Climate fear

In the eighties we grew up with the threat of the cold war and the atomic bomb. We listen to songs like “De bom” of the band Doe Maar, which was a perfect reflection of the sentiment of those times with lyrics like: “Safely in the health insurance fund, until the bomb falls”. Nowadays children grow up with a different threat: that of Climate change. This summer a fifteen-year-old girl in Sweden became so concerned that she decided to go on a school strike to protest against adult ruining the climate and therefore her future. On Social media people reacted that we should be ashamed of ourselves. That’s right, we should be ashamed, that we make the story so threatening, that our children can’t sleep any more for fear. The British biologist Matt Ridley, author of the global bestseller, The Rational Optimist, states that climate change is a fact, but that the consequences will be far less extreme and dangerous than we are lead to believe. Of course, I don’t know what the truth is, but exaggeration is often used to get more attention (and more money), so it doesn’t seem that strange to me.

The fact that March 4, 2018 was the coldest March 4 ever measured, does not say anything about the climate and neither does a hot summer. This summer our weatherman Peter Kuipers Munneke said it short and clear: "That's the weather and that is determined by coincidence and the location of high-pressure areas". Nevertheless, some “authorities” use the hot and dry summer to emphasise the expected impact of climate change. This is not without effect and I heard several people say that they couldn’t really enjoy the beautiful weather anymore because it made them anxious. The Swedish girl also mentioned the hot summer as a reason for her protest.

You could say that the climate problem symbolizes a lot of non-sustainable processes and activities, for which we need a worldwide solution. It is a global “big stick” that is sufficiently daunting and affects us all if we do not act. The problem can be told in a simplified manner, reducing it to emission and reduction of CO2 in order to activate people and governments to change. The disadvantage of the current story is that in addition to good initiatives and sustainable developments (from fossil to renewable energy) it also encourages plans that cost a lot of money and in the long run have no positive effect. Such as the storage of CO2 in the soil and the hasty banning of relatively clean natural gas, which is a suitable transition fuel, leading to a fast and therefore very expensive energy transition.

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we know that makes us jump into action mode and thus traditionally protects us from danger. It is a useful emotion, but it can also be easily abused. That is why creating and spreading fear is such an effective and popular instrument, whether it is by a pastor, a politician or a scientist. How long do we have to accept that the fear card is being played on Climate change? Aren’t there any alternatives? Shouldn’t we switch to a better story, to prevent apathy if it turns out that the climate agreements and goals are unachievable? Apathy like we felt when we listen to the band Doe Maar: “Just drop that bomb, it's only a matter of time, it doesn't matter if you run.” When is it time for a story with ambitious and practical goals that go far beyond just the apparent certainties of unscrupulous CO2 reduction.

Let’s start the story with the soil as a prerequisite and source of hope for a sustainable global future, including water, energy, food, climate and biodiversity.

Sytze Keuning (keuning@bioclearearth.nl)

Published in the journal Bodem.