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When even eco-alarmists realise saying it’s ‘game over’ for the planet is crazy, it’s time to rethink climate change message

Frank Furedi
Frank Furedi

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

When even eco-alarmists realise saying it’s ‘game over’ for the planet is crazy, it’s time to rethink climate change message
The journal Scientific Reports has been forced to tone down a press release that went beyond legitimate scaremongering on climate change. It’s a welcome, if rare, outbreak of sanity amid the never-ending desire to promote panic.

At times, it appears that scaremongers about climate change can get away with the most far-fetched stories without being challenged. Which is why it is so remarkable that Scientific Reports, an important journal, has decided to change a press release that asserted that global warming may already be unstoppable.

The decision taken by Scientific Reports was prompted by British scientists who took the press release, which promoted a study by Norwegian scientists, went beyond legitimate scaremongering. They took issue with the slash-your-wrist headline that stated “Ending greenhouse emissions may not stop global warming.”

It seems that one reason why climate scientists decided that enough is enough was because they felt the article could cause “unnecessary despair”. By suggesting that there is no point in lowering greenhouse emissions, the article’s message encouraged fatalism and passivity. As Professor of Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter Richard Betts pointed out, the article communicated a “frightening message” that “it is now “too late” to avoid catastrophic climate change, which would have the potential to cause unnecessary despair”.

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Not all scientists were prepared to distance themselves from this latest attempt to promote panic about the threat of climate change. “This study provides evidence for what we don’t want to hear: that global heating may have already become self-reinforcing, and that we have therefore passed the point of no return for halting long-term climate change,” argued Phillip Williamson of the University of East Anglia.

As is so often the case, the so-called evidence cited by Williamson is based on the projection of one model, which Sir Brian Hoskins, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London described as a “toy model”.

But then climate alarmism is about making up scare stories based on toy models which are then recycled as scientific evidence. Climate alarmism is based on the erosion of the distinction between science and political advocacy. Like Plato’s Noble Lie, stories like the Scientific Reports' now-toned-down release are usually justified on the grounds that, regardless of the facts, they reveal a higher truth.

Many of the campaigns oriented towards promoting the idea that we are facing human extinction, unless we fundamentally change the way we live our life, rely on presenting their arguments in the form of ‘evidence-based’ scare stories.

Stephen Schneider, a climatologist, justified the distortion of evidence supporting his cause in the following terms: “Because we are not just scientists but human beings as well… we need to... capture the public imagination.” He added that “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts that we have.”

Scaremongering on climate change has been particularly effective in capturing the imagination of the young. Having succeeded in scaring generations of young children about global warming, climate scientists have drawn on the services of psychologists to promote the argument that children’s mental health is threatened by ‘eco-anxiety’.

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The claim that climate-change concern is prompting mental suffering adds up to further proof of the damage it is causing. Recently there have been many reports about the mental health consequences of climate change. For climate alarmists, the discovery of this alleged new malaise of eco-anxiety is a bonus. Linking climate catastrophism to the deterioration in children’s mental health allows them to boost the eco-fear narrative.

Eco-anxiety has also played an important role in harnessing the idealism of young people to join the crusade against global extinction. And that’s one reason why climate scientists have argued that Scientific Reports should withdraw the over-the-top hysterical article predicting that the game is over. The message that global warming is unstoppable undermines activism around this cause. Climate activists prefer a narrative that couples their alarmist vision of human extinction with the message that joining a movement like Extinction Rebellion can make a difference.

Unfortunately, climate catastrophism is here to stay. Writing about the release of the new Greta Thunberg documentary I Am Greta, one Guardian writer expressed the hope that it will be useful for enlightening the discussion when Covid is over, and the “climate crisis will return”. Which is why more than ever we need the voices of sanity to stand up to the scaremongers and demand a reality check.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The text has been updated to clarify that the Scientific Reports press-release of the Norwegian scientists' study was changed, and the study itself was not pulled.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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