Typhoons, tornadoes, and the “soft denial” of climate change

In the span of two weeks, families in the Philippines and families in the U.S. were forced to deal with the devastation that weather can cause. Supertyphoon Haiyan killed thousands and destroyed entire communities. In Illinois and Indiana, the terrifyingly strong winds from sixteen tornadoes flattened homes and killed at least six people.

What, besides the suffering and devastation, do these things have in common? For me, it’s a looming fear that such disasters will become commonplace by the time my kids are grown.

I keep thinking of this brave man from the Philippines – climate change representative Yeb Sano:



Some news stories claim Supertyphoon Haiyan will be the turning point for Westerners who deny the role climate change is having on the earth. It’s easy to find American media outlets who are more vague about the impact of climate change. But there are plenty of stories, like this one, that accept predictions of the wrath of climate change.

When I see mothers weeping over children torn from them by walls of water or blasts of wind, I can’t help but imagine my own family. Why couldn’t we be next? What if we were forced from our home by floods or power outages? What if such situations happen more and more worldwide, leaving an increasing number of desperate families in need of help?

When some doubt the impact of climate change, I wonder: so what if we’re wrong? What’s the harm in finding cleaner energy options and stricter emission regulations, compared with the devastation we’ve seen?

I stumbled upon the group Climate Parents, which formed a couple of years ago to organize what could be a powerful lobbying group: parents raising the generation which will have to live with our action or failure. Co-founder and journalist Mark Hertsgaard writes that parents who aren’t active in raising awareness about climate change often fall into the “soft denial” category:

Not to be confused with the denial purveyed by right-wing ideologues, soft denial does not reject climate science per se. No, a soft denier accepts the science, at least intellectually. But because climate science’s implications are so disturbing, the soft denier acts as if the science does not exist. In psychological terms, such a parent is in denial.

Ouch. That hits home. Whether parents choose to eat less meat or install solar panels to reduce energy costs, Hertsgaard writes, there’s plenty we can do to make a difference for our kids.

Even if the 97 percent of scientists who believe climate change is negatively impacting our planet turn out to be wrong, I need to do something. That’s because another fear of mine is this: that one day, my sons will look at me accusingly and ask me why I did nothing to try and make their future better.