September 9, 2019

4 Things You Can Do About Dangerous Climate Anger

Joel Nodelman

About the Author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

4 Things You Can Do About Dangerous Climate Anger

So Much Anger about Climate Change

Today, I share more of a personal reflection on dangerous climate anger and four things you can do about it. 

Over the last few months I noted the level of anger about climate change has reached a new level of intensity. I pondered about this all summer. Over the years I have worked on climate change, I haven’t seen the level of frustration and pure malice that we see now. And, it has become political. Positions for and against climate action are key party platforms in the upcoming Federal election, and, we all know politics is a blood sport. Everything is fair game. Facts and truth no longer amount to very much in the climate debate.

It’s Personal

For me, the intensity of the criticism about Greta Thunberg was the most disturbing part of this. A sixteen-year-old activist, opponents attacked her, because she had the nerve to speak up. They trolled her “disabilities”, her age, and her parents for being unfit. They even ridiculed her looks and style of speech. Much of this from older folks, turning the whole thing into one huge, spiteful, generation war. One post just ran through her facial expressions, over and over and over.

I wondered why people are so angry, petty, and mean. And, I wondered, what we can do about it?

First Things First

I concluded people are angry because of fear. Climate change is frightening. It threatens our way of life, our health and safety, and our children’s future. These are fundamental worries that strike at the heart of our families and homes. In fact, this is personal! And, it’s scary. And, we feel powerless to do anything about it.

Climate Denial is Rooted in Fear

I have always believed that climate denial is emotional. It isn't logical, and it isn’t factual. In a post-truth era, facts seem to get in the way of a good argument, anyway. 

Over the summer, the denier community has harped on three themes:

  • The climate is not changing;
  • The climate has always been changing; and
  • The climate is changing, and that’s good for Canada.

Ever the academic, the total lack of logic across the three arguments amazes me. Also, I am surprised that the denier community doesn’t care about the logical gaps. Facts don't matter.  The climate can’t be stable, changing and beneficial, all at once. With this in mind, I concluded the folks who voice these views do not mean to convey information, but promote a soothing emotion. 

"Don't worry about climate change, everything is fine, just the way it is."

Climate Action is Also Rooted in Fear

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The demand for climate action is the flip-side of the same fear coin. We see the risk, it’s scary, and we want to do something about it. This is Greta Thunberg’s position. She is the voice for her generation. They will bear the brunt of the change, and we should listen. My reaction to those that troll about parental abuse and naivety is simple. The real abuse is silencing Greta while expecting her generation to pick up the pieces for our inaction.

Perhaps I am biased in this reaction. As a Baby Boomer, I heard these arguments before, when I was sixteen, and I remember the frustration at not being heard. Further, I regret that we Boomers lost our way in our mission over the years. We have added our voices to the criticism of younger folks. We forget, we were once in the same position as Greta, unheard, concerned, and fearful for the future.  

Not Every Idea is a Good Idea

I’ll be the first to admit that not every idea folks offer for dealing with climate change is good. Some are downright impractical, and would likely lead to perverse outcomes, nobody can anticipate. However, we still need those ideas, and we need to do a critical evaluation of everything. Ideas that can withstand the challenge of a robust peer review, will survive and pave the way to resilience. 

People throw around the expression, "Climate Crisis", and I think it is just that. But, the crisis is our inaction, and constant bickering about moving forward on addressing climate change. 

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

We need to calm down. I know this is important, perhaps one of the most serious threats we have faced. And, it is a crisis. But, fear, anger and panic do not pave the way for success in managing any crisis. The best way to get through a crisis is calm, focussed action. Running around in circles, waving our hands in the air, yelling at each other solves nothing. This only makes things worse, prevents action, and degrades into pointing fingers at each other trying to find somebody to blame. 

So where do we go from here? I have four suggestions.

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1.  We Need to Acknowledge the Fear

The fear is real and drives the whole debate. This is the elephant in the room. It’s always there, obvious, and studiously ignored. We must start by understanding, however obnoxious, most times the folks on the “other side” have reasons for their position. Often the underlying reason goes unstated. So, let’s listen for it. 

In my experience, very often denial is rooted in fear about money. This is the worry that climate change, if true, poses a threat to my lifestyle and family. 

"If climate change is a hoax. everything will be fine."

This is the case for most deniers. Denial is a normal fear reaction. These folks aren't the enemy, or ogres, they are normal people. But, climate change scares them. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the best leaders in a crisis, but they face the same risk as the rest of us.

2.  Stay in the Conversation

Share your ideas, but expect to defend the logic of your proposals. This is normal, and healthy. While it may be frustrating, we should challenge every idea and assumption. Let’s not take anything for granted. A good idea will withstand the heat.

When we are discussing climate options, we must not engage in the vitriol. It is so tempting to play emotional ping pong. Tossing negative feelings back. If someone tells me I am a “jerk”, it makes me feel better to throw it right back in their face. But, this simply amps up the heat, the vitriol and the frustration. Nothing gets done. We run around in circles and poke at each other. It is a major waste of time, when time is a rare commodity. 

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3.  Prepare

The climate is changing and we need to do everything we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But, we need to do more! Assesses your home, your workplace and your business. Suss out your climate risks and take steps to improve your resilience. And, where you can't beef things up, prepare action plans to deal with the events, should they happen. This is basic risk management. If the peril is big enough to scare me; it is important enough to take action. We must build in resilience and this requires that we plan, plan, plan.

4.  Where you Can, Educate

This is tough, because scared people don’t listen. But, if you acknowledge their fears and share your own concerns, without blame and vitriol, most times folks are courteous enough to listen. You can reach folks that are listening, they can understand the concerns and they can commit to action.

We need to not only win minds; we need to win hearts. The more of us that buy into action, the more action we can achieve. It will be a better for everyone.

Over to You

Let’s keep the conversation going. Share your comments.

  1. What steps do you recommend for calming the discussion about climate change and moving forward towards resilience?
  2. How do you deal with angry folks that challenge you about climate change?

We can learn from each other. I’d love to hear from you!

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