Is There a Case for Climate Optimism?

December 27, 2018

I bagged 20+ interviews with key scientists at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in DC.
I’ll be bringing them out in coming months, but I think this message from Permafrost expert Ben Abbott is worth sharing for starters.

Americans are ignorant, in general, about climate change. Even “green” progressive types often don’t understand the impacts, or, importantly, the range of options for action.

Clearly, anyone who is not alarmed about climate change does not understand the problem. That said, alarm to the point of paralysis does not seem like a good idea.
How best to convey the gravity of our situation without people emotionally checking out?
Coming video will explore this, with Dr Abbott, among others, contributing.

Huffington Post:

“I’m certain that most Americans would be a lot more worried about climate change if they understood even a small fraction of what has been projected by climate scientists in (recent reports). As a public health professional (and as a human), I find the prospect of 3 or 4 degree C of global warming to be nothing short of terrifying,” Ed Maibach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, said in an email. “Thus, we need to do a much better job of sharing what we know about the likely impacts of global warming, because people are not nearly as worried as the situation warrants.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Earth is headed for a planetary catastrophe, Americans just aren’t that bothered about climate change. Only around half have thought about it more than “a little,” according to research from Yale and George Mason University. Only around a third say it is personally important to them, and just one in five say they are “very worried” about it. Numbers like that suggest scientists and advocates have perhaps been too cheerful on climate change, too reluctant to speak to the catastrophe to come.

Impacts at 1.5 degrees C and 2 degrees C of warming.

CARBON BRIEF: Impacts at 1.5 degrees C and 2 degrees C of warming.

True, researchers have suggested that pessimism can lead to inaction. People who are less hopeful are less likely to take action. If one truly believes that climate change is a lost cause, then there is nothing left to do but party like it’s 1999  —  literally. But the findings are far from conclusive. “Our recently self-published analysis suggests that people who are more hopeful seem to be taking more action, but there has been relatively little research on this question,” Maibach said.


In many cases, fear can also be motivating. Studies show this is true even in the context of climate change, where gloomy messages can make people feel more concerned. Moreover, studies find that an especially rosy portrayal of climate change can leave people feeling too optimistic, too unlikely to take action. If people feel like everything will turn out alright, why bother getting off the couch?

This graph shows carbon pollution cuts necessary keep warming under 1.5 degrees C. Countries must cut emissions in half by 2030 and reach zero net emissions by 2050, at which point much of the remaining carbon dioxide must be scrubbed from the atmosphere.

As one pair of researchers asked, “Should we avoid telling what scientists have established as facts and reasonable outlooks about the seriousness, pace and long-term commitment of climate change? Should we instead only discuss energy- and money-saving actions and convey pictures of hope by focusing on the easy actions, the ‘doability’ of mitigation? Should we perpetuate the idea that there are fifty ‘simple ways to save the planet,’ just to spare lay publics rather appropriate anxiety? Existing research suggests otherwise.”

This is not to say advocates should focus exclusively on scaring people instead of inspiring them. It would be naive to think about climate change communication in binary terms. In practice, people draw on a range of emotions, values and beliefs when processing information.

In recent commentary on the role of emotion in climate change communication, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst wrote, “The bifurcation between ‘go positive’ and ‘go negative’ simultaneously oversimplifies the rich base of research on emotion while overcomplicating the very real communications challenge advocates face by demanding that each message have the right ‘emotional recipe’ to maximize effectiveness.” Emotions, they explain, “should be viewed as one element of a broader, authentic communications strategy rather than as a magic bullet designed to trigger one response or another.”

The problem, Maibach said, may not be a shortage of hope or a surplus of fear, but a deficit of knowledge. Most Americans don’t understand how bad climate change is or what humanity can do to stop it. As advocates explain the facts of a potentially world-ending dilemma, they must also describe specifically what can be done to address the problem. “It’s complicated, but not that complicated. We need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Maibach said.

“The people and organizations who don’t want America  —  and the world  —  to deal with the potentially catastrophic problem that we face tell us, over and over again, that it will cost us too much to address the problem, and it will create a future that is hardly worth living for  —  like living in the stone age again,” he said. “In reality, the exact opposite is true, but few people know it.”



20 Responses to “Is There a Case for Climate Optimism?”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Even when it happens in their backyard, some folks are slow to see it. NC is a case in point—–making progress slowly is better than none at all, though.

  2. FaroLaz Says:

    Reblogged this on ALGMARTUN and commented:
    That’s what is called taking the lead. Thanks.

  3. Terry Donte Says:

    Star data does not show a problem. RSS and UAH data does not show a problem, NOAA data shows a problem after it has been adjusted upwards. NASA studies have it hotter than today from 6500-4500 BP, the arctic was ice free in summer and the tree line was hundreds of miles north of its present position. There is conflict on whether it was warmer during the medieval warm period than today so I will call that a tossup. There is no dispute that increased CO2 makes plants grow better, a NASA study had it 8 percent better which is 415 million people alive rather than dead as they had something to eat. If one applies the estimated death rate in europe from cold induced crop failure, about 30 percent of the population at one point, to the world . 2 billion people are alive thanks to warming. Actual NOAA ocean rise trend is 3 inches in the next 100 years on land not sinking or rising. French data in the north atlantic from 1805 has the ocean rise trend at 4 inches in the next 100 years.

    The world does have problems, over population is killing off a lot of the biosphere as many in other countries simply do not care. That is the reason for the plastic junk in the oceans. Air pollution is a big problem in a lot of places, not the USA as we have fixed the problem. China and India are just starting to think about the problem. Africa simply does not care. South America for the most part does not care either.

    We have problems here with an aging population, a SS system and medical system which are broke and a large population of people who need work and motivation to work and educate themselves.

    Climate change is pretty far down the list of actual problems.

    • funslinger62 Says:

      You are clueless. As are many people.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        TD us beyond clueless—-he is spouting the timeworn and discredited bullshit that most deniers have long abandoned. That makes him a throwback.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      The possibility of a screwed biosphere and massive deaths with civilization collapse exist. What is the percentage level of RISK that YOU consider ACCEPTABLE Terry?

    • indy222 Says:

      “often wrong, never in doubt”. Terry shows the classic signature of climate BS’rs – no links to science to back up assertions (no links even to BS climate denial “trade journals”). And, no logical arguments against the facts from the scientists. Only “proof by loud assertion”. Classic Yeah, a throwback – I can only hope his kind are near extinction.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Ever considered that satellite data are the most adjusted ones. And that has many reasons.

      Satellite Scientist: Surface Temps are More Accurate

      Have a look here:

      Gary and Keihm 1991 showed that natural variability in only 10 years of UAH data was so large that the UAH temperature trend was statistically indistinguishable from that predicted by climate models.

      Hurrell and Trenberth 1997 found that UAH merged different satellite records incorrectly, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.

      Wentz and Schabel 1998 found that UAH didn’t account for orbital decay of the satellites, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.

      Fu et al. 2004 found that stratospheric cooling (which is also a result of greenhouse gas forcing) had contaminated the UAH analysis, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.

      Mears and Wentz 2005 found that UAH didn’t account for drifts in the time of measurement each day, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.

      Surface warming is taking place at the surface, and not several kilometres up in the air. Ground data are clearly the most accurate data.

  4. Sha'Tara Says:

    What really bothers me a about global warming and polar ice melting is that polar bears are going to go brown in summer and we won’t be able to distinguish them from our cinnamons and grizzlies, at least from a distance…
    OK that was a joke. I think that climate change is a very serious global problem, I just don’t think it’s all man-made. I also think that legislating and enforcing significant change to reduce the so-called ‘carbon footprint’ without bringing about an economic melt-down is problematic. We know by now that “new” ways brought on by new technology often create their own breed of massive problems. I.e., how happy we were to discover we could control and manipulate nuclear energy. I think we’ve mostly lost that naive ebullience by now, yeah? The way I read it, the largest ‘footprint’ are airliners and militaries. Those are two things we could certainly easily do without but where’s the will, and why aren’t these polluters talked about when talking about man-made climate change?

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      The possibility of a screwed biosphere and massive deaths with civilization collapse exist. What is the percentage level of RISK that YOU consider ACCEPTABLE that it is not man caused Sha? Feel free to give a number.
      OK, lazy post. CC is considered so serious, is so serious, that excuses for non action (except squawks from the anti nuke knuckle drag’rs) are sort of considered…..Silly. The alternative is so dire.

      • Sha'Tara Says:

        Ah, I’m a feel person, not a numbers person. I “feel” we are in a pincer, half of which (give or take) is natural planetary change, half of which is artificial, as in man-caused. I “fear” that it’s the combination of the two feeding into each other like dry heat and wind combining in a wild fire that is going to cause our certain and rapid downfall. Without climate change we could have dragged the inevitable collapse of a thoroughly corrupt civilization over perhaps 300 to 500 years before hitting bottom, being dragged through a time of unimaginable horrors with population numbers dwindling to the 8 hundred millions to a maximum of 1.5 billions depending on how much damage Earth’s ecosphere sustained during hundreds of years of endless resource wars. Depending also on long term effects from pollution caused by today’s consumerist societies upon arable lands, potable water and breathable air.
        One thing I know for sure from years of environmental and political activism, it’s that we have exceeded our limits to growth and we are in now an exponential downfall. I know that as has always been the case, there will be those who refuse to look at the mess and choose to listen to those who make the rosy predictions or say the soothing words. I also know enough about human nature to realize that it is the false prophets who always get the loudest cheers; someone who stands at some political rally and yells out: “MEGA, MEGA, MEGA (Make Earth Great Again!) and only reason in terms of personal gain and power.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Well said, except for your confusion about only half of climate change being artificial or “man-caused”. On what scientific basis do you make that claim? Last I heard, we should actually be in the beginning stages of the next ice age—-Milankovitch and all that.

          • Sha'Tara Says:

            You know what? It’s all very confusing. I try to find some “reasonable” place from which to survey the mess, and I also try hard not to fall for any absolute explanation for any of it. Too many speak of “climate change” catastrophe without considering all the source problems that make up the whole picture. They see a wild fire and they want to blame one specific reason: it’s dry weather; it’s careless people; it’s lightning; it’s a kind of tree; it’s the south wind, hell, it’s laser beams from satellites! In reality wild fires are totally normal events if you let nature have its course and if there weren’t the entitled humans with their stuff standing in the way of a cyclic cleanse. If there were no humans on the planet, who would care about climate change? Who would spread stories of doom and gloom? Animals would move, try to adapt – but they wouldn’t form associations and groups to try to stop or re-direct it. Bottom line, the only problem with climate change is indeed man, not so much because he’s causing it but because he’s IN THE WAY of the change. We want to keep our entitlement over the planet’s resources and we don’t want the planet to have a say in it. That’s the error of hubris. I am fully aware of the horror that climate change, either in rising or dropping temperatures world wide can have over humanity’s 8 billion population, but at the bottom of the problem, it’s that very population, not the change. In particular, the main problem is city living, total dependency upon a very fragile power “grid” set up not to keep people alive, healthy and safe, but to make monetary profit, with the collusion of most of earth’s population. You reap what you sow.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “I try to find some “reasonable” place from which to survey the mess, and I also try hard not to fall for any absolute explanation for any of it”

            That statement shows that you are in the denial-bargaining stage—-just listen to the scientists who ALL agree that we are headed for disaster, and it looks like we won’t do enough about it until it’s perhaps to late to avoid serious problems.

            That’s OK—-that’s rational and “reasonable”—to accept an “absolute explanation” from the experts—-there is really no one on the other side.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          Any sane person should “feel” very concerned when reading latest scientific research:

          => Global warming will happen faster than we think

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        All good.

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