Video: Scientists Share Their Grief, Anger and Hope Over Climate Crisis
This month's original YCC "This Is Not Cool" video shows how several experienced climate scientists are handling the emotional and personal feelings that many feel in grasping the potential adverse effects of runaway climate change. In the current global context posed by the coronavirus pandemic, there are striking similarities between the COVID-19 disease and risks posed by climate change.
"Knowing what I know about the science and the projections, that puts me into a state of grief," says climate scientist Jeff Kiehl, a veteran of the National Center for Atmospheric Research now associated with the University of California, Santa Cruz. With a first grandchild now 10 months old, Kiehl points to what he sees as "lost opportunities" to get a jump on climate change and says he fears "loss of a world that we as a species have known since our beginning."
"I've been there, I've been depressed about these results many times," says University of Wisconsin scientist Andrea Dutton. She says that in her presentations to the public, she feels it is important to help audiences fully discuss personal feelings with friends, family, and acquaintances.
"We almost need a team of psychiatrists and therapists to go into a community dealing with climate change to allow people to process all these emotions," Dutton says. She adds that "we must allow people to emotionally respond to scientists' information" and "accept reality." Her prescription: "For me, it's engaging in solutions. … The future is going to be different" and the public should "not fight that feeling anymore" but rather accept and ask how that future should best be shaped.
Anger Is OK and Can Lead to Constructive Engagement
Asked by videographer Peter Sinclair if scientists should feel a "sense of anger," Kiehl says well-channeled anger over climate change risks can be "a good source of energy" and can lead to "some very constructive action" and engagement on climate change issues.
Despite their anxieties, Kiehl and Dutton share the perspectives of two other scientists in the video – Twila Moon of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and Ben Abbott of Brigham Young University that, as Dutton says, "we can make a choice and choose a different pathway" forward. "The future is not written yet," Dutton says. "We get to choose that future."
"We are nowhere near a point where we should put our heads in the sand or throw up our hands and feel that there is nothing we can do," Moon says. "Indeed, what we do will be the primary determinant of what things look like in the future."
Abbott is similarly hopeful. "I really do see a sea change. Lots of people are recognizing that we are part of the problem," he says. "That's not reason to despair. That's reason to take hope, because that means we can be the solution. Since it's us, it's absolutely within our control to change how we live, to protect the climate system and to ensure a better future."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.