There’s an article at:
which consists simply of letters from forty climate scientists in reply to a question by the blog owner, Joe Duggan, who describes himself as a “science communicator” with a BSc in science. (What science? Dunno. Just science). The only heading is
There must have been a question like: “What are your feelings about climate change?”, because it’s all about scientists stepping outside their ivory towers and exposing their inner selves. It’s interesting, and there are replies from such well-known names as Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth. You can read the whole thing in twenty minutes, though I doubt that many people will. So I thought I’d do a bit of Cook/Lewandowsky-style thematic analysis and try and see what it means.
Most scientists played the game conscientiously, giving literate and informative replies about their feelings, though six (that’s 15% of the sample) failed to mention their feelings in their replies, and instead gave a précis of their work, or their opinion of the current state of the world’s climate. Most gave answers of the form “I feel a, b, and c, but sometimes a bit z”. So the first thing I did was do a quick count of the words they use to describe their feelings. The words mentioned most often were:
- frustrated/frustration – 12 mentions
- hopeful/sense of hope – 10 mentions
- anger/angry – 8 mentions
- worry/worried – 8 mentions
- sad/sadness – 7 mentions
- fear/afraid – 5 mentions
Totting up adjectives is obviously an inadequate way of getting a feel for the feelings of intelligent people, but already the results are quite startling. These are people who are doing work they consider vital; they’ve been collectively awarded a Nobel prize and received the praise of almost every leader on the planet. Billions are showered on their research, with more trillions promised. Yet over a third of them (12 out of the 34 who expressed feelings) feel Frustrated, with Anger, Worry, Sadness and Fear being the follow up sentiments.
(Hope also gets a high score, though it occurs most frequently as a rhetorical counterpoint to their dominant feelings, as expressed e.g. by Dr Jessica Carilli, who feels:
“Dismayed, Depressed, Powerless, Sad, Overwhelmed, but also Hopeful and Unwilling to give up.”)
For a more complete analysis, I combined all the feelings expressed into groups, giving the following distribution:
- anger/angry/annoyed/infuriated/exasperated/outraged/disgust/sick – 13 mentions
- frustrated/frustration – 12 mentions
- worry/worried/anxious/apprehensive/nervous – 11 mentions
- fear/afraid/despair/scared – 9 mentions
- sad/sadness – 8 mentions
- astonished/amazed/bemused/bewildered/dumbfounded/perplexed/confused – 8 mentions
- concerned/pessimistic – 6 mentions
- overwhelmed/apathetic/tired/helpless/powerless/vulnerable – 5 mentions
- guilty/ashamed/sorry – 4 mentions
- hopeful/sense of hope/glimmer of hope – 15 mentions
- interest/excitement/curiosity/challenge/satisfaction/privilege/invigorated/fascinated/resolved/awe/unwilling to give up – 9 mentions
Totting up all feelings expressed bumps up the figures for the negative sentiments, and adds a new important positive one, which can be characterised as “motivation” or “job satisfaction”. It’s nice to know that many of them enjoy their work, but still disturbing that so many of them have such overwhelmingly negative feelings in general.
Anyone who’s been involved in opinion research knows that “unprompted” requests for opinions rarely elicit large responses, yet here we have about a third of all those who express any feelings describing themselves as angry, another third as frustrated, and a third as worried. About a quarter were afraid, a quarter sad, and a quarter amazed. The image of scientists as cool unemotional pillars of rationality takes quite a knock.
Of course, it’s essential to know what they’re feeling anxious, frustrated or exasperated about. And apparently it’s not their salaries or career prospects. A few are depressed by the situation in their own special field:
Dr Jessica Carilli Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
On coral reefs climate change effects are hugely obvious and very depressing. Huge swaths of coral have died due to heat stress and more will continue unless drastic changes occur. It is very hard not to feel totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and depressed by the extreme apathy of most of the world’s population (it seems) towards doing anything about climate change.
But most express anger/frustration/depression with respect to the world in general:
Dr Pieter Tans, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
I feel exasperated that it is taking so many decades before society gets serious about the challenge posed by climate change – speeches and declarations, yes, but nothing has been done that measures up to the challenge.
Dr John Fasullo, National Centre for Atmospheric Research
I feel frustrated with the current state of public discourse and I’m dismayed by those who, seemingly motivated by their own short-term self interest, have chosen to hijack that discussion…
In other words, the problem is us: society; politicians; “the current state of public discourse”; or nothing less than “the world’s population”.
Only one gave a potted analysis of exactly where the blame lay, distributing it in an interestingly even-handed manner:
Professor Michael Raupach, Director, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University
Anger: Climate change has become everybody’s lightning rod, a route for conducting vast charges. Contrarians want to use it to beat up the left; the left want to use it to beat up capitalism; despair junkies want to use it to beat up everybody. Truth doesn’t stand a chance.
And just one resorted to the kind of language we’ve got used to at SkepticalScience or in the Climategate emails:
Professor Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling, The University of Adelaide
My frustration with these greedy, lying bastards is personal. Human-caused climate disruption is not a belief – it is one of the best-studied phenomena on Earth. Even a half-wit can understand this. As any father would, anyone threatening my family will by on the receiving end of my ire and vengeance. This anger is the manifestation of my deep love for my daughter, and the sadness I feel in my core about how others are treating her future. Mark my words, you plutocrats, denialists, fossil-fuel hacks and science charlatans – your time will come when you will be backed against the wall by the full wrath of billions who have suffered from your greed and stupidity, and I’ll be first in line to put you there.
While one couched the problem in the familiar medical parable:
Professor Peter B. deMenocal, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University
Imagine how a medical doctor feels having to inform their patient, an old, life-long friend, of a dire but treatable diagnosis. The friend angrily disregards what you have to say, for a variety of very human reasons, and you watch helplessly as the pain and illness unfold over the rest of their shortened life. There is a similar closeness between climate scientists and the planet… Returning to our patient, I feel frustrated that my friend won’t listen. But I hope they will listen to other doctors and come accept the diagnosis… I hope that we see ourselves as the patient.
But the most striking characteristic of the responses was the number of times respondents mentioned their families – children and grandchildren, or just descendants. Fifteen respondents mentioned this:
Professor James Byrne, Professor of Geography, University of Lethbridge
How do I feel about climate change? Afraid: for my grandchildren, for my family, for people. That keeps me awake at night. Angry: fossil fuels cause terrible pollution and climate warming that lead to millions of deaths every year, and many millions sickened.
Professor Gabi Hegerl, Professor of Climate System Science, University of Edinburgh
I am both fascinated by and frustrated by climate change […] Understanding a little bit more over time is thrilling. Then I look at my children and think about what I know is coming their way and I worry how it will affect them.
Distinguished Professor, Michael E. Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center (ESSC), Pennsylvania State University
I feel concern that we will leave behind a fundamentally degraded planet for our children. I feel concern that my 8 year old daughter, her children, and grandchildren may end up asking why it is that my generation failed to act in time to avert a catastrophe. I feel concerned that we are doing damage to the planet. I don’t want to leave a mess for my children, or anyone else’s children, to clear-up.
Professor Donald J. Wuebbles, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois
I am the son of a farmer and both of my grandfathers were farmers and my wife’s father was a farmer – we grew up with the concept of being stewards of the land and we care about the future abilities of farmers to be able to feed the world. I am also a father, with 3 sons and currently 3 grandsons. I am greatly concerned about the legacy we are leaving them ..
… and so on.
Of course, nothing is more natural than concern for one’s offspring, but the insistence with which this theme – or meme – comes up is rather disturbing. It came up in Chris Rapley’s show “2071” at the Royal Court Theatre, 2071 being the year his grandchild would be the age he is now, or something. I’ve experienced it in peculiar menacing comments from warmists on blogs of the kind “I hope you live long enough to see what you’ve done to your grandchildren”.
I have two tentative explanations. One sees it a symptom of the role of climatophobia as an ersatz religion. As atheism becomes more common, so does a search for something to believe in, and an obsession with the blood line is a handy substitute for the belief in personal immortality. An obsession with what my grandchildren will go through is a disguise for the unpleasant suppressed thought that I won’t be there to know.
The other explanation sees it as a symptom of the general loosening of social ties in the modern world, typified by Mrs Thatcher’s famous remark about there being no such thing as society, only individuals and their families.
Long ago I used to conduct focus groups for market research companies, sometimes on sensitive political questions. Whenever discussing subjects of great social import like welfare benefits or race relations, there’d always be some awkward bugger who felt uncomfortable or bored discussing such weighty matters and would short-circuit the discussion with a remark to the effect that “the only thing I care about is my family” – reiterating, or even anticipating – Mrs Thatcher’s catch phrase. I find it odd that scientists who claim to be acting to save the world from itself should exhibit the same blinkered attitude.
Only one respondent gave some insight into the (scientific?) origins of his fear, anger and frustration. Let’s leave the last word to Dr Pieter Tans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
In 1972 I ran into a little book, “Inadvertent Climate Modification”, that outlined the problem we face today. I was convinced right then that this would very likely grow into a serious problem. Today we know much more about past climates and the massive impact we have on the atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems. Every year there are more warning lights that start blinking red.
They may start blinking red, but they end up bleeding green. 42 years before the IPCC announced that it is 95% sure that man is influencing the climate, a young man ran into a little book that convinced him that climate change would be a serious problem. Who needs science, with its bothersome experimental method, when such a tiny cause as reading a book can have such profound long-term effects?
Or, as the Chinese proverb has it: “Flap like a butterfly, sting like a BSc”.
There are a couple of interesting articles on this subject at
Update 21 Oct:
As suggested in a comment below, here is a “word cloud” of how the scientists feel: