The Five Stages of Grief in Environmental Comments

A few of the blogs I follow had environmentally themed posts lately (here’s one about drive-throughs at Starbucks), and I’ve begun to see the same types of comments crop up. They’re tracking along the Kübler-Ross model, a.k.a. the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).


In the comments on another blog post (about green “noise”), someone complained about “Giving credibility to faulty and refutable science.”

Let’s pick that apart. First, all science it refutable. That’s what makes it science, and not Intelligent Design. Second, to call it faulty is a stretch. Grist did an excellent piece on How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic, that parses out stages of denial, scientific topics, types of argument, and their levels of sophistication. And offers evidence to address each and every one.

My sense is that people who espouse this stuff are believing what they want to believe, and voicing the opinion that best fits, without reading the science. (Hardly the first time that’s happened.) I also suspect that this churlishness stems from a more fundamental urge, which is an outright rejection to have anyone tell them what to do.

Third, it’s an attempt to reduce all our problems to something really complex, like climate modeling. But what’s impossible to deny, without sticking your head in the sand, is the overwhelming evidence of loss of biodiversity, habitat loss, air pollution, water pollution, and the depletion of natural resources. It isn’t just carbon. It’s all the other ways our lifestyle is running roughshod over the earth. I blogged earlier about Mark Bittman’s excellent talk at the TED conference. Watching that is a good place to start.


Other people are “irked with the hypocrisy exhibited by celebrities.” True, Paul McCartney had his hybrid limo flown to London from Japan, and Al Gore travels in a private jet. But they’re celebrities, and everyone always watches them through lenses tinted green with envy.

Does it really matter if they’re saints? Or are you using their all-too-human behavior as an excuse not to do what you know is right?

Besides, someone like Ed Begley, whom no one could call a hypocrite, gets a ton of flak, because no one likes anyone who’s pious, even if they’re right. (As someone rightly noted, “A zealot is a zealot, regardless of the cause.”)

I was telling someone about the sustainability tip I write, and trying to educate people about sustainability, and how many little, easy lifestyle changes it entails. And he said, “The thing is, you mustn’t preach.” And that may be true, because of the resistance you’ll get from people who reject everything you say just because you’re not perfect.

Plus, anger goes both ways. If you’re going to drive a huge SUV and leave it idling while getting a hamburger at the drivethrough, you’re going to piss people off. And rightly so.


This should actually be characterized as “bad rationalizations for bad behavior.” For example: “I suppose we should all stop reading books. I just read in Business Week that the production of one book results in 8.85 pounds of carbon emissions.”

Depression, Acceptance

We’ve spent our lifetime ingraining bad habits. Gas was cheap and US cities are optimized for cars, not people, so we drove everywhere. Then we believed we weren’t safe unless we drove around in behemoths. And because it’s tasty and convenient, we ate fast food, just like corporations wanted us to.

Problem is, all at once we’re starting to realize how ruinous many of these habits are. Which has sparked a dialogue about how we should live. And that means change, which makes people uncomfortable. On top of that, the changes are coming from everywhere, and the information is often conflicting, so people are reacting against changing too fast.

Or that it’s being touted as a “lifestyle,” that green is the new black.

So it’s a mess. But just because there are mixed messages and people in denial, it still bothers me when people think it isn’t their problem too … unless, they think they’re going to stop eating, drinking water, or breathing. Or they’re indifferent to the world their children will inherit.

2 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Grief in Environmental Comments

  1. Pingback: John Tierney, the New York Times’ Staff Twit « First Person Irregular

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