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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:
  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. 1
    Robert L. Bradley Jr. says:

    Here is my take on climate alarmists resisting the tag ‘alarmist’.

  2. 2
    José M. Sousa says:

    What do you think about references made here to Prof. Johan Rockström, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and Kevin Anderson on the issue of the carrying capacity of the Earth with 4ºC – 6ºC?

  3. 3
    David B. Benson says:

    Using deaths per year from
    I estimate an average of 90 million per year from now through 2100.
    That’s 6.3 billion as the cumulative total.

  4. 4
    Louis C Smith says:

    Excellent and well said.

  5. 5
    MA Rodger says:

    ♣ The idea that alarmism is as damaging to AGW action as denialism is – perhaps this idea is a mirror-image of message presented by arch-denier climatologist Richard Lindzen within his 2012 seminar at the Palace of Westminster (part of a political move to repeal the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act).
    Lindzen sets out five indisputable parts of “settled science” which are not “controversial among serious climate scientists” and which he displays on the left side of a presentation slide. (See video of the seminar at this point here.) Lindzen then makes his point that those who deny these indisputable parts of climatology are greatly damaging to his own (denialist) message saying “In my opinion … if the warmisters as they were called could pay the people who deny the left, they couldn’t do better in terms of public argumentation.”
    Of course, without all the denialist noise, Lindzen’s message would have very little power.

    ♣ And while the Climate Extinction folk may be grossly exaggerating AGW, their actions like sticking themselves to the outside of tube trains has got AGW into the news media. Perhaps the problem is not with the message from the roof of the tube train but the message from that “narrow and lonely place” described in the OP.
    The “narrow and lonely place” is now armed with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well-below +2ºC and also a fast-shrinking global carbon budget which, if anything, plays into the alarmist argument. Yet when the target is global, there is no place to stop the buck at, nowhere to meaningfully complain that annual GHG emissions increased 64% 1990-2017 and continue to increase when the should be decreasing. The message must surely be aimed nationally where there is such a ‘buck-stop’.

    We in the UK had a General Election eight months ago. As a country with an exceptional record on reducing GHG emissions (ignoring ex-communist countries, Wikithing shows UK GHG reductions 1990-2017 at 36%, roughly equal to Denmark and these two roughly double the best-of-the-rest), the UK election’s climate debate is worthy of study. On the one side they were saying how well UK was doing, a world-leading 40% achieved reduction on GHG emissions and target of zero emissions by 2050. On the other they were mainly falling over themselves to shorten the 2050 target to a date as close as they dared to the Climate Extinction’s 2025. Frankly the climate debate was a total farce.
    What was missing and continues to be missing is a meaningful analysis of national policy.
    What has UK actually achieved as a word-leader in AGW mitigation? Territorial emissions are down 40% but only by exporting 26% abroad. UK terrestrial end-user power (something which will be in very short supply if we reduce our FF-use quickly) is down but only by 10% and UK reliance on FFs sits at 90% (with Nuclear 4% & renewables 6% of which a third is imported wood chips).

    I would humbly suggest that a proper analysis of the achievements of the various nations across this world to tackle AGW is long overdue. I would suggest that should be the substance of the main message from that “narrow and lonely place.”.

  6. 6
    Oxyaena says:

    “‘tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person’”

    Oh the hubris of the capitalist class….

    Eat the rich.

  7. 7
    Hervé Douville says:

    Thanks for this important post. I tend to disagree about the “narrow and lonely place” between the deniers and the alarmists. I would on the contrary argue that this is a wide, heavily populated but not enough debated space. It may be therefore important to discuss about the direction in which the cursor should be generally moved and about the range of plausible climate changes that should be explored and that we should get prepared to face. Moreover, it seems to be unfair to equate or even compare deniers and alarmists. In face of uncertainty, fear remains a more understandable reaction than arrogance and selfishness.

  8. 8
    Thomas Fuller says:

    That’s refreshing.

    If I may offer one bit of unsolicited and perhaps unwelcome advice: We lukewarmers suffered (metaphorically speaking) from a concerted effort to class us with the most ardent skeptics the author refers to as ‘deniers.’ (I really don’t like the term. I imagine there is a similar reaction to the term ‘alarmist.’)

    It is not only skeptics who will drag opponents to the far end of the spectrum, just as it was not only ‘alarmists’ who pushed us into a corner. Don’t let the same happen to your side of the fence.

  9. 9
    Mark A. York says:

    I got into a beef with Doug Peacock, the Grizzly Bear advocate, over Antarctic ice sheets disappearing in ten years. He unfriended me on FaceBook over it. I had been introduced by a Park County Montana commissioner who was a subject and a friend and had lunch with the Peacocks in Livingston. Alas, I later discovered he was a follower of McPherson and had been for a longtime in Tucson where he wintered. It was disappointing to see them rooting for our collective demise to support an unsupportable theory peddled by a quack.

  10. 10

    The on observation that consensus science is ‘a narrow and lonely place’ suggests to me that there has been some extreme polarisation. This is not something I reckognise from neither Norway nor Europe. I hope – if it’s real – it’s limited to the US and perhaps the Anglosaxon culture. If this is the case, then the US has a lot to learn from Europe.

  11. 11
    Radge Havers says:

    Just thinking out loud here. Maybe look at what vacuum is being filled.

    I think we have an idea of what’s going on with denialists. For (and I’m not going to pander to denialists by using their tainted term ‘alarmist’) good citizens frustrated by inaction, there’s an information void to be filled.

    Me, I’d like to see science communicators get out in front of the problem and specify in relentless, fairly simple and personal terms what the future holds in store– and hold off on the qualifiers until they’re actually needed. We’re already seeing the destructive effects of climate change, that it’s a multiplier of all sorts of problems, that the society we think we know is beginning to dissolve away under our feet.

    Jumping at the opportunity to quibble with hyperbole and then dropping the issue and moving on to jargon, scientific numbers, pretty pictures of glaciers calving, plus some verbiage about oceanfront zoning just doesn’t cut it in my book. Nor does framing discussion of the problem in terms of optimism v. pessimism help much, either attitude can be counter productive. A little more anger might be in order.

  12. 12
    Mal Adapted says:

    Outstanding post! Highly germane to the discussion of scientific meta-literacy on the How to spot “alternative scientists” thread. It’s apparent that science denial can have various non-scientific motives. One cringes at the din of off-the-shelf and bespoke AGW-denial, not all of it for profit, in the public sphere. Some voices of alarmism have grown painfully loud, as well. I accept responsibility for neither 8^|!


    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?’

    Hallam’s escalation may be baffling to those of us who are quite alarmed enough by the verifiable evidence, thank you. I, for one, am appalled at AGW’s costs in money and tragedy well short of the extinction of our species! That’s unlikely even assuming high ECS and the failure of all collective efforts to reduce fossil carbon emissions, but the human tragedy that has already ensued from anthropogenic emissions, never mind in the future, ought to raise the level of public urgency for driving them to zero. It hasn’t been enough, though! IMHO it’s understandable, though regrettable, that Hallam felt he had to go beyond the credible science of global warming.

    Homo sapiens, with its cultural adapations, isn’t presently in danger of extinction. Credible arguments are made for the loss of many other species due to AGW already, however. Those are the extinctions I’m rebelling against. The trouble is that it’s hard to get people exercised about the disappearance of even charismatic megafauna, climate-related or not. Personally, for example, I don’t lament the passing of the giant short-faced bear. Many Americans would be saddened at the extinction of the American pika in the wild, but not enough to vote for collective measures to prevent it. Fewer have even heard of the golden toad, and still fewer care about its loss. Alas, “one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” (A. Leopold).

  13. 13
    nigelj says:

    Excellent commentary. I think even middle range climate projections are seriously concerning. The extremely speculative scenarios of billions dead within a decade or so coming from biologists may be partly due to a depressive, or inherently doomy state of mind, or frustration with lack of progress with mitigation.

    The problem is humans are psychologically hardwired to respond with urgency to immediate threats like covid 19, not slow moving and distant threats like a 4 degree world, and so trying to scare them to move might have only limited results, and could damage the credibility of the scientific community if scare stories become just plain silly.

    So it may be we need to 1) focus on scare stories that at least have a strong foundation, like high mortality in tropical regions, and dangerous levels of sea level rise worldwide, and 2) put more emphasis on the positives that flow from climate mitigation.

  14. 14
    John Williams says:

    I mostly agree, and see the same kind of exaggeration about the environmental effects of logging where I live in NW California. With global warming, however, the potential interactions with political systems keep me awake at night. As sea level rises and people have to migrate from heavily populated river deltas, what will be the political response of people in the areas that the refugees try to migrate to? The potential for more right-wing nationalist governments with nuclear arms seems great. At 79, I’ve lived most with the threat of nuclear war for a long time, but just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.

  15. 15
    -1=e^ipi says:

    Climate change alarmism and climate change denialism are both problems. I’m a bit concerned at how frequently false information in society does not get corrected or challenged if it fits an alarmism narrative.

    In Canada’s recent election, the Green Party Leader, Elizabeth May, claimed that humans are at risk of extinction due to runaway global warming, and this claim was not challenged by any political leaders or any media outlets (that I am aware of). During the only English Debate in the entire election, there was an audience member who, in their question to their candidates, proclaimed that this would be the last election in Canada due to climate change. None of leaders challenged the claim by the audience member to address their concerns.

    A really high profile case of climate alarmism would be with Stephen Hawking, who expressed his concern about how the Earth would experience runaway global warming due to climate change. There wasn’t any significant high-profile challenge to Hawking’s claims. This highlights how bad climate misinformation that supports an alarmist narrative can be in society, when a high profile physicist like Stephen Hawking doesn’t feel the need to check the basic physics before making pronouncements of runaway climate change. An average person in society would conclude that the super smart physicist, Stephen Hawking, must be correct.

    I’ll be honest, despite having a science background and having an ability to point to what mainstream climate change science says (such as pointing to this blog or relevant climate change papers), I am too afraid to confront climate change misinformation (if it supports an alarmist narrative) in my everyday life because it could affect either my friendships or my job. It would just take 1 person at my job to think it’s their moral duty to get me fired, in order to save the planet, since I would be spreading ‘denialist’ information that goes against alarmist narratives, to create significant employment problems.

    I’ve had people tell me things like they don’t want to have kids because ecological collapse is coming, that they think the word is ending within 20 years, or that they think people need to blow up oil pipelines to stop climate change. I know that the authors of real climate are generally of an older generation and live in countries like the US and the UK, where the state of public discourse is different, but in a major urban centre in Canada, a lot of the discourse does contain concerning misinformation.

  16. 16
    Ken Fabian says:

    I think the influence of climate “alarmists” in either direction – in raising awareness or in provoking people to denial – is way overblown. But I think it suits many obstructionists to overstate the influence of extremists doing exaggeration to reinforce perceptions that it is all exaggeration by extremists, all the way down. I think the promotion of that false popular perception – that the issue is about, by and for unreasoning and unreasonable extremists – is more significant than the doomsayer alarmists could ever be.

    So I’m not sure this post will be helpful… in the way that I thought climate scientists investigating The Pause – rather than internal climate variability – wasn’t helpful; somehow the issue of some extremists doing alarmism has precedence, again, over all of the carefully considered science based studies and the abundance of reasoned advice and reasoned responses based on it.

    Whole political parties are not doing Doubt, Deny, Delay as climate policy because some doomsayer alarmists said something that upset their sensibilities so much they couldn’t take an IPCC report seriously ever again; they chose their obstructionist positions all by themselves in a widely supported exercise in grand climate responsibility avoidance.

  17. 17
    Victor says:

    As for denial vs alarmism, I must say I prefer denial. Denial means sitting back in my recliner, sipping a Pina Colada, watching TV, arranging the next get-together with my lady friend, and contemplating all the interesting and creative things I can say that will throw the true believers on this blog into a raging tizzy.

    On the other hand, alarmism means spending the next 10 years cowering in a corner, sweating profusely, imagining all the horrible things that will happen as the Earth heats up dramatically, arctic ice melts totally away, polar bears die out, sea levels rise, and killer levels of methane spew from the thawing tundra as the long-anticipated existential crisis erupts around us.

    It’s a no-brainer, folks. Denialists sleep soundly at night while alarmists toss and turn in agony — night after night for the next ten years.

  18. 18
    Al Bundy says:

    OP: what makes them think that they know better than experts with a reputation worth not losing?

    AB: sure, but on the other side, amateur “Alarmists” of the rational sort have been correct nearly all the time while experts need to prefix most of what they say with, “It’s worse than we thought”.

    Yep. Crazies get headlines. blessed don’t paint with a broad brush. Why should rational Alarmists be overly impressed with experts who are always behind the curve? When they put on their Big Boy and Girl pants and stop being so damn timid and willing to err on the side of Denialists, when they join the protests and spend a night in jail. When they make a single major prediction that errs on the Alarmist side.

    When they give enough of a damn to act as if they were human. Channeling Mr Spock is fun, but millions (billions?) will likely die because climate scientists have yet to Man (and Woman) Up.

    Yes, a couple have. James Hansen, for sure. But the vast majority act as if the planet is a damn game. Sure, in PRIVATE they’re acting more human, but GOD DAMN IT, it’s backwards and evil to tell your friends but not the world. In finance that’s called insider trading and can land you in prison (but won’t – those perps are above-the-law sorts of criminals).

    OP: invokes the methane bomb and projects a possible global temperature rise of 10°C, by 2026, based on ‘adjusted NASA data’

    AB: Goop. WTF does “mass extinction of a single species (man)” mean? How does the downward from the surface and upward from the Earth’s core heat migration accelerate by several orders of magnitude in a couple years, given that there’s no weather down there? Twas written by a scientific illiterate. And frankly, your decision to showcase [insert IQ insult here] detracts from your work. Why not showcase James Hansen? He’s the most prominent sane alarmist in the world but nary a mention. Why?

    Ken C: 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.

    AB: OK, I know what you meant to say, but I can’t resist. I know of no model of any kind that predicts as few as 6 billion human deaths this century.

    And why on Earth would we take as gospel the words of the Always Wrong? I know of NO model that has predicted worse than actual.

    OP: was unwilling to concede any significant ground to NASA’s top climate scientist.

    AB: Unfair! NASA’s top climate scientist resigned in protest. Are you going to invoke Trump’s ‘experts’ next? Be fair. What would James say?

    OP: The unembellished science is quite bad enough to be good enough.

    AB: Bullshit. If (since) the too-timid science will kill millions because it errs significantly and consistently on the conservative side then it is nowhere near ‘good enough’.

    OP: My view, is that if a case can’t be made without it being over-egged

    AB: My view is that if someone is concerned about the appearance of over-egging they should apply duct tape to their mouth and keyboard.

    OP: that its expression will be sure but probably cautious

    AB: Wrong is wrong. And to deliberately fudge conclusions towards the cautious is negligent mass murder. Just saying.

    OP: ‘Good scientists aren’t alarmists,’ he insists.

    AB: You quoted, so confirm: “James Hansen is not a good scientist”.

    OP: All this is why I walk along the ridge of Katharine Hayhoe’s ‘narrow and lonely place’.

    AB: Only because you define anything varying from your stance ‘extremist’. You admit that your stance is obsolete and you only compare your stance to stupido crapola written by non-scientific types.

    Come back when you can speak about Rational Alarmists such as JH. (And here’s where I stopped reading and just gave you a “C”.

  19. 19
    Al Bundy says:

    In case folks are wondering, “blessed don’t paint with a broad brush” was typed (or attempted to type), “but please don’t paint with a broad brush”

  20. 20
    Al Bundy says:

    This post can be distilled down to:
    Crazy morons exist. Lets focus solely on them while ignoring any non-vanilla who has a brain, because that ‘proves’ that Vanilla Rules.

    Maybe so. That’s where that “rich friends of Denialists are way smart” quote came from. Perhaps you suffer from a different but related myopia.

    But myopia often Rules, eh?

  21. 21
    Al Bundy says:

    Oxyaena: Oh the hubris of the capitalist class….

    AB: you didn’t get the memo? IQ and your worth as a human is now defined as how much money you inherited.

  22. 22
    Al Bundy says:

    Herve Douville: In face of uncertainty, fear remains a more understandable reaction than arrogance and selfishness

    AB: ‘fear’ includes fear of losing one’s birthright.

  23. 23
    Joseph Zorzin says:

    What’s with the subtitle of the book, “The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being”??? Survival of being? Isn’t that a bit metaphysical? Is “being” at risk?

  24. 24
    Al Bundy says:

    Put yourself in the position of a typical multimillionaire, such as Donald Trump. His net contribution is vastly negative. But his expectations were sky high. For him to do as well as you would be an abysmal failure solely because of his sire.

    Capitalism rates people according to wealth, and unless that wealth is totally unearned it is tainted. “Old Money”, as in “morons who descended from someone who made a pile” truly believe that capability is a sign of inferiority. But they’re too stupid to connect their own dots.

    Reversion to the mean is a thing. And it screams that inheritance is stupid.

  25. 25
    Greg Guy says:

    I can understand what Denialism is. Here people are just refusing to accept the science. However, Alarmism is something I am not so clear on. Sure, it can be viewed as a form of Denialism where instead of diminishing the effects of climate change, the effects are greatly exaggerated. But this seems to me to be rare. Most people I know find it alarming that we are not going to keep warming under 2 deg. The 2009 4 deg and Beyond conference discussed changes to freshwater, land use, agriculture, rainfall, and so on that I would certainly classify as alarming. If a 4 deg world is nothing to get alarmed about, at what point then should we be alarmed?

  26. 26
    David B. Benson says:

    Greg Guy @25 — The current warming is enough cause for alarm:
    offers over 250 links to alarming climate developments.

  27. 27

    Good post, and very timely!

    I’d like to re-highlight this as a really good bit:

    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… 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.

    More practically important than outcomes that no one can presently be sure of, and which for many of us will not be resolved in our lifetimes–well, unless that 2026 apocalypse were actually to happen, which at this point it clearly won’t–is the question “What the hell should we be doing about this, anyway?”

    Answering it is not simple, as reams of conflicting views on the Forced Variations thread testify (and that’s just this week’s lot.) To address it we need thoughtful, realistic conversation about what is possible, what is practical, and what is efficacious. And that starts with a realistic picture of where we actually are. That means questioning how much of our life patterns is sustainable, and over what time scale. It can’t be taken as a given that we can keep doing what we do now, barring a few convenient substitutions.

    Can we keep personal transportation modes like air and auto travel? Is fashion in any sense sustainable? What about internet access in time where we simply can’t replace devices every few years? Health care, including birth control? What about buildings?

    That’s an unruly and grossly incomplete list, but we need visions of what a sustainable future might be.

    Unless, of course, you think we’re all going to die in 2026. Then you might as well eat, drink and be merry–a course of action I would definitely undertake if I were in Guy McPherson’s shoes. It’d be more fun, more polite–not always a combination you see–and the main downside, I imagine, and perhaps the decisive one for Mr. McPherson, would be the absence of any unusual attention paid to one.

    (And yes, I just accused him–perhaps unjustly, as I’ve never met the man, but it’s the most plausible explanation I can think of for choosing to write instead of drink–of self-aggrandizement. It may not get you admiration, but apocalypse prediction almost always gets you someone’s attention.)

  28. 28
    Radge Havers says:

    Complicated situation. What to do, what to do…?

    How about some bothsiderism? That feels nice.

  29. 29

    Victor, #17–

    Denialists sleep soundly at night while alarmists toss and turn in agony — night after night for the next ten years.

    Er, no. Only true of the emotionally immature “alarmist”, although it’s a common enough misperception. (But perhaps this belief explains why poor old Victor is so determined to try to “disprove” the science.)

    Here’s the deal: Emotional maturity involves accepting the inevitability of your own death–and as a felt reality, not just a ‘fact’.

    If you can accept that, you will also be able to accept the mere possibility that there could be very bad times ahead for humanity writ large.

    I don’t mean to set myself up as some sort of ideal here–perfection is not mine, even in relatively trivial things I’ve been working assiduously on almost every day for decades. Nor do I think I’m a “finished work,” personally speaking.

    But I can assure all and sundry that while I do foresee tough times ahead for humanity, and it does grieve me–just as the fact that I’m going to die grieves me–that belief doesn’t rob the morning of its light, nor food of its savor, nor work of its meaning.

    IOW, barring occasional indigestion and the like, I sleep just fine, my “alarmism” and indubitable mortality notwithstanding.

  30. 30

    #25, GG–

    I think “alarmism” is an unhelpful term, not because it’s perjorative, but because it’s unclear. But that said, to me the “ism” suffix implies a component of ideology or dogma–which is why I sometimes say that I’m “not alarmist, but definitely alarmed.” I agree with you that there is ample reason for alarm, or as our guest poster put it, “None of this is to suggest that what is happening to the planet ought not provoke anxiety.”

    But I’ve observed that some people are strongly attracted to prophecies of doom, whether martial, demographic, or climatological, and I’ve sometimes wondered wherein the attraction lies. Is it a way to bolster the ego–“I’m smart enough and strong enough to see the truth others must deny to themselves?” Is it a form of attention-seeking, as I suggested above? Or is it a form of denial which severs the connection between belief and action, thereby protecting oneself from any need to change–“No point in protesting these nuclear weapons, we’re all going to die anyway?”

    Could be some, all, or none (as I’m sure there can be other motivations). But the fact of the attraction is certainly clear, and if we may judge by history, a humanly enduring one, too.

  31. 31

    I believe there is a very small probability of climate and of associated social breakdown by the mid- or end of the century. But in this era of easy diffusion of massive amounts of information, we primarily remember what strikes us, and that is the sensational, generally an extreme proposition or event. As a result, it takes a disproportionate importance.

    A compounding effect is that it is common to fear impending doom, especially in our youth when we are particularly insecure. In my generation, it was nuclear holocaust if somebody pressed the button. It defined my teen angst: We were going to fry instantly one day, we just did not know when. Then it was Y2K. Now, it is climate. When you have seen a few pass, you learn to become desensitized to them. Of course the youths have not, so they are naturally more affected by it. Our capacity to adapt is often underestimated: It is hard to grasp how much the world has changed in 100 years, especially when one is young; how much more will it change in 100 more? Our goal should be to ensure that this lifetime-long evolution heads in the right direction.

    Of course the problem with doom is that it only needs to occur once and we are done for.

  32. 32
    Oxyaena says:

    @Al Bundy


    Makes me yearn for the days of Marx and Engels lol.

  33. 33
    Oxyaena says:

    @Al Bundy


    I hope you can see why the left has made such a comeback in recent years lol.

  34. 34
    Bill Henderson says:

    There is a wide spectrum of what might be called climate alarmism. You and I might agree that ArcticNews/McPherson extinction by 2025 is ridiculously pessimistic about the relevant climate science but Hallam’s contention of billions of deaths is only seriously wrong if predicted to happen ‘within the next generation or two’. (And thanks to Jose for citing David Spratt who is a very pertinent voice on ‘climate alarmism’.)

    What climate mitigation now must entail: carbon budgets, precautionary ceilings, timelines, Green New Deals and regulated managed declines of fossil fuel production, are definitely alarmist to the Schellenbergers, Pielke Jrs and perhaps the majority of English speaking climate scientists locked within soft climate denial.

    I imagine asking Schellnhuber, Rockstrom and Kevin Anderson whether they consider Steffen et el’s cascade of feedbacks to Hothouse Earth alarmist? And what they think the state of the art climate science tells us about carbon budgets and mitigation timelines – I’m guessing it’s not net zero by 2050 and that they wouldn’t see climate emergency government as too alarmist.

    Soft climate denial is another term for a form of society-wide denial that severely limits mitigation policy (similar to Kari Norgaard’s implicatory denial or Jonathan Rowson’s stealth denial). Below is a link to and introduction to Michael Hoexter’s original essay from 2016. Why haven’t we been more successful at mitigation? Why are we still blocked from effective mitigation even as we conceive of climate as an emergency? Is the political science too alarming?

    Living in the Web of Soft Climate Denial
    Posted on September 7, 2016 by Devin Smith | 12 Comments

    Michael Hoexter, Ph.D.


    1. Conventional “Hard” Climate Denial
    2. A Web of Soft Climate Denial
    3. The Foundations of Soft Climate Denial in Economics
    4. Settling on Neoliberal, “Market-Based” Carbon Gradualism
    5. Soft Climate Denial, Fossil Fuels, and the Hedonic Self

  35. 35
    Oxyaena says:

    Even a 2 degree increase in global temperature average will have many, *many* bad effects. It’s still something to definitely get alarmed about. Maybe crying that it’s total doomsday is a bit counter-productive, or maybe it isn’t. It does get the message that AGW is a threat to be taken seriously out there.

  36. 36
    nightgaunt492015 says:

    Denialism is based upon personal philosophy that will not allow such a thing as anthropogenic global warming to be real as given. It would mean a whole group of people would be wrong to their core and they cannot allow that to happen.

    Essentially their existential crisis and they are inflexible in this point of view because of this attitude.

    So to them anyone at any level is an “alarmist” to them over something that cannot ever be true. For others they expect their version of a God to fix it all or it is just the sun etc. Even when it isn’t. They will be impossible to convince, they will be adamant in their position because of it. Which means a great difficulty for the rest of us.

    Now exaggeration does us no favors either. It plays into the Denialist memes of corrupt science which damages science concerning the public which has a poor conception of how science works to begin with.

  37. 37
    Al Bundy says:

    -1: his highlights how bad climate misinformation that supports an alarmist narrative can be in society, when a high profile physicist like Stephen Hawking doesn’t feel the need to check the basic physics before making pronouncements of runaway climate change.

    AB: was Stephen your friend? Did he tell you the process he went through to arrive at his conclusion? Do you have any supporting evidence (or even logic) that supports your contention that Stephen Hawkins discarded all of his training and violated his core principles?

    -1: but in a major urban centre in Canada, a lot of the discourse does contain concerning misinformation

    AB: Assuming you live there I agree.

    Vic: On the other hand, alarmism means spending the next 10 years cowering in a corner,

    AB: No. Non-morons don’t suffer the same restricted vision as you. That you are a self-made moron is a disservice and unfair to those who came by their idiocy honorably (who doesn’t brighten up while talking to a bagger? Who doesn’t want to put a soundproof bag over a self-made moron like Victor? The self-described piece of garbage claims that everything he says is based SOLELY on how pissed off his words will make his intellectual superiors.

    Obviously, Vic’s entire psyche has been consumed by jealousy, which is why he will never improve his mind enough to become a successful grocery bagger even though the job suits his IQ perfectly.

  38. 38
    Al Bundy says:

    Thomas Fuller: (I really don’t like the term. I imagine there is a similar reaction to the term ‘alarmist.’)

    AB: False equivalence always sounds ever so reasonable as long as one discards one’s shovel and refuses to dig below the surface.

    Greg Guy: If a 4 deg world is nothing to get alarmed about, at what point then should we be alarmed?

    AB: When billionaires stop getting richer BECAUSE of the suffering.

  39. 39

    V 17: As for denial vs alarmism, I must say I prefer denial.

    BPL: What a SHOCKER! Who would have seen that coming?

  40. 40
    Al Bundy says:

    And you scientists who claim that you’re innocent because you aren’t fudging towards GOPLand to enrich yourself: Please.
    Any scientist worthy of the label is ONLY concerned with what folks 1000 years from now would think of their work and conclusions.

    So the current crop is substandard.

    Or are my standards too high?

  41. 41
    mike says:

    I think hammering away on a trope about alarmism helps maintain the overton window and limits frank discussion of long tail outcome possibilities that might be useful to support appropriate public policy. Cui bono?

    Is this alarmist?

    So, the takeaway that seems sensible, given all the warnings about the impacts of global warming, would be that our species would have changed in major ways to stop the increase of ghg emissions, accumulation in the atmosphere and ocean acidification. This has happened to an extent that is best understood as shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. We continue to create emissions at historically high rates. If I ask, hmm… what’s the worst that could conceivably happen because of our activity, I come up with some things that I think are quite alarming. I think discussing these things, raising the alarm about these things is an essential task to spur significant action.

    I keep apologizing to younger folks about how mindless my generation and the ones before have been wrt ghg emissions. There really is no excuse for what we continue to do on emissions.

    My $.02


  42. 42
    Karsten V. Johansen says:

    The main problem here (again) is the media. Precisely formulated by the book title from 1985: “Amusing ourselves to death”. Not any immidiate death threat except for that from the atomic arsenal, which, as the 99 pct. by now seems to have forgotten, still has the overwhelming potential to kill us all off in, if not one and a half hour as sung by Tom Lehrer in the sixties, maybe most of us in one and a half year. When Neil Postman wrote this, it was just about two years after I heard “the great communicator” Reagan say on radio, that “when Armageddon begins, God will stretch down his hands from heaven, and lift up the American people there”. “Thanks” to the mediocy or oiligarchic democrazy or liberal totalitarianism (call it what you want), nobody now remembers that compared to the complete crackpot Reagan, even Trump is rather normal… the kind of censorship the media cacaphony produces now, would have made both Stalin, Goebbels, Mao and their following gangs green from envy. No need at all to heavyhanded and clumsy censorship and retouched photography. Just let the media nonsense run its course.

    Today it is considered normal to not even notice news like this:

    But as one german commentator wrote: “Consider what would have happened, if it was said on the news, that german exports of motorcars fell 75 pct. during the last 27 years. The whole german parliament would have been up in arms, declaring immidiate and total catastrophe! But this now they don’t even notice, even if it’s really a thousand times more serious than the aforementioned drop in motorcar exports would be…”

    We don’t notice the complete madness of our situation, mostly just because it’s considered normal by the media to ignore the reality, and, through Gallup, to vote and “think” like all the others are imagined to do. As one norwegian poet put it in the seventies: “In 1945 Goebbels moved to the US and changed his name to Gallup”. It’s called “freedom”… Ten years ago one historical analysis concluded, that the elections in Poland 1825 (Poland was then part of Russia) to the feudal parliament were far more democratic than the US elections nowadays (remember gerrymandering etc., systematic fraud and voter suppression like in Great Britain around 1800). We are living under liberal stalinism/fascism with a human touch.

    To pick a fresh example of the level of media nonsense we have to put up with: Today the danish newspaper “Information” (considered to be “intellectual”) with maybe 70000 to 100000 daily readers, wrote that “The Greenland icecap will disappear in one hundred years from now, and that will cause sealevels to rise 10-12 cms”. Nothing in this is even remotely correct. Danish and other glaciologist lead by Dorthe Dahl-Jensen in recent years have examined icecores down to the bottom of the Greenland icecap from north to south, and found clear isotopic and other data in the bottom layers of ice showing that it survived the whole Eemian, when mean temperatures on the central parts of Greenland were four degrees C above those now (eight degrees higher in the warmest period), due primarily not to greenhouse gases (CO2-levels were around 280 ppmv), but to stronger solar forcing in the North (around 60 watts more per m2 at 65-70 degrees N) because of the Milankovitch-cycles. Even if temperatures were to rise six degrees over the whole icecap in 2100, it would take thousands of years to melt the whole thing, and that would raise global sealevels 7,2 meters and not just 12 centimeters.

    In this world of media nonsense and de facto manipulative tyranny by a few tens of crackpot hyperbillionaires like Bezos and Musk (they want to go to Mars with millions of people in ten years etc…), who now own more than half the whole global fortune, it is almost unimaginable at least to me, how on earth it shall be possible to avoid climatic and ecosystems collapses that will wreck havoc over the globe, causing enormous food production crises, refugee crises, pandemics, economic collapses and global wars, and thereby maybe not extinct humanity by 2100, but at least hundreds of millions, and degrade the whole society to a level of brutal totalitarianism and chaos like now in Yemen or Lebanon etc.

    You don’t have to do more than just look at the indisputable climatic, ecological and historical facts to see this. No alarmism is needed at all, just remember Rwanda 1994, Iraq, Nagasaki (with Truman triumphantly chuckling, and not just him…) etc.

  43. 43
    Al Bundy says:

    Victor: It’s a no-brainer, folks.

    AB: Nope. It’s a no-morals thing. You used to smart enough to know better.

  44. 44
    nigelj says:

    The climate denialists appear to me to be driven by vested business interests, materialism as mentioned, and libertarian ideology that opposes government regulations and taxes. I think you will only counter these things with explaining to them and the general public that climate mitigation can create new jobs, and that government rules, carbon taxes and subsidies can have time limits of some sort. I doubt that there’s a better solution, and even this will only chip away at the problem slightly, but perhaps enough to achieve some good or swing some political decisions.

    I have always thought climate change will be worse than the IPCC projections, however it seems to me the extreme alarmism about billions dying in a decade lacks much hard evidence, and is based on “what if speculation” and so is somewhat hollow and rhetorical.This is also something we criticise the denialists for.

  45. 45
    Adam Lea says:

    25: I think alarmism is a way of trying to motivate people to address an issue where the standard stating the science has failed. It is a way of trying to stimulate motivation to change, or campaign for change, by trying to frame consequences of the status quo as being a threat to them personally, because people won’t change unless there is a personally motivational reason for doing so, and I don’t think extinction of species an individual has no emotional connection with is going to cut it. It is going to take an awful lot to convince the wealthy citizens of the world to change their high consumption comfortable lifestyle, because the cost to most, if not every individual of doing that is significant, so the benefit to the individual has to be equal or greater in magnitude than the cost.

  46. 46
    jef says:

    “Ships to sail directly over the north pole by 2050, scientists say”,opened%20up%20considerably%20after%202049.


    “MOSAiC expedition reaches the North Pole”
    “At 12:45 pm on 19 August 2020 the German research icebreaker Polarstern reached the North Pole.”

  47. 47
    Robert Bradley says:

    This compilation of false alarms posted today is sobering for the alarmists:

    Also, John Holdren (according to Paul Ehrlich) predicted as as many as a billion lives could be lost by 2020 because of climate change. Instead, climate-related deaths have declined significantly due in part of an energy-rich society.

  48. 48
    Killian says:

    Not a surprise: Mal Adapted says: Outstanding post!

    Mal has never met a middle-of-the-road projection on climate he/she didn’t love.

    A shame, really, that one of the few here that can actually analyze much of anything wastes that talent on extreme conservatism WRT climate science.

  49. 49
    Russell says:

    Having observed that

    ” 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.”

    Could Alistair provide a demographc sketch of this alarming tendency ?

    It sounds as gonzo as anything Q-anon has on offer, but that’s the internet talking– have flash mobs of bloodthirsty ecofascist drawbridge environmentalists delivered any performance art on the scale of Extinction Rebellion?

  50. 50
    Al Bundy says:

    Kevin: Unless, of course, you think we’re all going to die in 2026.

    AB: Aren’t you the optimistic one. We haven’t made it through 2020 yet.

    Make America sane again.