First, on a more purely cognitive line, the question is how to communicate clearly the difference between the very common use of linear projections ("if we continue on the same path ...") and the more difficult to grasp but probably more plausible postulation of positive feedback loops leading to takeoffs ("natural processes can have abrupt breaks ..."). In other words, how to explain linearity vs nonlinearity in the popular press.
But it's the second question that interests me: how do we trigger a controlled reaction to the fear provoked by predictions of ACC disaster? The tagline in the article is "hug the monster." I'll explain what that means below the fold, but first, a shoutout to my Lovecraft friends.
"Hug the monster" apparently comes from Air Force disaster / accident training. Now I'm fascinated by the individual and collective affective cognitive reactions to disasters (let's fold "accident" into disaster as its small scale component), some cases of which I study in Political Affect. More specifically, I'm fascinated by extreme cases whereby emotions triggered by social events can bypass subjectivity, as in rages or panics (on both individual and collective scales).
“Without a doubt, fear is the most ancient, efficient, and effective security system in the world. Over many thousands of years, our magnificently wired brains have sensed, reacted, and then acted upon every imaginable threat. Practically speaking, when you manage fear, your chances improve in almost every situation. But if your alarms go haywire, your odds plummet.” ...
“For survival then, here’s the bottom line. If you’re scared out of your mind, try to remember this Air Force mantra: Hug The monster. Wrap your arms around fear, wrestle it under control, and turn it into a driving force in your plan of attack. ‘Survival is not about bravery and heroics,’ award-winning journalist Laurence Gonzales writes in his superb book Deep Survival. ‘Survivors aren’t fearless. They use fear: They turn it into anger and focus.’ The good news is that you can learn to subdue the monster and extinguish some of the clanging bells. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Indeed, with enough hugs, you can even tame the beast and turn him into your best friend and most dependable ally.”
There's some very interesting stuff here about the mutability of affect, as well as cortical / amygdalar (using lots of shorthand here) interwiring.
But the interesting political affect / social cognition question is how to collectivize this individual ability to recognize the beginnings of a fear episode and channel the energy it provides to effective political action under conscious scientifically informed control?
There are many problems here, besides the obvious one that carbon economy corporations are right up there with financial corporations in control of the legislative / regulative process. Now I recognize anything after this will sound like "Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?", but let's move on anyway.
First is the Mechants of Doubt problem, the very effective way of gaming the "he said, she said" mainstream media to exploit the learned caution of scientists when making predictions and to propose "reasonable" doubts that dilute public concern.
The second problem is that many ACC scientists refrain from citing even linear projections (which may understate the problem should nonlinear takeoffs occur) because they think this will provoke a social panic paralysis (which can have multiple manifestations: shutdown of thought denial and / or nihilist party time reactions -- "fuck it, we're doomed, break out the Bud Light...")*
So here are our challenges:
1) how to mobilize affect even while respecting the limits to precise micro-level prediction attendant on nonlinearity? ("just exactly how high are the seas going to be in 2100? we really don't know exactly, but here's a range of values with probabilities for each" doesn't exactly grab people's attention)
2) how to convince scientists to issue sober doomsday warnings?
3) how to publicize those warnings in a way that avoids denial / panic, and that can be channeled into constructive collective action?
* Is there some way I could substitute drinking battery acid for drinking Bud Light? I mean in the scenario we're all going to die anyway ...
[UPDATE: 10:10 am CDT, 13 May: Tim Morton has some excellent reactions here.]
[UPDATE 2: 10:30 am: Part of an exchange with Nick Srnicek [blog, Twitter, academia.edu] on Facebook on these questions turned on the question of the lived experience of fiction in relation to scientific prediction. These are relevant to Tim Morton's questions I think:
JP: "In a book / movie, there's a definite scenario presented and you can live that fictional reality easily enough (given the willing suspension of disbelief). But how can you inhabit a range of predictions? I guess that's where worst case scenario thinking comes in? As well as the question of presentation of the sublime?"
NS: "Yeah, not sure you can experience a range of possibilities except in an intellectual sense. There's no empirical referent for possibility after all - so it necessarily involves both imagination and abstraction away from particulars."]