Seth Borenstein, Associated Press environment correspondent, has an article on the psychological effects of climate change entitled “How climate scientists keep hope alive as damage worsens.”

The article consists of short gobbets quoted from a number of climate scientists and psychologists, arranged in 35 paragraphs, flitting from one informant to another, like a camera filming a focus group. So paragraphs 21-23 and 34 are devoted to Deke Arndt of the NOAA, paras 7, 8 and 19 to UNEP Programme Director Inger Andersen and paras 1 to 3, 14 to 16, 24, 25 and 35 to palaeontologist professor Jacquelyn Gill of Maine. Their brief accounts of how they cope are interspersed with quotes from a psychologist, a COVID researcher, and, bizarrely, a specialist in Alzheimer’s.

The general mood is upbeat:

“Hope and optimism often blossom in the experts,” “Hope is seeing a pathway the alternative to being the realistic optimist is either to hold one’s ears and wait for doomsday,” “When I think about would could be, I gain a sense of optimism..”

And so on.

But pride of place goes to Kim Cobb, who has paras 27 to 33 to herself. Palaeontologist Jacquelyn Gill whose musings open and close the article, introduces her.

Gill “… pointed to Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who spent much of her career diving and studying the same coral reef in the Pacific, only to return in 2016 and find it dead.” And Gill adds “God, I cannot imagine what a gut punch.”

Cobb laughed heartily when she heard how Gill described the life of a reef scientist. From 1997 to 2016, Cobb dived at one of the tiny islands of Kiritimati in the Pacific, monitoring the effects of climate change and El Nino on a delicate coral reef there. Super hot water killed it in 2016, with only faint signs of life clinging on.

Cobb is is the only climate scientist quoted who describes what she actually does. So how did it affect her psychologically?

That fall, Cobb made one last trip. It was during the elections. A big Hillary Clinton fan, Cobb was wearing a Madame President shirt when she heard the news that Donald Trump was elected. She said fell into a pit of despair that lasted maybe a couple months.

So was it the election of Donald Trump, and not the death of the coral, that caused her psychological crisis? Or grief about the wasted t shirt?

Luckily, Kim pulled herself together:

“And then on New Year’s Eve, I decided that I probably had enough and I know my husband had enough, my kids had had enough. So people needed their mother and their wife back,” Cobb said. “I decided to grope for another path out there. I am not able to wallow for so long before I start asking myself some questions like, ‘Look you know how you can put your position to work? How can you put your resources to work?’”

She and her family cut their personal carbon emissions 80%. She doesn’t fly on planes anymore. She went vegan, composts, installed solar panels. She works on larger climate action instead of her more focused previous research. And she bikes everywhere, which she said is like mental health therapy. She tells people when they are anxious about climate change, “there’s not going to be a win, a shining moment where we can declare success,” but “it’s never going to be too late to act. It’s never going to be too late to fix this.”

So Cobb has learned to cope, much like the rest of us, by composting, riding a bike, and devoting more time to her husband and children.

And stuff the coral.

Kiritimati, where Cobb worked, is an atoll in the Pacific, part of the state of Kiribati. The “ti” in Gilbertese (the local language) is pronounced “ss” giving “Kirissimass,” and lo and behold, Kiritimati is no other than Christmas Island, famous for Captain Cook’s landing and the testing of Britain’s atomic bomb.

There’s a link to another of Seth’s articles to tell us more: “In graveyard of dead coral in Pacific, hope and life bloom” from November 2016, the very year when super hot water killed the coral.

In a ghost town of dead coral off a remote Pacific island, scientists have found a bit more life… “We left with a sense of dread and came back with a renewed purpose because there are some corals that literally came back from the brink,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who returned from the expedition earlier. “It’s the best we could have hoped for.” Many of the fish that rely on the reef and had been absent seem to be back, Cobb said.

So the answer to the question Seth poses in May 2022: “How do climate scientists keep hope alive as damage worsens?” is provided by Seth himself in an article he wrote six years ago: they go back and find out that things aren’t as bad as they thought.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Wiki. Kiritimati has its own very long entry, with a paragraph on the reef:

Overfishing and pollution have impacted on the ocean surrounding the island. In the ocean surrounding uninhabited islands of the Northern Line Islands, sharks comprised 74% of the top predator biomass .. Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) regularly nest in small numbers on Kiritimati. The lagoon is famous among sea anglers worldwide for its bonefish, and has been stocked with Oreochromis tilapia to decrease overfishing of marine species… Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis) are found in large numbers both inside and outside of the lagoon and along the surrounding reefs.

And that’s all. There is mention of global warming of course

Global warming impact on Kiritimati is thus unpredictable. El Niño events seem to become shorter but more frequent in a warmer climate.

And also climate change:

A rising sea level does not appear to be particularly problematic.. The biggest hazard caused by a changing climate would seem to be more prolonged and/or severe droughts, which could even precipitate the island’s abandonment (as happened in 1905). However, it is not clear how weather patterns would change, and it may be that precipitation increases.

Also there are endangered species, and I’m sure we’d all hate to lose the Black Noddy, the Mourning Gecko and the Masked Booby. The big danger is of course feral cats and illegal egg gathering.

Feral cats, rats and other invasive species, overfishing, pollution – Kiritimati has problems. And if it doesn’t rain the whole population of six thousand may have to up sticks and move on, as they did a century ago, before climate change reared its ugly head.

But there’s nothing about coral bleaching. So maybe Kim should drop her composting and go back for a holiday. She could take the hubby and kids and they could do some scuba diving, and watch the coral grow back. A few more masked boobies might make all the difference.

5 Comments

  1. How do the priests of an apocalyptic cult shoulder on….
    What annoying disgusting tripe.

    Like

  2. hunterson7
    How do the priests of an apocalyptic cult shoulder on?

    Seth has the answer. One week they tell us that the experts say we’re doomed, then the next week they tell us that the experts tell us not to lose hope. It’s a simple message, a left followed by a right, as long as you don’t ask questions or click on a link. In that case you may find yourself in the land of the Black Noddy and the Mourning Gecko, and all becomes confused and obscure.. just how I like it.

    Like

  3. It’s curious that climate science involves so much flying. I suppose there’s a sort of symmetry involved – by having a bigger “carbon footprint” than the likes of me, climate scientists keep themselves in a job.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So Cobb has learned to cope, much like the rest of us, by composting, riding a bike, and devoting more time to her husband and children.

    Panic over. And we mean over.

    Liked by 1 person

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