By James Wilt
But that exact thing happened following the publication of a lengthy essay in New York Magazine, The Uninhabitable Earth: Famine, Economic Collapse, a Sun that Cooks Us: What Climate Change Could Wreak—Sooner Than You Think.
In the course of 7,200 words, author David Wallace-Wells chronicled the possible impacts of catastrophic climate change if current emissions trends are maintained, including, but certainly not limited to: mass permafrost melt and methane leaks, mass extinctions, fatal heat waves, drought and food insecurity, diseases and viruses, "rolling death smog," global conflict and war, economic collapse and ocean acidification.
Slate political writer Jamelle Bouie described the essay on Twitter as "something that will haunt your nightmares."
It's a fair assessment. Reading it feels like a series of punches in the gut, triggering emotions like despair, hopelessness and resignation.
But here's the thing: Many climate psychologists and communicators consider those feelings to be the very opposite of what will compel people to action.
"Based on my research on climate communications, this article is exactly what we don't need," said Per Espen Stoknes, Norwegian psychologist and author of What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.
"It only serves to further alarm the already alarmed segment of people. "
Climate Psychologists Recommends 'Positivity Ratio' of 3:1
Let's get one thing out of the way.
Critics of the New York Magazine article—and other instances of doomsday journalism—are not anti-science. These are all people who firmly recognize the severity of catastrophic climate change, and are certainly not petitioning for a bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach, shielding the public from the potential horrors.
Rather, they suggest that most people will only process such facts about climate change if it's framed in an appropriate way that acknowledges how individuals and societies respond to potentially traumatic threats.
"It's really important to understand that it's not just about facts and numbers, but having a way for people to interpret them and know there's something they can do," said Kari Marie Norgaard, associate professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Oregon and author of Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.
Stoknes noted there's a well-known "positivity ratio" for optimal engagement of a 3:1 ratio of opportunities to threats. He said the New York Magazine piece was around nine threats to every one proposed solution.
In other words, a tripling of the ratio in the wrong direction.
Article Sticks to Hard Science, Ignoring Role of Social Sciences
The author of the New York Magazine article has already responded to a series of criticisms on Twitter, including on the scientific merit of some of his claims.
A rather revealing moment was when Wallace-Wells replied to a critique from renowned futurist Alex Steffen—who had described the article as "one long council of despair"—by suggesting that "my own feeling is that ignorance about what's at stake is a much bigger problem."
The clear implication is that Wallace-Wells assumes a confronting of ignorance about scientific facts could help compel people to action and avoid the most dangerous manifestations of climate change.
But Daniel Aldana Cohen—assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the response piece in Jacobin, New York Mag's Climate Disaster Porn Gets It Painfully Wrong—suggests in an interview with DeSmog Canada that Wallace-Well's approach indicates a failure to engage with any questions about broader sociopolitical systems.
"I think in the politics of climate change, a narrow idea of climate science is fetishized," said Cohen, adding that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change largely fails to include social sciences in working group reports.
"It feels like the most realistic, the most unvarnished truth is what the science predicts," he continued. "But the thing is that in some way, climate science registers the impact of human activity, but it's not actually an integrated account of the dynamic feedback between social and political activities and physical events in the atmosphere."
In other words, Wallace-Wells' article sketches out a narrative of catastrophic climate change that assumes people don't act on the knowledge of the situation.
But in a cruel twist, by only focusing on the science without any attempt to contextualize it in society or political systems, it could well have the reverse effect by making readers feel even more powerless.
This isn't a new problem: Stoknes noted that as identified by James Painter of Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, about 80 per cent of media coverage on the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report used "catastrophe framing," with less than 10 percent using "opportunity framing."
"It's not just about pointing your fingers at the climate skeptics and saying that's the problem," Norgaard said.
"Of course, it's a major problem. But the apathy or acquiescence of the majority of people who are aware and do care is a larger problem. It's about how we mobilize those people."
If Framed Correctly, Idea of Apocalypse Can Help People Imagine Alternatives
Stoknes argues that thinking about such a sobering subject as apocalypse or death, if done correctly, can actually help people conceptualize new ways of thinking and being.
"This psychological approach to the apocalypse is very important, and I found it completely absent in the article," he said. "It is not about predicting a certain year in the future of linear time, when everything will be collapsing. Maybe this notion is more like a call in the here and now, calling attention to the urgent need for a deep rethink of where we are and letting go of some cherished Western notions that we've been stuck in over the last century."
Such a sentiment is echoed by climate psychologist Renee Lertzman and author of Environmental Melancholia: Psychoanalytic Dimensions of Engagement, who emphasizes in an interview with DeSmog Canada that predictable fault lines have formed in the wake of the New York Magazine piece.
A key factor for her is how humans actually process information that may be challenging and bring up difficult feelings. She said the consensus is that we can become "cognitively impaired" when the brain's limbic system becomes activated, resulting in reduced capacity to have functions for strategy, foresight, collaboration and tolerance.
"That goes out the window when your limbic system is activated, which arguably articles like this are going to do," she said. "The best way to deal with that reality is to address how we can soothe and disarm our defenses."
'We Need to Also Be Engaged in Collective Political Action and Solutions'
That's certainly not going to be an easy feat. But there are plenty of initiatives out there that are embracing a bit more nuance.
Lertzman points to Project Drawdown—an attempt to compile the 100 top solutions to climate change—as a powerful initiative, although she suggests "even that is missing the emotional taking stock of where we are." Cohen shouted out the work of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
But central to progressing beyond the gridlock of current climate discourse is likely via bringing it closer to the local level, where people feel they can actually influence things.
CBC's new podcast 2050: Degrees of Change is a good example of this. While it paints a dramatic picture of life in BC under climate change, it also uses a scenario under which the world has drastically decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
"We wanted listeners to end off realizing this is a middle of the road scenario and things could be worse and they could be better depending on what we choose to do now," Johanna Wagstaffe, podcast host and CBC senior meteorologist, told DeSmog Canada.
Norgaard said engaging with issues on a local level can give people a leverage point into even greater engagement.
"We really need to on the one hand be aware that it's something we need to respond to as a collective," she said. "Riding your bike is great, but we need to also be engaged in collective political action and solutions. That's part of what helps people to do something proactive that's real."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeanette Cwienk
This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.
"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?
Going Green, or Just Greenwashing?<p>"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/patents-on-plants-is-the-sellout-of-genes-a-threat-to-farmers-and-global-food-security/a-49906072" target="_blank">genetic modification</a> nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."</p><p>Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace, says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.</p>
Independent Certifications Trustworthier<p>Both experts emphasize that independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Examples include the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS) and the IVN Best certification, which is awarded by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN).</p><p>Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.</p><p>"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable."</p><p>And that comes at a price. <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/heres-why-your-next-t-shirt-should-be-made-of-organic-cotton/a-39083921" target="_blank">Organic cotton</a> summer dresses certified with the GOTS label usually cost somewhere between €60-100 (about $67-113). </p>
Water Polluted and Wasted<p>Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/bangladeshs-textile-industry-works-towards-becoming-more-eco-friendly/a-50983898" target="_blank">textile producing countries across Asia</a> are worst affected.</p><p>Since launching its <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/" target="_blank">'Detox My Fashion'</a> campaign in 2011, Greenpeace has secured commitments from some 80 global companies in the fashion industry to eliminate hazardous chemicals by the end of this year.</p><p>But that alone doesn't imply sustainability. Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn.</p><p>"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."</p>
Eco Collections Remain a Market Niche<p>Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.</p><p>Germany is pursuing a new approach to green certification with its government-backed <a href="https://www.bmz.de/en/issues/textilwirtschaft/gruener_knopf/index.html" target="_blank">'Green Button' label</a>. A company can only use the label if all its products comply with high environmental and labor standards. These standards are not as strict as those demanded by organic certifiers, but experts say the 'Green Button' label is a step in the right direction, as it prevents producers offloading responsibility to subcontractors in the production chain.</p>
An 'Eco' Dress for €20 ($22.60): Too Good to Be True?<p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and 50% more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost.</p><p>Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their "sustainable" ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW.</p><p>H&M uses its own "CONSCIOUS" label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures."</p><p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic.</p><p><strong>The Real Problem Is One of Quantity</strong></p><p>Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. </p>
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A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.
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By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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By Emma Charlton
The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.
Value of air conditioning imports in selected OECD countries. ScienceDirect
The ‘Golden Thread’<p>The <a href="https://www.endenergypoverty.org/reports" target="_blank">Global Commission to End Energy Poverty</a> calls access to energy the "golden thread" that weaves together economic growth, human development, and environmental sustainability. And one of the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/archive/sdg-07-affordable-and-clean-energy" target="_blank">United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals</a> is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.</p><p>Sustainability also has a large role to play in the future of energy and failing to embed green policies in COVID-19 stimulus packages and underinvesting in green infrastructure are current risks, according to the <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_COVID_19_Risks_Outlook_Special_Edition_Pages.pdf" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</p><p>In its vision for a 'Great Reset' – building a better world after the pandemic – the Forum and the IMF jointly backed the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/end-fossil-fuel-subsidies-economy-imf-georgieva-great-reset-climate/" target="_blank">transition to a green economy</a> and called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.</p>
As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.