Cliff Mass: Climate anxiety producing the opposite effect on energy reduction
What is one of the biggest problems in relation to climate change? According to University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Cliff Mass, it’s climate anxiety.
Climate anxiety, a state of worry or panic over the future of the world because of climate change, is the subject of the latest post on his climate blog. It’s a phenomenon that is growing around the world, with some young people even promising they will not bring children into a world with such problems unless warming trends can be reversed. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg told the United Nations leaders that they had “stolen [her] dreams and [her] childhood” by not taking enough action against climate change.
Mass does believe that humans contribute to climate change through carbon emissions, and he does believe that people should work to reduce these emissions. However, what he does not agree with is that disaster is imminent if trends do not change.
“I’ve spent my life trying to understand the weather and climate of this region,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “We are going to warm, and there’s no doubt about that, and there are going to be impacts. But none of them are existential.”
He predicts that in the next 100 years, if nothing changes, the Northwest will warm by 4 or 5 degrees, and experience larger amounts of precipitation.
“Life will not end here in the Northwest,” he said. “But the picture that you read in some of the media, being promulgated by some politicians, is that we’re in a situation where life and death are out there depending upon what we do in the next year.”
He said that climate simulations show there is no tipping point; there is always time to cut carbon emissions and reverse climate change.
“The most vulnerable people among us hear this stuff, and they are being panicked,” he said. “And it’s really not morally correct [of the media and politicians].”
On the flip side, the climate anxiety can have the opposite effect. The more that people hear the most dire predictions, the more that they either assume it is all false, or the more they become resigned to disaster and assume they can’t do anything about it. In both scenarios, this prevents people from taking real action to cut back on their energy use.
“Some people just get turned off by it … or they just don’t want to think about it,” he said. “So instead of dealing with the real climate problem, they just turn off the issue.”
As evidence of this, Mass pointed out that people are still taking vacations that require plane travel and are still buying large new cars, like SUVs. If they really were serious about confronting climate change, he said, they would sacrifice these things in their own lives.
Plenty of positive actions can be taken now, Mass said, such as cutting back on flights, working toward alternative energy sources, and clearing brush in forests to prevent wildfires. It will be of utmost importance to get “a bipartisan group together to start doing the real work that needs to be done.”
“The truth is, there’s a lot to be done … this whole climate mania is preventing people from doing the key things that should be done now,” he said, adding, “We need to turn to that positive message and do it together.”
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