Monthly Archives: November 2013

Climate Thought for the Day

What’s in a name?

According to neuroscience, a hefty payload of condescension and disdain.

And that’s what makes the climate wars so ugly and venemous: our instinctive need to cram one another into dismissive, prejudicial boxes. To reduce each other to question-begging labels.

Both sides are guilty of it—realists and confusionists.

I may be the first person who’s ever said this about the climate debate but:

Something has to give. We can’t go on like this.

What do you reckon, fellow science-literates—shouldn’t we at least pretend to treat the climate gullibilist case seriously?

And to those who reject the facts, allow me to put exactly the same challenge:

Would it kill you and your fellow delusionists to respect those of us that have other, better opinions about the Earth’s atmosphere?

I know I’m asking a lot here—I know this can’t be easy for a largely hate-based faith movement like yours—but couldn’t you at least try to sound polite?

The history of science tells us that, for the good guys in this controversy, victory is a fait accompli. It’s only a matter of time.

Reader, let us dream bigger than that. Let us dream of basic etiquette. Let us dream of a world of lowered voices and cool civility, a world where—who knows?—the inevitable triumph of the correct might even be achieved without a single shot being fired.

Isn’t that a fantasy we’ve all had, at one time or another?

The Lure of the Easy Fix

Someone called Karl Pilkington has been doing the rounds of the climate avoidosphere with the latest in a long tradition of lateral-thinking geo-engineering dodges:

They keep saying that sea levels are rising an’ all this. It’s nowt to do with the icebergs melting, it’s because there’s too many fish in it. Get rid of some of the fish and the water will drop. Simple. Basic science.

Now I’d never heard of Dr Pilkington (or his co-author Ricky Gervais for that matter) before, and a quick search of Google Scholar reveals no previous contributions to the peer-reviewed literature on climate change, its causes and its impacts—but then, since when have the ignoratii been sticklers for scientific credibility?

The dangerous thing about this sort of solution is not that it couldn’t possibly work but the opposite: it is physically plausible, and therefore seductive. It perfectly exemplifies the lure (sorry!) of the easy fix.

In fact, you might even call proposals like Pilkington’s… deeply irresponsible.


I know, I know—but the pun was begging to be made. If you’re one of those people who consider the subject of climate change too important for humor, I’ve got three words to say to you:

I sincerely apologize.

Anyway, back to the topic. As long as the problems of climate change can be averted relatively painlessly, we’ll always have an excuse to put off the painful but necessary task which the science devolves upon us: punishing the fossil-fuel multinationals, their executive officers and the other owners of Big Capital.

We are, therefore, dealing here with escapism of the most reckless kind. Principles like academic freedom and tenure are all well and good in peacetime, but not in an existential debate like the non-existent debate about climate change. The universities and institutions associated with Prof. Pilkington need to state, loudly and clearly, that he does not speak for them.

Climate Thought for the Day

with Professor Stephan Lewandowsky
University of Bristol, Bristol

Climate change is real.


Climate change is happening.


It may even be happening near you.

Someone you know may already have experienced it.

It could be anyone. A lecturer in your faculty. A lecturer in another faculty. That loner who sits in the back row at your Greenpeace chapter meetings. An associate lecturer.

Literally anyone.

Talk to them. More importantly, listen to them, and be a shoulder to cry on.

They will seem irrational, they will be in denial and they will take their anger out on you. Try not to take it personally! These are just normal stages in the process of healing from climate trauma.

Above all, resist the natural desire to suggest cheap, easy solutions. There are none, and it can be very offensive to propose them.

And for god’s sake, never tell a sufferer to “man up” and “try to adapt.”

Just be there. That’s what climate-change survivors need.


Stevan ‘Stephe’ Lewandowsky is the Chair in Theoretical Conspiracism at the University of Bristol, UK.

He does not work; own equity in any institution whose reputation has benefited from the publication of this article; or consult for.

As a psychologist, he has no direct experience with mental health.

This article is not a substitute for a mental illness support community like ThisWayUp, MoodGym or ShapingTomorrowsWorld.

A question for deniers

Dear denialatus / denialata,

Have you read the latest IPCC report?

I have. I’ve seen the science. And it’s not good.

Species stress. Ocean neutralization. Deep-ocean warming as rapid as ever since measurements began.

Increased risk of drought and/or precipitation. Human-caused wildfires in Australia. Glaciers continuing to melt, causing major river systems. Weather predicted to become less and less predictable. Armed conflict in Africa. A century of gender equality at risk in the Middle East. Diseases once safely confined to Africa now threatening developed populations to the North.

I’m not a climate scientist. So I don’t pretend to be competent to interpret the evidence. All I can do is interpret the interpretation given to it by the world’s leading policy, government, political, economic and scientific minds, who’ve painstakingly filtered and vetted every sentence in what is probably the thickest, densest collaboration in modern science.

You might prefer to latch on to isolated mistakes in a thousand-page-plus document—as if false predictions somehow, magically, falsify an entire theory. I’m pretty sure that’s not how science works, but hey, you clearly know better.

You might focus disproportionately on the growing uncertainties, as if what we don’t know can’t hurt us. But uncertainty is not your friend! Far from it—if the scientists are absolutely confident of anything, it’s that the unknowns will turn out to be even worse than the knowns. To make things worse, climate scientists say they know less and less about what nature is going to throw at us. (Which is just science doing what science does: incrementally chipping away at human knowledge.)

As the science gets worse and worse, my question to everyone who’s in denial is:

How bad does the science have to get before we do something to stop it?

At what point do you finally join the rest of us in demanding urgent, significant cuts?