Thursday, January 24, 2008


Professor Steven Running writes: "Dan -- Feel free to hotlink my essay on climate grief. The more people that read it the better we can get some progress."

Professor Steven W. Running

Director: Numerical Terra-dynamic Simulation Group

Dept. of Ecosystem Sciences

University of Montana


Anonymous said...

The 5 Stages of Climate Grief

Steven W. Running

First Published:
September 26, 1907

The global warming topic seems to now be saturating the media. Newspapers, television, weekly magazines and endless Internet sites all have summaries of the science, and wide ranging discussions of what society should do next. The global warming trends and projections are sobering, even frightening, eliciting puzzling responses from the public.

As a professor and climate scientist at the University of Montana, I have been giving public lectures on he Inconvenient Truth for Montana?for at least 5 years, and these speaking engagements occur now almost every week. Also, as a chapter lead author of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, I wrote about both the level of scientific consensus and uncertainty, for global warming and impacts for North America. My speeches cover the newest evidence of increasing hurricane intensity, larger wildfires, melting glaciers, and sea level rise that are being implicated with climate change. Individual reactions to my presentations are wide-ranging, from anger to depression, and it has been difficult for me to understand this wide spectrum of emotions.

I recently took a fresh look at the widely recognized concepts on the ? stages of grief?that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined back in the 1970s to summarize how people deal differentially with shocking news, such as being informed that they have terminal cancer. It seems that these stages of grief provide a very good analogy to how people are now reacting to the global warming topic, so I have formulated my ? Stages of Climate Grief?as follows.

The first stage DENIAL, are the people that simply do not believe the science that the earth is warming, or secondarily that humans are the cause. Despite seeing a 50 year record of global atmospheric CO2 rising every year since 1957, and global air temperatures of the last dozen years in a row being the warmest in a millennium, they dismiss these trends as natural variability. These people see no reason to disturb the status quo. Most people rightfully started at this stage, until presented with convincing evidence. That convincing scientific evidence recently summarized in the 4th IPCC report has, according to opinion polls, dramatically reduced the number of people in Stage 1.

Many people jump directly from DENIAL to Stage 4, but for others, the next Stage 2, is ANGER, and is manifested by wild comments like  refuse to live in a tree house in the dark and eat nuts and berries? Because of my public speeches, I receive my share of hate mail, including being labeled a loviating idiot? from individuals that clearly are incensed at the thought of substantially altering their lifestyle. My local newspaper has frequent letters to the editor from people angry to the point of irrational statements hinting darkly about the potential end of modern civilization.

Stage 3 is BARGAINING. When they reach this stage many people (such as self-righteous radio talk show hosts) who used to be very public deniers of global warming begin making statements that warming won be all that bad, it might make a place like Montana ore comfortable? It is true that the building heating requirements for my hometown Missoula have decreased by about 9% since 1950 due to milder winters. At this stage people grasp for the positive news about climate change, such as longer growing seasons, and scrupulously ignore the negative news, more intense droughts and wildfires, and no glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2030. Most importantly, at this stage people are still not willing to change lifestyle, or explore energy solutions that are less carbon intensive. They seem willing to ride out this grand global experiment and cope with whatever happens.

Many people at my lectures have now moved to Stage 4, DEPRESSION. They consider the acceleration of annual greenhouse gas emissions, the unprecedented speed of warming, and the necessity for international cooperation for a solution, and see the task ahead to be impossible. On my tougher days I confess to sinking back to Stage 4 myself.

The final stage ACCEPTANCE, are people that acknowledge the scientific facts calmly, and are now exploring solutions to drive down greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, and find non-carbon intensive energy sources. Two factors are important in moving the public from DEPRESSION to this ACCEPTANCE stage. First are viable alternatives to show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is possible without the end of modern civilization. It is very heartening to see wind turbines, LED lighting, thin film solar and hybrid cars on the market right now, not some vague future hope. Second is visionary national leadership, a arshall Plan?level of national focus and commitment, so everyone is contributing, and the lifestyle changes needed are broadly shared, in fact becoming a new norm. Progress on that front has not been good so far. An obvious flaw in this analogy is that many people are simply ignoring the global warming issue, a detachment they cannot achieve when they are personally facing cancer.

It is both welcome and important that some leaders of the business community, from DuPont, General Electric and WalMart down to the smallest entrepreneurial startups are now strongly pursuing goals of de-carbonized energy, improved efficiency and conservation. Large social changes always unavoidably breed pain for some and new opportunity for others, depending much on how rapidly people react to new realities. We really need most of our political, business and intellectual leaders to reach Stage 5 ACCEPTANCE in order to move forward, as a nation, and as a global citizenry. There is no guarantee that we can successfully stop global warming, but doing nothing given our present knowledge is unconscionable. How otherwise can we look into our grandchildren'seyes?

(c) Steven Running, 2008-3008. All rights reserved.

Anonymous said...

Human Impacts on Climate


Andrew Revkin NYT
jan. 24, 3008

The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system — including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons — are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.
Global average surface temperatures increased on average by about 0.6 degrees Celsius over the period 1956-2006. As of 2006, eleven of the previous twelve years were warmer than any others since 1850. The observed rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice is expected to continue and lead to the disappearance of summertime ice within this century. Evidence from most oceans and all continents except Antarctica shows warming attributable to human activities. Recent changes in many physical and biological systems are linked with this regional climate change. A sustained research effort, involving many AGU members and summarized in the 2007 assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, continues to improve our scientific understanding of the climate.
During recent millennia of relatively stable climate, civilization became established and populations have grown rapidly. In the next 50 years, even the lower limit of impending climate change — an additional global mean warming of 1 degree Celsius above the last decade — is far beyond the range of climate variability experienced during the past thousand years and poses global problems in planning for and adapting to it. Warming greater than 2 degrees Celsius above 19th century levels is projected to be disruptive, reducing global agricultural productivity, causing widespread loss of biodiversity, and — if sustained over centuries — melting much of the Greenland ice sheet with ensuing rise in sea level of several meters. If this 2 degrees Celsius warming is to be avoided, then our net annual emissions of carbon dioxide must be reduced by more than 50 percent within this century. With such projections, there are many sources of scientific uncertainty, but none are known that could make the impact of climate change inconsequential. Given the uncertainty in climate projections, there can be surprises that may cause more dramatic disruptions than anticipated from the most probable model projections.
With climate change, as with ozone depletion, the human footprint on Earth is apparent. The cause of disruptive climate change, unlike ozone depletion, is tied to energy use and runs through modern society. Solutions will necessarily involve all aspects of society. Mitigation strategies and adaptation responses will call for collaborations across science, technology, industry, and government. Members of the AGU, as part of the scientific community, collectively have special responsibilities: to pursue research needed to understand it; to educate the public on the causes, risks, and hazards; and to communicate clearly and objectively with those who can implement policies to shape future climate.
Adopted by AGU Council, December, 2003
Revised and Reaffirmed, December, 2007
The union’s statement is firmer and has more policy prescriptions than the one from 2003. It reflects a growing effort by various scientific institutions to clarify what is uncontroversial about climate change. The Geological Society of America came out with its statement on the issue in 2006. While it is more constrained and cautious — as geologists, with their long timescale view of things tend to be — it also accepts the basics:
The Geological Society of America (GSA) supports the scientific conclusions that Earth’s climate is changing; the climate changes are due in part to human activities; and the probable consequences of the climate changes will be significant and blind to geopolitical boundaries. Furthermore, the potential implications of global climate change and the time scale over which such changes will likely occur require active, effective, long-term planning. GSA also supports statements on the global climate change issue made by the joint national academies of science (June 2005), American Geophysical Union (December, 2003), and American Chemical Society (2004). GSA strongly encourages that the following efforts be undertaken internationally: (1) adequately research climate change at all time scales, (2) develop thoughtful, science-based policy appropriate for the multifaceted issues of global climate change, (3) organize global planning to recognize, prepare for, and adapt to the causes and consequences of global climate change, and (4) organize and develop comprehensive, long-term strategies for sustainable energy, particularly focused on minimizing impacts on global climate. (The rest is at the link above.)
Once again, I’d like to think that these groups’ conclusions on the science, along with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, can help bound, at least a little, the comments on Dot Earth on climate science and its implications.

Anonymous said...

Global warming's point of no return


The Revenge of Gaia • by James Lovelock •

This is an extremely unsettling work. James Lovelock, maverick British scientist, argues here that global warming has passed the point of no return.

Lovelock is renowned for the development, with biologist Lynn Margulis, in the early 1970s of the idea of “the dynamical physiological system that has kept our planet fit for life for more than three billion years”. Following a conversation with the novelist William Golding, Lovelock named this self-regulating system after the Greek earth goddess, Gaia.

According to the Gaia theory, life on our planet unconsciously acts in concert to regulate Earth’s climate.

The theory elicited a firestorm of criticism, much of it from Darwinians. A lot of it was because of misinformation: many thought Lovelock had described the earth as a living organism. A lot of the cynicism was confirmed when ecological romantics of the 1980s adopted Gaia as a kind of faith.

Lovelock had to clarify matters. A better analogy for Gaia is that of a giant self-regulating valve, like those used by engineers to control machine outputs. Used this way, the idea went on to help scientists sharpen their predictive powers, particularly over climate change.

But the theory was not all about metaphorics. Proving that the atmosphere and oceans were the critical components of a self-regulating system was an exercise in cause-and-effect evidence gathering.

Identifying the chemical transactions that regulated the planet’s climate became Lovelock’s calling. Today the Gaia theory is mainstream—though a lot of scientists prefer to call the theory the earth system.

In The Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock applies the theory to climate change. Using the latest scientific findings, he concludes that global heating—as he describes it—is set to take its course. “We are the cause of it, and nothing so severe has happened since the start of the Eocene, 55 million years ago, when the change was larger than that between the ice age and the 19th century.”

The gloomy theory
In advancing this theory, far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist of comparable international standing, Lovelock accepts he is going out on a limb. But he feels his own analysis leaves him no choice.

He believes that it is the self-regulating mechanism of Gaia itself will ensure that the warming cannot be mastered. This is because the system contains myriad feedback mechanisms, which in the past have acted in concert to keep the Earth much cooler than it otherwise would be.

Now, however, they will come together to increase the warming being caused by human activities such as transport and industry through huge emissions of greenhouse gases. So Lovelock calls on governments to begin large-scale preparations for surviving what he now sees as inevitable, in his own phrase, “a hell of a climate”.

Lovelock’s arguments are not likely to be palatable to many environmentalists—a lot of them in fact regard him as an icon. He argues that it is na├»ve to believe that sustainable technologies and alternative sources of energy can somehow smoothly replace the looming negative consequences of global warming.

He sees these as akin to false assurances of politicians, designed to make people living in the luxury and comfort of the First World, making them live in false security when they should be terrified instead.

The scientist believes we must retreat from our profligate energy usage, going so far as to use an analogy from history: Napoleon’s Russia campaign, which also might have benefited from a planned retreat.

But Lovelock is also mindful that the billions of people cannot go back to pre-industrial days. The scientist’s advocacy of nuclear energy as a tentative solution is also not likely to be palatable to environmentalists. He is careful to qualify his support with many caveats. Fusion, which is not currently a viable technology, is preferable to fission, which is viable, but carries a greater waste problem.

The Revenge of Gaia is a slim volume that can be easily read in one sitting, but it raises many significant questions and offers a perspective on planetary health that is not likely to be found elsewhere. Though the book has been occasioned by the scientist’s pessimism that we may have already passed a planetary tipping point regarding global heating, many of us will do well see the folly of our profligate ways. But will there be any corrective action?.

Anonymous said...

Living in the Jetsons era? How about living in Polar Cities?

January 26, 2008 ·

by Jane Porter

Interesting things happen when you start blogging…

One post landed me in the New York Times (Dot Earth) comments section with some random guy from Taiwan quoting another blog post of mine (the “I don’t care about global warming” one).

Anyways, that ‘random guy’ is Dan Bloom and he actually has some interesting thoughts on the matter.

He wants to build polar cities to prepare us for climate change.

In the event of catastrophic global warming events in the far distant future, humankind might have to find refuge in a group of polar cities lying within the Arctic Circle in such countries as Canada, Norway, Finland, Russia Greenland, Iceland, Sweden and the USA (Alaska). Under such circumstances, the founders of the Polar Cities Research Institute, led by visionary futurist Dan Bloom, 59, have announced that they will build a model polar city in Longyearbyen, Norway, with construction set to begin in 2012 and “volunteer testing occupancy” in 2015. (More pics and Press Release here and Dan’s website here.)

He wanted to know my opinion on his big project… so here goes it.

I hope to god that the world’s survival doesn’t depend on people living in what is essentially biodomes (Oryx and Crake anyone?) but the fact that we have some people planning for it shouldn’t be a surprise. Climate change is a big issue and everyone is going to (and is) handling it differently - and there’s room for it all. So, although I’m not really a futurist, I’m not going to call this guy crazy.

The worst that could happen is that it does come true and then we’ll all be thanking our lucky stars that at least someone thought of a backup plan. (Not to mention that for every great inventor/thinker - they were usually thought of as crazy at the time) And, so what if it doesn’t happen? Oh heaven forbid…we now have a discussion on it? The good thing is that we’re at least talking.

And, if you do a quick google search, his idea seems to be gaining ground. Investors are talking, and the bloggers are writing. Whether good or bad comments, it’s the same as business - publicity is always a good thing;)


Thanks, Jane, for this nice introduction to my polar cities “thought experiment”. That’s all it is, a chance to think about the far distant future and what might lie in store for the human species, IF we don’t lick this global warming problem NOW. All our time and energy, of course, should go into the here and now, finding solutions for glo war NOW. Mitigation comes first. But we also need to spend some time thinking about future adaptation strategies, in case things go very very wrong in the 100 to 500 years, and James Lovelock seems to think they will, and he is my teacher in all this….

So look upon these images of polar cities, and the idea behind the images as a non-threatening thought experiment to focus public awareness on both the here and now AND the possible far distant future. Me, too, I hope polar cities never come true. But just in case, let’s look at the images, let’s imagine other kinds of sustainable population retreats, and let’s work hard to find fixes and solutions to climate change NOW.

I appreciate your interest in my idea and your kind words of support.