 says:

    Which, based on past, present, and future planning evidence so far, is about as accurate a prediction as one could possibly make.

  117. I think he meant that permafrost studies show that the predicted melting will be releasing copious methane. (future tense)

  118. One of the earliest consequences of climate change inaction will be the death of democracy.

  119. Joe Romm says:

    The issue is rate of change — and there isn’t any evidence it is significant yet.

  120. Jim says:

    I’m with you on this one. I’m the family and friends nutjob, crackpot, wackjob, Dr. Doom And Gloom. Apparently Fox News is much more credible than the IPCC or this site for example.

    It’s depressing and no fun at all. There are days when I wake up and I wonder if I am the looney one.

  121. Joe Romm says:

    OK, but that isn’t what he said. I think folks have the methane/permafrost issue wrong. The literature suggests it is very bad news (as I’ve noted in many, many posts) — but CO2 is the climate killer.

  122. Steve says:

    I agree with the quote from Frank Luntz. Repetition determines whether a message gets through. Environmental reporters think they can do a feature story every few months and consider the issue reported. But until the issue comes up repeatedly in day to day reporting, it won’t reach most people. You may find that NY Times columnist Paul Krugman has started using this method more and more on economic issues, and with some success, making a point again and again, in multiple ways, until it starts sinking in.

  123. fj says:

    The enforcement of the idea that people thinking climate change is real should be subject to ridicule — such as on Fox News –is rapidly dissipating.

    GOP and right-wing enforcement demand adherence to the party line or else.

    “Pluralistic ignorance is a house of cards”

    The sociologist Michael May suggests that for pluralistic ignorance to be robust against little boys and other truth-tellers, it needs an additional ingredient: enforcement.

    Steven Pinker, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, Chapter: Inner Demons, page 562

  124. Mark Belgium says:

    A little story….
    Breaking news: north Korea has secretly polluted the air with tons of co2 for decades, they build large facilities to produce co2 in order to cause climate disruption en thus threatening western civilization. How would MSM respond to this? How would the UN respond? How would Fox-news respond? Makes you think…

  125. Superman1 says:

    “Where precisely is the peer-reviewed evidence”

    Peer-review is great for run-of-the-mill non-controversial papers. When it comes to paradigm-changers, or politically-sensitive topics, the words of Mitchell Feigenbaum, the Father of Chaos Theory, come to mind: “Papers on established subjects are immediately accepted. Every novel paper of mine, without exception, has been rejected by the refereeing process…”. ” The politically ‘wrong’ statements on climate change would qualify 100%.

  126. Superman1 says:


    I said ‘copious’; ‘significant’ is your wording.

  127. Superman1 says:

    “If the anti-global warming message is cold houses, dark offices, no fuel in the car, and hungry children, as the Beatles wonderfully put it, “you can count me out.”” Sounds-good and feels-good, but you’re placing your ‘wants’ over Mother Nature’s requirements. It works the other way. And, if what I’ve quoted is what Mother Nature ‘wants’, either you do it, or say bye-bye!

  128. Mark A. York says:

    And if someone would make a movie about Warm Front, We’d have a film about global warming and fight to acknowledge it.

  129. Susan Anderson says:

    You know, I’ve been following this as closely as a layperson with limited time can, and I think both “sides” tend to overstate their case; they are both right and both wrong, but those worrying about methane are more right, IMHO.

    Before we begin, I want to mention Shakhova and Semiletov as a token of my seriousness.

    First, there’s the news that more methane is coming in, then there’s Andy Revkin, who does want anyone to hear it. Then there’s RealClimate who put it in perspective; in general, they too tend to understate, but with lots of clarity and real science. Going back further than that is news about permafrost melt which was presented by Alan Alda on public TV in the early oughts.

    One of the problems is the lack of an adequate baseline. People forget how hard it is to collect data from the Arctic regions. This has been cleverly exploited to prevent people from paying proper attention. I am so tired of people who understand climate being led by the nose by these devious tactics.

    But just recently scientists have been getting to work quantifying and analyzing, and as far as I’ve been able to see, the real news has in every case been worse than the wise counselors claim.

    For further information, I have a couple of recommendations:

    Andy Skuce of SkepticalScience has an accessible series on methane.

    At the point of the wedge are the good folk at Neven’s, a collection of interested parties with a good deal of collective ability and qualifications.

    In addition, if you are concerned about CO2, I understand that methane transforms to CO2 (yes, that’s sloppy; somebody else might elucidate the mechanism). Nonetheless, with methane being almost 25 times as powerful as a greenhouse gas until it fades away (which takes a decade or two) I don’t think even small quantities, which are over and above other greenhouse gas levels, are negligible.

  130. Susan Anderson says:

    In addition, consider the vast territory that is warming rapidly and in many cases subject to increasing wildfires:

  131. Leif says:

    Is it not already?

  132. ToddInNorway says:

    Zach, I deeply appreciate and visit it daily. I agree with your strategy. Good news about the constantly improving performance and cost-effectiveness of renewables is THE message that should be repeated the most. We must focus on the these solutions. They will be unstoppable, and even AGW deniers will choose them because they are better in many ways not just in reducing GHG emissions. When chronic water scarcity is our base case for planning, only solar and wind can offer any kind of electric power with a satisfactory reliability.

  133. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “PART 999,999 OF 1,000,000 …”

    You know, you could save yourself some trouble by just pasting “IT’S HOPELESS IT’S HOPELESS IT’S HOPELESS” over and over again.

    Because that’s what all the innumerable “parts” of your comments amount to.

    Despair is the new denial.

  134. Susan Anderson says:

    I was a mite intrigued that the music was nominated – which meant a clip was played at the Oscars. Probably the biggest audience yet even though it didn’t get the actual award!

  135. Mark Belgium says:

    In my opinion the real denial is believing that the use of renewables is the answer to global warming.
    The real denial is still believing in economic growth, that things will get better for our children and grandchildren if we place some photovoltaic panels on our rooftops. Climate change is not a Walt Disney Movie with a happy ending. At this point in time we are making zero progress in solving the problem. All the graphs are going upwards, they don’t even start to slowdown. Superman is just confronting you with this data. And that is for many of us not always pleasant.

  136. ToddInNorway says:

    Pardon the typo. I meant

  137. Mark Belgium says:

    We knew this more than 40 years ago :

  138. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Super, if you are not interested in the very important distinction between generic and serial genetic constructs, let me put it this way: your comments present some facts, some personal perceptions and some interpretations or theories, sometimes distorting quite well understood phenomena such as addiction. When these are challenged as constituting defeatism, you counter by claiming that your interpretations are grand sounding abstract nouns. You are certainly entitled to your opinions or interpretations but they remain simply that, ME

  139. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Superman is clearly not alone but the extent to which this approach is fuelled by genuine despair, which is a dreadful and extreme human emotion, is still an open question, ME

  140. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Strychnine versus arsenic, with the cyanide of ocean acidification for dessert.

  141. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Is that accidental or intended?

  142. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Most excellent, Merrelyn. I hope that you will be proved correct. Then at least we can all ‘die happy’, which is better than the alternative. It’s definitely ‘skin of our teeth’ time, however.

  143. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Democracy, in any meaningful sense of the word, dies a long, long time ago. If fact it was a tragic case of neo-natal mortality.

  144. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    We need actions and realities, not ‘imaginings’.

  145. Jan says:

    “… this blog is not even aimed at the general public”

    Who is it aimed at?

  146. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Nope-it was the Moslems in league with the Chinese. That’s a ‘News Alert’, comrade.

  147. fj says:

    Mumblebrain, What does that mean?

    Just read the book. It is not a fairy tale and there is nothing fanciful about it.

    It is very accessible and common sense; everything is very straight forward and it builds on lots of things have have been done already on smaller scales. And, cities in aggregate can scale right for tremendous change on the order of tens of millions of people at a time or region.

    That silly naive pessimistic question . . . really?

  148. fj says:

    Actually, would be good to have a post on Climate Progress about the ideas presented in “Carbon Free”.

    There were free installments on one of the online newspapers like Grist or Mother Jones and was downloadable free from for a few weeks; amazon now charges 3.99 for an ebook.

  149. Joe Romm says:

    Its readers!

  150. Joe Romm says:

    This comment makes no sense, but looks like a reductio ad absurdum.

  151. Part of the problem is artificially induced demand. If the majority decide they don’t need to think about things any more and just let others tell them what to think, then who is really to blame — the sellers of useless stuff or the buyers? We are innately built to “acquire” otherwise we would all starve. Society should be telling us to conserve. But that function was lost when we became too far removed from food production.

    Part of the problem is the idea that growth in good. And humans did not evolve with the idea that acquisition should be static or reduced.

    Another part is that our “standard of living” changed to the point that a majority could live in single-person dwellings, thus removing us from our families and community life. Hard to keep the ideal of “sharing with others” front and center in such an environment.

  152. That’s great! We need as many communities “on the ground” as possible that come together to find ways to do something, anything!

  153. BobbyL says:

    Here is some interesting observations From the Club of Rome website

    Most scenarios resulted in an ongoing growth of population and of the economy until to a turning point around 2030. Only drastic measures for environmental protection proved to be suitable to change this systems behaviour, and only under these circumstances, scenarios could be calculated in which both world population and wealth could remain at a constant level. However, so far the necessary political measures were not taken.

  154. BobbyL says:

    If you watched Anderson’s lecture I think you missed his main point. Actually, the picture he paints is even worst than I thought.

    Here his view:
    Why are world conferences still talking about staying below 2 degrees, as though that is possible?

    In a devastating speech at the University of Bristol Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Professor Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.

    In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that – beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.

  155. BobbyL says:

    For a doomsday message it is hard to top UK climate scientist Kevin Anderson who says there is no hope of staying under 2C and reaching 4C is almost guaranteed. Where does that leave us?

  156. Brian R Smith says:

    It leaves every one of us with a fundamental choice Bobby.

    I and most here have read Anderson and dozens of other scientists and authors whose interpretations of the data & trends put us on the doomsday track. I too believe we’re headed for a truly frightening 4-6C century, based on the preponderance. I also believe this only becomes absolute certainty if, as Joe keeps pointing out, we do nothing.

    But then, to keep the doomsday demons from destroying all hope, I would also have to believe that there is a possible aggregate of solutions- not perhaps one that will get us back to 350 or 280 in time to save civilization as we know it, or that will prevent some of the worst outcomes, but one that just may allow critical ecosystems and human communities to survive. I actually believe this. The evidence that we have solutions enough, time enough, and political will enough, is not strong. Granted. But neither is it conclusive that nothing effective can be done.

    The choice is between giving in to the odds or fighting them with every measure of problem solving resolve you can muster as part of a movement trying to do the same. Why bother if it looks like we’re cooked anyway? For me: I love life & the planet, I have grandchildren, I’m angry as hell and giving in is just not in the cards.

    There is a lot to learn and act on before anyone can claim despair is the only option. Doomers, as we have here, who get off by wallowing in a hubris of hopelessness, perhaps think they impress with superior understanding. In fact, they lack the humility and imagination that would make them useful to the conversation. Deniers, doomers, ignore them equally.

  157. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thank you. Yes, ‘doomers’ are certainly exercising their muscles on this blog but I think most readers have realized the nihilistic nature of their comments. I had already decided that your advice is the correct course and have made my last futile response. And yes again, while it cannot ever again be ‘as we have known it’ in the recent past, there is gathering evidence from around the world that people, not the elites that run the show at the moment, want fundamental change. When the economic and political infrastructures that the elites depend on start to crumble, the people will have more of a chance to put their ideals into practice. Let’s hope they do more of this through their efforts to maintain their disaster hit communities than simply exercise their pent up anger, ME

  158. Mark Belgium says:

    Sorry Joe, misplaced irony perhaps. English is not my native tongue. I was trying to say that we need more than renewables, we have to rethink and re-invent our economy and society to address the problem. Also, we have to face our addiction on oil. Past weekend I went to the local garden shop to order some begonia’s for my garden. These plants are raised in Kenia and planted in trays by cheap labor. Then they are transported by airplane to Holland where trucks are distributing them to my local shop. I have to drive 20 miles to fetch them. I ordered these begonia’s in the colors red and white but actually they are black as oil. This is how absurd the economy can be, and that has to change. So next year I buy the seeds and raise them myself. But even planting flowers in soil perfect for food production sounds decadent to me. It’s like flushing the toilet with drinking water.

  159. BobbyL says:

    It seems to me that many climate scientists think our efforts now should be directed toward staying below 5C which all seem to agree is still achievable. Shouldn’t the IPCC, etc be focused on that goal rather then the apparently the now totally unrealistic goal of staying below 2C which dominates the international climate meetings?

  160. Brian R Smith says:

    Many thanks for this. Off on other trails, I hadn’t really seen what you are doing with Planetsave & CleanTechnica in terms of strategy. Eye-opener! as to what is effective for educating people otherwise not focused on the bigger picture. Gives me new confidence that there are ways/tools/strategies that can really accelerate the build-up of broad awareness that’s needed for next steps in the political arena. And causes me to look at direct-to-public messaging strategies (natl. enviro advertising campaigns, film & TV efforts, on-the-ground demonstrations..) in a new light. I hope you will return to CP with your thoughts as things continue to develop.

  161. Solar Jim says:

    For the first decade or two before methane oxidizes to carbonic acid gas (CO2) and water vapor (assuming the presence of hydroxyl radical OH in sufficient quantity) methane is about one hundred times more effective in radiative forcing than CO2. 25 is an average over one hundred years (according to the literature).

  162. Solar Jim says:

    Especially after the development of fossil powered mechanized warfare, based on explosives, starting with WWI. The US has subsidized petro-fuels, which are also integral with explosive ordnance, since WWI. The US military would be nothing without fossil and fissile (nuclear) “fuels.” Two-thirds of current US “discretionary” budget is “defense.”

  163. Zach Shahan says:

    Thanks. Yes, as a “deep green” myself, my natural inclination is to focus on the core issue(s). But my passion for over 10 years now has also been trying to find how to touch the common person and get them more involved in solving the climate crisis. This solution I menition above seems to be one of the best solutions I’ve run across. At times, it feels like a ‘betrayal’ of the core issue (especially our very unrelated coverage of general science and space topics), but when I step back, I really see it as one of the best ways to get more people on the right side of the dial. Hope so! :D We’re not going so far as covering the Kardashians and Lady Gaga (though, happy to see Joe bring them into his posts some) — but, really, I think there’s a lot of potential there and in other popular arenas to tip the scales toward better public awareness of the climate crisis and stronger public demand for climate action. Some people may only read a few things about climate change over the course of years. Very useful to have one of those things be a post title on our sidebar or even one of our posts. Again, thanks for the support!

  164. Zach Shahan says:

    Thanks. And no prob. I figured you were just saving time. :D

  165. Zach Shahan says:

    Also, very nice point on the water topic. This is one I think we (on Cleantechnica) need to focus on more. And one I think we all need to focus on more, in general.

    Water issues touch people. Even though we in the developed world are very lucky with regards to clean water supply, the potential of a water crisis is one that can touch people and help to wake people up. And that certainly is one of the biggest concerns of climate change (and one we’re already getting a taste of).

    Luckily, in the case of solar PV & wind, they require an extremely small amount of water (in addition to being some of the best solutions for cutting emissions). I have to remember to note that more, and even write more features that are focused specifically on that topic.

    The post I generally reference is about 2.5 years old.