Thursday, April 25, 2013

Global warming denial exists (but best not to mention it)

What is “denial”?

Denial; noun: (psychiatry) a defense mechanism that denies painful thoughts.

Composited definition of denial
· psychological unconscious defence mechanism
against painful/unacceptable
thoughts, truths, realities, facts, feelings/emotions
with aversion to dealing with same.

I regularly deal with denial in my GP surgery. It happens with alcoholics who refuse to accept that they are alcoholics. With skeletal young women who refuse to accept that they have an eating disorder. With the rareish  cases of amnesia that crop up. We all do denial to some extent, for instance, in forgetting dentists’ appointments.

Anyone who knows an individual who is in denial can see that they have a problem, except such friends and acquaintances who have been sucked in to the individual's belief system.

Every argument, fact or emotional pleading is countered by the individual in denial with “No, but what about x y and z?”

The condition can be resolved, but it needs enormous investment of supportive care, knowledge, wisdom and patience on the part of the community, mediated mainly by psychiatric services.

The critical factor in resolution of denial lies with the subject experiencing the unpleasant reality that is being denied. The alcoholic may need to experience loss of job and family before they join AA. The smoker may need to experience his heart attack before he gives up.

So denial in individual psychology is generally accepted among scientifically trained psychiatrists as a recognisable mental condition.

Climate change deniers form a large and unduly influential group within society. Their influence suggests that their beliefs are resonating with a lot of people, so in this sense there is a social form of denial going on, just as there is with other social manifestations of denial such as  evolution denial.

The key question for us is, how do we relate to climate change denial?

First, stay calm. Their style is almost universally provocative, and ad hominem. They are angry people, who feel that their core philosophy of personal freedom to do exactly as they bloody well choose is under threat. In the past, they have been secure in the knowledge that people like George W Bush was there to speak for them. Now they do not have that security. That is why they are angry. The anger belongs to them, not to you. Do not take it on board; stay above their anger. Imagine that you are a therapist dealing with an anorectic.

Second, be patient. Talking with a denialist is like discussing Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment with someone who is still having trouble remembering which way round his b’s and d’s go. It is frustrating and time consuming, but if done briefly and clearly, it may convince a bystander, if not the denier himself, that you are right.

Third, get genned up. Learn the basic science, which is simple, even though the subject itself is exceedingly complex.

1. Greenhouse gases are rising because of human activity.
2. They will cause serious harm to people and planet if they are not reduced.
3. The community of serious climate scientists are convinced that there is a problem.
The hacked emails scandal has not affected the conviction of atmospheric scientists that the evidence for man made global warming is robust.
3. There are an influential group of sceptics, some of whom are scientists, but more of whom are engineers &c who dissent. That is normal in science.
4. Refer them to web pages where their doubts can be answered.
5. Deploy the Cost Benefit Argument or Precautionary Principle:

Cost Benefit Argument

This can be seen as a case of the Precautionary Principle.

In the end, this is not an academic debate, because we and our children are part of the experiment. The consensus among scientists (with a few exceptions, as is always the case in science) is that we should decarbonise our economy as a matter of urgency.

Academics can debate ad infinitum, but politicians now have to make a choice. Every choice involves a degree of uncertainty.

Say we decarbonise our economy, and it turns out (unlikely as that may be) that IPCC view is wrong? Well, we will have created hundreds of thousands of jobs in insulation and renewable energy manufacturing and taken thousands out of fuel poverty. We will also have reduced the shock of Peak Oil and Peak Gas, and reduced the acidification of the oceans. And addressed our energy security problems. And increased prosperity in hot countries. Not bad, not bad at all.

Say on the other hand, we go the way of the denialists/skeptics, and it turns out, as per all reasonable expectations, that they are wrong?

We will have problems with energy security, Peak Oil, Peak Gas, acidified oceans, acid rain, fuel poverty, unemployment, poverty, civil unrest and finally, massive, catastrophic climate disruption from droughts, floods, crop failures, disease, and war. With massive migration caused by environmental collapse. Not good.

Any sensible decision maker will put our money into decarbonising the global economy.

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