From Complacency to Panic

SUBHEAD: Human beings have two modes of operation with climate change - complacency or panic.

By Ugo Bardi on 14 November 2012 for Cassandra's Legacy -

Image above: Flooded darkness in Manhattan on 14th Street near downed ConEd power plant. From (

Hurricane Sandy struck New York just a few months after the dramatic melting of the Arctic Sea ice of this summer. The melting hardly made a ripple in the news, but it didn't pass unnoticed. It generated a strong sense of urgency that appeared as a more aggressive stance when Sandy struck. Whereas in other occasions scientists had been very cautious in linking specific events to climate change, this time it was different. That, in turn, affected the media and the front cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, with the sentence "It is global warming, stupid," represents a real turning point in this attitude.

So, today we are seeing an attempt to build up a communication strategy that could bring climate change to the top of our perceived priorities. In this sense, Sandy may be considered as the tool that could bring us there. But is it going to work? On this point, Andy Revkin published a note with the  title "Why Climate Disasters Might Not Boost Public Engagement On Climate Change."

Revkin cites at length a text by George Marshall, an expert in climate communication. The gist of Marshall's position is that disasters tend to generate an immediate reaction where people tend to develop attitudes such as social cohesion, community values, and reciprocal help. In other words, people go into "survival mode," and they have no time to dedicate to understanding the ultimate reasons of what is happening to them. Indeed, there is no evidence that people struck by climate related disasters such as droughts, heat waves, floods, and the like have made the connection between these events and climate change.

That basically confirms what James Schlesinger said about the "two modes of operation" of human beings: complacency and panic. If we are in "complacency mode," we don't care about preventing possible disasters. If we are in "panic mode", we have no time to dedicate to preventing disasters, either.

If this is the way things stand, we have a big problem: if climate disasters are rare, people will remain in complacency mode and will not connect the dots. On the other hand, if climate disasters become very frequent, people will go in panic mode and will have no time to connect dots.

So, Hurricane Sandy is unlikely to be the magic tool that brings climate change to the top of the world's priorities. Nevertheless, it offers us a window of opportunity, at least if we will not be stricken by a sequence of disasters so rapid that there won't be time to think about what's happening. Right now, when the emergency phase is over, there is time to stop and think about the reasons of the disaster. If we do that, we might have a chance to find a precarious equilibrium in between complacency and panic: we can put climate change back at the top of the world's priorities.

It is just that: a window of opportunity. It is up to us to seize it.



  1. There is no AGW "climate change," there is just geoengineering, and you got a hell of a lot of it going on there on Kauai flying out of PMRF, Juan. The intention is to create another whole new class of derivatives in carbon offsets and credits, so the big ponzi can continue for a little while longer, at least until the people finally figure out the big con.

  2. Regardless if it is a climatic disaster or mass murder we have been indoctrinated to accept the natural disasters, killings, rapes, wars, injustice as everyday events that are part of our NORMAL life. We have been indoctrinated to treat horror and murders as entertainment and to accept whatever the AUTHORITY says. We are not supposed to be upset about taking off even our slippers at the airport security, because we have been indoctrinated to accept measures implemented by our "elected" (in whatever ways) government without questioning. So, after this never-ending indoctrination comlecency has formed and regardless how grave the consequences might be, people will not change unless common sense will take over the media, which is very far-fetched, but highly desirable. And the social media is equally guilty, becasue it "withdraws from circulation" those people who should be on the streets in huge numbers protesting and demanding changes in specific areas.
    János Keoni Samu