The first stage, DENIAL, involves people simply not believing that the earth is warming, or secondarily that humans are the cause (quick note: nothing worse than a know-all: climate scientists and Greens need to be aware that they are as vulnerable as the next person to crowing and this is not a subject appropriate for crowing. Let all ego go. Some of us were in the right place at the right time to recognise. It does not give us a right to smug. Smug stinks. Remember that. However…) Despite seeing a 50 year record of global atmospheric CO2 rising every year since 1957, and global air temperatures of the last dozen years in a row being the warmest in a millennium, they dismiss these trends as natural variability. These people see no reason to disturb the status quo. Most people rightfully started at this stage, until presented with convincing evidence. That convincing scientific evidence recently summarized in the 4th IPCC report has, according to opinion polls, dramatically reduced the number of people in Stage 1.
Many people jump directly from DENIAL to Stage 4, but for others, the next Stage 2, is ANGER, and is manifested by wild comments like “I refuse to live in a tree house in the dark and eat nuts and berries.” People are incensed at the thought of substantially altering their lifestyle. Local newspapers have letters to the editor from people angry to the point of irrational statements hinting darkly about the potential end of modern civilization.
Stage 3 is BARGAINING. When they reach this stage many people (such as self-righteous radio talk show hosts) who used to be very public deniers of global warming begin making statements that warming ‘won’t be all that bad, it might make a place like (insert your locality) more comfortable’. It is true that variables, like building heating requirements, can cause some decrease in energy demand. Unfortunately, this is offset and overwhelmed by negative and intensely damaging events like later Springs, less predictable weather patterns (impacting on farming capabilities, since farmers depend on seasons), more intense droughts and floods, and so on. At this stage people are still not willing to change lifestyle, or explore energy solutions that are less carbon intensive. They seem willing to ride out this grand global experiment and cope with whatever happens.
Many people have now moved to Stage 4, DEPRESSION. They consider the acceleration of annual greenhouse gas emissions, the unprecedented speed of warming, and the necessity for international cooperation for a solution, and see the task ahead to be impossible. On my tougher days I confess to sinking back to Stage 4 myself.
The final stage ACCEPTANCE, are people that acknowledge the scientific facts calmly, and are now exploring solutions to drive down greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, and find non-carbon intensive energy sources. Two factors are important in moving the public from DEPRESSION to this ACCEPTANCE stage.
First are viable alternatives to show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is possible without the end of modern civilization. It is very heartening to see wind turbines, LED lighting, thin film solar and hybrid cars on the market right now, not some vague future hope. Second is visionary national leadership, a “Marshall Plan” level of national focus and commitment, so everyone is contributing, and the lifestyle changes needed are broadly shared, in fact becoming a new norm. Progress on that front has not been good so far. An obvious flaw in this analogy is that many people are simply ignoring the global warming issue, a detachment they cannot achieve when they are facing Cancer, for instance.