The Catastrophe Narrative

A narrative propagated by emotive engagement, not veracity.

This post came out on Prof Curry’s most excellent blog ‘Climate Etc’ yesterday.
The catastrophe narrative

Footnotes file here (common to ‘The CAGW Snarl Word’ companion post below):

  1. Introduction

Within the public domain there is a widespread narrative of certainty (absent deep emissions cuts) of near-term (decades) climate catastrophe. This narrative is not supported by mainstream science (no skeptical views required), and in the same manner as an endless sequence of historic cultural narratives, propagates via emotive engagement, not veracity.

The catastrophe narrative is propagated by all levels of authority from the highest downwards, granting it huge influence, and differentially via favored functional arms of society, plus at grass roots level. Over decades, various forms via which the catastrophe narrative best propagates have become established via selection, and can be categorized. While covering a large range, these forms typically feature powerful emotive cocktails (mixed emotions invoked simultaneously) and great urgency, which are highly adapted to undermining objectivity.

This narrative elephant in the room not only tramples upon the mainstream output of science, but all other  attempts at objectivity, at a minimum invoking bias wherever it propagates, and at maximum a complete disconnect from domain realities. While the catastrophe narrative is sometimes acknowledged even by those on the orthodox side of the climate change issue, it is typically neither studied nor opposed (and not infrequently its propagation is praised). On the skeptic side, there is often misunderstanding regarding who propagates this narrative and who merely fails to oppose it, which leads to mis-labelling. These issues are discussed in more detail within a companion post to be released shortly. Below deals just with narrative propagation and the forms via which this occurs.

  1. Propagation by authority levels and functional arms / orgs

The catastrophe narrative has emanated from many of the most powerful and influential figures in the West throughout the twenty-first century, as exampled by 39 quotes from 26 sources in footnote 1. While based only on English language reportage, this sample nevertheless includes leaders, ex-leaders and candidate leaders from 8 Western nations (with the US, Germany, UK and France being economically 4 of 7 and politically 4 of 6, top world powers9), along with high ministers, high UN officials, the Pope and UK royalty, over about the last 15 years. The narrative is also framed in a most urgent and emotive manner, which hugely increases its re-transmission capability14, is global in scope (‘the planet’), and unequivocally attributes the imminent catastrophe from global warming to humans (via ‘emissions’), i.e. the ‘C’ is due to AGW. Regarding policy, impending catastrophe is often cited as the main reason to act.

Propagation of the same catastrophe narrative is highly visible below the primary leadership level, as exampled by 28 quotes from 26 sources in footnote 2, which covers lesser-ranking / local politicians, leaders of less influential nations, NGOs, economists and influencers. Further down still becomes a sea of comments dispersed over all media that are often hard to attribute and too voluminous to study in detail, without some serious research-time / manpower.

It appears that the catastrophe narrative finds a home much more readily in some functions of society than others. While this seems obvious for the case of say environmental science or government environmental workers, there appear to be other cases such as the caring professions (who wield much authority), with consequent propagation of catastrophe narrative either as part of expectations for future coping (i.e. with catastrophe), or as advocacy for action by some medical authorities or associations. Though needing more investigation than I’ve had time for, footnote 8 provides a brief insight via a few catastrophe narrative quotes from authorities in the medical / health domain.

Next page (2) for more…

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4 Responses to The Catastrophe Narrative

  1. Robert Clark says:

    Ms. Curry,
    I say I have proven to you that the new Ice Age began arround 18,000 years ago and the ice beaking off at the poles and the CO2 kept rising at the end of the last Ice Age for a few thousand years is proof positive. Mother nature follows strict rules.

  2. Lichanos says:

    Perhaps I have missed it, but I don’t see much here on what is ultimately driving this flowering of evil, i.e. the catastrophe narrative. I understand that there are many motivations for accepting it, and that it figures in peoples’ psychologies differently depending on who they are, but I find myself puzzled by the persistence of the narrative.

    Things are bad, getting worse, the End is nigh, fifteen years or so, whatever we do is not enough…It’s hard to see why people wouldn’t just get exhausted or disgusted with this view and slough it off. Perhaps that’s what most people do, i.e. those outside of the chattering classes.

    Among people I meet, those who are not engaged with the climate change debate do tend to slough it off as above, while those who are intellectually or emotionally engaged, tend to be bitter and cynical/conspiratorial about it. Not a “sustainable” mental state. Will it just fade away in ten or twenty years when the End Times don’t arrive, and everyone will pretend that they weren’t believing that they would ever come?

    Certainly the willingness of public figures to embrace apocalyptic thinking and to act as though it is scientific analysis bespeaks a degraded view of scientific discourse among the educated elite. But that isn’t anything new, is it? What’s new is the salience of scientific issues in public debate, e.g., pollution, habitat destruction, public health issues related to the environment.

    I find it all rather bizarre.

  3. andywest2012 says:

    Hi Lichanos,

    I think ‘evil’ is an inappropriate word to use. It is a social phenomenon, specifically a culture, and cultures can have upsides and downsides but it is best to view them objectively if we can, whether or not future history might regard some as evil, unless of course some Hitleresque regime or something but we are not in that territory. Regarding persistence, the major religions operate via the same social mechanisms, and they have persisted for millennia. Regarding arisal, it is I presume impossible to tell which culture will arise next from the soup of many competing memes, but for sure we have always been heavily dominated by cultures and they are not likely to go away any time soon, so as the main religions decline other cultures (secular or fringe religions) are likely to arise to take up the slack. Regarding rejection because the whole thing is simply too OTT, then indeed this will be happening with some folks. All cultures are polarizing, so they create resistance as well as adherence, but for those who are adherents they are convinced emotively not via reason, and for deep beliefs reason can become the slave of emotion. You’re absolutely right this is nothing new really, but indeed the entanglement of science and culture, though it has happened many times before (e.g. eugenics and national socialism), is becoming more high profile; perhaps in the long term this will lead to better understanding of our weakness (and the fragility of science) to cultural hi-jacking. Maybe the post two further down, ‘climate culture’ will give some further insight for you.

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