This is from the Department of You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up. Reporter Madeleine Thomas (no relation), writing for Grist, has described how climate scientists are driving themselves into depressed states over their climate forecasts. One solution she suggests is that relieve their incredible stress by shouting out “F—k!” and other dirty words*. Her piece can’t really be satirised so I’ll give it to you straight.
The heading is, “Climate depression is for real. Just ask a scientist“.
The piece instances Professor Camille Parmesan at the University of Texas , who became so “professionally depressed” that she questioned abandoning her research in climate change entirely. But she soothed her anxiety by shifting from the US to the UK, where the grant money was easier to get.
The reporter emphasised Parmesan’s tragedy by noting that the distraught professor “shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007. Sorry, Madeleine, she didn’t.
In 2009, The Atlantic named Parmesan [note to self: refrain from cheesy puns] one of its “Brave Thinkers” for her work on how climate change is harming species. But despite these accolades “she was fed up” because no-one was paying attention to her catastrophism.
“I was really thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’” the professor told the Grist reporter. Things are so bad that, whenever she gives a talk, she complains of having to devote the first half to persuading people “that climate change is really happening.” [For the past 18 years, it hasn’t happened]. She decamped from Texas to Plymouth University.
Reporter Ms Thomas moves on to say that climate change, according to the “new field of psychology of global warming”, is causing depression, substance abuse, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. She adds that Parmesan certainly isn’t the first to experience some sort of climate-change blues: “For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties.”
But for climate scientists “on the front lines of trying to save the planet, the stakes can be that much higher”:
“The ability to process and understand dense climatic data doesn’t necessarily translate to coping with that data’s emotional ramifications. Turns out scientists are people, too. Climate scientists not only wade knee-deep through doomsday research day in and day out, but given the importance of their work, many also find themselves thrust into a maelstrom of political, ideological, and social debate with increasing frequency.”
Climate scientists are trying to do their jobs, “quietly measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification”, she continues, but their findings “are putting their own well-being under huge pressure.”
She quotes American anti-capitalist author, fabulist and globe-trotting climate-industry guest speaker Naomi Klein, who in turns quotes Australia’s leading public intellectual ethicist Clive Hamilton, whom Ms Thomas cites as a ‘climate expert’. Hamilton, she informs her readers, says that climate scientists have been ‘unwittingly destabilizing the political and social order’” by breaking the unwelcome news that mankind has stuffed the planet.
Ms Thomas also quotes a National Wildlife Federation 2012 report whose title says it all, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.” The report’s author, Lise Van Susteren, a Washington DC forensic psychiatrist, diagnoses a “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” a term she coined “to describe the mental anguish that results from preparing for the worst, before it actually happens.” Ms Thomas continues:
“What’s even more deflating for a climate scientist is when sounding the alarm on climatic catastrophes seems to fall on deaf ears. ‘How would that make you feel? You take this information to someone and they say they don’t believe you, as if it’s a question of beliefs,’ says Jeffrey Kiehl, senior scientist for climate change research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. ‘I’m not talking about religion here, I’m talking about facts. It’s equivalent to a doctor doing extremely detailed observations on someone and concluding that someone needed to have an operation, and the person looks at the doctor and says, ‘I don’t believe you.’ How would a doctor feel in that moment, not think, but feel in that moment?’ ”
But if climate scientists would only loosen their famed objectivity, the quoted Kiehl says “such honesty would just provide even more fodder for climate deniers.”
Ms Thomas says that “ many climate scientists and activists” [tautology alert!] often feel an extreme pressure to keep their emotions in check, even when out of the spotlight. Activists suffer a big personal toll from having to keep mum about threats to the planet. One activist, Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, is quoted on the dreadful emotional toll that being right about everything imposes on warmists:
“You don’t just start talking about unbelievably fast sea-level rise at a cocktail party at a friend’s house. So having to deny the emotional need to talk about what’s on your mind all the time … those are some of the burdens that climate-aware scientists and activists have to endure… and world governments still aren’t doing shit.”
So, Ms Thomas wonders, how does a climate scientist handle the stress? Her forensic psychiatrist,Van Susteren, offers several “climate trauma survival tips”.
“Meditation and therapy are two, as are taking particular care to reinforce boundaries between work and one’s personal life. But she also says being honest is just as important. ‘[Don’t] believe that you are invulnerable … In fact, admitting what you are going through makes you more resilient.’”
Ms Thomas continues,
Back in March, Grist’s Brentin Mock wrote that in order to really drive home the urgency of global warming and not just view ‘climate change only as that thing that happened one year on television to those poor communities in Brooklyn,’ maybe it’s OK, when appropriate, to ditch a very limited ‘just the facts’ vocabulary in favor of more emotional language. In other words, he argues that scientists should start dropping F bombs. ‘Forgive my language here, but if scientists are looking for a clearer language to express the urgency of climate change, there’s no clearer word that expresses that urgency than FUCK,’ Mock writes. ‘We need scientists to speak more of these non-hard science truths, no matter how inconvenient or how dirty.’”
In concluding her piece, Ms Thomas continues to score own goals with every line: “Climate deniers aren’t going away anytime soon,” she sighs, “but with global organizations like the IPCC reinforcing facts, like ‘the 95% certainty’ that humans are driving global warming, the research is sticking.” This time she quotes psychologist-psychosocial researcher and consultant Renee Lertzman, a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance.
‘There’s a taboo talking about it,’ Lertzman says, adding that the tight-lipped culture of the scientific community can be difficult to bridge. ‘The field of the psychology of climate change is still very, very young … I believe there are profound and not well-recognized or understood psychological implications of what I would call being a frontliner. There needs to be a lot more attention given to frontliners and where they’re given support.’
The first commenter on Ms Thomas’ piece wraps it up: “Thank you to the brave and dedicated scientists who have put themselves out there for us in this battle for the truth and have had to put up with sometimes even personal attacks from desperate deniers who are running out of other arguments. Should we win this and survive, let’s hope they are all remembered as heroes.”
* When it comes to shouting dirty words, climate scientists in Australia are world leaders. In 2011, they made a rap video including terms like ‘bitches, suckin’ d— in Copenhagen’, ‘shit’, ‘mutherf—r’ and
‘I’m a climate f——g scientist’. It should come as no surprise that their efforts were featured as ‘entertainment’ by the ABC.
Named participants were Tim Leslie, Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW; Dr Jason Evans, ditto; Dr Katrin Meissner, senior lecturer there; Tristan Sasse, PhD student there; Prof. Roger Jones, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies; Dr Ailie Gallant, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne; Dr Leanne Armand, Climate Futures Research Centre, Macquarie University; Arnaud Tatin, Ecole Polytechnique; and Dr Linda Beaumont, Climate Futures, MacQuarie University.
Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com