The Catastrophe Narrative

  1. Narrative forms from scientists

I think apart from Steven Hawking no examples above are from scientists. Yet surprisingly both climate and other scientists propagate highly emotive catastrophe narrative in all the same variants as above, and arguably, theirs is more lurid and emotively penetrating plus less objective. Footnote 6 groups 30 mostly standard form quotes from 26 scientists (15 climate, 11 environmental or ‘other’). Footnote 7 covers another 26 quotes from a similar mix of 24 scientists categorized per the variants above. Given they span the same variant range as the non-scientists, this strongly suggests that their narrative owes much more to the same psychologically rooted selection pressures than to [non-mainstream] physical climate science theories supporting the catastrophic.

For example, terminal metaphors from these scientists include 6b) climate is a battalion of intergalactic smoking missiles, 6c) by driving global warming we are unleashing hell, 6d) very fast train heading for the wall, 6g) the climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place, 6h) Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now, 6t) automobile driving with bad brakes toward a cliff in the fog, 6v) Unaddressed man-made climate change is… state terrorism, sanctioned corporate terrorism, carbon terrorism, climate terrorism, 6y) playing Russian Roulette with the future survival of human civilization [traditionally this is just a one in six chance when using a six-chamber revolver], 7ha), humanity in a boat, which ‘boat is floating right into a powerful and deadly waterfall’ that is climate change, 7hb) Earth suffering a ‘dire’ illness to have a ‘shortened life’ as ‘the pain and illness unfold’, 7hc) Earth as a very sick person, who is ‘slipping away from us’, 7ea) biblical portent of Noah type floods, 8a) comparison to World War III (very probably not terminal for everyone, but assuming it’s nuclear and truly a world war, terminal for large swathes of humanity and on a timescale far shorter than anything mainstream science proposes as likely for climate change. And scientists engaging anxiety for children as part of their catastrophe narrative can be seen in footnote examples 6g), 6h), 6p), 6s), 6z), 7bc), 7fa) and 7fb). Scientists also propagate some of the scariest forms of the catastrophe narrative, for example:

F6 [JAMES HANSEN] Up to 2013, head of NASA GISS. In a National Public Radio interview with Guy Raz (April 2017): “Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now, yet we dither taking no action to divert the asteroid.”

F6 [GIDEON POLYA] Bio-chemist, author, activist. See Inquiry Submission to Australian Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy. Via MWC News (2015): “The world faces catastrophe unless global warming and this Arctic CH4 release can be stopped. Unaddressed man-made climate change is set to exacerbate an already worsening climate genocide and cause 10 billion avoidable deaths this century leaving a predicted only 0.5 billion of Humanity alive.”

F6 [GUY McPHERSON], Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. Via his Nature Bats Last site, (2011): “About a decade ago I realized we were putting the finishing touches on our own extinction party, with the party probably over by 2030. During the intervening period I’ve seen nothing to sway this belief, and much evidence to reinforce it.”

F7 [ERIC HOLTHAUS] Meteorologist and Journalist. Via Vice (Mar 2015): “If you’re like me, climate change keeps you up at night on a regular basis. It’s not so much that we’re still on track for the worst-case global warming scenario, or that the survival of countless species—not to mention civilization as we know it—hangs in the balance, but the quiet understanding that our kids are going to feel some of the worst impacts in just a few brief decades…  For natural pessimists, the inexorable destruction by climate change leads to thoughts that fall along the lines of this Jezebel headline, which asks: ‘Why Would I Ever Want to Bring a Child Into This Fucked Up World? Because really, why the hell would someone of procreating age today even consider having a baby? It feels like an utter tragedy to create new life, fall in love with it, and then watch it writhe in agony as the world singes to a crisp…”

F7 [STEPHAN RAHMSTORF] Oceanographer and climatologist, Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University. i] Letter in response to science communicator Joe Duggan’s question ‘how do you feel about climate change?’ (2016?): “Sometimes I have this dream. I’m going for a hike and discover a remote farm house on fire. Children are calling for help from the upper windows. So I call the fire brigade. But they don’t come, because some mad person keeps telling them that it is a false alarm. The situation is getting more and more desperate, but I cant convince the firemen to get going. I cannot wake up from this nightmare.”

[NOTE: see footnotes for fuller contributions from all of these individuals].

A major issue with this public propagation is that it appears to be very rare that these scientists are billed as non-mainstream in respect of catastrophic outlooks; so the public (and likely many authority figures too) believe that they do represent the mainstream position. The ‘scientist’ label and their specific status as a professor or meteorologist or oceanographer or whatever, projects the authority of science, adding to the long list of authority sources propagating the catastrophe narrative. The A-list authorities mentioned at the beginning of section 2, indeed rafts of lesser authorities, NGOs, businesses, religious leaders etc. too, also constantly reinforce that this narrative is underwritten by ‘the’ science, which is not so.

The above quoted examples from scientists are very blunt, but the footnotes devote significant space to unravelling a few of the more complex and subtle forms of catastrophe narrative from scientists.

Next page (6) 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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