Feelings. And the F-bomb.

In November 2014 on November 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm

F bomb

Sarah: How does hearing reports on climate change make you feel?

Preparing school lunches this morning, I listened to a radio interview with conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy. Speaking to journalist Fran Kelly, Lovejoy was careful to present an urgent and yet optimistic view that attendees as the G20 Leaders’ Summit should be strongly considering a global biodiversity agenda as a way to support economies and mitigate climate change.

I agree with him. But the report made me anxious.

Not because I think he’s wrong. I know many details of the science of climate change. There is undeniable evidence that our Earth is warming, that atmospheric gases like carbon dioxide are trapping heat and that human activities are driving this process.

The problem is I don’t feel like I’m doing anything about this which will make a difference.

I look at my ceiling lights and admonish myself for still not finding time to change them to lower wattage versions. I know we should be walking to school more, and minimising the use of our car (which would ideally be smaller).

In separate but related worries, I agonise over the tins of tuna I buy and whether the label ‘line-caught’ actually means anything.

As a consumer, is it within my control to have an impact on climate change? On rainforest destruction? On reducing fish stocks?

I feel like it’s not. It’s not a good feeling.

And it’s not just me. Scientists working directly in the field have been reported to experience negative emotions associated with their expertise. Madeleine Thomas reported recently,

From depression to substance abuse to suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, growing bodies of research in the relatively new field of psychology of global warming suggest that climate change will take a pretty heavy toll on the human psyche as storms become more destructive and droughts more prolonged. For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties.

In discussing possible solutions to this problem for scientists, Thomas wrote of meditation, therapy and the creation of proper boundaries between work and personal life.

And the F-word.

Quoting fellow writer Brentin Mock, Thomas said:

[Mock] argues that scientists should start dropping F bombs.

“Forgive my language here, but if scientists are looking for a clearer language to express the urgency of climate change, there’s no clearer word that expresses that urgency than FUCK,” Mock writes. “We need scientists to speak more of these non-hard science truths, no matter how inconvenient or how dirty.”

If Lovejoy had dropped the F-bomb on my radio this morning would it have made a difference? It certainly would have attracted attention. I may have spat my coffee everywhere, for a start. I think the ABC would have received complaints, other media outlets may have reported on the interview and it might have received global attention.

Is it time for scientists to pull back a bit on presenting evidence, and start presenting their feelings?

[image thanks to Nathan Rupert on flickr]

  1. Not just scientists…anyone working in this arena from teachers to activists are being psychologically impacted. The double edge sword of any passion where you see what you care for and are passionate about being undermined, devalued, dismissed (and any other similar adjective you can think of). Drove me to despair for a while (and to blurt out a blog about my feelings). You might also be interested to know that there is a group of Melbourne psychologists that have started a group called Psychology for a safe climate – and I am sure they are not the only ones 🙂 thanks for the post.
    cheers Heid

  2. Morning Heid, thanks so much for your comments and the link to your post. I just read it and it made me sad and angry. I do feel better than yesterday morning with the news that USA an China have made definitive plans on emissions reductions.
    That group in Melbourne – wow! Such a great thing. I’m going to look through their website in detail.
    Cheers for now,

  3. I guess in Australia it is really difficult to use cars less, because you guys have extremely big distances to drive or commute. I still don’t have a car in Poland, because public transportation is really good and the government does a lot to make it available and relatively cheap. Maybe it is a matter of talking with some local politicians and organizations?

    Global warming? It is never-ending discussion. Personally I am happy that this year in Poland was the warmest in the history. I hate snow 😉

  4. thanks for your comment vetnolimit 🙂

    you’re right, a lot of Aussies do drive a lot, and our public transport systems are very underdeveloped. our population is quite spread, which makes it a complex problem.

    your comment reminds me of some graffiti I saw around Adelaide: “nice weather we’re having. pity about the climate”

    bye for now

  5. Did you see the rap video made about climate change by NSW climate scientists for Hungry Beast a couple of years back? I really like it – it channels some of the righteous rage I feel about the venal politicians ignorance about climate change. However I show it to my undergrad academic communication students to see their response – they laugh but seem to think that the emotional and comical content undermines the authority of the scientists… Maybe this is just a media student thing but it would be interesting to explore further…. Link to the video is here –

    • Thanks for the comment – I did see that a while back, will check it out again! Isn’t it interesting that people have an impression of how scientists should behave.

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