The Catastrophe Narrative

  1. Motivations and narrative emergence

Notwithstanding that any human enterprise large enough will have a few bad apples regarding dishonesty or greed or whatever, belief in climate catastrophe and propagation of catastrophe narrative in any of its above forms, inclusive of all their contradictions and issues, in no way implies deliberate manipulation is in play. Terms above such as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘illegitimate’ do not imply culpability. The catastrophe narrative variants are emergent, and this emergence is via subconscious selection of the most engaging variants, which consequently will be propagated. There is no implication of illness or dishonesty or any other dysfunction, and it’s worth bearing in mind that we are all subject to the influence of emotive cultural narratives, though it works within domains (can be free of major influence in one domain, but not in another). In the great majority of cases adherents fully, indeed passionately, believe the narrative they propagate, albeit being emotively not reasonably convinced. Indeed, this is the great power of such narratives. There may be a minority of cases where very fervent belief leads to noble cause corruption.

Note: in the narrative soup of the public domain, variants may combine and meanings are not by any means black and white. Some quotes within footnote 2 show local or specific issues beginning to color the global context of the catastrophe narrative. This aspect can proceed to such an emphasis on the local / specific issue that the context may no longer really be global catastrophe. This doesn’t necessarily translate to any mainstream scientific support for the profiled issue, yet can make science / narrative contradictions more ambiguous. Likewise, some narrative variants dilute a ‘full on’ global catastrophe message. Yet similarly this doesn’t typically mean they will merit any backing from mainstream science. Variants generally arise independently of the mainstream scientific community, or exaggerate or take out of context snippets from that community, so are much more often misaligned than aligned. So even this subset are highly emotive pitches of the same ilk, that typically aren’t backed by mainstream climate science.

7. Companion post and common footnotes

While everyone is likely familiar with at least common / A-list catastrophe narratives, I nevertheless recommend reading all the footnotes file. Although a long slog through ~180 quotes, digesting a large variety of categorized variants plus contextual notes all together, gives deeper insight on the forms and subtleties via which it most efficiently propagates through engaging emotive responses. A category I haven’t addressed is journalistic / columnist contributions, i.e. their own content not just a reflection of politician / influencer embedded quotes; this is a vast area and beyond my time at the moment.

This post only looks at the main catastrophe narrative forms and spread via different authority sources. A companion post to be published here at Climate Etc soon, addresses misunderstandings (on both sides of the conflicted domain) about the applicability of the label ‘CAGW’, which happens also to be a great vehicle to explore the deeper issues associated with the authoritative presence of the catastrophe narrative, as the same kind of misunderstandings in the wider domain mask the critical significance of this narrative. Note: the footnotes file is common to both posts, so if you come across any unexplained nuggets, hold fire and your curiosity will hopefully soon be satisfied.

Footnotes File:

Click to access footnotes.pdf

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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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