People’s Greatest Fears and Concerns About Climate Change

Dear Reader, what follows is a final project for my Coursera class, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C Warmer World Must be Avoided.  The assignment was to submit a digital product to share on the Internet, and I chose to record a blog entry on people’s greatest fears and concerns about climate change.  On Sunday, February 16th, I enlisted my network of friends, family and contacts to share their five biggest fears/concerns regarding climate change. It could be things happening now, or those predicted for the future. I’ve since assimilated their findings into the report that follows.

Why a 4C Warmer World Must be Avoided Final Project

We’ve known how carbon dioxide (CO2) influences the Earth’s climate for over 150 years (Tyndall), and we’ve seen first hand the rapidly changing atmospheric CO2 levels since 1958 from Keeling and others’ work (1976) work at the Moana Loa Observatory. Bill McKibben (1990) warned us about climate change in The End of Nature, and in 1988, the United Nations (UN) established an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the request of member nations concerned about anthropogenic sources of atmospheric gases. The IPCC was tasked to enlist scientists worldwide to evaluate environmental and socio-economic impacts and help inform UN climate change discussions (The IPCC has since written four reports, each painting a more dire scenario about climate change and our planet’s future). Despite the research. Despite the warnings. Despite the “dirty weather” events of recent years, our global community is speeding towards a 4 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures that threatens all forms of life, including Homo sapiens.

Scientists have accurately predicted climate changes for decades now, and the faster we alter the earth’s atmosphere the more urgent the call to adapt and mitigate to a changing planet. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at the highest level in 15,000,000 years and increasing at an accelerated rate, breaching 400 parts per million for the first time in 2012 (Turn Down the Heat, 2012). Sea level continues to rise at a faster rate as ocean waters expand with rising heat. Ocean acidity increases as more and more CO2 gets absorbed, threatening ecological collapse of coral ecosystems. Extreme unwavering droughts punish parts of North America, Australia, Russia, Africa, and Asia. Russia experienced 25% crop failure in the epic drought of 2010 (Turn Down the Heat, 2012). Flooding inundates Europe, bitter cold descends on the Southern United States, and superstorms ravage the Philipines. We are fast approaching unknown tipping points as we add 35,000,000,000,ooo metric tons of CO2 annually to the atmosphere (Turn Down the Heat, 2012). So much to process. So complicated. Sadly, the projections for inaction will make present events seem docile in comparison.

Rather than reiterate what the media shows us on a daily basis (Extreme weather, flooding, droughts, melting ice caps, superstorms, rising sea level, heat waves, fire, coastal flooding, crop failure, geopolitical pressures, loss of biodiversity, etc….), what follows are nearly 200 fears and concerns shared by people who responded to my request for comments. Also included is a wordle image showing the most frequently used words by scale. As I organized this material, a profound sense of melancholy enveloped me while reading the heartfelt worries of people who “get it.” People who know we have a clarion call to act now. People who want what’s best for their children and society. People who are especially mindful of the poor and disadvantaged who stand to lose the most, and people who yearn for days of old when life was simpler and the environment more predictable and constant. Common themes are geopolitical conflicts, scarcity of water and food, rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, melting ice sheets, ocean acidification, severe weather, flooding, drought, suffering of impoverished individuals and countries, reduced biodiversity, fear of the unknown, impacts on children and future generations, loss, lack of ethical decision-making by leaders and business,….

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 7.41.17 AM

Climate Change Fears/Concerns:

Geopolitical

  • The wealth gap that may occur as we fight for energy
.
  • Isolationists will fire on refugees
  • Populations will riot, nations will fall, civilization will stumble, and the species will be reduced to Iron Age conditions.
  • Some of the scenarios Gwynne Dyer sets out in Climate Wars:
http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/features/2009/07/09/climate-wars-part-12-cd/
  • e.g. Nuclear War between India and Pakistan over water rights to the Indus as the flow reduces after the Himalayan glaciers melt.
  • Climate refugees and displacement leading to conflict/war. My fourth fear is that climate impacts will destabilize the world’s political systems and create conflict and mass migration.
  • My fifth fear is that delay will mean that once climate impacts begin to take effect they will overwhelm the resources of countries to deal with the problems and societies will collapse. Imagine it as a chain reaction of ‘Arab springs’.
  • Wars will be fought over diminishing resources as millions become displaced by extreme weather (climate refugees are already on the rise).
  • Unrest, upheaval, internal and external, geopolitical stress and conflict, nations competing rather than cooperating.
  • War over water.  We’re already seeing certain countries blocking water from going to other countries as populations increase
  • Increased warfare around the world. Even if my country is safe, my sister lives in the Middle East, and I have other relatives in China and Singapore.

Food and Water Scarcity

  • Shortage of food
- lack of water
-
  • Declining water supplies for agriculture and urban needs.
  • As a 69 yo, Fear for my children and grandchildren in a frightening world of no food or water security
  • Depletion of clean water
  • Storms and droughts will decimate food supplies
  • Increases in food and water shortages, reaching unbearable levels.
  • People always worry about farmers when it comes to climate change, however, as oceans become more and more acidic, fisherman are going to face serious issues as food chains are disrupted.
  • Natural fresh water sources will become more scarce, causing major costs to convert ocean waters into potable fresh water.
  • Going hungry. Food prices will rise, and my finances will worsen as I devote more time to activism.

Future Generations

  • My daughter’s world, and the world of the other kids I love who are growing up so quickly, is not going to resemble the world I grew up with.
  • As a 69 yo, Fear for my children and grandchildren in a frightening world of no food or water security
  • That my 10 year old son will grow up in a world that is irrevocably changed for the worse – food shortages, refugees searching for habitable countries, disease, mass disruption or our economies, and with no hope of returning to the balance of the world we have lived in for so long.
  • I’m afraid my kids will have to suffer and struggle needlessly, that their generation will represent the end of humanity, that they may die painfully due to avoidable lack of food, clean water, or shelter.
  • I worry about my 3 year old daughter’s future, what kind of planet will we be on in 30 years? We’ve already seen dangerous and “extreme weather”.
  • The state of the world we will leave to our kids and the feeling that we could have done something to leave them a better place.
  • Future generations will miss out on what we once had.
  • Climate Reality will affect the education throughout the world, but focusing on the US- schools will close more often with weather concerns- snow, tornadoes, hurricane, torrential rains, and drought. Children will miss school and be kept home because districts will run out of budgeted money for food as it increase incrementally in price and supplies of water as it becomes scarce. More children will suffer from PSTD-like symptoms as the reality of the world situation becomes revealed.
  • That our children, their children and every other living thing we share the planet with pay the highest price with their lives compromised. 5. That I cannot pass on to my children a world that they would want to bring their own children into.

Loss of Biodiversity

  • The major Die-Offs continue–we see the tip of the iceberg now with the declines of populations of Monarch butterflies, frogs, bats.
  • Extinction of critical wildlife affecting ecosystems
. 3-Destroying cures before they’re even found (especially in the rainforest)
.
  • I am sad that we are destroying not just human lives but animals’ lives as well–large mammals like dolphins, whales, elephants, rhinos, polar bears, and moose, in particular. I fear the loss and extinction of so much that is amazing and glorious about life on Earth–the rainforests and coral reefs teeming with varieties of gorgeous and wondrous species, as well as the intelligence, creativity, invention, and emotional connection that humanity has amassed.
  • The earth will lose various flora and fauna.
  • Ocean’s ecosystem will be further stressed / challenged and possibly collapse.
  • My biggest fear is that as a result of temperature changes, many species may go extinct. This could cause a domino effect which slowly kills off more and more species.
  • I hate to see the seals/polar bears/penguins all bunched up together on some small piece of ice…(the animals) wondering where all the ice went and how will they survive? Extremely sad 😦
  • Increased rate of extinction among animals (fish specifically
  • The risks to the habitat of many endangered species. (especially Puffins)
  • Air quality
- endangerment and extinction of species
  • Ocean acidification is not often talked about and that needs to change. With oceans being the largest carbon sinks available, our excessive CO2 emissions are significantly affecting the highly productive marine ecosystem.

Melting Ice Caps/Sea Level Rise/Flooding

  • Floods.
  • Within a shorter time span, the shoreline of Manhattan will move inland dramatically (50 feet? 100?).
  • Flooding and rebuilding costs.
  • Extreme weather events and ocean rise will kill and/or displace millions of people this century.
  • Coastal flooding
  • The rising sea level and the flooding it causes.
  • Melting ice caps, disappearing environment.
  • Melting of polar ice caps.
  • Melting ice caps
  • Ocean temperature rise

Human Suffering

  • Worst case scenario: Rising sea levels will back up the sewage systems of coastal cities. People will flee the sickness this causes, and overwhelm inland cities’ infrastructure. People will sicken and die due to unsanitary conditions, and corporations will prey on the desperate.
  • That those least involved in creating the problem of climate change — the developing world — will suffer on a mass scale before our eyes on our first world televisions!
  • Huge coastal populations will need to move inland at a serious cost.
  • Forced migration as certain regions lose their water.  This could lead to a variety of problems as new groups come into areas that may not welcome them.
  • My biggest fear is a rapid decline (one-two months) in global communities due to an explosion of simultaneous natural disasters, food and water shortages. This leads to a complete breakdown and unraveling of the civilized world. We become primitive survivalists ala Lord of the Flies. How’s that for a worse case scenario
  • My biggest fear is where do we go.
  • Being made homeless by flooding. I live on the sixth floor, but the July 2013 Toronto flash flood (featured in the CR presentation) flooded my car in the parking garage. Water levels came within inches of surrounding the whole building, at which point the police was considering evacuating us.
  • Losing all hope. I’m almost there now, and I have to consciously devote some time on a habitual basis to keeping my mental health stable.
  • My biggest fears are rising food costs for the poor and losing so much that’s beautiful about the world we live in.
  • Heretofore unknown viral diseases emerge.
  • We HAVE to develop more sustainable food production. Vegetarianism is the answer as well as urban, year round farming. With environmental refugees relocating to urban centers and more sustainable transport reducing cross-country food distribution, local farming is key to the existence of future generations.

Extreme Weather Events/Droughts/Wildfire

  • The severity of storms, such as Sandy, will destroy more homes and centers along the East Coast–and more Federal funds will get wasted in rebuilding
  • Rising intensity of the weather related storms
  • Extreme weather.
  • Stronger and stronger superstorms
  • Global weather conditions will become way more extreme, making more and more areas uninhabitable.
  • Increased strength of storms
  • Weather pattern instability
  • More intense storms such a hurricanes and tropical storms due to the higher ocean temperatures.
  • Climate extremes will continue to be more severe. We already struggle with incremental weather extremes; both from an endurance standpoint as well as paying for the energy we need to survive.
  • Droughts, wildfires, and
  • Drought and particularly long-term drought in certain regions
  • Desertification

Denial/Ignorance/Inaction

  • My worst fear is that climate change will never go from being an “environmentalist’s problem” to being everyone’s problem until it is too late. It is difficult for many people to make a collective problem like climate change a focus in their lives when they have other personal, family, or community problems. It should be the most important issue to everyone but instead it is at the back of most people’s minds.
  • My greatest fear is that too many people will continue to deny the evidence until it’s too late to create sufficient change before tipping points occur.
  • Politicians doing little or nothing to address the issue.
The more we delay enacting solutions the greater the cost will be to humanity in money and lives.
  • I’m most concerned that we are not doing enough and fast enough to transition to clean, non-fossil energy. We must drive ourselves as well as foreign countries to accelerate the switch to whatever non-fossil energy is available.
  • We can’t control the rest of the polluting developing countries. There are too many who are hiding their heads in the sand, denying it exists.
  • The richest and biggest polluters (the USA and China) will do nothing significant to change their energy policies
  • My concern about the climate change has more to do with human ethics. Although, Climate change can be proven with valid evidence, the bottom line is that if people are not willing to actively make lifestyle adjustments to improve the current climate change situation, what solutions do we really have? This is a question of humanity working together on this, not only the few that are working tirelessly.
  • My worry is the extent of denial and the amount of indifference! We like our lifestyle and don’t want to lose any comfort. (Myself included!) Honesty and awareness are the first steps toward any change or transformation.
  • Will the typical politician really push for hard changes that won’t win them as many votes as they will cost them? Is the rest of the world on board?
  • That even as the world collapses around us, deniers will continue to mock me and bully me and defend their right to continue polluting. That not only my efforts will be in vain, but my sacrifices will be the subject of ridicule and possibly persecution.
  • My third fear is that those in positions of power and influence will not be able to resist continuing to making money from fossil fuels and will use their wealth and power to buy denial (and bolt-holes for themselves)
  • I worry that the people with the power to steer us away from chaos are more inclined, even determined perhaps, to manage chaos through brutal force, rather than relinquish power to a new way of thinking about sustaining our existence on this planet.
  • My biggest fears about global climate change? The general public are ill informed about this global crisis.
  • That we’ll leave it too late to act collectively
  • My worst fear is that climate change will never go from being an “environmentalist’s problem” to being everyone’s problem until it is too late. It is difficult for many people to make a collective problem like climate change a focus in their lives when they have other personal, family, or community problems. It should be the most important issue to everyone but instead is at the back of most people’s minds.

We Underestimate Climate Change Impacts/Too Late to Fix it

  • That it’s too late to fix/stop it
  • My second fear is that natural climate variations and negative feedbacks (such as aerosols) will mask the worse aspects of climate change until it’s too late to make the necessary changes.
  • The change in climate may be larger and more abrupt than we expect, certainly faster than we can react to Political inaction; countless reports on the situations and solutions, but never any meaningful adaptation or support for the many. Everything just getting grindingly worse, more difficult, for more and more people. Geo-engineering with none or disastrous consequences.
  • The cost from people who insist on reinhabiting coast-line areas plus the cost of fixing our infrastructure along sea walls and earthquake faults. Will it be too late to “save” the planet?
  • That it will be a lot worse than predicted, sooner and that we will hit 1.5 degrees c and continue. 3. That the feedback loops really kick in and ecosystem collapse begins and species loss begins to accelerate even more
  • Are we at the point of no return? Will this impact any one area more than another in the US – where is a good place to live? Why do so few seem to care, especially the mainstream media!!!!
  • New climate in various geographic regions, unprepared for it & putting stress on available resources
  • I fear a sudden large release of methane in the Arctic.

Miscellaneous

  • My fears/concerns regarding climate change are Global Warming, CO2,
  • The scariest thing for me is realizing how difficult it is to avoid personally contributing to climate change. I consider myself fairly aware, but that doesn’t stop me from running a washing machine, buying bottled drinks and single-serving yogurt cups, showering every day, driving when I could walk
  • Thanks for asking!
  • That we are struggling to manage/pay for one extreme event after another, already happening I think 3) Just missing the good, old summertime the way it used to be enjoyed
  • As you can see from all the above, I fear the ‘domino effect’ is the problem. I don’t fear climate change as such because if there’s the will we can still deal with it. Humans are such incredibly intelligent and tenacious beings when their backs are against the wall, so I feel positive that if we get behind change, we can overcome. The answer is in our heads.
  • Rising sea levels and ocean acidification are two things that make me most nervous about climate change.
  • The group affected first will be animals as they already are; next the sacrifices will be household pets when water and food become scarce.
  • Suburban Neighborhoods will become battle grounds (soon) over personal water use on lawns, pools, etc. People who just don’t care about or even acknowledge the issue will try to ignore the regulations and cheat on water use. It will create a “them against us” mentality
  • Our national parks will be the last bastions of fresh water and pressure will be put on the government to drain those resources and this will end up devastating our pristine parks.
  • The Arctic region will become another resource to be pillaged by the countries in a position to do so.

If you’ve ever seen lemmings running off a cliff (I think I watched it on Wild Kingdom years ago), or saw the movie, Thelma & Louise (1991), then you have a pretty good idea of what we as a species are doing to ourselves and the biosphere. We’re on a suicide mission with a very bad ending if we don’t act now. We certainly can each work to reduce our own carbon footprint, but ultimately, we must look to government to correct the mess we are in. If you are still reading this, then I am speaking to the choir. Seriously, we need to change the conversation. We must demand much, much more from our politicians and business leaders. If they are too ignorant to understand, then we vote them out. If they are too greedy to care, then we vote them out. Just yesterday John Kerry spoke in Indonesia about climate change being the greatest weapon of mass destruction. Meanwhile, on Sunday Bill Nye the Science Guy debated the topic with a climate change denier and politician, Marsha Blackburn. Seriously! We need to call out those who are jeapordizing our global environmental security.  Climate change is an international catastrophe, and to mitigate the inevitable damages and adjust to a warmer world will take courage, persistence, ethical decision-making, wisdom, money, and education. We can no longer turn away from the problems that lie in front of us. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

The Comments continue to come in:

  1. There are two concerns I have regarding climate change:
 1. uncertainty for disaster-related events to negatively impact people’s lives (as well as animals) – is the probability of a man-made or natural disaster event occurring in USA is higher in 2014 than it was decades ago; 
2. economic costs to USA as a whole for remediation after disasters, namely flooding, wind and fire damage (not an exhaustive list).
  2. There will be shortages of food, clean water, land and other resources.
  3. We will fight over water, food, land and other resources.
  4. Our health and well-being will be significantly impacted because of contaminated water, air, and food.
  5. the animals who will suffer and be forced to adapt to the changing climate or face extinction.
  6. The $$, stress, and inconvenience it’s going to take to rebuild our homes and communities, after super storms, floods etc..
  7. loss of life and land as a result of wildfires.
  8. The extreme heat in the summer that creates so many problems, I can’t even walk Jack (dog) in the afternoon because the pavement gets too hot.
  9. Our children and grandchildren lives will be a struggle due to the impacts of climate change.  It will impact their quality of life.
  10. Humans will no longer be able to live on planet earth.
  11. My biggest fear is that at least one critical species ( be it in the rain forest or polar region) will cease to exist and that will have a ripple effect on all other species…ultimately humans
  12. It is critical that existing legacy CO2 be removed from the atmosphere very soon. I am afraid that if climate cooling geoengineering happens instead, the oceans, starting with corals, will die from acidification with the CO2 that will continue to be absorbed.
  13. I am afraid that when emissions are reduced in earnest, that only then people will realize that it isn’t enough to curtail global warming, and we could have had significant legacy atmospheric carbon reductions by that time.
  14. I am afraid that we will continue to be so over-focused on reducing emissions that we will ignore extinction and desertification, destroying so much more of the earth than we have already, when we could have been working with nature to reverse all three trends with the same solution.
  15. I am afraid that we are so divorced from nature what we will continue to fail to see and use the power that nature has to cycle carbon and cool the atmosphere.
  16. I’m afraid that by not taking natural solutions seriously, brittle environments will continue to desiccate, causing more CO2 emissions from the land accompanied by lack of food and escalating starvation, instead of recharging water in the landscape.
  17. That we will reach the tipping point before we take decisive corrective action and It will be too late to avoid Widespread famine, natural disasters, rampant disease, and water shortage– rationing, increasing violence, and unprecedented extinction of plants and animals. I fear climate change is not linear but quadratic change like a snowball gaining speed as it descends….I feel a sense of desperation too many people just don’t care..are not willing to sacrifice their lifestyles. It’s the environment not the economy stupid!
  18. Reduced Food and Water Security World Wide
  19. More severe droughts
  20. Reduced run off from dwindling glaciers
  21. More rapid depletion of fresh water aquifers as more irrigation water is required in hotter weather
  22. Salination of coastal fresh water sources with rising sea levels and more severe storm surges
  23. Degraded soils due to severe storms and down pours
  24. Degraded soils due to over crowding results from displaced people
  25. Degraded soils resulting from droughts
  26. Flooding of food crops
  27. Hot weather crop failures
  28. habitat/species migration–the effect on species and the regional economies (e.g., in our area moose/tick, maple, invasives)
  29. extreme weather events (environmental, social, and economic effects)
  30. drinking water availability
  31. submerging coastal populations/rising sea levels
  32. increased temperature

 

C.D. Keeling, R.B. Bacastow, A.E. Bainbridge, C.A. Ekdahl, P.R. Guenther, and L.S. Waterman, (1976), Atmospheric carbon dioxide variations at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii, Tellus, vol. 28, 538-551

McKibben, B. (1989). The end of nature. New York: Random House

“TURN DOWN THE HEAT”. (2012). Biocycle, 53(12), 8-8,10. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1269668384?accountid=13215

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3 responses to “People’s Greatest Fears and Concerns About Climate Change

  1. Steve,
    This is an incredible compilation of people’s fears, emotions and predictions. KUDOS. I hope you plan to take this information further in some form -maybe even send to deniers- how can they ignore science???
    Kathy

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