Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 20, 2018

The most depressing aspect of global warming today

One might suspect that the most depressing aspect of global warming would be the distinctly dire predictions of what our planet will become in just a few decades if our business-as-usual lifestyles continue – as there is good reason to expect they will into the foreseeable future. The specific problems associated with that predicted future include, sea level rises causing the loss of much of the world’s most productive and populated coastal regions, an increase in the frequency of catastrophic weather events, an increase in drought conditions throughout much of the Earth, and the massive dislocations of the world’s existing populations as they try to move from ravaged to less ravaged regions. While these changes will certainly become the major causes of human depression when they hit with full force at some later date, they do not yet constitute what I believe is the major cause of climate related depression.

So, what then is the major climate-change-related cause of depression today. In my opinion (and this certainly does apply to me), the major cause of this form of depression today is simply how obtuse a controlling portion of the world’s population is to the advice it receives from its scientific communities. To these folks, it seems that the field of science is just one of several human disciplines that will determine what happens in the future to our planet. More specifically, too many of us seem to think that future physical conditions on our planet will be determined by the thoughts and conclusions drawn from many intellectual areas in addition to those of the sciences. These other areas might include economics, religion, politics, history, sociology, phycology, business, law, and all of the humanities including literature, the fine arts and sports. Clearly, human beings care a great deal about all of these disciplines and generally view the world through the lenses they provide.  On this website, I have provided amble evidence of this preference even within our colleges and universities via several posts directed at my own alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield MN. (see “why I give St. Olaf College such a bad time”, posted in December, 2017).

Unfortunately, it is also true that Mother Nature pays little attention to the ideas and wisdom emerging from these other areas. They exists primarily for the purpose of understanding human behavior.  Only the fields of science have shown a strong correlation between their thought processes and what actually happens within the physical universe. This should not be surprising. By definition, “science” is the one discipline of mankind whose only purpose is to understand, explain, and predict what Mother Nature has done in the past and will do in the future in response to any changes that occur in our physical world.

Modern science tells us that we have far better prospects for solving the global warming problem NOW than we will have later when the problem will become literally insolvable.  If we stay on our present course of continued CO2 emissions, the legacy we will be leaving our grandchildren is the worst one of all – one in which there is no hope left for solving this problem – because too many tipping points will have been crossed. That, indeed, is the thoroughly depressing prospect towards which we are now headed – all because human beings have not assigned primary importance to the messages coming from science.


  1. I agree that science is important but other things matter to the human condition as well. Economics is important. It’s not just enough to live but life without the threats of malnutrition and disease requires wealth. Thinking of politics, the environment and humans suffer far more from war than other things. It’s not that any one area is more important than the other. All areas of society are important. You and I, we do science, and there is a propensity to think that what one does is harder and more important than that done by everyone else.

    When it comes to climate change, I have come to believe that governments cannot change society, at least not free societies. The change that would prevent disastrous climate change will have to come at the personal level propagated to the social level. This, in my opinion, can only be accomplished by doing what is best to reduce emissions and then showing others how much you save, economically. Our society moving from coal to natural gas reduced emissions and saved people money. Our society moving from natural gas to wind and solar reduces emissions and saves people money. Telecommunications save time, emissions and money.

    Just use these things and show others that you are saving money. That in itself will save the planet for our grandchildren.

    • Let us note that humanities relative success in fighting disease and malnutrition has been made possible by advances in science and in derived technologies. Let us also note note that a peaceful, well-organized and well-educated society empirically shows a much better correlation with population health and well-being than does accumulation of wealth.

  2. Steve, Many thanks for your comments. In return, let me add:

    Of course, the non-science disciplines are extremely important to the human condition. So important, in fact, that most people view the world through the lenses of their favored non-scientific interests, whether that be sports, politics, economics, music or religion.

    But I was referring to the maintenance of our special physical conditions on Earth which now support some 7 billion people and will be about 9 billion by midcentury. What emerges in the next few years out of that virtual battle that presently exists between the sciences and the other huge set of personal human interests will determine the fates of both those special conditions on Earth and the human condition. If those special conditions don’t make it, the human condition will suffer greatly in all respects.

    For example, science says that we must stop all non essential travel by carbon intense means, and the non-science inputs say “What’s that? Give up our Studies Abroad programs? – you must be crazy!”

    So far, the most probable outcome in such battles is clear. The non-science interest of our present population will “win” so the speak – unless humans beings to recognize the primary importance of science on issues such as this one.

  3. Where does a person begin when considering what’s “essential” travel? Consider, for one example, a value system where the highest paid public employees in most states are football and basketball coaches. They aren’t traveling by mini-van.

    • Dave

      Where does one begin? The answer is obvious, is it not. One places a stiff and increasing tax on carbon. So you want to go to the Final Four? Either pay the high air line fee or arrange something like a van pool with friends or look into rail services.. But that would not be as convenient, you say. Yes, poor you! We have been spoiled rotten by our misuse of our enviromental assets.

      If, on the other hand, you were diagnosed with a portentially fatal malady, would you forgo the Final Four in order to get recommended immediate treatment?. I suspect you would because you possibly value your own sorry behind more than your planet.


  4. Steve. Upon rereading your comment, I am surprised that for a scientist you don’t appear to recognize the unique aspects of science which are not shared by any of the other disciplines. In science there is only one correct answer to any scientific question. Ma Nature does things one way … her way. In all other disciplines there is always more than one way to skin the cat. Add to that the fact that Science, more than any other field, accurately predicts what Mother Nature will do in response to the impacts of mankind and you have a discipline that is far, far more important that all of the others when dealing with the specific problem of global warming. Eric

  5. Eric,
    Your depression is entirely unnecessary. All the disasters that you imagine are natural phenomena so you need to suck it up and adapt.

    • Galloping camel: You need to define what you mean with “natural phenomena”. A deadly cancer that you get as a result of ingesting carcinogenic chemicals is certainly a “natural phenomenon” involving “natural” chemical and biological reactions. But, you probably mean something like “commonly occurring”. So let’s consider the Arctic. It is now warmer than it has been for 130,000 years when the sea-level was high enough to drown most of the world’s modern coastal cities like Miami, New Orleans and large sections of New York. It seems likely that we have now destined these cities to be destroyed and abandoned by our grandchildren. While this will, of course, take time, humanity has NO convincing plan to avoid this fate. Be sure to inscribe your name on a suitable marble wall in Washington D.C. to ensure that your fame as a science denier will survive.
      However, our weather observations are already consistent with a weakening circumpolar vortex that is changing weather patterns in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. Temperatures and humidity levels in the Arctic are far, far above any common variations. Both the impact of these changes on our societies and the resulting anger is growing and will likely develop into a full-fledged collective emotional storm. Like sea-level rise, the growth in resentment will take a long time, but it is now inevitable. With current policies, a major focus of that world-wide resentment will be our county, the USA, for its uninformed policies and lack of global leadership. With my roots in a different country, I already see this happening

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