Florence and the 5 Stages of Climate Change Acceptance

September 23, 2018

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

Now that we’ve gotten through Hurricane Florence, Americans should be completely up to speed when it comes to dealing with disasters that have been amplified by anthropogenic climate change, right?

Not so fast.

Judging from the various news stories in the past year—since Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean and the Florida Keys—the United States seems to be stuck in a rut, responding to climate disaster with all five of the chronological stages of grief—simultaneously. These stages are often labeled with the acronym DABDA, meaning denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and memorably summed up in this episode of The Simpsons.

Substitute the word “amnesia” for “anger,” and the parallels are striking.

Denial: The Guardian just ran a story titled “ ‘It’s hyped up’: Climate change skeptics after Hurricane Florence.” According to the author, while scientists say global warming is behind the increase in the number and intensity of severe storms, many who face them don’t think humans are the problem.

Amnesia: “We have an incredible capacity for amnesia and denial in this country,” Julie Rochman, head of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, told Bloomberg  last March. (Yes, that’s right: in March, long before the current hurricanes.) In a telling example, the institute examined building policies in 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and found that despite the increasing severity of natural disasters, many of those states have relaxed their approach to building codes—or have yet to impose any whatsoever. It’s all summed up in the article’s headline: “As Storms Get Stronger, Building Codes Are Getting Weaker.”

Bargaining: Another Guardian story (“Why people stay: in North Carolina it’s about roots, memory, and family”) points out that often, people in flood-prone areas have a good idea of the risks they take by living there, but are too invested to leave—and they also hope that they can make a deal with fate, by doing things such as stocking up on food, water and building supplies, moving boats to sturdier docks, and counting on being able to ride out the storm in the nearest hefty building on somewhat higher ground.

Depression. Some folks have a fatalistic attitude, seeing themselves as stuck between a rock and a hard place. As one Florida-based writer put it in the Washington Post in the middle of the 2017 hurricane season: “…Florida has only two main roads: interstates 95 and 75. They are parking lots, and have been for days. People are sitting in their vehicles, completely stopped on four-lane highways, running out of gas. There are no exits on these roads for scores of miles at a time. Once you get on a Florida highway, you are not getting off. You’re stuck. So, my family’s choices are: We stay here in our flimsily built house, made of sheet rock and plywood; or we hop on an unmoving highway and risk running out of gas closer to the coast, with only our car for protection.”

Acceptance. The New York Times’  “Climate Fwd” newsletter took a very hard-headed and pragmatic approach, essentially saying that we better accept the fact that human-aided-and-abetted climate change is here, and we’d better deal with it:

“And while we’re thinking about hurricanes, here’s what you can do to prepare for flooding in your own back yard, whether from hurricanes, inland flooding, or other disasters. The first thing you need to know about flooding is whether your home is in a risky place. The simplest way to find out is to check FEMA’s database of flood maps, where you can type in your home address and see your degree of risk…”

Climate Fwd goes on to say: “Beyond knowing where you stand, you should know how to run—that is, how to evacuate in case of emergencies. Getting to safety in case of a hurricane, inland flood, forest fire, or other emergency takes careful planning beforehand. FEMA has good guides at www.ready.gov for getting away from it all. Some of the advice includes knowing your evacuation routes, and preparing a “go bag” of food, water, and supplies, as well as a cache of copies of personal documents like IDs and insurance records.”

“We hope it doesn’t happen to you! But better safe than, well, you know.”




5 Responses to “Florence and the 5 Stages of Climate Change Acceptance”

  1. anotheralionel Says:

    In a telling example, the institute examined building policies in 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and found that despite the increasing severity of natural disasters, many of those states have relaxed their approach to building codes—or have yet to impose any whatsoever.

    It is clear the really smart are behaving or will behave differently shortly.

    We’re moving to higher ground’: America’s era of climate mass migration is here

    I recall trying to argue with a Floridian on Climate Progress a few years back, at the time that stories about Antarctic ice growing were in vogue, on SLR and Florida vulnerability. His avatar showed a smug chap on a bout with a fishing line, smug fisher insisted that Florida real estate was doing well. I suspect he was profiting from this area so had to play it up for he would not acknowledge the issue. Maybe it was strong cognitive dissonance in play. I don’t think smug fisher was Rick Scott.

  2. lracine Says:

    This is an excellent post.


    “Those institutions we held up as pillars of society, Those institution can withstand this kind of change…” (around 7:25 time)

    REALLY…. rotflmao!!!! Oh Dear…….

    Our current global economy is based on perpetual growth. If you remove the growth you crash the economy and with it the democracy we live in.. remember the saying, “It’s the economy stupid.”

    Trump rode the wave given to him by the disenfranchised people of the USA, the “deplorables”. That is his base. It remains to be seen if our democracy will survive till 2020.

    The facts are brutal and there is no solution that allows our life style, as we know it, to continue.

    It comes down to energy return on energy invested and there is no replacement (NOT EVEN CLOSE) for fossil fuel that has the same EROEI…

    That FACT being stated, we have waited to long, there is not enough time to scale up the “marginal” renewable technology to allow for some kind of new society to come out of this mess without conflict, population collapse etc etc basically the four horses of the Apocalypse. google “Collapse of complex systems….”

    Personally, I am now at the “acceptance phase” having watched this issue closely since 1988.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “Personally, I am now at the “acceptance phase” having watched this issue closely since 1988”.

      That says it for me, too, although I didn’t watch it really closely until I retired in 1992 and had the time to read extensively. Louise’s next to the last paragraph states the “rational fatalism” case well—-we’ve waited too long and there will be hell to pay because of that.

      Wharton is still in the bargaining phase—-we already have “fair and effective” solutions, but it is wishful thinking to expect the politicians and corporate elite to get behind them.

  3. Agree with Iracine that this is a great post.

    I wish however it had not cut off at just the point where Dr. Kiehl seemed about to get specific about what the solutions are.

    A big part of the problem is inevitably failure of leadership. That does not include every decision maker, so I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. But we’d be much better off with a broad consensus, in the US Congress, that we urgently need effective measures for reducing carbon emissions. That’s something we can each actually contribute to achieving. It’s okay, possibly rational, to feel hopeless. But DON’T let that stop you from calling or writing your Members of Congress.

    Another part of the problem are corporate ‘leaders’ who have been given way too much power via things like Citizens United. Their voices with our government are loud, and they enjoy better access. But for many of them (again not all) their advocacy (lobbying) is driven by what promotes the success of their business, above any longer term issues, i.e. climate change. Yes that’s a big problem. Bringing these people around to advocating for effective and fair action on climate would make a huge difference. Not easy, but they are sensitive to public opinion or direct appeals.

    Pressuring politicians and the corporate elite to get behind solutions is the most effective thing one can do about climate change. These are the tools we have. We’ll use them if we’re smart – others surely will.

    But what solutions? Maybe Peter can get a policy thread going re a wish list for what would constitute fair and effective solutions to climate change.

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