The myth of ‘environmental catastrophism’

[Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal urges its readers to consider taking out a subscription to Monthly Review, where this article first appeared.]

By Ian Angus

September 2013 -- Monthly Review -- Between October 2010 and April 2012, over 250,000 people, including 133,000 children under five, died of hunger caused by drought in Somalia. Millions more survived only because they received food aid. Scientists at the UK Met Centre have shown that human-induced climate change made this catastrophe much worse than it would otherwise have been.1

This is only the beginning: the United Nations’ 2013 Human Development Report says that without coordinated global action to avert environmental disasters, especially global warming, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050.2 Untold numbers of children will die, killed by climate change.

If a runaway train is bearing down on children, simple human solidarity dictates that anyone who sees it should shout a warning, that anyone who can should try to stop it. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could disagree with that elementary moral imperative.

And yet some do. Increasingly, activists who warn that the world faces unprecedented environmental danger are accused of catastrophism—of raising alarms that do more harm than good. That accusation, a standard feature of right-wing attacks on the environmental movement, has recently been advanced by some left-wing critics as well. While they are undoubtedly sincere, their critique of so-called environmental catastrophism does not stand up to scrutiny.

From the right …

The word “catastrophism” originated in nineteenth-century geology, in the debate between those who believed all geological change had been gradual and those who believed there had been episodes of rapid change. Today, the word is most often used by right-wing climate change deniers for whom it is a synonym for “alarmism”.

  • The Heartland Institute: “Climate Catastrophism Picking Up Again in the U.S. and Across the World.”3
  • A right-wing German blog: “The Climate Catastrophism Cult.”4
  • The Australian journal Quadrant: “The Chilling Costs of Climate Catastrophism.”5

Examples could be multiplied. As environmental historian Franz Mauelshagen writes, “In climate denialist circles, the word ‘climate catastrophe’ has become synonymous with ‘climate lie’, taking the anthropogenic green house effect for a scam.”6

Those who hold such views like to call themselves “climate change sceptics”, but a more accurate term is “climate science deniers”. While there are uncertainties about the speed of change and its exact effects, there is no question that global warming is driven by greenhouse-gas emissions caused by human activity, and that if business as usual continues, temperatures will reach levels higher than any seen since before human beings evolved. Those who disagree are not sceptical, they are denying the best scientific evidence and analysis available.

The right labels the scientific consensus “catastrophism” to belittle environmentalism, and to stifle consideration of measures to delay or prevent the crisis. The real problem, they imply, is not the onrushing train, but the people who are yelling “get off the track!” Leaving the track would disrupt business as usual, and that is to be avoided at all costs.

… And from the left

Until very recently, “catastrophism” as a political expression was pretty much the exclusive property of conservatives. When it did occur in left-wing writing, it referred to economic debates, not ecology. But in 2007 two quite different left-wing voices almost simultaneously adopted “catastrophism” as a pejorative term for radical ideas about climate change they disagreed with.

The most prominent was the late Alexander Cockburn, who in 2007 was writing regularly for The Nation and co-editing the newsletter CounterPunch. To the shock of many of his admirers, he declared that, “There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend” and that “the human carbon footprint is of zero consequence”.7 Concern about climate change was, he wrote, the result of a conspiracy “between the Greenhouser fearmongers and the nuclear industry, now largely owned by oil companies”.8

Like critics on the right, Cockburn charged that the left was using climate change to sneak through reforms it could not otherwise win: “The left has bought into environmental catastrophism because it thinks that if it can persuade the world that there is indeed a catastrophe, then somehow the emergency response will lead to positive developments in terms of social and environmental justice.”9

While Cockburn’s assault on “environmental catastrophism” was shocking, his arguments did not add anything new to the climate debate. They were the same criticisms we had long heard from right-wing deniers, albeit with leftish vocabulary.

That was not the case with Leo Panitch and Colin Leys. These distinguished Marxist scholars are by no means deniers. They began their preface to the 2007 Socialist Register by noting that “environmental problems might be so severe as to potentially threaten the continuation of anything that might be considered tolerable human life” and insisting that “the speed of development of globalized capitalism, epitomized by the dramatic acceleration of climate change, makes it imperative for socialists to deal seriously with these issues now”.

But then they wrote: “Nonetheless, it is important to try to avoid an anxiety-driven ecological catastrophism, parallel to the kind of crisis-driven economic catastrophism that announces the inevitable demise of capitalism.”10 They went on to argue that capitalism’s “dynamism and innovativeness” might enable it to use “green commerce” to escape environmental traps.

The problem with the Panitch-Leys formulation is that the threat of ecological catastrophe is not “parallel” to the view that capitalism will destroy itself. The desire to avoid the kind of mechanical determinism that has often characterised Marxist politics, where every crisis was proclaimed to be the final battle, led these thoughtful writers to confuse two very different kinds of catastrophe.

The idea that capitalism will inevitably face an insurmountable economic crisis and collapse is based on a misunderstanding of Marxist economic theory. While economic crises are endemic to capitalism, the system can always continue—only class struggle, only a social revolution, can overthrow capitalism and end the crisis cycle.

Large-scale environmental damage is caused by our destructive economic system, but its effect is the potentially irreversible disruption of essential natural systems. The most dramatic example is global warming: recent research shows that the Earth is now warmer than at any time in the past 6000 years, and temperatures are rising much faster than at any time since the last Ice Age. Arctic ice and the Greenland ice sheet are disappearing faster than predicted, raising the spectre of flooding in coastal areas where more than a billion people live. Extreme weather events, such as giant storms, heat waves and droughts are becoming ever more frequent. So many species are going extinct that many scientists call it a mass extinction event, comparable to the time 66 million years ago when 75 percent of all species, including the dinosaurs, were wiped out.

As the editors of Monthly Review wrote in reply to Socialist Register, if these trends continue “we will be faced with a different world—one in which life on the planet will be massively degraded on a scale not seen for tens of millions of years”.11 To call this “anxiety-driven ecological catastrophism, parallel to economic catastrophism” is to equate an abstract error in economic theory with some of the strongest conclusions of modern science.

A new ‘catastrophism’ critique

Now a new essay, provocatively titled “The Politics of Failure Have Failed”, offers a different and more sweeping left-wing critique of “environmental catastrophism”. Author Eddie Yuen is associated with the Pacifica radio program Against the Grain and is on the editorial board of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism.

His paper is part of a broader effort to define and critique a body of political thought called Catastrophism, in a book by that title.12 In the book’s introduction, Sasha Lilley offers this definition:

Catastrophism presumes that society is headed for a collapse, whether economic, ecological, social, or spiritual. This collapse is frequently, but not always, regarded as a great cleansing, out of which a new society will be born. Catastrophists tend to believe that an ever-intensified rhetoric of disaster will awaken the masses from their long slumber—if the mechanical failure of the system does not make such struggles superfluous. On the left, catastrophism veers between the expectation that the worse things become, the better they will be for radical fortunes, and the prediction that capitalism will collapse under its own weight. For parts of the right, worsening conditions are welcomed, with the hope they will trigger divine intervention or allow the settling of scores for any modicum of social advance over the last century.

A political category that includes both the right and the left—and that encompasses people whose concerns might be economic, ecological, social, or spiritual—is, to say the least, unreasonably broad. It is difficult to see any analytical value in a definition that lumps together anarchists, fascists, Christian fundamentalists, right-wing conspiracy nuts, pre–1914 socialists, peak-oil theorists, obscure Trotskyist groups, and even Mao Zedong.

The definition of catastrophism becomes even more problematic in Yuen’s essay.

One of these things is not like the others …

Years ago, the children’s television program Sesame Street would display four items—three circles and a square, three horses and a chair, and so on—while someone sang, “One of these things is not like the others, One of these things doesn’t belong ...

I thought of that when I read Yuen’s essay.

While the book’s scope is broad, most of it focuses, as Yuen writes, on “instrumental, spurious, and sometimes maniacal versions of catastrophism—including rightwing racial paranoia, religious millenarianism, liberal panics over fascism, leftist fetishization of capitalist collapse, capitalist invocation of the ‘shock doctrine’ and pop culture cliché”.

But as Yuen admits in his first paragraph, environmentalism is a very different matter, because we are in “what is unquestionably a genuine catastrophic moment in human and planetary history Of all of the forms of catastrophic discourse on offer, the collapse of ecological systems is unique in that it is definitively verified by a consensus within the scientific community It is absolutely urgent to address this by effectively and rapidly changing the direction of human society.”

If the science is clear, if widespread ecological collapse unquestionably faces us unless action is taken, why is this topic included in a book devoted to criticising false ideas? Does it make sense to use the same term for people who believe in an imaginary train crash and for people who are trying to stop a real crash from happening?

The answer, although he does not say so, is that Yuen is using a different definition than the one Lilley gave in her introduction. Her version used the word for the belief that some form of catastrophe will have positive results—that capitalism will collapse from internal contradictions, that God will punish all sinners, that peak oil or industrial collapse will save the planet. Yuen uses the same word for the idea that environmentalists should alert people to the threat of catastrophic environmental change and try to mobilise them to prevent or minimise it.

Thus, when he refers to “a shrill note of catastrophism” in the work of James Hansen, perhaps the world’s leading climate scientist, he is not challenging the accuracy of Hansen’s analysis, but only the “narrative strategy” of clearly stating the probable results of continuing business as usual.

Yuen insists that “the veracity of apocalyptic claims about ecological collapse are separate from their effects on social, political, and economic life”. Although “the best evidence points to cascading environmental disaster”, in his view it is self-defeating to tell people that. He makes two arguments, which we can label “practical” and “principled”.

His practical argument is that by talking about “apocalyptic scenarios” environmentalists have made people more apathetic, less likely to fight for progressive change. His principled argument is that exposing and campaigning to stop tendencies towards environmental collapse has “damaging and rightward-leaning effects”—it undermines the left, promotes reactionary policies and strengthens the ruling class.

In my opinion, he is wrong on both counts.

The truth shall make you apathetic?

In Yuen’s view, the most important question facing people who are concerned about environmental destruction is: “What narrative strategies are most likely to generate effective and radical social movements?”

He is vague about what “narrative strategies” might work, but he is very firm about what does not. He argues that environmentalists have focused on explaining the environmental crisis and warning of its consequences in the belief that this will lead people to rise up and demand change, but this is a fallacy. In reality, “once convinced of apocalyptic scenarios, many Americans become more apathetic”.

Given such a sweeping assertion, it is surprising to find that the only evidence Yuen offers is a news release describing one academic paper, based on a US telephone survey conducted in 2008, that purported to show that “more informed respondents both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming”.13

Note first that being “more informed” is not the same as being “convinced of apocalyptic scenarios” or being bombarded with “increasingly urgent appeals about fixed ecological tipping points”. On the face of it, this study does not appear to contribute to our understanding of the effects of “catastrophism”.

What’s more, reading the original paper reveals that the people described as “more informed” were self-reporting. If they said they were informed, that was accepted, and no one asked if they were listening to climate scientists or to conservative talk radio. That makes the paper’s conclusion meaningless.

Later in his essay, Yuen correctly criticises some environmentalists and scientists who “speak of ‘everyone’ as a unified subject”. But here he accepts as credible a study that purports to show how all Americans respond to information about climate change, regardless of class, gender, race, or political leanings.

The problem with such undifferentiated claims is shown in a 2011 study that examined the impact of Americans’ political opinions on their feelings about climate change. It found that liberals and Democrats who report being well nformed are more worried about climate change, while conservatives and Republicans who report being well-informed are less worried.14 Obviously the two groups mean very different things by “well informed”.

Even if we ignore that, the study Yuen cites is a one-time snapshot—it does not tells us what radicals really need to know, which is how things are changing. For that, a more useful survey is one that scientists at Yale University and George Mason University have conducted seven times since 2008 to show shifts in US public opinion.15 Based on answers to questions about their opinions, respondents are categorised according to their attitude towards global warming. The surveys show:

  • The number of people identified as “Disengaged” or “Cautious”—those we might call apathetic or uncertain—has varied very little, accounting for between 31 per cent and 35 per cent of the respondents every time.
  • The categories “Dismissive” or “Doubtful”—those who lean towards denial—increased between 2008 and 2010. Since then, those groups have shrunk back almost to the 2008 level.
  • In parallel, the combined “Concerned” and “Alarmed” groups shrank between 2008 and 2010, but have since largely recovered. In September 2012—before Hurricane Sandy!—there were more than twice as many Americans in these two categories as in Dismissive/Doubtful.

Another study, published in the journal Climatic Change, used 74 independent surveys conducted between 2002 and 2011 to create a Climate Change Threat Index (CCTI)—a measure of public concern about climate change—and showed how it changed in response to public events. It found that public concern about climate change reached an all-time high in 2006–2007, when the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth was seen in theaters by millions of people and won an Academy Award.

The authors conclude: “Our results show that advocacy efforts produce substantial changes in public perceptions related to climate change. Specifically, the film An Inconvenient Truth and the publicity surrounding its release produced a significant positive jump in the CCTI.”16

This directly contradicts Yuen’s view that more information about climate change causes Americans to become more apathetic. There is no evidence of a long-term increase in apathy or decrease in concern—and when scientific information about climate change reached millions of people, the result was not apathy but a substantial increase in support for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

‘The two greatest myths’

Yuen says environmentalists have deluged Americans with catastrophic warnings, and this strategy has produced apathy, not action. Writing of establishment politicians who make exactly the same claim, noted climate change analyst Joseph Romm says, “The two greatest myths about global warming communications are 1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and 2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive!” Contrary to liberal mythology, the North American public has not been exposed to anything even resembling the first claim. Romm writes,

The broad American public is exposed to virtually no doomsday messages, let alone constant ones, on climate change in popular culture (TV and the movies and even online) The major energy companies bombard the airwaves with millions and millions of dollars of repetitious pro-fossil-fuel ads. The environmentalists spend far, far less money Environmentalists when they do appear in popular culture, especially TV, are routinely mocked It is total BS that somehow the American public has been scared and overwhelmed by repeated doomsday messaging into some sort of climate fatigue.17

The website Daily Climate, which tracks US news stories about climate change, says coverage peaked in 2009, during the Copenhagen talks—but then it “fell off the map”, dropping 30 per cent in 2010 and another 20 per cent in 2011. In 2012, despite widespread droughts and Hurricane Sandy, news coverage fell another 2 per cent. The decline in editorial interest was even more dramatic—in 2012 newspapers published fewer than half as many editorials about climate change as they did in 2009.18

It should be noted that these shifts occurred in the framework of very limited news coverage of climate issues. As a leading media analyst notes, “relative to other issues like health, medicine, business, crime and government, media attention to climate change remains a mere blip”.19 Similarly, a British study describes coverage of climate change in newspapers there as “lamentably thin”—a problem exacerbated by the fact that much of the coverage consists of “worryingly persistent climate denial stories”. The author concludes drily: “The limited coverage is unlikely to have convinced readers that climate change is a serious problem warranting immediate, decisive and potentially costly action.”20

Given Yuen’s concern that Americans do not recognise the seriousness of environmental crises, it is surprising how little he says about the massive fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaigns that have confused and distorted media reporting. I can find just four sentences on the subject in his 9000-word text, and not one that suggests denialist campaigns might have helped undermine efforts to build a climate change movement.

On the contrary, he downplays the influence of “the well-funded climate denial lobby” by claiming that “far more corporate and elite energy has gone toward generating anxiety about global warming,” and that “mainstream climate science is much better funded”. He provides no evidence for either statement.

Of course, the fossil-fuel lobby is not the only force working to undermine public concern about climate change. It is also important to recognise the impact of US President Barack Obama’s predictable unwillingness to confront the dominant forces in US capitalism, and of the craven failure of mainstream environmentalist groups and NGOs to expose and challenge the Democratic Party’s anti-environmental policies.

With fossil-fuel denialists on one side, and Obama’s pale-green cheerleaders on the other, activists who want to get out the truth have barely been heard. In that context, it makes little sense to blame environmentalists for sabotaging environmentalism.

The truth will help the right?

Halfway through his essay, Yuen abruptly changes direction, leaving the practical argument behind and raising his principled concern. He now argues that what he calls catastrophism leads people to support reactionary policies and promotes “the most authoritarian solutions at the state level”. Focusing attention on what he agrees is a “cascading environmental disaster” is dangerous because it “disables the left but benefits the right and capital”. He says, “Increased awareness of environmental crisis will not likely translate into a more ecological lifestyle, let alone an activist orientation against the root causes of environmental degradation. In fact, right-wing and nationalist environmental politics have much more to gain from an embrace of catastrophism.”

Yuen says that many environmentalists, including scientists, “reflexively overlook class divisions” and so do not realise that “some business and political elites feel that they can avoid the worst consequences of the environmental crisis, and may even be able to benefit from it”. Yuen apparently thinks those elites are right—while the insurance industry is understandably worried about big claims, he says, “the opportunities for other sectors of capitalism are colossal in scope”.

He devotes much of the rest of his essay to describing the efforts of pro-capitalist forces, conservative and liberal, to use concern about potential environmental disasters to promote their own interests, ranging from emissions trading schemes to military expansion to Malthusian attacks on the world’s poorest people. “The solution offered by global elites to the catastrophe is a further program of austerity, belt-tightening, and sacrifice, the brunt of which will be borne by the world’s poor.”

Some of this is overstated. His claim that “Malthusianism is at the core of most environmental discourse” reflects either a very limited view of environmentalism or an excessively broad definition of Malthusianism. And he seems to endorse David Noble’s bizarre theory that public concern about global warming has been engineered by a corporate conspiracy to promote carbon trading schemes.21 Nevertheless he is correct that the ruling class will do its best to profit from concern about climate change, while simultaneously offloading the costs onto the world’s poorest people.

The question is, who is he arguing with? This book says it aims to “spur debate among radicals”, but none of this is new or controversial for radicals. The insight that the interests of the ruling class are usually opposed to the interests of the rest of us has been central to left-wing thought since before Karl Marx was born. Capitalists always try to turn crises to their advantage no matter who gets hurt, and they always try to offload the costs of their crises onto the poor and oppressed.

What needs to be proved is not that pro-capitalist forces are trying to steer the environmental movement into profitable channels, and not that many sincere environmentalists have backward ideas about the social and economic causes of ecological crises. Radicals who are active in green movements know those things perfectly well. What needs to be proved is Yuen’s view that warning about environmental disasters and campaigning to prevent them has “damaging and rightward-leaning effects” that are so severe that radicals cannot overcome them.

But no proof is offered.

What is particularly disturbing about his argument is that he devotes pages to describing the efforts of reactionaries to misdirect concern about climate change—and none to the efforts of radical environmentalists to counter those forces. Earlier in his essay, he mentioned that “environmental and climate justice perspectives are steadily gaining traction in internal environmental debates”, but those13  words are all he has to say on the subject.

He says nothing about the historic 2010 Cochabamba conference, where 30,000 environmental activists from 140 countries warned that if greenhouse gas emissions are not stopped, “the damages caused to our Mother Earth will be completely irreversible”—a statement Yuen would doubtless label “catastrophist”. Far from succumbing to apathy or reactionary policies, the participants explicitly rejected market solutions, identified capitalism as the cause of the crisis, and outlined a radical program to transform the global economy.

He is equally silent about the campaign against the fraudulent “green economy” plan adopted at last year’s Rio+20 conference. One of the principal organisers of that opposition is La Via Campesina, the world’s largest organisation of peasants and farmers, which warns that the world’s governments are “propagating the same capitalist model that caused climate chaos and other deep social and environmental crises”.

His essay contains not a word about Idle No More, or Occupy, or the Indigenous-led fight against Canada’s tar sands, or the anti-fracking and anti-coal movements. By omitting them, Yuen leaves the false impression that the climate movement is helpless to resist reactionary forces.

Contrary to Yuen’s title, the effort to build a movement to save the planet has not failed. Indeed, Catastrophism was published just four months before the largest US climate change demonstration ever!

The question before radicals is not what “narrative strategy” to adopt, but rather, how will we relate to the growing environmental movement? How will we support its goals while strengthening the forces that see the need for more radical solutions?

What must be done?

Yuen opposes attempts to build a movement around rallies, marches and other mass protests to get out the truth and to demand action against environmental destruction. He says that strategy worked in the 1960s, when Americans were well off and naïve, but cannot be replicated in today’s “culture of atomized cynicism”.

Like many who know that decade only from history books or as distant memories, Yuen foreshortens the experience: he knows about the mass protests and dissent late in the decade, but ignores the many years of educational work and slow movement building in a deeply reactionary and racist time. It is not predetermined that the campaign against climate change will take as long as those struggles, or take similar forms, but the real experience of the 1960s should at least be a warning against premature declarations of failure.

Yuen is much less explicit about what he thinks would be an effective strategy, but he cites as positive examples the efforts of some to promote “a bottom-up and egalitarian transition” by:

ever-increasing numbers of people who are voluntarily engaging in intentional communities, sustainability projects, permaculture and urban farming, communing and mil­itant resistance to consumerism we must consider the alterna­tive posed by the highly imaginative Italian left of the twentieth century. The explosively popular Slow Food movement was origi­nally built on the premise that a good life can be had not through compulsive excess but through greater conviviality and a shared commonwealth.

Compare that to this list of essential tasks, prepared recently by Pablo Solón, a leading figure in the global climate justice movement:

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that avoids catastrophe, we need to:

* Leave more than two-thirds of the fossil fuel reserves under the soil;

* Stop the exploitation of tar sands, shale gas and coal;

* Support small, local, peasant and indigenous community farming while we dismantle big agribusiness that deforests and heats the planet;

* Promote local production and consumption of products, reducing the free trade of goods that send millions of tons of CO2 while they travel around the world;

* Stop extractive industries from further destroying nature and contaminating our atmosphere and our land;

* Increase significantly public transport to reduce the unsustainable “car way of life”;

* Reduce the emissions of warfare by promoting genuine peace and dismantling the military and war industry and infrastructure.22

The projects that Yuen describes are worthwhile, but unless the participants are also committed to building mass environmental campaigns, they will not be helping to achieve the vital objectives that Solón identifies. Posing local communes and slow food as alternatives to building a movement against global climate change is effectively a proposal to abandon the fight against capitalist ecocide in favor of creating greenish enclaves, while the world burns.

Bright-siding versus movement building

Whatever its merits in other contexts, it is not helpful or appropriate to use the word catastrophism as a synonym for telling the truth about the environmental dangers we face. Using the same language as right-wing climate science deniers gives the impression that the dangers are non-existent or exaggerated. Putting accurate environmental warnings in the same category as apocalyptic Christian fundamentalism and century-old misreadings of Marxist economic theory leads to underestimation of the threats we face and directs efforts away from mobilising an effective counterforce.

Yuen’s argument against publicising the scientific consensus on climate change echoes the myth that liberal politicians and journalists use to justify their failure to challenge the crimes of the fossil-fuel industry. People are tired of all that doom and gloom, they say. It is time for positive messages! Or, to use Yuen’s vocabulary, environmentalists need to end “apocalyptic rhetoric” and find better “narrative strategies”.

This is fundamentally an elitist position: the people cannot handle the truth, so a knowledgeable minority must sugarcoat it, to make the necessary changes palatable.

David Spratt of the Australian organisation Climate Code Red calls that approach “bright-siding”, a reference to the bitterly satirical Monty Python song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

The problem is, Spratt writes:

If you avoid including an honest assessment of climate science and impacts in your narrative, it’s pretty difficult to give people a grasp about where the climate system is heading and what needs to be done to create the conditions for living in climate safety, rather than increasing and eventually catastrophic harm.23

Joe Romm makes the same point: “You’d think it would be pretty obvious that the public is not going to be concerned about an issue unless one explains why they should be concerned.”24

Of course, this does not mean that we only need to explain the science. We need to propose concrete goals, as Pablo Solón has done. We need to show how the scientific consensus about climate change relates to local and national concerns such as pipelines, tar sands, fracking and extreme weather. We need to work with everyone who is willing to confront any aspect of the crisis, from people who still have illusions about capitalism to convinced revolutionaries. Activists in the wealthy countries must be unstinting in their political and practical solidarity with the primary victims of climate change, indigenous peoples, and impoverished masses everywhere.

We need to do all of that and more.

But the first step is to tell the truth—about the danger we face, about its causes and about the measures that must be taken to turn back the threat. In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

[Ian Angus is editor of the online journal Climate & Capitalism. He is co-author of Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis (Haymarket, 2011), and editor of The Global Fight for Climate Justice (Fernwood, 2010). He would like to thank Simon Butler, Martin Empson, John Bellamy Foster, John Riddell, Javier Sethness and Chris Williams for comments and suggestions.]


  1. Fraser C. Lott, Nikolaos Christidis, and Peter A. Stott, “Can the 2011 East African Drought Be Attributed to Human-Induced Climate Change?,” Geophysical Research Letters 40, no. 6 (March 2013): 1177–81.
  2. UNDP, “’Rise of South’ Transforming Global Power Balance, Says 2013 Human Development Report”, March 14, 2013.
  3. Tom Harris, “Climate Catastrophism Picking Up Again in the U.S. and Across the World”, Somewhat Reasonable, October 10, 2012.
  4. Pierre Gosselin, “The Climate Catastrophism Cult”, NoTricksZone, February 12, 2011.
  5. Ray Evans, “The Chilling Costs of Climate Catastrophism”, Quadrant Online, June 2008.
  6. Franz Mauelshagen, “Climate Catastrophism: The History of the Future of Climate Change”, in Andrea Janku, Gerrit Schenk and Franz Mauelshagen, Historical Disasters in Context: Science, Religion, and Politics (New York: Routledge, 2012), 276.
  7. Alexander Cockburn, “Is Global Warming a Sin?”, CounterPunch, April 28–30, 2007.
  8. Alexander Cockburn, “Who are the Merchants of Fear?,” CounterPunch, May 12–14, 2007, http:// For a scientific rebuttal of Cockburn
    denialist views, see John Farley's article "The Scientific Case for Modern Anthropogenic Global Warming", Monthly Review, July-August 2008.

  9. Alexander Cockburn, “I Am An Intellectual BlasphemerSpiked Review of Books, January 9, 2008.
  10. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, “Preface”, Socialist Register 2007: Coming to Terms With Nature (London: Merlin Press/Monthly Review Press, 2006), ix–x.
  11. 11.Notes from the Editors”, Monthly Review 58, no. 10 (March 2007).
  12. Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, and James Davis, Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (Oakland: PM Press, 2012).
  13. Yuen’s footnote cites an article which is identical to a news release issued the previous day by Texas A&M University; see “Increased Knowledge About Global Warming Leads to Apathy, Study Shows”, Science Daily, March 28, 2008, The original paper, which Yuen does not cite, is: P.M. Kellstedt, S. Zahran and A. Vedlitz, “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes Towards Global Warming and Climate Change in the United State”, Risk Analysis 28, no. 1 (2008): 113–26.
  14. Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap, “The Politicization of Climate Change and Polarization in the American Public’s Views of Global Warming, 2001–2010,” The Sociological Quarterly 52 (2011): 155–94.
  15. A. Leiserowitz, et. al., Global Warming’s Six Americas, September 2012 (New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 2013),
  16. Robert J. Brulle, Jason Carmichael and J. Craig Jenkins, “Shifting Public Opinion on Climate Change: An Empirical Assessment of Factors Influencing Concern Over Climate Change in the U.S., 2002–2010”, Climatic Change 114, no. 2 (September 2012): 169–88.
  17. Joe Romm, “Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media and the Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate”, Climate Progress, February 24, 2013.
  18. Douglas Fischer. “2010 in Review: The Year Climate Coverage ‘Fell off the Map’Daily Climate, January 3, 2011; “Climate Coverage Down Again in 2011”, Daily Climate, January 3, 2012; “Climate Coverage, Dominated by Weird Weather, Falls Further in 2012”, Daily Climate, January 2, 2013.
  19. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Who Speaks for the Climate?: Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 24.
  20. Neil T. Gavin, “Addressing Climate Change: A Media Perspective”, Environmental Politics 18, no. 5 (September 2009): 765–80.
  21. Two responses to David Noble are: Derrick O’Keefe, “Denying Time and Place in the Global Warming Debate”, Climate & Capitalism, June 7, 2007; Justin Podur, “Global Warming Suspicions and Confusions”, ZNet, May 11, 2007.
  22. Pablo Solón, “A Contribution to the Climate Space 2013: How to Overcome the Climate Crisis?”, Climate Space, March 14, 2013.
  23. David Spratt, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: Bright-siding Climate Advocacy and Its Consequences, April 2012.
  24. Joe Romm, “Apocalypse Not”.