When life + climate are out of tune 🌷 +🍁= 😬
Facts: Climate denial still in style 🧟♂️; Feelings: out of tune w/ nature's calendar 🌷 +🍁= 😬; Action: Support climate litigation 👩🏽⚖️; Bonus: 2022 Climate Book Gift Guide📚
Hi friends, welcome back to We Can Fix It, where we tackle the climate crisis with facts, feelings, and action, written by me, climate scientist Kim Nicholas. Here goes:
Facts: Climate denial still in style 🧟♂️
The playbook for climate denial is so classic that a grad student writing a course paper in 2004 (me!) identified arguments and approaches still used today.
Climate denial is, unfortunately, having “a bit of a renaissance,” as Amy Westervelt writes in Drilled. Reading her piece on industry lobbyists framing regulation as economically harmful, and working to “undermine the science that regulation is based on,” and a piece by Emily Atkin and Michael Thomas in HEATED about fossil-funded NGOs working to “dismiss the dangers of warming” and “shift public opinion to reject mainstream climate science” reminded me of tactics I identified in my old paper. Join me, won’t you, for a little stroll down Climate Memory Lane for these vintage gems!
Key climate denial strategies
Identified from my 2004 course paper analyzing US-based climate change “skeptics” (who often referred to themselves as “realists”), including market-based think tanks and industry groups. Any of these strategies sound familiar? :/
Undermine mainstream, consensus science, which agrees that it’s warming, it’s us, we’re sure, it’s bad, we can fix it:
Deniers try to establish their own scientific credibility and legitimacy, and claim they are “objective,” “impartial” and “nonpartisan”
Emphasise uncertainty, disagreement, and “confusion” within the scientific community
Critical of the definitive Big Bad Mothership of Climate Facts, the IPCC
“Dismiss the dangers of warming” (as Atkin and Thomas put it):
I wrote that skeptics “portrayed the possible results of climate change as largely benign, or at least within the range of adaptation.”
Here’s an eye-popping example, given the extensive climate harms the world is experiencing today:
“The mild global warming now projected by computer models that the environmentalists say we should believe would simply return us to the best weather in history… Farmers would get milder winters, fewer storms, only a slight increase in daytime summer temperatures and more carbon dioxide to fertilize crops and pastures…”
—Dennis T. Avery, writing for the Cooler Heads Coalition in 1998
Advocate delay through research
Claim that no action should be taken until further research reduces uncertainty.
In the year 2000, The Marshall Institute recommended “at least 25 years of research on the issue before CO2 emission cuts need to be considered”… They’re coming pretty close to their wish. :( [Ed. note: Substack doesn’t seem to allow subscripts, that non-subscript 2 is driving me crazy, sorry!]
Use economic arguments to support delay
I found that skeptic groups “represent the economic impacts of regulation of greenhouse gases or other mitigation efforts as widely distributed, high cost, causing extensive job loss, regressive, limiting consumer choice, particularly harmful to certain struggling industries, and an ineffective use of resources given scientific uncertainty.” The following quote illustrates a typical argument about claimed economic infeasibility:
“No advanced nation or group from such a nation has a right to sanctimoniously demand that people from developing nations forgo their hopes for a better standard of living…No nation is willing to pay the political price for the economic devastation that will occur if it seriously suppresses its energy use.”
-William O’Keefe, President of the think tank George C. Marshall Institute, in 2002. Reprinted in The New York Times, where it’s still online!
Sooooo frustrating to see these same debunked myths still wandering the climate streets, zombie-like. At least now there’s lots of research to understand and document climate obstruction; the Climate Social Science Network (of which I’m a member) is a good place to start.
Feelings: Asynchrony 🌷 +🍁= 😬
This fall was weird. It was too warm. I wore a T-shirt to rake maple leaves when I should have been bundled up in a sweater.
Here in Lund it was still “meteorological summer” well into November, because it hadn’t been officially chilly enough to signal the start of fall. And that warm weather led to a “second spring,” with plants that should be dormant “bursting back to life,” as The Guardian put it.
Normally the sight of flowers blooming and plants sending out new buds in our garden brings me joy, but for the first time this fall, seeing new flowers brought me a sense of unsettled dread.
I felt in my bones that life and the climate were getting out of synch. I’ve named this disturbing sense of being out of tune with nature’s calendar “asynchrony”.
I worried for the trees and bushes that were spending their depleted energy sending out hopeful shoots, which were killed by the first frost a few days later.
It felt wrong to see this new life so late in the year, because I knew these plants were supposed to be long since dead (annuals) or slumbering for the winter (perennials), to rebuild their energy for next spring.
Winter is time for rest. Living beings need rest to renew our bodies and spirits. Climate change is cutting away our season of rest.
Action: Support climate lawsuits 👩🏽⚖️
The climate action that’s energizing me most right now:
636 young people suing the Swedish state, arguing Sweden’s insufficient climate policies threaten their human rights.
Aurora, the group leading this work, has been building their case for two years. These folks have done their homework— looking at what strategies have worked elsewhere, and mapping out their paths to regional, national, and international courts.
I consider this Sweden’s best chance to bring climate action closer to what science says is necessary right now— and a promising strategy for all over the world.
My colleague Mark Connaughton was in Stockholm to observe the march delivering the documents to court last week:
Similar cases have been successful in The Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland— resulting in court orders for countries to revise their climate action plans to reduce emissions faster.
One key feature of these cases is that they are rights-based. Rather than seeking damages from harm, they argue insufficient climate mitigation violates fundamental human rights enshrined in documents like national constitutions or international treaties.
The rights-based approach isn’t common yet. A study by Annalisa Savaresi and Joana Setzer found only about 6% of legal climate cases so far (112 out of 1841) use a rights-based approach. But rights-based cases have been rapidly increasing since 2017, and are found on every continent, especially in Europe.
So here’s your action: Donate your cold, hard cash to support holding governments accountable in court for taking the climate action they’re responsible for.
Click to donate to:
Aurora- young people suing the Swedish state (text in Swedish)
Our Children’s Trust- involved in cases globally, including in the US and Uganda
These legal cases aren’t a silver bullet (because, spoiler alert, there is no single silver bullet to fix climate change!) Lawsuits are slow. Even if they’re won, the resulting climate plans still have to be implemented and enforced (which might require more lawsuits). Still, these cases are a major step forward, and an important strategy. Please support them!
PS. To dive deeper, check out this map of climate cases from the University of Zurich, and this snapshot of climate litigation trends from the Grantham Institute at Columbia Law School.
📚 2022 Climate Book Gift Guide 📚
It’s holiday time— here are tips to make the holidays simpler and more meaningful.
And here’s my roundup of climate books I loved in 2022, paired with my suggestion for who on your gift list to give each book to. See the archive for my review.
The perfect climate book for:
New parents: Parenting in a Changing Climate, by Elizabeth Bechard (Feb 2022)
Your friend who meditates: Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, by Thich Nhat Hanh (March 2022)
Your outdoorsy BFF: Return to Nature, by Emma Loewe (April 2022)
Freaked-out millennials: Generation Dread, by Dr. Britt Wray (May 2022)
Foodies: To Boldly Grow: Finding Joy, Adventure, and Dinner in Your Own Backyard, by Tamar Haspel (July 2022)
Project managers: Climate Change Coaching: The Power of Connection to Create Climate Action, by Charly Cox and Sarah Flynn (August 2022)
That person who can’t put down their phone: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell (September 2022)
Creatives: Dearly, by Margaret Atwood (October 2022)
See You On the Internet
I joined TEDxGlasgow for The Future We Choose - you can get a sneak peak of my 8 minute talk, including 1 minute of disastrous tech failure, here!
See you IRL?
I’ll be taking a mini-sabbatical at Stanford University at the start of 2023. Drop me a line if you’re in the Bay Area and want me to speak at your ESG meeting, book club, or basketweaving group!
Take care everyone, have a lovely holiday and I’ll see you back here in January!
Thousand thanks for your book, that I just finished! So good! And your letter! Looking forward to the next one, when you are back! All the best for the new year!
Thanks for the info & book suggestions. I just ordered the climate coaching one... hoping it will increase my effectiveness in encouraging my healthcare association to increase its climate-friendliness. Btw, your "Under the Sky We Make" kick started my increased personal & professional pro-climate activities. Happy New Year.