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"Ecological grief" grips scientists witnessing Great Barrier Reef’s decline (nature.com)
157 points by pseudolus 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 60 comments

I experienced something like this earlier this year, when I read about the massive loss of flying insect life. It was deep enough that I am pretty sure that I went through an identity crisis, and through the books by Yuval Noah Harari (adding a layer of abstraction to human organization, and a new way to look at identity for me), classes like "Learning How to Learn" (which took away the sense that I was static, or just too stupid to become a researcher and be able to help in the near future), and "Enlightenment Now" by Steven Pinker (teaching me to understand that advocacy works, amongst other things), I'm pretty sure I came out a healthier individual on the other side. In fact, I'm not exactly sure about the old version of me at all, it's been quite the journey this year.

I would recommend, even though these awful events are occurring, to read books that encourage positive action (Enlightenment Now) and books that encourage understanding of other people and their viewpoints, even if you find them to be unacceptably obtuse at times: there are many layers of abstraction that people live on, and sometimes you are just at a different one.

Advocate against pollution, and the causes that give rise to it. It will help to bring change, it isn't hopeless.

"For Pandolfi, the consequences he worries about are those that his children — now 17 and 20 — will face as a result of climate change. “I don’t care that the world can go on without people, but I do care that I’m incurring debt on my children that I can never repay,” he laments."

If you didn't read it, that's the toughest part.

Well, someone has to fix the mess we created, since it will persist long after we parents are gone.

I'm completely in favor of fixing it, for that reason.

Pretty soon, people will have to consider the ethics of choosing to have new children.

There is a good documentary called Chasing Coral on this topic. It's on Netflix.

The global climate strike is this Friday (20th): https://globalclimatestrike.net/

You can even join digitally too: https://digital.globalclimatestrike.net/

It’s not just climate scientists. I’ve been having a tough time with it myself. I know I’m not alone.

I‘m listening to the audiobook „The Uninhabitable Earth“ by David Wallace-Wells and it‘s really depressing stuff. The urgency is stunning.

I still feel like his New York magazine piece that was condemned by many as too scary marks a turning point in the public discourse around climate change.

Can you share a link please?

He has a nice piece this week on Greta Thunberg.


Keep in mind that because of how book publishing works that book is now already several years out of date. It doesn't reflect the draft papers for AR6 (which to be fair are still just drafts) and it doesn't reflect the fact that arctic melting is already tracking the RCP8.5 scenario of AR5 for decades from now. It also includes the authors personal optimism for direct air capture miracle technology, which now a few years later has still yet to appear (speaking of, how's Prometheus doing YC?)

basically anyone that takes too close a look at climate change sees the horror and cannot help but go through natural loss/despair/depression reactions and cycles. you can almost perfectly map the most common responses to the kubler-ross grief model:

  denial: people think this ones about denying its existence but we're really so far past that.  most of the denial right now is over the timeline and the budget.  the "science" says FUCKING YESTERDAY and WHATEVER IT COSTS but most people don't want to swallow that yet
  anger: the takes that focus on "these top 10 companies" or "these top 100 oil execs" or boomers or suburbs or cheeseburgers, or capitalism
  bargaining: you can tell these takes from phrases like "what if we just" and "I don't understand why we don't". they're mostly nonsense from people with zero understanding of engineering or the grid, or nonsense from people with just enough understanding of the grid to be dangerous and get tunnel-vision fixated on nuclear.  self driving thorium drones, etc.  
  depression: nothing we can do, its too late, no point in trying, hating anyone who does try, a thousand excuses and zero action
  acceptance: i won't say what I think goes here since if you haven't gotten through all the above steps you won't agree

> the kubler-ross grief model

That model is really outdated, and was never meant to be the linear model it is so often presented as. I imagine you were speaking lightly, but it's important to call this out.

My wife is a grief counselor, and that is the clearest thing I've learned from her, and it's the single most important thing to share when people are dealing with grief. The prolonged use of this model in society and popular culture leads people to believe that we're supposed to progress through grief, and at some point "get over it". But grief is cyclical, and it's different for everyone.

Environmental grief is real, and it's a pretty crazy time to be a parent. How do you help your kid understand that the world you brought them into is quickly collapsing?

Thank you, good point.

Re: kids, I have no idea. I can honestly only handle this with the level of detached analysis I do because I don't have kids. If i did... I would be seriously considering things that one shouldn't type onto message boards at this point.

FWIW, in an attempt to be constructive. If you do rudimentary math around the size of the problem and the timeline to address it, the only person who has even come close is Bernie Sander's plan. This will require an investment, from the US alone, in the 10 - 100T order of magnitude range. Bernie's plan is 16T. Everyone else is in the single-digit Ts.

So if you believe in science, math, and your childrens future... you kindof have to be like not just voting for but actively canvassing/phone-banking/campaigning for Bernie (assuming you're in the US).

Bernie's plan is massive economic command and control from Washington. DC couldn't execute on Obama's stimulus spending and we know state-directed economies have been an environmental catastrophe (see: Soviet Union). A simple, aggressive carbon tax that captured the true externality of carbon emissions is the way to go-- bring economic incentives into alignment with climate goals.

I don't disagree, you and I could probably sit down and hammer out a much different plan based on our preferences. But neither of us are running for president in 2020 are we?

This goes back to the denial thing being more about time and money than the abstract notion. We don't have the time to wait for better plans or options anymore. A bad plan this election cycle is vastly preferable to a better plan in 4 - 8 more years.

There is a 16T command-and-control option on the table in 2020. There is no carbon tax and/or nuclear option on the table. We have to address reality not our preferences for a hypothetical ideal.

Even if Bernie's plan turns out to be a disaster, that's a failure we need to get through as fast as possible so the public accepts a carbon tax funded nuclear renaissance as a plan B. Which again, may be your and my plan A, but its not where either the candidates or the electorate are TODAY.

To be fair, Bernie is a supporter of a carbon tax as well. In the past he has said it's "the most straight-forward and efficient strategy for quickly reducing greenhouse gas emissions".

> state-directed economies have been an environmental catastrophe

Yes, although that's primarily because the state had directed it towards industrialisation. Centralised control would make large scale efforts towards any national goal easier to achieve.

Carbon taxes are a great idea - Australia was ahead of the curve on that one until the right killed it once they gained power.

And then you try phase 1 of a 287 phase carbon tax implementation and the gilet jaunes shut you down.

My concern would be that he also supports strong gun control, and it seems to me that if society does collapse then guns are going to be a necessity.

If society collapses, those who survive will be those who can work together most effectively, not those with the most guns.

Those who work together are also going to have to survive those who have guns.

Northern countries will definitively need to strengthen their borders.

Even under the type of gun control Sanders advocates (universal background checks, bans on assault weapons), private citizens will still be able to buy and own firearms.

There may well be scenarios where an AR-15 is preferable to a plain hunting rifle, but in the event of an environmental, economic, and societal collapse I think it's unlikely that the kind of gun some random person owns will be a major factor in their survival.

Well, there's no mainstream candidate who is both against gun control and who believes global warming is real. There's not even a mainstream candidate who's against gun control, actually.

> There's not even a mainstream candidate who's against gun control, actually.

There probably is one with an R by the name...

I know, you weren't talking about them. But there is more than one party running here.

No, I was definitely talking about Trump, if that's who you mean. I added the 2nd sentence after the first, because Trump does support some gun control. He's banned bump stocks, increased prosecution of firearm offenses, and he's strengthened the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

If society collapses gun control legislation isn't going to matter either.

If anything, once they reach 12 or so, it'll more probably be the kids trying to help parents understand, and do something. Then trying to get to the rest of the adults with their Friday school strike. Ours are in their twenties now, but they and their friends have strikingly clear thoughts on who shafted them and what the future may have store for them. Optimism and like of the current political parties is in short supply.

"How do you help your kid understand that the world you brought them into is quickly collapsing?"

I'd say as a parent it would be pretty irresponsible to say anything that would make the kid feel any sudden anxiety.

We don't really talk about it. If our kids express their worry the we will say the truth - biomes are not doing too good. But we don't really consider it as some major doomsday looming over.

Personally I was really anxious as a kid. I was really scared when I learned that one day sun will turn to red giant and destroy earth. Ditto about asteroids. The Amazon (30 years ago as kid I refused to eat at McDonalds for a while). And there were also actual bad things happening to people close to me - but you get the point. Easily distressed.

As an adult, I see no way this existential anxiety would have done any good to me.

So, as a parent I play it cool. And besides, we don't know what is going to happen. It's not going to be rainbows and sunshine ... but really. If you were with a kid on a train to Auschwitz, would you tell them me and him would soon be gassed to death, or lie to them it's all going to be fine. I'd lie.

To use your closing example, that sort of fatalistic passivity is how you end up on the train in the first place. It's better to fight for your freedom than to meekly accept it and everything else being taken away from you.

I think it depends a lot on their age and maturity.

Life is Beautiful :).

I agree it is a dilemma. For some problems you can make them aware without raising the anxiety level. For some, you just have to hide/overcome your own fears and say that it is/things are alright. Sometimes, kids just need that reassurance from the parent, even if they know that things may not be alright.


My point was that as a parent its not ones duty to explain to the child all the things they should be worried about, but to rather maintain their sense of safety.

Please don't strawman me, it's not polite.

Existential dread for the future is why my wife and I plan on adopting children instead of procreating. Tell everyone you know: plenty of kids need parents and you can be that for them without adding to the world population or bringing a new human into an uncertain future.

It's bleak, but pragmatic.

Father of three here. I talk with them on honest terms about what’s broken with the way we’re doing things, and what we need to change to fix it. They don’t need to hear traumatizing tales of worst-case scenarios. At their young age (kinder/preschool), it’s enough for them to know something is good for the planet or bad for the planet. Kids that age can have a surprising innate sense of what’s fair and just, right and wrong.

What? Most parents don't even get that far. Usually it's the children that have to teach their parents.

One method of support is to get out on the streets with them striking, starting this Friday.

Action is a great curative for despair. If people aren't listening to polite explanations and exhortations then maybe it's time to try other approaches instead of just feeling helpless and passively documenting it.

I think the problem is that people just aren't willing to make sacrifices. Just look at how these threads go, someone will suggest that maybe we should stop flying around the globe for fun, stop demanding access to fresh fruit year round, eat less meat, not upgrade our iPhone every 6 months, etc. and what do people do? They say, "oh, but I'm just a drop in the bucket". Everyone is very much for someone else making sacrifices, as long as it isn't them. And that's why we're doomed. Hopefully, the next go at global civilization can learn from our mistakes.

People aren't willing to make individual sacrifices to solve a tragedy of the commons, and with good reason: it doesn't actually solve the problem. This is not specific to CO2, it's part of the definition of tragedy of the commons. People are, however, far more receptive to collective sacrifices, such as a carbon tax, or its more PC name "carbon price".

If your lake is being overfished, you can stop fishing all you want, it won't change a thing. You need quotas or a tax.

It's a tragedy of the commons and we need to move together on this.

People calling for government action are willing to make collective sacrifices. Making individual sacrifices will not change the trends that need changing. That's realism, not hypocrisy.

You can't push adulterated foods out of the marketplace by telling individual consumers to make wise choices. You need something like the Pure Food and Drug Act.

You can't push water-polluting laundry detergents out of the marketplace by telling individual consumers to make wise choices. You need something like the Clean Water Act.

Telling Los Angelenos agitating for clean air, circa 1967, that they should buy their own cleaner cars (or find ways to avoid driving altogether) before supporting the government California Air Resources Board would likewise have been futile. They needed regulation, not more personal virtue.

Positive collective action is required to solve collective action problems. I already went vegetarian and drive less than most Americans. I've never mentioned my personal behavior in climate discussions here before because it's beside the point. I keep upvoting posts that propose carbon taxes and tariffs (or equivalent statutory phase-out requirements) because those are the things that will make a difference.

> People calling for government action are willing to make collective sacrifices. Making individual sacrifices will not change the trends that need changing. That's realism, not hypocrisy

Yeah, no rain drop believes it is responsible for the flood.

That’s because it isn’t. If you want to stop a flood, don’t target individual raindrops, target the whole storm.

The drops are the storm. Ok, we're stretching the analogy now, but if people are unwilling to make sacrifices for themselves, why would they be willing to vote for policies that negatively impact them? And you know what? From the election results what people base their political decision making on it seems that they won't.

If you actually, truly give a damn instead of just using it a some kind of virtue signaling then you should be willing to make sacrifices. Demonstrate that you care instead of just talking.

That's not so. Many people are willing to and already make sacrifices but are also fully aware of the free rider problem in that people who pollute historically try to dump the blame on consumers.

If they want the status of being captains of industry or business leaders, but they don't come through on matters of serious public concern where they can make a difference, it's not wrong for people point out their hypocrisy. Why is it the responsibility of the least powerful people to sacrifice first before those who profit from the status quo inconvenience themselves?

I went on a coral sea diving trip a couple summers ago. It was amazing, and I'm glad I got to see some of the beauty there before it's almost inevitably gone forever. Unfortunately it's hard to translate this type of loss into a language that most people can understand. Sometimes I wish that the effects of climate change were happening more starkly in terrestrial areas first, like mountains. If the ski resorts were all closing down because there was no snow I think it would shake people from their lassitude a lot quicker.

"If the ski resorts were all closing down because there was no snow I think it would shake people from their lassitude a lot quicker."

some of them are so people just go to other places.

What I read: "I'm glad I got to contribute to CO2 production and the decimation of the environment by taking a vacation to examine the coral reefs before we collectively destroyed them."

If there's ever a collective lawsuit for the excess carbon footprints produced, there will be hell to pay, and the people getting rich off of pushing externalities to their communities today will be the same ones serving life sentences tomorrow.

Generally I agree with you, and am a staunch environmentalist. However, your assertion that there would or could ever be appropriate penalties for the people profiting the most off of the natural world's destruction is simply wrong. IMO, real justice could only be delivered by a powerful world government, the likes of which we will probably never see.

I don't exempt myself from blame for the destruction of the natural world, but neither should you. I believe there is a sliding gradient of blame to be applied to all people, but really, except for a few notable exceptions (oil, finance execs in particular) it's a difficult and somewhat futile model to apply. Am I to blame for taking a vacation overseas every three years? Is a businessman more or less to blame for flying cross-country every week for meetings?

Unfortunately for those of my generation who are "woke" to the catastrophe of climate change, much of our lives have necessarily become a precarious balancing act between trying to live justly and trying to live happily. I sadly question my ability to bring children into the world with my SO in the face of a problem that is tantamount to Armageddon. But our own personal attitudes and wants shrink in the face of the enormity of the quandary that is climate change.

What I personally have come to believe is that change for the better flows from two things: willingness to forgo one's ego, and collective political action towards curbing our wasteful modern lifestyle.

We don't have any indication that the OP took any form of flight to get to the coral. There is not enough detail within that post to shame them for their carbon footprint, and such ire would be better directed at the ~100 companies that are responsible for 70% of emissions.

Agree with the first part of the above comment, but I wonder about the statistic in the second half.

I have seen it before and I always wonder when it comes up: If you take a flight with Emirates, is it considered pollution by Emirates or by you? What about the CO2 used to build the plane? Should you divide those emissions among everyone that flew in the plane, or should that CO2 be added to the company?

I grew up in South Florida. Jacques Cousteau was one of my childhood heroes. I snorkeled from early on, and got SCUBA certified as soon as I could. I dove many times off the Florida mainland and the Keys. Never had to fly to dive, just drive or ride out, sometimes we just swam from shore.

I would love to dive the Great Barrier Reef while it's still great, but can't justify it on the grounds you lay out. But I wish people could get the sense of what is being lost. Seeing it in person, in situ, is very different from watching it on a screen.

What kind of vindictive nonsense is this? Why would you possibly try to shame someone for taking a vacation over carbon emissions?

In most cases this is a tactic to shut down voices by conflating, “ever traveled by air” with, “you’re a hypocrite and should just shut up”.

"They found that people could mourn the disappearance or degradation of a species or landscape and the future losses of an ecosystem."

I assume this happens in a first world country.

My 2nd rate country still throws it's trash in the forest. Literally.

I wrote this five years ago on reddit on the same topic and it's too long to embed:


TL;DR: [T]his isn’t a train that stops for anyone, regardless of all the radical idealism, all of the futurist woo, the green colored packaging or compact fluorescent light bulbs, or all of the liberal sentimentality and conservative denialism.

This is not a movie. There is not a plot line. There is no salvation at the end of the hour. You are not a survivor in the zombie apocalypse. This is real. There are no adults secretly or overtly in control waiting to step in. Superman isn’t coming to save us from ourselves. You are in the middle of an extinction event that just so happens to include you.

the current warming trend is not an extinction threat to humans even according to very pessimistic projections. try not to over panic it doesnt help. plenty of things to be concerned about and pilibg on with unsubstantiated hysteria only turns people off who might have listened

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