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You can’t bargain with climate change

Opinion Piece
by Bob Hughes
Bob Hughes

In 2007, Nobel prize winner Professor Steve W. Running produced a paper “The Five Stages of Climate Grief”, on how people must accept global warming as a problem before they resolve to do something about it.

He listed the five stages as: 1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance.

As a long time campaigner already through the five stages of climate grief, it is obvious to me that most of humanity is still at the beginning of climate grief — and unlike Professor Steve, I see “bargaining” not as stage 3, but part of the initial “denial” stage; failing to act when information or evidence shows one should, which can be interpretive denial or implicit denial.

The truth is, most of the world — including politicians, businesses and a good many scientists — are still at the bargaining stage. Anger and depression will surely follow before world acceptance, and it might get ugly.

My awakening came about from the 800,000-year ice core records and Charles Keeling’s Maunu Loa atmospheric carbon dioxide level updates.

I began relentlessly following the Hawaii, Mauna Loa Observatory daily CO2 readings to see them climb 32 parts per million in less than 13 years.

August 2009 at 385.65ppm; Jan 6, 2022 417.98ppm — more than 50 percent up on pre-industrial times and Earth’s highest atmospheric CO2 level in 4 million years.

Most frightening to me is we have added 100 parts per million to the total since 1960, yet ice core record graphs reveal that since the last ice age to the pre-industrial interglacial warm period, it took 15,000-20,000 years for atmospheric concentration to rise by 100ppm. We have equalled that in 60 years, and 800,000 years of trapped gas in ice cores reveal that until the 20th century, CO2 concentrations never exceeded 300ppm; today they are 418ppm, and we’re awaiting the heat to catch up.

Recordings show temperature and CO2 fluctuation follow the same path. Presently CO2 is way ahead — proof that it’s going to get a lot hotter.

Also, there’s plastic pollution, deforestation, air and water contamination, habitat loss, ocean overfishing, massive wildlife decline etc.

We must admire our brave little Greta Thunberg for rightfully condemning our leaders who fail us so miserably, despite all climate emergency declarations. Yet somehow it seems unfair to judge them too harshly when through no fault of their own, their government systems rely on fossil fuel energy in so many ways.

The folly of the mid-20th century, a worldwide fixation on economic growth, has trapped us all into an escalating slide to disaster — a GDP/exponential growth market economy reliant on fossil fuel energy and exploitation of the planet in all ways imaginable.

Since Joseph Fourier in 1824 first foresaw human activities could greatly influence Earth’s temperature, science has done much to prove that we are doing exactly that at an ever-increasing pace.

Yet most still bargain their way out of meaningful climate action. Most of the world’s people are yet to negotiate the anger and depression stages of climate grief, to reach acceptance of our dilemma.

I reiterate the introductory quote from Professor Steve W. Running: “People must accept global warming as a problem before they resolve to do something about it.”

Now I add to his conclusion: There is no guarantee that we can successfully stop global warming, but doing nothing given our present knowledge is unconscionable. How otherwise can we look into our grandchildren’s eyes?

At present nearly everybody sees alternatives as the way to keep accustomed systems functioning.

I say the only alternative is to drastically change our ways of living, to give our species and others any chance of survival.

  1. Doug Smith says:

    Thank you, Bob, for encouraging us to look the truth in the face. How would you advise us to “change our ways of living” to prevent mass extinction of life on Earth?
    It seems we will need two massive projects:
    Project 1 – Create sustainable, carbon-negative communities. I suspect this will mean lean, self-sufficient living while restoring forest ecosystems. Bhutan may be the nation-state that comes closest to this, but there are many smaller successes providing proof of concept. It should be noted that these low-tech, de-industrialized, biophilic communities are generally healthier and happier than the norm, undoubtedly because this is how humans are meant to live.
    Project 2 – Manage solar radiation for an extended period. There are several proposals for this, none yet tested , but all involve increasing reflectivity (reducing light absorption) on a large scale using mirrors, cloud-brightening or stratospheric aerosols. Leadership and a small degree of industrialization will need to be retained in order to support this effort until Project 1 has been able to draw-down atmospheric CO2, perhaps for several centuries. There will be temptation to use radiation management to allow industrial civilization to continue.

    The cooperative relinquishment of destructive social and technological power, and the politics involved, are likely to be stumbling blocks for both projects, since both require a cooperative restraint and turning away from industrial civilization, particularly from fossil fuels, weapons and agrochemical food production.

    1. Bob Hughes says:

      Thanks Doug for your concern.
      First, I see myself as the messenger, not the fix-it man.
      However, to “look the truth in the face”, at this late stage I think that preventing mass extinction of life on Earth is out. Still, to “change our ways of living” is a must if we wish to extend our time here and keep chaos to a minimum.
      In Project 1 you mention carbon-negative communities. Yes, this is how every other species survives – but not humans, not since our ancestors discovered fire.
      Your Project 2, in my opinion, bends to the “bargaining” part of the initial “denial” stage – geoengineering simply to keep accustomed systems going.
      The methods you suggest require the “bargaining” part of the initial “denial” stage.
      First, billions will need to understand that having less and going without will be the normal way.
      But we won’t get there until the majority negotiate the anger and depression stages of climate grief.
      When and if that happens, maybe we will learn to better love each other and Mother Earth for the time that is left.

      1. Ken Ovenden says:

        Hi Bob, sorry but if you choose to preach you are not fix-it but instead flatulate, providing what you learnt this morning on your computer to try and, what, amuse? Study whatever statistics you want from wherever on this Earth you want, but until you give some positive answers to what actually you are demanding, we can only regard you as just another demand-I Want-You Must Do-Because I Say So Thunberg-type activist.
        You mention mass extinction on this Earth. When Bob? Will one make their next birthday?

        1. Don Miller, Te Wai Pounamu says:

          Gudday Ken,

          Until the population accepts that major changes have to be made, there will be no political will to make those changes. Quite the opposite in fact, as opposition parties will gain support from those who cannot accept climate change as being real. A democracy cannot make changes until the population is informed and accepts the reality.

          Bob is helping to educate the voting population, and sadly I can see that he has a long way to go yet. What frustrates me is that a far-sighted lecturer at university, well over 50 years ago, introduced a number of us to the role of CO2 on climate – and I believed then that world leaders would act before there was a crisis. It seems that there were no leaders – or that leaders just caved in to the demands of voters in order to stay in power. We need to become a democracy that is on a war footing.

        2. Donald Robson says:

          Deeply in the denial phase then Ken.
          Being abusive to Bob might satisfy some frustrated part of your psyche but be assured you don’t come out of it looking good.
          Try listening first. Then see if you can work yourself up to the second stage of climate grief.
          Anger. Pig in muck with that one I expect.

          1. G Webb says:

            Go and re-read what Ken said. He did not deny that climate change was occuring.