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Denial and Alarmism in the Near-Term Extinction and Collapse Debate

Guest article by Alastair McIntosh,  honorary professor in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. This is an excerpt from his new book, Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being

cover art for Riders on the StormMostly, we only know what we think we know about climate science because of the climate science. I have had many run-ins with denialists, contrarians or climate change dismissives as they are variously called. Over the past two years especially, concern has also moved to the other end of the spectrum, to alarmism. Both ends, while the latter has been more thinly tapered, can represent forms of denial. In this abridged adaptation I will start with denialism, but round on the more recent friendly fire on science that has emerged in alarmism.

Climate change dismissives

One of my more peculiar run-ins with a dismissive voice was through an online debate in 2010 that ECOS, the journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists, organised between me and an English wildlife ecologist, Peter Taylor. Taylor’s 2009 book, Chill, argued that far from living in a world that’s heating up, ‘the period 2002–07 marks a turning point, then glaciers will begin to grow and ice mass begin to accumulate again, thus levelling off the sea level rises’. He saw the cold winter of 2008–9 as heralding the coming ice age(1). Being an ecologist, this made him a hero of climate change denialism, an avid convert from the other church; and for a time, Chill ranked as number one in Amazon UK’s bestselling league for ‘global warming’.

Invariably I have found myself asking of such figures, who have no credibly peer-reviewed publications in climate science: what makes them think that they know better than experts with a reputation worth not losing? I also ask myself what drives their attitudes. Often, these are a class of people heavily invested in consumerist lifestyles. Their material markers of identity and prestige, and their masks of distraction from what is challenging in life may be at stake. Some just don’t care. I define consumerism as consumption that is in excess of what is needed for a dignified sufficiency of living. However, a handful of the most effective dismissives don’t fit obvious characterisation, being more altruistic in holding their position. Peter Taylor is one such, and my late friend the botanist and TV celebrity Professor David Bellamy was another. Taylor concedes that the heavy impact of climate mitigation measures on nature and landscapes – terrestrial wind farms in particular – has influenced his views. Bellamy, likewise.

At the time of our ECOS exchange, Taylor praised it, saying: ‘I know of no other consistent debate on this important issue.’ Not having been in touch for years, I dropped him a line while writing this book. I asked: given that his forecast ‘chill’ has not materialised, did he think that it was coming yet, for all that? His reply was characteristically warm and cheerful. It left my question feeling almost mean-spirited. He made no reference back to his previous predictions. Instead, to my astonishment, he wrote of ‘record warmth – just as we could expect’, that the current warm period ‘may have two or three centuries to run’, and the next ice age is not just around the corner but ‘three to four hundred years away’(2). It seemed that the denial had full astern gone retrograde. I scratched my head and gave a weary nod to all those hours spent on the ECOS great debate.

Heavy ad hominem artillery

Other run-ins have had a less avuncular if, paradoxically, a more jaunty feel to them. The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is Britain’s foremost ‘climate sceptic’ lobby group. Set up by Lord (Nigel) Lawson of Blaby, Mrs Thatcher’s former chancellor of the exchequer, its website is literally a ‘dark’ web in its presenting colour scheme. Its board comprises a formidable array of heavyweight political figures, contrarian scientists and erstwhile captains of commerce, the media and the civil service. To see power at work – elevated, concentrated and networked – go no further than to take a look online, and gape(3). Most such lobby bodies no longer say that global warming isn’t happening. Instead, they’ll take issue with abstruse elements of the scientific data, with the extrapolated rate of heating, with the attribution of its causes or with the expected impact and anticipated costs – not least the ‘socialist’ taxation and regulatory implications – of actually doing something.

Lord Lawson refuses to disclose the sources of the GWPF’s funding, conceding only that he relies on friends who ‘tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person’(4). Since 2017 its deputy-director has been Andrew Montford, a chemist by original training, turned chartered accountant(5). My encounter with Montford came in 2010 when The Scottish Review of Books asked me to review his investigative work, The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, which claims to be a ‘demolition of the veracity’ of Michael Mann’s hockey stick curve(6). Like Taylor’s Chill a year earlier, the book quickly achieved cult status amongst climate change deniers. I concluded that at best it might help to keep already-overstretched scientists on their toes. At worst, it was a yapping terrier worrying the bull, one that cripples action, potentially costing lives and livelihoods(7).

Montford runs a blog from which, under the pseudonym of ‘Bishop Hill’, he lampoons the high priests (as he sees them) of climate science and all such hooey as green taxes, subsidies, legislation and self-righteous preaching from the likes of, well, yours faithfully. His Grace, as his congregation deferentially refer to him, responded to my piece with two blogs that had me tossed into the dungeons of the Inquisition for heretical impertinence, an abomination unto the sensibilities of the Lord. A crusade was launched, a jihad ensued, and fusillades were fired from keyboards poised in every corner of his parish. In all, some 150 comments linger as remaining landmines on the good bishop’s website.

‘He is an enemy of the people and the state and is declared anathema,’ said one. I took the humour as a badge of office. Even better, said another: ‘Deploy heavy ad hominem artillery to characterize [him] as a coprophagic protocranial.’ Verily, it’s a sorry day when a literary reviewer has to go and look up even simple dictionary words. ‘Adopt a lordly disdain and ignore him.’ ‘He and his eco-chums are in it for the money.’ ‘Another one of these weird Highlanders who seem to dominate Scotland.’ ‘Alastair, just keep tossing off your caber.’ ‘Yer Grace, show no quarter, none will be given.’ ‘He deserves a kicking.’(8)

I came out of such a Punch and Judy show well able to brush off the laugh. But it was all right for me. I make use of climate science coming from an early background of just a general earth sciences degree. I pitch no claim to be a climate scientist. Others, at the heart of science – whether Mann in the USA, or the English scientists such as Phil Jones caught up at the heart of ‘Climategate’ at the University of East Anglia – suffer for their work. No quarter is the order of their day.

Alarmism, doomism and Roger Hallam

What most scientists had not foreseen with an eye so fixated on the artillery of denialism, was the sustained and one would presume well-intentioned misuse of science from the other end of the spectrum, by those who do accept the reality of climate change. When Extinction Rebellion began in England, it conveyed a sense of being witnesses to the cascade of plant and animal extinctions that are escalating around the world as many habitats become less habitable. There is no scientific quibble with that. However, the narrative soon escalated to human death on a massive and imminent scale. As the prominent co-founder Roger Hallam saw it, the burning question had become: ‘How do we avoid extinction?’

His 2019 manifesto, Common Sense for the 21st Century(9), was written in his own name but widely hailed as representing the views of Extinction Rebellion and heavily promoted by the organisation’s London HQ. Referencing his claim to ‘one recent scientific opinion’, he warns of 6 to 7 billion people dead as a result of climate change ‘within the next generation or two’. The paper cited as his authority in the footnotes makes no such claim(10). It is purely Hallam’s extrapolation of a 5°C world, given what Common Sense calls ‘the central role of methane in a climate emergency . . . with the system spiralling out of our control and the likelihood of global collapse within a decade or two’. He reiterated the mass dieback claim in a BBC News interview feature, trenchantly insisting: ‘I am talking about the slaughter, death and starvation of 6 billion people this century – that’s what the science predicts.’(11)

Climate Feedback, a website more used to taking on deniers than alarmists, invited an expert panel to give their opinions on this prediction. The responses ranged from ‘an illustration of a worst-case scenario’ to ‘wild speculation’. Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, put it bluntly: ‘I know of no climate model simulation or analysis in the quality peer-reviewed literature that provides any indication’ that there is a substantial probability, above zero, of 6 billion deaths this century.(12)

Jem Bendell and ‘Deep Adaptation’

Meanwhile, a variation of the theme was coming in from Jem Bendell, a business school professor at the University of Cumbria in the north of England. An expert in digital currencies, his staff web page playfully describes how it earned him the moniker ‘Professor Bitcoin’(13). Bendell’s contribution to Extinction Rebellion’s manifesto, This is Not a Drill, tells that he ‘grieved how I may not grow old’(14). The manifesto thesis for which he is now known, Deep Adaptation, anticipates ‘inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change’ resulting in ‘probable catastrophe and possible extinction’(15). This, as he wrote on his blog, could be expected ‘in many, perhaps most, countries of the world . . . within 10 years’(16). He spelt out both the imminence and what it would look like in a roundup of where he considered the climate science stood as of 2018.

‘But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.’(17)

Deep Adaptation was originally an academic paper that had failed peer review for lack of scholarly rigour. Bendell posted it to the web in 2018, achieving an astonishing half a million downloads within the first year. Part of his rationale leans on what he describes as ‘data published by scientists from the Arctic News’. However, Arctic News is no scholarly tome. It is a blog site that, amidst lurid illustrations, invokes the methane bomb and projects a possible global temperature rise of 10°C, by 2026, based on ‘adjusted NASA data’ heralding the ‘mass extinction of man’(18). Again, the pushback comes from within the scientific community itself. A journalist asked Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s leading climate experts what he made of Bendell’s paper. Schmidt said, and further pressed the point on his Twitter account, that it mixes ‘both valid points and unjustified statements throughout’, but is ‘not based on anything real’(19).

In a 2019 blog, Bendell responded to criticisms of his slant on the science. He describes his grief at having chosen not to have children, partly because they are ‘the greatest contribution to carbon emissions that you could make’ and partly out of ‘the realization of the world they will have to live and die within’. He concludes that in future he will not be replying to, but rather, stepping away from, such controversies around his scientific claims to focus instead on building up the community around Deep Adaptation(20), the activities of which include workshops, trainings, residencies in Bali, and an annual retreat at a yoga centre in Greece to ‘support peaceful empowered surrender to our predicament, where action can arise from an engaged love of humanity and nature, rather than redundant stories of worth and purpose’(21).

However, within a year of his withdrawal from scientific debate, he wrote a further blog having requested Schmidt to render his criticism specific. Schmidt obliged, providing a raft of reproofs including his assessment that Deep Adaptation’s take on Arctic methane was ‘totally misleading’, and that its pitch on runaway climate change was ‘nonsense’. The professor, whose day job was to teach ‘a sustainability-themed MBA programme’, was unwilling to concede any significant ground to NASA’s top climate scientist. Digging in his heels, the blog concluded: ‘I have identified two minor corrections and two clarifications I will make on the paper. However, none of those are material to the situation we are in and none of the main points are revoked.’(22)

Shortly afterwards, BBC News ran a feature that profiled Bendell and his most ardent ‘followers’ as ‘climate doomers’. It quoted Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, as saying that he considers Deep Adaptation to display ‘the level of science of the anti-vax campaign’(23). In counterpoint, it also cited Will Steffen, a retired scientist who had served on the Australian Climate Commission, suggesting that Bendell may be ‘ahead of the game in warning us about what we might need to prepare for’. The pity of it all is that Bendell’s core agenda – about the need for resilience, relinquishment, restoration, and recently he has added reconciliation – is both necessary and inspiring. That is why he has gathered such a following amongst people who are hungry for deeper meaning. We need people like him and Hallam who, at their most effective, and if they discipline themselves to the settled science, can take an overview of things, drawing out what most matters, contextualising it and presenting it to the public in ways more digestible than the raw IPCC reports. There is for each of us so much that is good and right to do anyway, without having to overreach our fields of expertise, conflate climate change with other causes and play fast and loose with signs seen in the sky.

Arctic News, McPherson and doomsday 2026

Meanwhile, Arctic News’ chosen doomsday date of 2026 doubles as the apocalyptic year of choice of Guy McPherson, a retired professor of evolutionary and resource ecology at the University of Arizona, and Bendell’s referenced source in Deep Adaptation where discussing fears of an ‘inevitable methane release . . . leading to the extinction of the human race’(24). McPherson, in turn and in a way that starts to feel rather circular, references his claims back to material from Arctic News, as well as to extrapolation from a range of scientific papers and other sources that, he says, ‘even 10-year-olds understand . . . and [that] Wikipedia accepts [as] the evidence for near-term human extinction’. The phrase used there, Near Term Human Extinction, has gathered a considerable ecopopulist cult following, complete with the social media hashtag #NTHE and online mental health support groups for the depressed and suicidal. The professor crisply reiterated and summed up his position in an interview given in 2018: ‘Specifically, I predict that there will be no humans on Earth by 2026, based on projections of near-term planetary temperature rise and the demise of myriad species that support our own existence.’(25)

His website, Nature Bats Last, prominently offers suicide advice on its home page [Ed. which we are not linking to]. While advising against such a move, he counsels that it can nevertheless ‘be a thoughtful decision’, and with this endorsement he bizarrely links to the post-mortem website of Martin Manley of Kansas, who intricately blogged the preparations for his own departure by self-inflicted gunshot in a parking lot(26). For those who believe in the severity and particularly the imminence of their prognostications, such alarmism arguably crosses over into the realm of fantasy. If conflated with reality, this risks its own potentially tragic consequences.

Breakdown to break through?

There are other sides to the position that I have taken here against alarmism. An activist friend put it to me that what Bendell’s work does is that it pushes a point to make a point. It usefully brings people to the state of breakdown, from where they can break through into the new social norms that are demanded by deep adaptation. It also expresses the precautionary principle. My view, is that if a case can’t be made without it being over-egged, either the case is not valid or those to whom it is being pitched are being spun. Exaggeration or invoking fear and panic only entrenches positions and sets up a backlash. The unembellished science is quite bad enough to be good enough.

I get people coming up at my talks, or sending in an email, then being disappointed when I tell them that I only partly buy into the fears stimulated by prominent alarmists. Because I say I’m sticking to consensus science – even knowing that it can never be bang up to date and that its expression will be sure but probably cautious – I suspect they sometimes think that I’m the denier. A climate model researcher in Sweden dropped me a line, saying that he gets the same disappointed reactions, adding that ‘some teenagers are distraught on this, so the alarmism of such actors is taking a heavy and unjustifiable psychological toll on others.’ Those who work with young people warn of the consequences of growing ‘climate anxiety’(27).

None of this is to suggest that what is happening to the planet ought not provoke anxiety. I said to the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, that I often find myself racked between the deniers and the alarmists, trying to hold on to the humanity of both, recognising their fears or differing priorities, and yet insisting on consensus science. She answered, ‘It is a narrow and lonely place so it’s great to have company!’(28). Michael Mann concurs. He sees ‘doomism and despair’ that exceeds the science as being ‘extremely destructive and extremely influential’. It has built up ‘a huge number of followers and it has been exploited and co-opted by the forces of denial and delay’. ‘Good scientists aren’t alarmists,’ he insists. ‘Our message may be – and in fact is – alarming . . . The distinction is so very, very critical and cannot be brushed under the rug.’(30)

Neither Hayhoe nor Mann are the kind of scientists who take distance from campaigning as ‘climate advocates’, as the former puts it. Both openly support and encourage protest that rests on a firm evidence base. In April 2019, they were amongst the twenty-two lead authors of a letter to Science, headed ‘Concerns of young protesters are justified.’ Along with more than 3,000 other experts who added their names as co-signatories, it stated: ‘We call for our colleagues across all disciplines and from the entire world to support these young climate protesters. We declare: Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science.’

The tension, then, is not between science and protest. The tension is between science and multiplying up its extreme ends of likelihood in ways that are tantamount to pseudoscience: ‘If the worst imaginable happens it is this. And if the worst of that happens, it is this.’ The ancient Celts were justified in their greatest fear that the sky would fall in. The asteroid may be on its way right now. But real science balances up the probabilities.

Millennialism or future possibilities?

Like denialism, alarmism distorts our temporal horizons of what is possible. As the veteran Greenpeace campaigner Chris Rose suggests, its ‘gloom picking’ leads to ‘solutions denial’ that ramps up ‘climate grief’ that exploits the poorly informed(31). In their panic, many of its key proponents advocate potentially disastrous fixes, the magic bullet of geoengineering especially, and that, in the form of solar radiation modification. I agree with those who say: ‘There isn’t enough time.’ And yet, the opposite of one great truth is very often another great truth. As an Arabic proverb puts it: ‘Haste is the key to sorrow.’ If our politics are deep green, we must pay attention to the fact that, already, nativist forms of ecofascism have drawn blood on growing alt-right fringes of drawbridge environmentalism. The ‘Unabomber’ and the Christchurch mosque gunman both appealed to certain types of ‘green’ narrative in their manifestos(32).

All this is why I walk along the ridge of Katharine Hayhoe’s ‘narrow and lonely place’. To over-egg the cake is like those terrorist alerts that remain forever high. Alarmists who extrapolate beyond sound evidence may be right, but if so, by the wrong process. The upside, is that they may perversely hit it lucky and warn of something of which others had been too cautious. The downside, is that in the long run they undermine the very principles of truth that they purport to speak.

Alarmism feeds upon the natural fears and decent trust of the understandably uninformed. It allows the enemies of climate action to paint climate science as the domain of wacky prophets and their followers, who have to keep on revising upwards their forecast date of doomsday. It draws those who have been caught up in such thinking into the cognitive dissonance reduction of looking for, and in a strange way maybe even hoping, that the signs on which they have staked so much are being fulfilled. This chimera of narratorial control affords an illusory sense of agency, and perhaps prestige, to individuals who may lack the humility, or be too captivated by their personal fears, to accept the limitations of their knowing as well as the wider ambiguities of emergent knowledge. Where pronounced, such alarmism can echo a ‘conspiracy mentality’ zeal, such as the philosopher Quassim Cassam characterises in figures who might be ‘quick to denounce mainstream academia for rejecting their theories [yet] crave academic respectability … and trumpet their PhDs, whatever their subject.’(33)

Moreover, in an age of perhaps renewed spiritual searching this can pander to climate change millennialism in a ‘phony holy’ cultic psychology. Certainly, it might correctly second guess the future. But if so, probably only as an artifact of flawed or grandiose reasoning. More probably, it will merely escalate the psychological defensive mechanisms used to maintain ‘cognitive consistency’, and these, much as Festinger and colleagues memorably described in their 1950s doomsday study, When Prophecy Fails.(34)

The only remedy is that in our understandable despair and burning yearning for change, we must keep head engaged, as well as heart and hand. We have no mandate to collapse the possibilities of the future, to contract and restrict our latitude for agency and action. Climate change denial is a waste of time. But climate change alarmism is a theft of time.


  1. Peter Taylor, Chill: A reassessment of global warming theory, Clairview, East Sussex, 2009, pp. 232, 268–9, 301. The ECOS debate in 2010 has since been lost in a website revamp. I retain the email thread.
  2. Emails from Peter Taylor drawn upon here are 31 October 2010 and 18–19 November 2019.
  3. Board of Trustees’, Global Warming Policy Foundation, 3 February 2020.
  4. Bob Ward, ‘Secret funding of climate sceptics is not restricted to the US’, The Guardian, 15 February 2013.
  5. Andrew W. Montford’, Desmog, 2017.
  6. Montford, A.W., published by Stacey International, London, 2010. See also Tamino, ‘The Montford Delusion’, RealClimate, 22 July 2010.
  7. Alastair McIntosh, ‘Review of The Hockey Stick Illusion’, Scottish Review of Books, 6:3, August 2010.
  8. Bishop Hill, ‘Scottish Review of Books’, 14 August 2010; and ‘Did he read it?’ 17 August 2010.
  9. Roger Hallam, Common Sense for the 21st Century, PDF version 0.3.
  10. Xu paper used by Hallam: Yangyang Xu and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, ‘Well below 2°C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes’, PNAS, 114:39, 2017, pp. 10,315–23.
  11. BBC News, Roger Hallam interviewed by Stephen Sackur, BBC HardTalk, 17 August 2019.
  12. Scott Johnson (ed.), ‘Prediction by Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam that climate change will kill 6 billion people by 2100 is unsupported’, Climate Feedback, 22 August 2019.
  13. University of Cumbria, ‘Professor Jem Bendell, PhD’, Institute for Leadership Sustainability, Business.
  14. Jem Bendell, ‘Doom and Bloom: Adapting to Collapse’, This is Not a Drill, op. cit., pp. 73–7.
  15. Jem Bendell, Deep Adaptation: a Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, IFLAS Occasional Paper 2 (Postscript: The link to the original 27 July 2018 version of the paper on this landing site, the version from which I have quoted, was taken down and replaced with a Revised 2nd Edition on 27 July 2020. The original can still be accessed online. The new version came a fortnight after a challenging and much-remarked upon criticism of the science of Deep Adaptation from three scientist members of Extinction Rebellion: Thomas Nicholas, Galen Hall and Colleen Schmidt, ‘The faulty science, doomism and flawed conclusions of Deep Adaptation’, Open Democracy, 14 July 2020. Amongst the changes made, are that a section about Arctic methane has been removed, meaning that Arctic News is no longer cited within the body text although it remains in the references. Most revealing is a welcome change made in the abstract. The original opened: ‘The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near term social collapse due to climate change.’ The revised, shifts from a statement of fact to one of opinion (my italics): ‘The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of what I believe to be an inevitable near-term societal collapse due to climate change.’ Bendell has pushed back strongly against the Open Democracy critique, commencing with his riposte: ‘Letter to Deep Adaptation Advocate Volunteers about Misrepresentation of the Agenda and Movement‘, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 15 July 2020. An extensive debate followed on Twitter, for example, multiple threads down from Tom Nicholas).
  16. Jem Bendell, ‘A Year of Deep Adaptation’, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 7 July 2019. This is also the source of the half-million downloads statistic. Note that the coronavirus is not (in any obvious way) caused by climate change.
  17. Jem Bendell, ‘A Summary of Some Climate Science in 2018’, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 22 March 2018.
  18. Arctic News page linked by Bendell: Sam Carana, ‘Warning Climate Warning!! Alert: Signs of Extinction’, Arctic News, 3 March 2018. I’ve also cited from pages linked thereto. A number of the writers featured in Arctic News, including John Nissen, were associated a decade ago with AMEG, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group.
  19. Mann and Schmidt, Twitter thread, 22 November 2019. Schmidt, first quote in the tweet, second in the Nafeez Ahmed Vice article linked by Mann to whom Schmidt was responding.
  20. Jem Bendell, ‘Responding to Green Positivity Critiques of Deep Adaptation’, Resilience, 15 April 2019.
  21. Deep Adaptation Retreat with Jem Bendell and Katie Karr: Inner resilience for tending a sacred unravelling’, Kalikalos Holistic Network, 2020. Also, with comments at the bottom around the dilemmas of flying to such a location in 2018 retreat) and (2019 retreat).
  22. Jem Bendell: ‘The Worst Argument to Try to Win: Response to Criticism of the Climate Science in Deep Adaptation’, Professor Jem Bendell blog, 27 February 2020.
  23. Jack Hunter, ‘The “climate doomers” preparing for society to fall apart’, BBC News, 16 March 2020.
  24. Bendell, Deep Adaptation, op. cit., with citation to Guy McPherson’s ‘Climate Change Summary and Update’, Nature Bats Last, update 2 August 2016.
  25. Rajani Kanth, ‘On Imminent Human Extinction: [Guy McPherson] Interviewed by Rajani Kanth’, Nature Bats Last, 12 October 2018. Also, Guy McPherson, Twitter, 25 September 2019: (tweet now unavailable, account now deleted).
  26. Guy McPherson, ‘Contemplating Suicide? Please Read This’, Nature Bats Last, 8 July 2014.
  27. Matthew Taylor and Jessica Murray, ‘“Overwhelming and terrifying”: the rise of climate anxiety’, The Guardian, 10 February 2020.
  28. Katharine Hayhoe, Twitter, 19 December 2019.
  29. Michael Mann (on Guy McPherson), Twitter, 13 August 2019.
  30. Michael Mann, Twitter, 16 February 2019: http://bit.ly/2VJtmqX.
  31. Chris Rose, ‘Tragedy or Scandal? Strategies Of GT, XR and the New Climate Movement’, Three Worlds blog, 13 February 2020. Full paper.
  32. Likewise, the debate around green Nazism. See Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Marc Cioc and Thomas Zeller (eds), How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, Ohio University Press, 2005.
  33. Quassim Cassam, Conspiracy Theories, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2019, p. 25.
  34. Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken & Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World, Harper, New York, 1964.

205 Responses to “Denial and Alarmism in the Near-Term Extinction and Collapse Debate”

  1. 201
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Problem #1 with science is the need to avoid the false positive of making untrue claims, scientific reticence — to avoid being discredited as the boy who called wolf — but the real moral to that story is “don’t be like those villagers who got eaten by the wolf.”

    Problem #2 is science can’t deal with holistic reality but needs to analyze only few, manageable variables. And there are lots of variables around climate change, like Parmesan’s work on bio-systems getting out of sync, or increasingly hotter nights causing rice crop failure. And perhaps 100s of other variables, known and unknown.

    Also climate change is a biggy, but it’s not the only environmental problem, and some things that contribute to climate change like emissions from ICE cars or burning coal also contribute to local pollution and regional acid rain. We also have to take into account harms from extraction, shipping/piping, processing (cancer alleys), consumption/combustion, waste disposal issues, coal ash spills. For instance we have a fossil-fuel caused 30 acre plume of benzene, etc underlying the town next to us, causing leukemia, etc. Just hope it doesn’t explode as happened in Guadalajara.

    ((Of course, on the positive side there are benefits from modern transportation and electrifying homes and such…. we just need to do these in ways that cause least harm.))

    Problem #3, climate science, though better than weather prediction, can’t easily predict beyond 100 years, though we do know from paleo-climatology bad things can happen from great warmings over 100s, 1000s, and 100,000s years, like the end-Permian extinctions. Not to mention we are causing the warming magnitudes of order faster than in the past. To me people 300 years from now are also important, not just the people alive today or within the next 100 years, so I’m “alarmed” at what our emissions of yesterday, today, and tomorrow might do to people and other life forms in the far future. At least alarmed enough to spur me onto becoming energy/resource efficient/conservative and go on alt energy.

  2. 202
    Romain says:

    Bob Loblaw, #189,

    Thanks for clarifying your thoughts. It is very clear and I agree with everything you’ve written.

  3. 203
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Romain,
    What I am saying is that your words are not nuanced at all. There can be many goals for a scientific investigation, and for some of them, getting the uncertainties right is absolutely essential (e.g. mass of the neutrino or . Others may be able to live with greater uncertainties.

    Similarly, for engineering, there comes a time when you don’t give a tinker’s damn about refining your uncertainty estimates, because they don’t make a difference.

    Also, whether one is a “scientist” or an engineer is irrelevant. One could be a truck driver and still contribute. What matters is the depth of understanding one brings to the discussion and the tools one brings to the analysis. A physicist like Will Happer contributes precisely squat to the climate discussion precisely because he is an arrogant ass who cannot be bothered to study the subject in sufficient detail to develop understanding thereof. A climate scientist is more likely to bring a deep understanding because it is there day job to develop and advance that understanding.

    What really matters is curiosity. If your curiosity about the subject does not dominate every other motivation, your understanding is likely to fall short. A contrarian who has to be the smartest guy in the room is unlikely to contribute to science up to his potential, just as a narcissist who craves the adulation of the denialati is unlikely to care enough to plow through the uncertainties and advance the discipline.

  4. 204
    Mal Adapted says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Problem #2 is science can’t deal with holistic reality but needs to analyze only few, manageable variables.

    Yes and no. IIUC, a systems approach to investigating phenomena is implicit in the scientific worldview. OTOH, the inescapably collective character of science means you can’t investigate what you and your peers can’t agree on a name for. Even with computers, a few unambiguously circumscribed variables are all we can manage 8^(.

    Otherwise, good comment.

  5. 205
    zebra says:

    BPL #198 ,

    Well, it’s very off-topic, so I guess you get to make yourself feel better by claiming that. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and the description of “the larger context” reinforces my interpretation.

    Sexism is much more of an issue in Japan because, as racist as the people are, they have done their best to minimize the presence of ‘others’, but they do a lot of that animal-characteristics stuff. (Is there a word for the reverse of anthropomorphizing?)

    And I guess I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy; I don’t care how mean the mean-zebra-girl was, had I been there I would have decked the White-Male-Equivalent protagonist for his physical action. But each to his own, as they say.