Monday, May 25, 2015

Cassandra's Curse

Climate scientists are reporting higher incidents of depression.  It could be from living like the mythological Cassandra, who had the gift of prophecy but was cursed by Apollo for refusing his advances.  Her curse was never being believed or listened to.

Imagine studying one topic for decades, figuring out the problems and solutions, and being largely ignored by the world.  Or worse - being hated and vilified regularly.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Camille Parmesan said,
I felt like here was this huge signal I was finding and no one was paying attention to it.... I was really thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ ... In the U.S., [climate change] isn’t well-supported by the funding system, and when I give public talks in the U.S., I have to devote the first half of the talk to [the topic] that climate change is really happening.... I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,
And, of course, the hundreds of comments on that article are full of deniers holding on to the last shreds of hope that it's all a scam.

In the words of Baldwin, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."


The Mound of Sound said...

Their depression is probably a testament to their mental health. If they didn't find their predicament depressing that would be cause to worry.

I've known two of these science types who at first stay "on message" about how we can still do this if we act now. Off the clock, over a couple of beers, that's when their message changes to "Oh, we're so screwed."

What they're up against is pretty depressing. They face governments, corporations and powerful individuals who are hostile and scornful of their science. Then there's the 'tin foil hat' brigade, a truly irrational crowd who will always choose belief over fact. Worse than either of those two groups is the large segment of the general population who simply cannot deal with the enormity of what we're facing, countless millions who prefer to leave their heads in the sand. How in hell can you win against those three groups?

Scientists know something else that most of us would rather ignore. They know that time is running out. They know that some tipping points already may have been crossed. They know that the "effective action" option is a long, drawn out process of education, acceptance, study, planning, approval and implementation. There's no switch you can flip, no magic wand. Trying to survive is a costly, difficult, slow and disruptive business for which there are few useful precedents save for wartime mobilization and even that's pretty iffy.

I just finished a 5-6 week, online course presented by the Potsdam Institute, Germany's climate science organization. The focus was on preventing a 4C warmer world (which many now think is quite possible this century), what that would mean and why it must be avoided. It went well beyond the usual "climate change for beginners" MOOCs. The course was rather sobering, if not chilling.

It took years but I slowly became convinced that we really can't deal effectively with climate change so long as we treat it as a stand alone threat. We also need to address overpopulation and over-consumption or else we're just treading water, wasting time. Failing to deal with them all ensures we'll succeed at none.

This must be challenging to you as an educator. I imagine there would be a good many parents who would not appreciate you "indoctrinating" their kids on something they themselves may be unwilling to accept. I suppose that must be just a bit depressing for you also.

Owen Gray said...

As Mound suggests, Marie, there is a large well funded attack machine that has climate scientists in their sights. It's not easy to stay positive in the face of such well organized opposition.

Marie Snyder said...

Absolutely we need a holistic plan to tackle this head on. But I'm pessimistic that we'll see it any time soon. What I've seen in my classroom in the past few decades was a short window of years in which students were all about the environment and saving the earth, and that closed. I think before it was too far off to believe, and now it's too close. It's too scary. I tell my students that I'm biased and can't not be, and that at least I'm upfront about it, but they know what they'll get with my courses, and some take it just to argue about my radical left-wing agenda. (And I don't feel like we even have a left-wing party anymore, but that's another story.) I'm spending more time on coping strategies in class these days!