Leftwing scepticism

It was not only those on the right-hand end of the ideological spectrum who saw environmentalism as a political threat. From the 1970s some small groups on the far left derided the rise of environmentalism as a middle-class fad that was a distraction from the true causes of poverty and exploitation. Even among traditional social welfare organisations and centre-left parties environmentalism was often resented because, more glamorous than homelessness and wage disputes, it drew the oxygen away...

Self and world

The mechanical philosophy set out to create a division between humans and the non-human world, a fissure between people and Nature that allowed a growing preoccupation with the personal self. The process reached its peak with the rise of modern consumerism, and especially the phase from the early 1990s to the financial crisis of 2008. Heavy emphasis on the creation of personal identities through consumption activity reinforced the turn to the outer self. In the face of these individualising...

No escaping the science

1 For example, Tim Lenton et al., 'Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system', Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, vol. 105, no. 6, 12 February 2008. 2 Jorgen Peder Steffensen et al., 'High-Resolution Greenland Ice Core Data Show Abrupt Climate Change Happens in Few Years', Science, vol. 321, no. 5889, 1 August 2008. Graeme Pearman notes that these abrupt changes may have been due to rapid deglaciation coming out of the last ice age, 'a process that would not be applicable...

Wind sun atom

The fact that the great hope of carbon capture and storage cannot solve the climate crisis does not mean there is no solution. We have the technological means to drastically reduce emissions, beginning immediately and at reasonable cost. Such a strategy would rely on large investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy and, in the medium term, natural gas (which has half the emissions of coal and saves even more if used in a way that captures waste heat). This is not the place to present a...

The fourdegree world

So what can we expect, and when are we likely to feel the impacts of a changing climate Of course, the effects are already manifesting the world over. Droughts in Africa and Australia, shifting seasons in England, heatwaves in France, hurricanes in the Caribbean and sinking Pacific atolls have all been linked to global warming. But for most people in affluent countries climate change remains an abstraction, something that is reported by the media and argued over by politicians but seems remote...

Acceptance

The trauma arising from recognising the gap between our self-concept and the disrupted future we now face can be thought of as an instance of 'positive disintegration', the term used by psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski to capture the idea of our world 'falling apart' when the situation makes untenable the assumptions we have used to construct an integral sense of self.9 The inner struggle to adapt ourselves to changed circumstances requires that we go through a painful process of disintegration...

Adapting to the unknown

By this stage of the conference, many participants seemed to feel that the emotional roller-coaster had many more downs than ups. One, a woman in her early thirties, told the conference that she was feeling smug 'I don't have any children and many of my friends don't want to have children.' I leave the reader to think through the implications of this declaration. One participant, who is a parent, reported that his thirteen-year-old daughter had said we just have to accept the reality of climate...

Despair

A few decades hence perhaps historians will characterise the last three centuries as the era of struggle between political philosophies, each of which promised a utopian vision of the future. Certainly in the century and a half to 1989 world history was in large measure the story of the contest between the opposing forces of capitalism and socialism, with fascism interceding for two decades in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, climate disruption will increasingly push all...

Saved by the crash

The recession that arrived in 2008 seemed to some to herald a change in direction in the West, a return to more balanced and healthy ways of living. Certainly, people began to borrow less and save more. In some respects this was a welcome, if unsurprising, development. However, higher savings rates are not the answer to climate change. Although they reduce consumption in the short to medium term, in the long term higher savings will only make the problem worse. Higher savings facilitate more...

Pleasureseeking

I have already referred to what might be dubbed casual scepticism, a form of denial in which ordinary people allow themselves to be persuaded by hard-line 'sceptics' into believing that the scientists can't make up their minds. An extreme version of this might be called 'hairy-chested denialism', a form best illustrated by Jeremy Clarkson, host of the popular British television program Top Gear. Top Gear is about thrills, escapism, laddish humour and smashing things up. In other words, it is a...

Roots of climate scepticism

If we search for the roots of climate denial it soon becomes apparent that they lie in the reaction of American conservatism to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. As the threat of the 'red menace' receded, the energy conservatives had put into opposing communism sought other outlets. Islamism had for some time been building as a threat, as it seemed to challenge the achievements of the West and the inevitable march of its influence. But there was...

The new firm

In the production society, economic growth was dependent above all on investor confidence, or what John Maynard Keynes called animal spirits today in the consumption society growth is determined more by consumer confidence, which in the 1990s became heavily influenced by the availability of consumer credit. Previously, corporations manufactured largely standardised products and competed with each other through the efficiency of their production processes, with phases including 'scientific...

The new consumer

None of the trends I have identified could have occurred unless the consumer too had changed in some essential way. In the production society consumers were seen to have given tastes and the task of advertising was to persuade them that the product would satisfy their needs. In the consumption society marketers are now engaged in an endless process of creating and transforming, as well as responding to, consumer desires. Those desires are no longer merely the expressions of particular urges but...

Some impacts

Global averages conceal an enormous variability in climate impacts across the regions of the world. As Schellnhuber said 'If you have your head in the oven and your feet in the freezer, your average temperature may be unchanged but you are still pretty uncomfortable.' The larger part of the conference was given over to reports of what a four-degree world will be like to live in, with most emphasis on sea-level rise, water availability and changes to forests. The Paleoclimate record shows that...

The China syndrome

Everything I have written so far in this chapter applies to rich countries. However, we must also consider, if only briefly, the growth of consumption in developing countries, especially China. This is not an exercise in blame-shifting, for rich countries are responsible for around 75 per cent of the increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere now.50 Although China's annual greenhouse gas emissions have recently surpassed those of the United States (each now accounts for nearly 20 per cent of...

Act

Climate disruption's assault on all we believed endless progress, a stable future, our capacity to control the natural world with science and technology will corrode the pillars that hold up the psyche of modern humanity. It will be psychologically destabilising in a way exceeded in human history perhaps only by the shift to agriculture and the rise of industrial society. Already we find psychiatrists and psychologists issuing guidelines on how to respond to the emotional and psychological...

Reinterpreting the threat

Maladaptive strategies are akin to the various 'defence mechanisms' identified by Sigmund Freud and, more so, his daughter Anna we use to shield ourselves from distressing features of the world.75 In recent years, psychologists have developed and applied these ideas to the way we accommodate ourselves emotionally to environmental threats. Distraction is an everyday form of denial.76 When reading a newspaper or watching the news, if global warming comes up we frequently just 'switch off' because...

The consumer self

Growth fetishism is mirrored in the individual. Just as a nation's sense of itself has become bound up with how it grows, so our individual sense of self has become bound up with how we consume. The transformation of consumption from a means of meeting needs into a way of acquiring an identity has been underway for some decades, but shifted into a new and more intense phase from the early 1990s.1 Although much more recent and not yet fully understood, the consumer revolution may prove to have...

Values determine beliefs

Many environmentalists believe that big business is responsible for the worst forms of environmental damage, that, left alone, the free market cannot fix the problems and that government intervention is essential. In the case of global warming they also believe that only international cooperation, including legally binding obligations on the major polluters, can solve the problem. In these views environmentalists are perhaps not far from the views of most citizens of developed countries,...

How much would it cost

Given the fear of economic damage from measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions anxieties ceaselessly stoked by newspaper headlines emphasising the financial burden of tackling climate change we would expect that economic analysis aimed at estimating those costs would generate some scary numbers. Yet and this is perhaps the most astonishing fact about the debate over what to do about global warming the opposite is the case. Economic analysis has repeatedly concluded that the costs would be...

The meaning of growth

I began by suggesting that the obsession with economic growth has been the principal obstacle to effective global warming policies. The implication is that if the growth obstacle can be removed then the world will act. We have seen that all economic analysis concludes that the growth impediment ranges from small to extremely small according to the models it is not so much a mountain to climb as a barely noticeable speed bump for the global economy. The Stern report only confirmed what dozens of...

Id

Source Based on Table 20 in Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf and Anthony Leiserowitz, Global Warmings 'Six Americas' 2009 protection over economic growth even if it costs jobs (89 per cent take this view) where the Dismissive support economic growth even if it leads to environmental problems (90 per cent).40 The views of each of the other four groups lie close to a straight line diagonally connecting these two positions. The Alarmed are much more likely to watch the news on the mainstream...

Blameshifting

In her study of a small environmentally conscious community in Norway, Kari Marie Norgaard notes that it is widely assumed by researchers that people fail to respond to the threat of global warming because they are poorly informed, greedy, self-focused or have faulty cognitive processes. Yet she observes that the people she spoke with85 expressed feelings of deep concern and caring and a significant degree of ambivalence about the issue of global warming . . . Community members described fears...

Species

WHY WE RESIST THE TRUTH ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE p. 138 Faust Part One by Johann Goethe, translated by Philip Wayne, Penguin Classics, 1949. Reproduced by permission of Penguin. p. 151 'Australia 1970' from Judith Wright Collected Poems, 1942-1985, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 2002. With permission. First published in Australia in 2010 Copyright Clive Hamilton 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,...

Meaning

Morris Berman has observed that during periods of rapid transformation in human history, such as the Renaissance, 'the meaning of individual lives begins to surface as a disturbing problem'.19 As the climate crisis unfolds, and poses the question of the future of humankind, the meaning of our lives will come increasingly to the fore. After a long period of psychological disruption stability will return only with the emergence of a new understanding of the Earth, a story to replace the one in...

Geopolitics

The international community has found it difficult to agree on strong collective measures to reduce emissions. Country circumstances are diverse and impacts uncertain. Against this climate engineering is cheap, immediately effective and, most importantly, can be undertaken by a single nation. Among the feasible contenders for unilateral intervention, David Victor names China, the United States, the European Union, Russia, India, Japan and Australia.77 This is where the politics of...

How hot and how soon

In his keynote address, Professor Hans Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a man regarded with some awe by those present, reminded us that at its meeting in L'Aquila in July 2009, the Group of Eight wealthy nations finally agreed to adopt the two-degree target. Two or three years ago this would have been regarded as a breakthrough, but by mid-2009 it was clear to the climate science community that aiming for two degrees would not meet the aim of...

Many forms of denial

1 Leon Festinger, A Theory ofCognitiveDissonance, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1957. 2 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1970. 3 See Peter Jacques, Riley E. Dunlap and Mark Freeman, 'The organisation of denial Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism', Environmental Politics, vol. 17, no. 3, June 2008. 4 See Timothy W. Luke, 'A Rough Road out of Rio The right-wing reaction in the United States against global environmentalism',...

Appendix Greenhouse gases

It's worth clarifying a technical detail that leads to much confusion. Each greenhouse gas has a different potential to cause climate warming, first because of its molecular structure, which determines just how effective it is in absorbing and emitting heat at different wavelengths, and secondly because each gas has a different atmospheric residence time before being chemically changed or absorbed by the oceans or biosphere. To measure their relative warming effects, climate scientists convert...

The backlash

Despite its failings, the Stern report's great merit was its acknowledgment that ethical judgments always underpin economic analysis. In doing so it opened up a small crack in the intellectual monolith, albeit one that never threatened to bring it down. Even so, the report created intense controversy in the economics profession because it was seen by influential conservatives as advocating a 'radical' and 'extremist' response to global warming. Although praised by some less dogmatic stars of...

Disconnection from Nature

There is persuasive evidence that our concerns about the environment, as well as our attitudes and values, are influenced by the extent to which we feel ourselves to be part of the natural world.1 On a continuum of connectedness with Nature, some people experience themselves as wholly separate and have an ego-centred self-concept, while others experience themselves as inseparable from the natural world so that their sense of self expands to encompass the biosphere and beyond. Cultures vary....

The mendacity of hope

Every serious discussion of climate change is haunted by the idea of hope. In the Greek myth, Pandora ignored Zeus's warning to keep the lid on her box.91 All the evils of mankind escaped, except for one item that remained hope. Explanations conflict some see hope as the consolation, for in the face of all evils we can always rely on it (although not if it remains locked in the box). For others, what remains in Pandora's Box is another evil, false hope which deludes us with dreams of being...

Greenwash

The counterpart of voluntary action by consumers is voluntary action by producers. In response to criticism, corporations will typically try to change public perceptions of what they do before they change what they do. It's cheaper. Thus rising public alarm about global warming has seen firms respond with a rich variety of dissimulation, of which greenwash has become the highest form. Greenwash has been defined as a strategy in which corporations 'put more money, time and energy into slick PR...

Gaia the rebirth of Nature

In the Greek tragedy attributed to Aeschylus, Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and gives it to humans so as to increase their power. Zeus is angry and punishes both man, by sending Pandora with her box, and Prometheus by having him chained to a rock where an eagle eats out his liver, which regenerates each night only to be devoured again the next day. Prometheus, who saw himself as the benefactor of mankind, reveals that he also taught men how to increase their powers with agriculture,...

Wasteful consumption

The transformation of the consumer gives rise to two phenomena that bear directly on the question of how consumption has become a barrier to tackling climate change wasteful consumption and green consumerism. The idea that in affluent countries much of our consumption behaviour is driven by an urge for 'self-completion' rather than any real material need is reinforced by the evidence on wasteful consumption, that is, spending on goods and services that we do not in fact consume.21 If our desire...

Climate engineering

In the history of environmental policy it has long been accepted that cutting pollution at its source is usually better than 'end-of-pipe' solutions aimed at moderating the damage after it has been done. In the case of greenhouse pollution, it is a lesson some want to abandon in the most dramatic way. The best definition of geoengineering is 'the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change'.46 Methods fall into two types carbon...

Political science

Along with Descartes, the seminal intellectual figure in the transition from the old to the new natural philosophy was Isaac Newton, whose work, particularly the 1687 Principia, contributed more than any other to the revolution in consciousness. Indeed the mechanical philosophy is known interchangeably as the Newtonian or the Cartesian worldview. In his early years as a student at Cambridge Newton imbibed the mechanical philosophy, including the conceptualisation of matter as inert or inactive,...

Green consumerism

For many years governments, businesses and environmental organisations have been sending us a powerful message we can make a difference if we change how we use energy in our daily lives. The environment sections of bookstores are stuffed with cheerful volumes describing all the things we can do to cut our greenhouse gas emissions change our light bulbs, walk to the store, boil only as much water as we need, make sure we have a full load to put in to the washing machine and dry the clothes...

The Stern intervention

Since the early 1990s all economists who modelled the costs of cutting emissions showed that continued growth and climate protection are quite consistent.36 In 2005 Britain's then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, commissioned Nicholas Stern, previously chief economist at the World Bank, to prepare a report on the economics of climate change that would consider both the costs of reducing emissions and the costs of climate change if emissions were to grow unchecked. The Blair Government...

Growth fetishism

1 Global Footprint Network, http www.footprintnetwork.org gfn_ sub.php content overshoot. 3 Gary Kroll, 'Rachel Carson Silent Spring A Brief History of Ecology as a Subversive Subject', Online Ethics Center for Engineering, National Academy of Engineering, 6 July 2006, www.onlineethics.org. 4 Newsweek, editorial, 13 March 1972. 5 Quoted by Rex Weyler at http rexweyler.com 2008 11 28 6 Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William Behrens, The Limits to Growth, Earth Island Ltd,...

Cognitive dissonance

In the early 1950s a woman in Minneapolis began to receive communications from an extraterrestrial being named Sananda. Marian Keech, as she was pseudonymously known, heard that a great flood would cleanse the world of earthlings at midnight on 21 December 1954. Only those who believed in Sananda would be saved they would be taken to another planet in a spaceship that would arrive just before the flood. A cult formed around Ms Keech. Apart from a single press release, it shunned publicity....

The death of Nature

Prior to the second half of the seventeenth century the dominant philosophy of Nature outside of the Church was Hermeticism. In the Hermetic philosophy the world was understood organically, that is, as akin to a living organism. The modern distinction between animate and inanimate objects was not recognised rocks, metals and the elements were not seen as passive but animated by an internal principle.6 So, for example, metals grow in the earth according to their own principle rather than due to...

Is there a way out

1 The World Energy Council estimates economically recoverable reserves of coal, excluding non-conventional sources, at 850 billion tonnes. At current usage rates that would last 150 years. Adding in known potentially exploitable reserves at least doubles this estimate. The United States has the greatest reserves, followed by Russia, China and Australia ( Judy Trinnaman and Alan Clarke (eds), Survey of Energy Resources 2007 Coal, World Energy Council, London, 2007). 3 Anon., 'Trouble in store',...

Coping strategies

I wrote in the Preface that the most immediate reason we now face climate disruption lies in the political power of the fossil fuel lobby, which has set out to sow doubt in the public mind and has resisted attempts to curb the carbon emissions of the companies it represents. The story of their power and influence has been told several times 64 the more perplexing question is why they have been allowed to get away with it. To this point I have tried to account for the unwillingness to override...