Dr. Kate Marvel is a climate scientist and a writer. A theoretical physicist by training, she is now an associate research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. Kate's research focuses on how human activities affect the climate and what we can expect in the future, using satellite observations, computer models, and basic physics to study the human impact on variables from rainfall patterns to cloud cover. She lives and works in New York City. Photo: On BeingBy Dr. Kate Marvel
1 March 2018

(On Being) – As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. And, unfortunately, I have a deep-seated need to be liked and a natural tendency to optimism that leads me to accept more speaking invitations than is good for me. Climate change is bleak, the organizers always say. Tell us a happy story. Give us hope. The problem is, I don’t have any.

I used to believe there was hope in science. The fact that we know anything at all is a miracle. For some reason, the whole world is hung on a skeleton made of physics. I found comfort in this structure, in the knowledge that buried under layers of greenery and dirt lies something universal. It is something to know how to cut away the flesh of existence and see the clean white bones underneath. All of us obey the same laws, whether we know them or not. […]

But physics is unable to explain the whole of the world in which I live. The planet teems with other people: seven billion fellow damaged creatures. We come together and break apart, seldom adding up to a coherent, predictable whole.

I have lived a fortunate, charmed, loved life. This means I have infinite, gullible faith in the goodness of the individual. But I have none whatsoever in the collective. How else can it be that the sum total of so many tiny acts of kindness is a world incapable of stopping something so eminently stoppable? California burns. Islands and coastlines are smashed by hurricanes. At night, the stars are washed out by city lights, and the world is illuminated by the flickering ugliness of reality television. We burn coal and oil and gas, heedless of the consequences.

Our laws are changeable and shifting; the laws of physics are fixed. Change is already underway; individual worries and sacrifices have not slowed it. Hope is a creature of privilege: we know that things will be lost, but it is comforting to believe that others will bear the brunt of it.

We are the lucky ones who suffer little tragedies unmoored from the brutality of history. Our loved ones are taken from us one by one through accident or illness, not wholesale by war or natural disaster. But the scale of climate change engulfs even the most fortunate. There is now no weather we haven’t touched, no wilderness immune from our encroaching pressure. The world we once knew is never coming back.

I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. [more]

We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change


  1. Anonymous said...

    "How else can it be that the sum total of so many tiny acts of kindness is a world incapable of stopping something so eminently stoppable?"

    WAS stoppable! Maybe 20+ years ago. Disaster is now BAKED into the cake.  

  2. Anonymous said...

    These words by Kate really resonate with me. It is deep grief that I feel - every single day now.

    There is a great deal of bad reporting regarding how "stoppable" this unfolding disaster is. Pretending that there are solutions waiting in the wings; under-reporting the actual facts; assuming that all the missing ice can be magically replaced; ignoring catastrophic sea level rise; to say nothing of ocean acidification, methane release and the sheer total failure of civilization to drastically reduce energy demands; or the really big one - removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and/or oceans...

    Just how "stoppable" is all this? Where is the political will? Or the technology? Or the funding? Or the public support? Or even the time? Just how long do we have before catastrophic effects are a daily occurrence? They're already monthly if not weekly occurrences, depending on location.

    The "storm of the century" occurs every year or sometimes twice in the same year. "Historical floods", "tornado outbreaks", "deadly heatwaves", "catastrophic droughts" that were supposed to happen every 500 or 100 years are now as common as the sun is rising. And yet the world's media still refuses to catch up to the actual facts on how unstoppable this all really is.

    Documenting disaster and being a collapse contrarian never got me anywhere after thousands of published articles except rejection and ridicule despite the published facts and events backing up the stories I wrote. Now I'm spending my time on what's left of my life doing what matters to me, because people, policy makers and even the majority of scientists and certainly all the world's corporations, simply don't give a damn about the actual facts and the sum total of what it all really means. The blinders remain firmly shut to this day even as the disasters escalate.

    We're toast. And I know it. Even offering a last-ditch survival solution (Life Project) for humanity was deemed unnecessary and "premature". Now is the time for this. Oddly, most people seem to think they're going to suddenly become survival experts in the last few months of their existence. And that's all they saw in all of this - only themselves.

    They still have no concept that if we lose our civilization (which we most certainly will now), they will all also lose their lives. Nobody is going to survive what is unfolding on their own. Humanity is now facing extinction. That should scare the hell out of us, but it strangely doesn't. Not yet. But now is the time to be honest about this, but we can't seem to find the courage. Hopium has replaced reality. Deception has become our modus operandi. It is all so very very sad. ~Survival Acres~  

  3. Anonymous said...

    Well, apparently Kate Marvel's website is a faking "grief" (and perhaps she is too). The website removed my commentary above. And Marvel is a contributing editor there. This practice is so ubiquitous now that it's not even worth trying to participate anywhere online. ~Survival Acres~  


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