By Gail Zawacki: Why Are Climate Scientists Less Than Truthful?

what's a tipping point

Gail Zawacki is an important thinker, activist, and chronicler of human overshoot. You can find my favorite work by Gail here, and all of Gail’s work at her blog Wit’s End.

Gail’s largest contribution has been to bring attention to the worldwide decline of tree health due to the rising concentration of ground level ozone caused but most forms of industrial combustion.

Gail has also tackled many other topics including climate change. Eight years ago she wrote a leaflet to shame some climate change deniers, and to protest the dishonesty of climate scientists. Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes can see the dishonesty today, but eight years ago it was much less clear.

Today, despite increasingly ominous warnings from the scientists, we’re not taking climate change seriously. In fact, we’re making things much worse and doing absolutely nothing to reduce the threat.

Now layer on this the fact that climate scientists are still not being fully honest about the gravity of our situation and you will begin to understand my fascination with our tendency to deny unpleasant realities.

If the majority of us were somehow magically able to see the severity of our predicament, the required responses of austerity, conservation, and population reduction would not only seem reasonable, they would be the obvious things to do.

Unfortunately genetic behavior is a very powerful force.

Following is Zawacki’s protest leaflet extracted from an excellent essay she wrote about her experience attending a conference of climate change deniers.


If you suspect that climate scientists aren’t being truthful, you would be correct. They are not leveling with us. Are they part of an alarmist conspiracy to embezzle government grants…furthering a plot to regulate, tax and destroy the American way of life?

Not exactly. (For one thing, the amount of money spent on climate research is trivial compared to the profits of the international oil, gas, coal and biofuel industries which are primarily causing climate change – and have oodles left over to fund a well-organized cadre of opposition.)

So, what secrets *are* those pesky climate scientists withholding?

Like doctors reluctant to diagnose a fatal cancer…THEY AREN’T TELLING US HOW BAD THE PROGNOSIS ACTUALLY IS. And why not? They have several inhibitions:

Reason #1. Scientists don’t want to jeopardize their careers by being branded hysterical or unprofessional. Traditional scientific reticence limits predictions researchers can prudently risk when their calculations are subject to complex uncertainties. Because they can’t accurately model the timing of delayed effects from system inertia, or the precise influences from positive amplifying feedbacks, they simply DON’T INCLUDE the most important variables and tipping points in consensus reports – like the albedo effect, and temporary aerosol cooling – even though they know climate change is provoking extremely violent storms, sea level rise, and desertification. And oops…they’ve completely left out of the equation the ramifications of ocean acidification leading to near total extinction of sea life (which produces much of our oxygen!).

Reason #2. Scientists mistrust public reaction. They are fearful that if it were widely recognized how inevitably and rapidly climate destabilization is occurring (and will accelerate exponentially), the majority of people would become resigned, depressed, and lose motivation to do anything about it…or worse – succumb to collective terror and derangement; and

Reason #3. Societal consequences are not in their purview. They know that only an urgent and drastic curtailment of emissions can mitigate the worst effects on society…and that imposing such harsh measures is politically impossible. Following natural laws rather than wishful thinking means that what is required is no less than a revolutionary change in modern lifestyles, including economic systems built on nonsensical faith in unlimited growth and unsustainable resource extraction. Issues such as government energy subsidies, corporate personhood, justice for climate refugees, prevention of famine and wars are foreign to the realm of atmospheric physics, and only the rare scientist has enough courage to venture into policy implications; and

Reason #4. Scientists are human and hope for the survival of their children too. They can’t believe how absurdly awful and inconceivable it is that humans have ignored consistent warnings from decades ago that releasing 90 million tons of greenhouse gases per day means we are knowingly and unnecessarily destroying the habitability of our only home, Earth. Like the most stubborn ideological deniers, many prefer to think the destruction of an environment hospitable to agriculture must be a preposterous nightmare – and that any minute, someone will pinch them and wake them up. They themselves don’t want to admit that


What remains to be seen is how much more disastrous we allow it to become for future generations. The blog Wit’s End links to studies indicating exposure to toxic tropospheric ozone is killing trees – even faster than warming from CO2 (oh, yes indeed, no kidding – pollution is really killing trees! Go look carefully at some). We CAN and MUST stop that before the entire ecosystem that depends upon them enters irretrievable collapse.

4 thoughts on “By Gail Zawacki: Why Are Climate Scientists Less Than Truthful?”

    1. Thanks, I saw that article by Bates.

      I’m not sure he understands Varki’s MORT theory which explains why the evolution of a more powerful brain in an intelligent social species (i.e. a tribal species) is blocked without an adaptation to deny mortality (which as implemented in humans has the side effect of causing us to deny all unpleasant realities).

      “Pairs well” is not an appropriate description of what’s going on.

      MORT prides a plausible explanation for why our uniquely powerful intellect is unable to override our destructive tribal (and other) behaviors.


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