The Five stages: Denial to Determination

Acceptance of and understanding of Global Warming is an overwhelming action. Truly understanding what we (all of the US and all of us) face commands decisions about how one will interact with the globe from that moment on. Now, for better or worse, there are many (often illegitimate) reasons for skepticism about Global Warming. One of these is, quite clearly, an emotional desire to avoid having to face those decisions in the face. But, there is a path toward that decision point. For quite good reasons, that path is very closed to that outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in Death and Denying for dealing with life’s tragedies.

  1. Denial,
  2. Skepticism (anger for dealing with grief)
  3. Delay (bargaining)
  4. Depression
  5. Activism (acceptance)


Again, there are many motivations that drive deniers and skeptics. At the very beginning, this is such a huge problem, so overwhelming, so outside the individual perspective, that the “norm” begins at denial: even if that denial is simply childish ignorance of the potential of such an overwhelming problem in face of the immensity of the threat and what it might mean for any/all of us.

There are those who will simply never leave denier stage, whether for theological, ideological, financial, or determined ignorance.  Poster child #1:  Senator James Inhofe (R-Exxon). 

But, for those not so constitutionally incapable of facing reality, of those whose ignorance (or fascination with Bachelor Hawaii) inhibits their ability to absorb facts, facts and information will foster knowledge that there is a problem, that something is going on that merits attention. But, how much attention? That question naturally leads to …

Skepticism… the ability to question unquestioned beliefs and stated certainties is a powerful intellectual tool. Sadly, “skepticism” is receiving a bad name through association with those ready, willing, able, and enthusiastic about denying the reality before their (and our) own eyes about the global changes in climate patterns and humanity’s role in driving these changes. But, stepping back, skepticism is the normal phase after Denial.

Okay, so someone realizes (admits) that something is happening. Then they might question: Is this serious? Does humanity have anything to do with it? Does it involve me? (Do I have anything to do with the problem? And, does Global Warming affect me?) Do I have anything to say about what will happen in the future?

Again, for those open to facts and information, the answers become clear. Yes, it is serious. Yes, humanity has something to do with causing this problem (and is driving the majority of what is happening). Yes, it has something to do with every single person. And, Global Warming affects every person. And, yes, every person in the globe (okay, not infants) make decisions every day that have implications for global warming (whether individually miniscule or larger).

Understanding and accepting these facts, this reality leads naturally to the next stage …

Delay …

Having accepting reality, the natural human reaction to an uncertain, large, seemingly intangible problem is avoidance. Natural for an individual. Natural for a community. Natural for society. The item on the top of the “in-box” has our attention, not the project due six months from now. The distractions of daily life (of the time urgent) often has priority over issues of longer-term.

Change is difficult for most due to fear of the uncertain. And, for many, the types of change that fully acknowledging Global Warming’s implications would require are simply inconvenient (even if a truth).  There are those who enjoy jetting around the world, leaving the lights on, leaving the McSUV’s engine running while they drive 100 yards from their home to their child’s bus stop to keep their kid warm when “it is too cold” and leave it running while chatting outside with the neighbors after the bus has picked up their precious and fragile one (50 degrees … real story … no cynicism here).    Captured in their comfort, these people have not truly absorbed

There are others, far from able to engage in such extravagant wastefulness, who argue that there are such serious problems today as individuals (putting gasoline in the tank and putting food on the table, paying the rent) and society (health care, schools, stimulating the economy) that dealing with a problem ‘decades in the future’ is simply an unaffordable luxury. 

Delay, as well, is a device by those who have seen facts overwhelming denial and skepticism. Yes, they might state, Global Warming is real but it is so immense that we can’t solve it without some new magical invention. This comes with many variations. Whether well meaning (by passionate technology enthusiast) or more venal (someone seeking to maximize profit from polluting behavior), the “technology will solve everything” and “invest in R&D” is a quite dangerous trap that will trap humanity into a cycle of ever worsening catastrophic climate change.

Thus, the convincing of someone that tomorrow’s technology isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ often comes when they realize the full extent of the problem and the very (VERY) serious implications for unchecked global warming.  These potential paths are quite terrifying and can drive people to


Wow. We stare disaster in the face.  Terror.  Time to crawl under the covers.  The world as we know it is behind us. And, so much is requires to be done and there are so many standing in the way of getting things done. 

Okay, let’s just face facts.  The situation is dire. And, it will be difficult to move from where we are to where we need to be.  Remaining mired in depression does not provide any more promise for a better tomorrow than occurs with denial, skepticism, and/or delay.

Surrender to the despair and one gives up on the future prospects for any and all of us.

And, the answer to “depression” and despair is that we have a choice:  Global warming is serious.  Yes, it will undoubtably worsen. But, we have a choice and ability to influence (even control) just how badly it will get and whether if it will peak and turn to an improving situation in the coming decades.  Abandoning oneself to despair and depression dooms society to never reaching that turning point toward a better situation.


So, we have gone through the stages. It is time to act. And, action is multifaceted and comples. It is the three Rs in our own and society’s lives (reduce use, use renewable power, and remediate). 

It is making the right choice not just the easy choice but also the preferred choice (for individuals, communities, businesses, governments) as to being Energy Smart to reduce our footprints. 

It is figuring our how to Energize America (and the globe) toward a prosperous, climate-friendly society.

But, most importantly, for the United States, it is voting right to change government policy for the better.   This November, we have a choice  …

A final thought

One way to look at the We campaign: it is an effort to get people to move more quickly through the stages.

We can solve it … if we choose to.

What’s your choice?


4 responses to “The Five stages: Denial to Determination

  1. 1) Skepticism (the healthy state of the human mind)
    2) Finding Faith (the relinquishing of the mind)
    3) Brainwashing (cleaning your mind)
    4) Activism (Walking as an intellectual zombie)

  2. Mick,

    Amusing shallowness.

    As this discussion started, skepticism is a value perspective on the globe. Sadly, those of your ilk are giving this virtue a bad reputation.

    You are claiming ‘skepticism’ and using this as a veil for your avowed desire to avoid confronting the reality that stares us all in the face.

    I would say that such willful ignorance is amusing, but the stakes are far too high (and not just for you) to laugh at the stubbornness with which some reject the real world.

  3. It’s utterly amazing (and disgusting) that the plague that is humanity is willfully ready to create irreversible and irreperable problems for the natural world (of which we are most definitely a part) and then deny not only any involvement but indeed and harm. It’s your planet too, Mick, and if you’re going to deny global warming, you’d better save picture books of what animals not bred merely to consume looked like, and you’d better teach your grandchildren to swim.

    I bet you’re religious. It’s a judgement, perhaps, but you’re so willing to mock us, i’ll put my feelers out and go out on a limb and say you think ‘god,’ the neccessarily external force that allows you to throw your responsibility the way of the ethereal, is keeping an eye on all of us and won’t let us come to apocalyptic harm (until the time is right, of course). This allows you to drive your SUV and consume beef twice a day without a heavy heart or guilty conscience. Well, God hasn’t done much for Africa, and I realize that like global warming, Africa doesn’t effect you in the immediate, but there are about 7 hundred millino people that it does. And there are 6 billion people that will be fighting for land and fresh water in the midst of the epic chaos that will come from the inevitable (unless people like Mick decide they have some responsibility) shift in the earth’s eco system.

    I can understand your unwillingness to accept this. The earth (thanks to capitalism) is a foreign object. And (thanks to religion) is viewed as someone else’s responsiblity. I thought this way too, Mick. Then I turned 17. GROW UP. Tell your friends to GROW UP. Teach your children to be grown and relavent and aware at a younger age than petty you, and begin to be part of the solution, ’cause right now, Mick, you (and everyone like you) are one helluva huge part of the problem.

  4. Pingback: Evolution & Climate Deniers: The Redux Edition « Greenfyre’s

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