Just Thinking … Climate Concerns in a Time of Growing ‘Climate Fatigue’?


Worry about science-based concerns over potential risks in a warmer climate is running into worry also about what it will take for scientists’ messages to get through to the public and policymakers … and the ‘climate fatigue’ concern. 

The drumbeat of worrisome news on climate change has continued to emerge from respected national and international science organizations in recent months. And partly as a result, one must acknowledge the onset for many of what might be called “climate fatigue.”

So much so that risks of the American public’s having become immune to the news are substantial. And a matter of increasing concern to those already duly concerned about the actual risks themselves.

Whether from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, or from the United Nations/World Meteorological Organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Whether from the United Kingdom’s Royal Society or from the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Whether filtered through news organizations such as NBC’s “Nightly News with Brian Williams” or through a Showtime “Years of Living Dangerously” series …

… The beat goes on.

The question becomes whether anyone — and who, beyond those predisposed to the subject — is listening. And not only listening but actually hearing. Taking it in. Absorbing. Or, for that matter, even having the opportunity and availability to do so.

A newsmap.jp infographic posted by former New York Times science writer Andrew C. Revkin at the paper’s Dotearth site illustrated how little — tiny, teensy — real estate space the IPCC’s recent climate impacts report had compared to other news stories reported in popular media that day, April 13. You might think of it as a postage stamp on a 40X40 square-foot carpet … or perhaps as a black box, for instance, in the southern Indian Ocean.

At the same time, a reasonable case can be made that the moral duty and responsibility of those unearthing and discovering such information is to share it. And to do so far and wide. It’s an important reality that the responsible providing of important and authoritative information to others in no way diminishes the transmitter of that information but rather enriches him or her just as it has the potential to also enrich the recipient.

That said, climate fatigue is a legitimate concern, and one that messengers of climate data, information, and research must keep in mind and help guard against. It’s a question not of whether to share responsible data and information about our changing world but of how to share it.

Which, as it happens, does not necessarily make the challenges any easier. One hears a lot these days about the values of “story telling” in communicating the here and now of climate change impacts: Farmers X in State Y are experiencing various Z impacts on their crops or herds; and they’re responding to the new [drought, heat wave, flooding, Arctic Vortex, whatever] challenges by doing such-and-so. Or this school class in that city is showing teachers and classroom parents new ways of reducing their climate footprints by purchasing more of their in-season groceries from local growers, and by increasing their carpooling to soccer, softball, and T-ball practices and games.

A former New York Rangers hockey goalie, one impressively conversant with the ins and outs of climate science, recently remarked from a podium, “Why listen to a goalie?”

His dry response, and not one intended to offend the science academy, was: “Because you’re not listening to a scientist.”

The fact of the matter, of course, is that this goalie and many other key messengers about risks and opportunities resulting from a changing climate have done just that: They listened to, and heard, scientists.

In many ways, it’s the essential first step. But surely not the last step. Carrying forward the authoritative messages from the world’s most respected scientists and scientific organizations remains a worthy calling, and not one to be silenced by any so-called climate fatigue.

Finding the best ways to do it, and do it in audience-specific ways, remains a worthy mountain to climb.

Are you on board?

Bud Ward, Editor

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4 Responses to Just Thinking … Climate Concerns in a Time of Growing ‘Climate Fatigue’?

  1. Marie Koper says:

    I, too, like Bud Ward, have worried about the human propensity, myself included, to get mentally fatigued by negative stories. I was therefore heartened to learn about Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan organization training us ordinary, concerned citizens on how to build a national movement to create the political will to put that necessary price on carbon emissions. Working with other like-minded people around the country, and indeed the world, on a proposal that can make a significant difference in the problem is the antidote to ‘climate fatigue.”

    The prospect of a viable solution to the C02 through a graduated, revenue-neutral carbon tax with rebates going back to citizens through household rebates and border tax adjustments on imports from countries without a carbon tax seems reasonable and doable. The revenue neutral part that doesn’t grow government makes it appealing to conservatives and libertarians as does leveling the economic playing field because then the market can invest in alternative energy. Rebates to households protect citizens from the gradually increasing costs of fossil fuels and motivates them to conserve energy to keep more money from their rebates.

    The Brookings Institute reports a rare consensus among 40 prominent economists that a revenue neutral carbon tax is not only the most effective method to reduce carbon emissions but would actually help the economy. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/02/07-carbon-tax-morris

    CCL is doubling its chapters every year. Citizensclimatelobby.org is working very hard with letters to the editor, public outreach, and meetings with members of Congress to make government “of the people, by the people, for the people” mean something again–for the sake of a livable world for our grandchildren.

  2. Perhaps you can relieve your anxiety by considering how harmless the greenhouse effect is. BTW, we’re talking about carbon DIOXIDE (CO2) emissions, not “carbon” emissions. CO2 is an invisible, odorless gas that is essential to plant life, the basis of the food chain.

    The Sun warms the Earth; I think we all agree on this. The warm Earth, like everything warmer than absolute zero, emits infrared (IR) energy, mostly between 5 and 25 micrometers in wavelength. That IR energy is emitted upward.

    The two “greenhouse”gasses (GHGs) in the atmosphere absorb some of that upwelling IR, depending on its wavelength. H2O absorbs broadly across much of the emission spectrum; CO2 absorbs only in a narrow interval around 14.7 micrometers, about 5% of Earth’s emission spectrum. Photons at that wavelength correspond to a temperature around 200 degrees Kelvin (K), colder than temperatures at the South Pole. They have little energy.

    Climate alarmists forget to mention that GHG molecules “excited” by absorbing an IR photon release that energy in microseconds, in the form of new IR photons. Those new photons are emitted isotropically, half upward, half downward. The half going back downward constitute the “greenhouse effect”, about 33 deg C (59 deg F). The other half of the photons, emitted upward, continue their path toward space, taking their energy with them. That’s a loss of energy from Earth, i.e., a cooling. No energy has been added to the Earth or atmosphere.

    A GHG acts like the insulation in the roof and walls of a house; it slows the loss of heat to the environment. It won’t heat the house by itself, and it certainly won’t set the house on fire. Perhaps this will relieve your anxiety about “global warming.” Incidentally, there hasn’t been any measurable warming for 17 years.

  3. > The question becomes whether anyone — and who, beyond those predisposed to the subject — is listening.

    Not enough are listening, due primarily to the highly successful propaganda campaign. Otoh, it’s not necessarily the general public that need to be convinced. Two articles in Science 18 April 2014 are worth reading:
    (Full subscription probably needed to access either article).

    1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6181/250.full
    Into the Maelstrom
    Jennifer Francis has gotten the attention of White House science adviser John Holdren.

    2. https://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6181/254.1.full
    Climate Discussion Echoes Tobacco Debate
    To quote the last sentence:

    “Today it’s inconceivable that an American decision-maker would risk the public opprobrium that would result from expressing skepticism that tobacco causes cancer. We believe that it is an obligation of all scientists to hasten the day when the same is true for climate change, where the stakes are even higher.”

    Edward K. Ream

  4. Paul Quigg says:

    “The drumbeat of worrisome news” has been going on for over 50 years and the basic theme is repeated over and over with little change. Population growth, resource depletion, dirty water, dirty air, famine, species extinction, conspicuous consumption and many other causes have come and gone. They were addressed, as was the case with our water and air, or forgotten as they failed to occur or died of their own absurdity. We are much more aware of our environment then we were 50 years ago and much better off for the efforts we have taken.
    As we rolled into the 90′s with incredible economic growth and prosperity, hundreds of millions of the worlds poorest were lifted out of extreme poverty, energized by the burning of fossil fuels. The life expectancy of the Chinese people has doubled from 38 to 76 years in the last 40 years. This fact is never voiced in the environmental media as they concentrate on the potential negative impacts of the burning of fossil fuels. The inertia in this newly found prosperity when combined with the inertia in the century long atmospheric lifetimes of GHG’s will propel rising GHG concentrations well into the next century. The IPCC and everyone else’s climate models show this.
    Our “climate fatigue” is the result of the constant doomsday rhetoric coming from everyone in the environmental community. Every cause has latched onto climate change and they are riding it for all it’s worth. Nothing positive, nothing even neutral, just a constant litany of impending catastrophe. The public is very poorly educated on climate change but the constant drumbeat of disaster far in the future is far down the list of their daily concerns.
    Our linear and local minds are not up to understanding this exponential and global world we live in.