Fight the future?
March 22, 2012 5:01 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with fears about global warming?

Lately I can't stop thinking about it, probably because of several 80 degree days that we've had here in March. I generally try to avoid news about it but I know that many scientists think that humanity may not have long to go. Maybe 100 years.

Humanity probably dying off is a major bummer, but I have a young baby. It makes me so upset that I've brought so precious into the world who may live to see so much suffering.

I would really like to hear how other people deal with this, especially people who care about children or people with a scientific background who can explain this to me.

(I do have a therapist and I'll see her on Monday, and we will definitely discuss this.)
posted by gentian to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I generally try to avoid news about it but I know that many scientists think that humanity may not have long to go. Maybe 100 years.


I absolutely accept as true the scientific premises associated with global climate change and the notion that humanity's actions influence and contribute to it. But I absolutely do not buy the ridiculous notion that humanity has maybe 100 years left.

Ultimately, you're right to discuss this with your therapist. But you might also look into just who in the world is saying humanity has 100 years to go, and why they're saying that. Because seriously, wtf.
posted by The World Famous at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

Global warming is unlikely to be the huge catastrophe that fear mongers make it out to be. Don't worry about it.
posted by imagineerit at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know that many scientists think that humanity may not have long to go. Maybe 100 years.

I don't avoid the news, and I've never heard this suggested or implied anywhere.
posted by jon1270 at 5:11 PM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Some perspective: Boston record temps for March from the last 100 years
posted by smackfu at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know that many scientists think that humanity may not have long to go. Maybe 100 years.

I've never seen any reputable scientist suggest this anywhere. I would suggest to you that seeking out accurate information might help to allay your fears. Sure, the actual estimates and predictions are depressing, but not that depressing!

Mark Hertsgaard's book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth presents interviews with a bunch of scientists, and they talk quite candidly about the projected impacts of climate change. None of them think "humanity will be gone in 100 years" and it's not like Hertsgaard went out to find the most upbeat climatologists by any means.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:20 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Global warming is unlikely to be the huge catastrophe that fear mongers make it out to be. Don't worry about it.

I don't think this is a helpful attitude, either, tbh. The best assessments based on data are neither "OMG WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" or "it'll be fine, bro, whatever" but that this is going to be a significant challenge requiring sound policy strategies and technological innovation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:22 PM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

Strass: "If we die off within 100 years it'll be because of biological or nuclear warfare, not climate change."

Dude, you're not helping :-)

All kidding aside, the process of dealing with these feelings begins with an acknowledgement that regardless of your political opinions about global warming, your feelings are real, but the origins you're assigning to them are not. You are probably having a good, old-fashioned existential crisis. People have been having them since the beginning of time. Talk to your therapist, enjoy your life and your baby. You will be fine. We will all be fine. Your baby, most of all, will be fine.
posted by falameufilho at 5:25 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, this year's warm and dry weather in most of the US and Canada is a result of a cyclical fluctuation (the La Nina cycle) and it makes no more sense for people in the US to say that it's because of global warming than it would make sense for the people of Europe who experienced intense and unusual (in some cases, unprecedented) cold this winter to say that global warming was therefore nonsense.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Step one is to ignore all media discussion of it. Seriously. Sometimes I'll peek in on what my friends are reading, and see those "game over for the world because of Keystone XL" headlines, and just have to aggressively tune out. Yes, we are heating up the world, and absolutely, bad things will happen. But there's a rational acknowledgement that bad things will happen, that is quite different from the politically-driven rhetoric that has the planet choking us to death. People have decided that scare tactics are the only way to communicate the dangers of global warming...but what good does that do? People who are receptive to the findings, already get it. People who aren't, think it's stupid. The rest of us just sit around and panic and wonder if our kids are going to grow up to be cannibals just before the oceans boil away.

But it just keeps going. Every few days, there's some new blog or ad with Bill McKibben or one of these other guys, some big tornado on the screen, and you're wondering with every winter afternoon at 85 degrees, and every unseasonable storm, how much longer you've got.

So you have to stop listening to that. You can read a little science about it--I was comforted to know that all our frozen methane isn't going to instantly blast into the atmosphere, that was nice--but stay away from the propaganda.

Step two is just that...well, kids grow up in bad times. Nearly every kid in the world has grown up in poverty, or suffered under tyranny, or had horrors visited on them. You have to do the same thing with your kids in global-warming-world that you would in any other world: Teach them to be kind, smart, resourceful. And when you're doing that, it puts your fears into an interesting context. I've been noticing this lately. I'm terrified of storms. I hate them. The other day we had a hailstorm that made the kids cry and cry, they were so scared...and I ended up getting hailstones for them to look at, to show them they weren't so scary, just ice. We talked about tornados, we drew them, they had a great time. They're still nervous about storms, and they want to talk and talk and talk about them...but I find that I'm not as scared, because, I don't know, instinct or something, saying don't be a quivering wreck in front of the kids. I think that the same thing must work for global warming, because on the one hand, I feel the same kind of terror about it, but on the other, I can't go around spooking the kids into terrified soulless husks just because of what might happen a century or two down the line. So we talk a little about why the weather might be warmer, and why burning oil isn't great and we wish we could afford a car that weren't so gas-hungry, and we talk about recycling and, I don't know, all the other stuff suburban families do to make themselves feel better about this stuff.

That does actually help. It's like you can't quite be fully scared, if you're doing something about it. So, okay though, maybe that doesn't work quite as well with a young baby, but then, on the other hand, having a young baby is a lot scarier than having a 3 or 4-year-old, stressful in a very different way, so some of that will get better on its own.
posted by mittens at 5:31 PM on March 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have a PhD in biogeochemistry (although with an aquatic, not atmospheric focus), and I am worried. I absolutely do not think we'll go extinct in 100 years, but I have significant fears about significant changes in our lifestyle due to both ocean ecosystem collapse (from acidification) and agricultural collapse (from climate change, which includes both temperature changes and changes in both quantity and temporal distribution of precipitation) as well as concerns about the possible devastations of sea level rise on the many human habitations located at sea level currently.

So, what do I do to staunch my fear? I do everything I can to make the world better now and do what I can in my own life now. I try to act in as environmentally responsible manner as possible in my personal life, reducing my fossil fuel use, eating locally, etc. I argue passionately in person and on line with people who don't understand global climate change. I teach college students about global climate change. I think about and research short and long term solutions to these problems and involve myself in charities and political movements working towards them, including things like local agriculture movements, (true) clean energy movements, and politicians who care about science.

I don't have kids, but I do have nephews, and I want to be able to tell them that I tried to do what I could with my knowledge and skills.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:39 PM on March 22, 2012 [31 favorites]

About climate change, I don't think of it just as global warming. Because what is happening is local variability - more extremes in weather and other changes. And what I do is learn a bit about it so I can avoid decisions such as buying oceanfront property or just thinking I can escape to cheap northern continental land that will be warmer but is going to experience other changes and extremes that are costly to cope with. Find climate change information for the regions you are interested in living in, say to 2050 and see what changes are predicted and think about how they'll affect you. It scales down the problem to a thinkable dimension.

I don't agree that humanity dying off is a bummer; rather the idea that humanity will wreck the planet and move elsewhere is a sickening thought to me, that we couldn't do things right here.
posted by Listener at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in the energy industry and I am worried.

On a professional level I try see what the industry can feasibly do to reduce carbon and manage global impact on planetary boundaries (within the scope of my job).

On a personal level... well I think with the lifestyle humans have cultivated we are likely to have terrible problems with agriculture. I am taking classes in permaculture and will take more classes in beekeeping. I am pretty low carbon and try to keep it that way. Globally soil quality is eroding and degrading terribly. This has multiple knock on effects - makes land less productive, agriculture requires more water (because there is no capacity for it to remain in healthy soil), and more chemical inputs which have even more negative impacts. So the more people who are working to replenish our soils the better
posted by zia at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I deal with it by talking about it with other people. It's psychologically better for me if we all realize shit is completely fucked up, than if I think it's just me being crazy.

Also, humanity won't go extinct in a hundred years. But there will be a lot of unnecessary death and suffering from the massive changes climate change is wreaking. However, the primary effects in Western countries will probably be higher prices for stuff and the loss of some oceanside real estate. The deaths and suffering will probably fall mostly on the world's poorest and most ecologically vulnerable, and that's pretty much already happening.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Even in the worst case scenario, humans will survive. But other large mammal species will not. Polar bears and tigers may only exist as oddities in the zoo.

Though, our species will survive - however our culture, our world, will surely not.
Our culture is unsustainable. And the end might be pretty ugly. Chaos, war, death, hunger.
All that terrible stuff may indeed come to pass - but another day will dawn.

You and your child should seize the day now. The future will be what it will be.
One thing that is certain about the future is that we are all mortal. It ends in tears.
So, the moments now are that much more precious.
posted by Flood at 6:27 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's happened before. The most lush land turned to the greatest deserts. Humans survived.
posted by smackfu at 6:50 PM on March 22, 2012

I know that many scientists think that humanity may not have long to go. Maybe 100 years.

This is untrue. Current worst-case scenarios - where we do nothing at all - predict a a mean temperature rise of 4.5 degrees by 2100 and a sea-level rise of just over a metre by 2100.

Now granted, these are serious things, that will have many, unambiguous negative effects, especially amongst people in developing countries who will not possess the resources either individually or as governments to adapt to these changes. However, this is a long, long way from the end of humankind, or worse; WaterWorld.

Interestingly, living under the threat of incipient doom is something that humankind has grappled with for millenia. The current stability and rarity of this concern is a testament to how well-equipped we are to deal with these challenges.

For the duration of the cold war, nuclear holocaust seemed a very plausible outcome, certainly, but expanding beyond that: most people, most of the time, have lived and are living precarious lives where they are uncertain of what the future holds.

Think about people living in marginal land where one bad season can end their lives. People living in places teetering on the edge of war; trying to avoid epidemics like smallpox, the plague etc. People with medical conditions for which there is not treatment, or treatment may not always garner a response.

I'm not saying all this to scare you, but rather, to point out how very much we in the developed world - and indeed in most of the world these days - have compared to humans throughout history. And not just what we have in assets, but in knowledge, beliefs, etc. There are millions - billions - of people all over the world who understand the implications of climate change and are fighting, vociferously, to mitigate it. You might not see or hear them as much as the petrodollars, but they're there, and those numbers cannot be denied.

Further, all of our ancestors, living with so much doubt and fear, and the real prospect of their worlds ending abruptly, nonetheless, found something live for. Found meaning, found happiness, found a reason to believe that the world would be a better place at some stage tomorrow. They must have, that's why we're here. And, for most of us, they were right, and continue to be right.

You and your child can make more of a difference, for yourselves and others fighting climate change than you could ever accomplish through simply not existing. There is a responsibility in living up to that, sure, but it's a responsibility that should be understood, embraced, and exceeded. And you can do it, and do it easily.

It is easy to get depressed when confronted with such a massive and complex problem, aided by vested interests with no care what their actions will bring about. I say to you, you are not alone there are billions of us who believe in, work towards, will stand up for a better, different future. We are our own vested interest - an interest in humanity and that interest will out in the future.

I believe in the gravity of climate change, and that's why I'm personally committed to fighting it. The thought of a world-changing future is scary at times, true, but the future has always changed the world, and always will. When I think about the role that I, and other like me can play in that shaping - we are not passive, we are not reactionary, we are not powerless - I grow determined, and confident our collective mettle will triumph. We are already shaping that future every day in our actions; don't resile from that, and you will feel better. It's a fight, certainly, but it's not a surrender, and that's the important thing. Good luck.
posted by smoke at 6:52 PM on March 22, 2012 [16 favorites]

I read historical fiction about the Dustbowl and the Depression, and post-apocalyptic fiction. This reassures me that while meeting daily needs may become more difficult, the fundamental human experience -- hope, ambition, family, love, rivalry, anger, joy -- will survive. What makes life worth living will continue to exist.
posted by salvia at 7:08 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a 21 month old, and worry about the future she will inherit as well. I probably read way too much post-apocalyptic fiction and listen to more Science Friday than is good for me. But if I learned anything in therapy, it is to counter negative with positive.

As others have stated, I have chosen to funnel my anxiety in to improving things as much as I am able. Wormbins, permaculture, buying second hand, growing much of our own food, sharing that food with the folks who walk by - it's small, but that's how change occurs. I also have begun teaching my daughter how to care for the land, grow and harvest her own food, make things from scratch, etc. She's too young to actually do much of that now, but the memories will be there, and we'll build on them over time. I find that these two things (clean living and educating) have done wonders for ameliorating my anxiety. Positive action might work for you, too.
posted by dirtmonster at 7:34 PM on March 22, 2012

I am descended from a woman who was born in the late nineteenth century in New Mexico. She was, I am told, a wonderful woman who loved her children, feared for their well being, and planned for them as best she could. In this way, she was a lot like you.
In the course of her lifetime, she gave birth seventeen times. There were twins thrown in there, but still, that's a lot by anyone's standards. The thing is, only five of those children reached adulthood. Diseases like influenza took twelve of her children, most of them before their fifth birthdays. One of her sons (my grandfather) was almost killed in the battle of Okinawa. Another one of her sons died in an accident in the 1950's. Her life was a long struggle, and a lot of the time she had very little reason to hope that things would work out well for her beloveds.
She died years before I was born. I often wonder if she could even imagine my life, with college education and work and tv and internets and imported Italian spring water. If she could see me here typing on the big green, would she write it off as some implausible hallucination, some form of science fiction?
My point is, we know as little about the future as my great grandmother did. We don't know what will be lost, and we don't know what consolations this future world will offer either. I have never experienced the intimacy and interconnectedness of her world, but I will probably never experience the grief that comes from living without modern medical care or nutrition. Your children may lose some of the markers of our way of life, but we have no way of knowing what they will gain that will more than make up for that.
When 2100 arrives, the grandchildren of your children may look back in wonder, trying to imagine how you held it together in the face of such challenges. You will be a touchstone to them, so teach your kids to love justice and fairness, things that will help them no matter what their economic or geographical conditions. You're a good parent to worry, and I am glad that I live in this moment and have the privelige to reach out to you.
posted by pickypicky at 7:49 PM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

Humanity will muddle through like it always does -- we're a pretty adaptable species.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:07 PM on March 22, 2012

Not in dispute

CO2 absorbs longwave radiation. Air is mostly blue (it absorb non-blue light), but it is also complement-of-longwave (if you're willing to call "complement-of-longwave" a color), in the sense that the CO2 in the air absorbs longwave.

The Earth surface radiates 390 W/m2 of longwave, while the top of the atmosphere radiates 240 W/m2. The difference is the longwave energy absorbed by the atmosphere (around 150 W/m2).

You can tell which gas is absorbing the energy by looking at the colors carefully. Water vapor absorbs the most. CO2 absorbs around 30 W/m2. (ref)

The industrial age has brought up the concentration of CO2 concentration by 30%, from 280 parts per million to 390 parts per million. We burned roughly 500 billion metric tons of carbon in 150 years. That's enough carbon to raise the atmosphere's concentration of CO2 to nearly 500 ppm, but 110 ppm have been absorbed by the ocean in the biosphere. (ref)

Data points with uncomfortably large error bars/Being researched further

This 30% increase in CO2 (along with increases in other greenhouse gases) have increased the amount of energy captured by the atmosphere by 2.5 W/m2. Other chemicals we have released have generated a cooling effect of 0.9 W/m2. So the net extra amount of energy at the moment is 1.6±1.0 W/m2.

Generally, more energy translates directly into warmer temperatures. But the climate has many positive feedbacks and many negative feedbacks, so the relationship is not that direct. If you add up all the known feedback (positive and negative) you get 0.75°C warmer temperatures for each W/m2 of additional energy (with rather large error bars (ref)). This number is called the climate sensitivity. Since the extra energy at the moment is 1.6±1.0 W/m, if we stopped all emissions today, we should expect 1.2°C of warming. We measure 0.7°C, so another 0.5°C is "in the pipe" even if we stop all emissions now.

We have burnt 500 billion metric tons of carbon so far. How much is there left? If we burn all of it, how high will the CO2 concentration get? Credible numbers range from 450 ppm to 1300 ppm. If we are really unlucky, and there is a whole lot of carbon, and the climate sensitivity is super high, how hot does it get? MIT calculated 7°C of warming. (ref)

What are the consequences of 7°C of warming? Warmer air holds more moisture (ref). At 7°C, the air sucks all the moisture out of the ground and nothing can grow. Food production collapses, and humanity dies. (ref)

Not settled/Being researched

The ocean and the biosphere have absorbed 110 ppm so far. Can they absorb much more?

Are there big negative feedbacks we haven't discovered yet? This would be great news, and people are looking as hard as they can, but nothing so far. But we are allowed to hope.

Are there any big positive feedbacks? These would make global warming even more catastrophic than the current predictions. There are many candidates at the moment which are being studied.

Are there ways to take the carbon out of the atmosphere? Soil carbon sequestration looks promising (ref).

Are there ways to increase the 0.9 W/m2 cooling effect caused by our pollutants (most of which are toxic) without poisoning people?

Which one will come first, peak oil (causing a crisis in transport), peak coal (causing a crisis in energy), population collapse due to climate change, or the deployment of forward-looking practices in commerce, in government, and in our lives, that will give us a chance to avoid all three catastrophes?

[Based on the post The CO2 problem in 6 easy steps, by gavin at]


So, yeah, humanity's destruction is in the cards. If we land in the high-end corner of the probability curve, and if our political institution continue their head-in-sand approach, we're screwed. It's hard to imagine the politico would stay so aloof in the mist of people dying by billion, so that's two somewhat big if.

A good way to think of this is the total-nuclear-war threat. Since the arrival of nuclear weapons, if our politician insist on being maximally-stupid, we all die. It's not a comfortable place to be. On the other hand, for all their faults, political institutions have not blown us up yet, and they usually do come around to big problems. The dust bowl was addressed. We used to have rivers on fire and that got fixed too. Nuclear war has been avoided and the Vietnam War got stopped. It sometimes take a lot of popular pressure from the public to help our politicians along, but that's why we're here.

I help out with and It helps to channel that anxiety into something productive.
posted by gmarceau at 8:35 PM on March 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

I suspect that part of this is just general fear for the future of your child, getting blown up and catastrophized into fear for the species as a whole. Early motherhood is so fraught with anxiety, from whether the baby is sleeping or eating enough, whether you bought the right car seat or bouncy chair to dealing with racist jerks at the grocery store. Did you ever run across the expression "Worry is the work of pregnancy" while you were pregnant? I think it extends well into the kid's first years, too.

My post-partum anxieties weren't climate-related, but they were similarly catastrophic and global. Eventually things settled, and now that my daughter is nine, my anxieties are more specific (the jerks who run the stop sign on our corner! will she be able to afford university if she wants to do that? etc.). You will definitely get more help working with your therapist to soothe your anxious soul than you will looking further into the science (although folks pointing out the fly in the oinment of your 100 year extinction prediction are surely helpful).

As for climate change, the worst thing about it is that while all the top soil south of the Sahara dries up and blows away, and the tiny islands of the South Pacific are swallowed by the ocean, here in North America, the world's worst resource pigs (Go, Canada!) are faced with.... sandals and t-shirts in March. There ain't a lick of justice in the world.
posted by looli at 8:35 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

predict a a mean temperature rise of 4.5 degrees by 2100

Just to clarify for my fellow Americans, this is 4.5 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit
posted by dialetheia at 8:41 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

It may help you to consider how far our technology has grown in the past twenty years. And twenty years before that. Think what we can do in another twenty years.

Common logic does not apply if your technology is on an exponential curve.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:44 PM on March 22, 2012

How do you deal with fears about global warming?

By doing my best not to contribute to it, and by being kind to the natural world (and, very rarely, people).
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:19 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

With references to rising oceans and hotter weather, I think most of the people above are informed mainly by the science presented as able to withstand being hostilely attacked and held to a higher standard than regular science, which selects for silly optimistic scenarios. I share your view that a fair reading of the science under the standards we use to inform regular decision-making without powerful denial lobbies, suggests things are much more dire than is commonly understood.

So I'm in the same boat as you. But first of all, I don't view human extinction as an issue though - killing all humans is like killing all cockroaches - no-matter what happens, that's not gonna happen.

What I do about it is this:
- I accept that we live in "Interesting Times", and that things are going to become a lot more "interesting" within a human lifespan.
- I think about what I can do to futureproof for this changing world. You should be doing this anyway - it's pretty clear that society is fundamentally shifting even without predicted environmental changes. For example, my parents grew up in a society where you could expect a job for life and all the security that this entails. I grew up facing a very different world. Rather than prepare me for their world, they prepared me for this new world, as you will prepare your child for their new world. Not just to survive, but to thrive and enjoy it. That is something real that you can DO about it, (beyond the broader things like reducing your footprint, campaigning, etc.)
- In this sense, thinking about the future need not be a negative, if you use it to actually think critically and perceptively. Look at today. Look at ten years ago. Get a sense of what things are changing, and what aren't. Avoid the temptation to think about the exotic and the catastrophic, instead of the mundane and the subtle.
- Enjoy today! If tomorrow is likely to be rough, then suck all the juice from today. Appreciate the little things. A life well lived is something you'll always have. Pass it on to your child.
- Not everything will be worse. Some things will be a lot better. You child will enjoy things you can only dream of.
- Big changes are a given. Suffering isn't a given. Yeah, ok, it looks pretty damn likely for a lot of people in the wrong situation, but a lot of suffering is entirely avoidable with enough forethought and action. Don't worry over suffering that hasn't happened yet, calmly make your regular decisions with a longer term and a bigger picture in mind than we're used to thinking, so that suffering in your little pocket of the world is more likely avoided entirely.

Basically, take control of the future, so you don't have to worry about it (merely keep a wary eye on it :)
I think a lot of your anxiety comes from feeling powerless about this, but really, you have a lot more control than that.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:26 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

What I would like to be true is that every time I worry about climate change, I write to my congressperson, or my Senator, or the President, or anyone with the power to make a difference on this issue.

If that were true for you, and me, and everyone else who believes that climate change is real and being caused by our apathetic society (sadly less true in the US than in other countries where it is not being used as a political wedge), the world could change...!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:04 PM on March 22, 2012

Keep your CC info diet reduced to RealClimate. Stay the hell away from mainstream climate (or any science, for that matter) reporting but if you still are interested in "keeping up" more, here are a few more options:

Stoat (definitely do read this post right now)
Rabett Run
James' Empty Blog
More Grumbine Science

These are all personal blogs and as such some posts frequently steer away from CC news or can be pretty hard to parse for a layman, and it's probably best for you to skip them entirely unless you can keep your excessive anxiety at bay, lest you be overwhelmed.

A few more points:
- CC isn't the be-all-end-all of environmental/social problems, so if you're going to worry (and you should, but not so much as to impact your normal functioning) save some concern for all the others;
- your baby will almost certainly grow to live a better life than the majority of the present human population, if nothing else simply by virtue of having been born where she was, and a lot better than most of past and future people;
- the progress narrative has lead most people in the developed world to expect continuous material improvements to their standard of living forever, a condition that will very likely reverse for most within their lifetime, so if your baby ends up becoming an adult in a context of declining material wealth, for him/her that will already be as normal as the inverse was for us and there's no reason to believe he/she will be unhappier than you were due to that alone.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:44 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been working in sustainabilty consulting for five years, and indeed have gone though the five phases of grief in that time.

Denial: Climate change isn't happening. It's a political issue. It's a scare tactic.

Anger: Okay, so the climate is changing, but it's a natural cycle. What can we do about it? It's a convenient platform for the media to scare us. What am I supposed to do about it? My parents go to live however they wanted and now we have to clean it up.

Bargaining: Well, if it has happening, the best thing I can do is apply my energies, both personally and professionally to changing it. That will work, right? Whilst I can't throw all the starfish back into the sea, I can make a different to that one.

Depression: After a few years of doing this, all I see are more problems. It's a very complex issue, most people don't care. Why even try.

Acceptance: The climate is changing. It's always been changing. Maybe we have an impact, maybe we don't. Some people care deeply, other's don't care at all. But all that is besides the point. If we're going to beat this thing, we have to adapt.

On a scientific basis, what we know is that climate changes. Human activities may have an impact, the sun may have an impact, volcanos may have an impact, etc. We have not determined why as of yet -- not with infallible evidence.

What we do know -- what we have measured -- is that we are seeing increased climate variability. And it has less to do with climate change than it has to do with technology. We have an ability to measure the environment, and communicate those measurements, in way today that we have never had before.

Thus it can be said that climate has always been changing. The difference is now we know about it… and we're doing something about it.

I am actually looking at leaving the field because I'm not sure it needs me any longer. What changed it for me was seeing the community of people around the world that are dedicated to solving this problem. Incredibly intelligent, passionate people, using the latest tools and thinking to steer the world toward living sustainably. Yes, it's going to take some time and there are sacrifices and compromises involved, but we will get there. Of that, I have no doubt.

As to how we get there, it may be easier, it may be more difficult. Things may get very, very bad. Or they may not. We have no way of knowing that at this point in time.

Will we hit runaway collapse that threatens the basis of human society itself? I doubt it. More likely we will have to change the way we live substantially. That being said, the resulting lifestyle after that change may very well be the best quality of life that we have ever seen on this planet.

For so long, we have been driven by growth at all costs. That has had tremendous negative impacts on humans and the environment. We have come to the brink of destroying ourselves several times. People today struggle to find meaning. Many are simple human hands regarded by the system as wage slaves, almost like animals.

But that is changing. The generation coming up now prioritises quality of live over quanitity of consumption. They saw their parents generate massive volumes of wealth… and suffer with depression, divorce, poor health, stress. And we're seeing a shift -- at least in the West -- from "what's the most I can earn?" to "what do I need to earn to be happy?"

And that will drive us forward. Things like shared cars, crowdsourced funding, renting instead of buying… these are all better ways to use resources that, in time, will begin relieving the stress of people on the planet.

How do you not get depressed about it? For every oil well being drilled, a wind farm is being built. For every gasoline powered car being developed, an electric car is being developed. For every forest being destroyed, a forest is being preserved. And that is true. That is a fact. I can send you reams of examples and data if you'd like.

We are adapting to climate change, and we're doing so at an incredible rate. Part of the negative media push is that we need people to keep caring about it. We need people to adopt this thinking. And the best way to mobilise large scale societal behaviour change is through threat. So take what you see with a grain of salt. If you look into the laboratory and corporate planning departments around the world, you will see wonderful solutions coming online, many per day.

So how do you deal with your child? Recognise that the best thing you can do to ensure they live a quality life is to educate them about this stuff from day 1. Teach them to live simply. Teach them to value the environment the same way they value other people. Show them that they have the power to contribute to solutions instead of problems. Don't tell them it's scary and they're fucked. Tell them this is the biggest opportunity they've ever had to make a difference. That there's is the generation that is going to be remembered as the first generation that lived sustainably.

If you think of therapy, things often get worse before they get better. You have to identify the drivers of the problem before you can solve them. But that is the first step toward a better life isn't it? Knowing the problems. That's where we are. We're asking the right questions as a society. We're making changes. As said, it will take time…

If you believe nothing else, believe this. Humans have adapted to the environment for 50,000 years. And we will adapt this time. We will do whatever we have to do to adapt. And your kid will live in a world scarcely recognisable to the world we have today. And that world will be different, brilliant and special in it's own way.
posted by nickrussell at 5:13 AM on March 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

I deal with it by recognizing that humans will die out. That's a fact...accept it. But it's arrogant to expect it to happen in our lifetime, or your child's lifetime. I actually find peace in knowing the earth will live on and start the process of growth again long after we're gone.
posted by agregoli at 5:19 AM on March 23, 2012

[Some comments deleted. This is the place to help the OP with her particular fear, if you think you can help -- not for a general discussion of climate warming, or telling stories of what worse things you were afraid of growing up, or pointing out worse things the OP should be afraid of. ]
posted by taz at 6:29 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I remember reading an article making the email rounds in 1999.  The author was similarly worried about the future for their children and humanity in the new century.  They sited overcrowded cities, dwindling job offerings, rampant disease, unprecedented drug use and the increasing environmental pollution which seemed to be uncontrolled.

The footnote at the end stated the article was written in 1899.  Most of the information was true.  Those "children" has some good periods and bad periods, but overall things got better in their lifetime for most of them.

So to answer your question, just remember the fears of one generation often become trivial to the next.  Your child's life will be different from yours.  Maybe better, maybe worse, but global warming will have little impact on them other than economic, and this will have more to do with societies reactions to Global warming or climate change than the actual events.
posted by Yorrick at 3:28 PM on March 23, 2012

As others have mentioned, the worst hit by climate change will not be children growing up in the US.

The best thing you can do for your child to give them a happy and humane life? Teach them how to accept, and engage with, and help, the anger and desperation of the people who will actually be screwed over the next hundred years.
posted by pickingupsticks at 7:35 PM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

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