The Importance Of Getting Emotional About Climate Change And The Reef


Scientists, disciplined to remain impartial and objective, have tried to warn the world about what a warming climate will mean. After years of frustration, they have started to confront the public with a more emotional plea. That’s something we should embrace, writes Costa Avgoustinos.

“I woke this morning and I was crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands.” Ian Fry, 2009, the representative for climate-threatened island nation Tuvalu, said this, openly crying, during Copenhagen climate talks.

“The veil is down… I have cried. I have broken down in front of cameras. This is the most devastating, gut-wrenching fuck up.” Justin Marshall, 2016, a Professor who has dedicated decades to Great Barrier Reef research, is over seeming emotion-less on its passing.

“Don’t be so emotional” is something often thrown at people to dismiss them. It was always a way of shutting down women, and others railing against injustice. It’s baloney. Yes, sometimes emotions blind you but, more often, they inform you. Emotions are not irrational, they embody thoughts. There’s a reason you feel X if I do Y.

If you strip emotion from a story, you miss the truth of that story. For someone to ask you to “keep emotion out of it” is asking you to keep the gravity of the matter out of it. How dangerous is that? Explain your assault, but don’t get too emotional. Explain your kids being taken, but don’t get too emotional. Explain why you want your homeland preserved, but don’t get too emotional.

Judges, who are meant to be the most rational among us, need emotion to do their job. How does a judge determine whether to send someone to jail for one year or ten for a heinous crime, without considering the gravity of the crime? And how can that be done without considering disgust and fear and outrage?

Being able to enter a political debate without being emotional is a luxury. It’s a privilege, and often the white/straight/rich/male kind. It’s easy to roll your eyes at those who are “emotional” if you’re not the one who’s having their healthcare, kids, or livelihood threatened. Being able to throw at someone “you’re being emotional” is a control tactic to position yourself as level-headed when really you may be the one who doesn’t understand (or care about) the gravity of what’s happening.

We’ve been trying to stay “objective” and “rational” about climate change for 25 years, allowing it to be treated like a scientific issue or an economic question. That has clearly been a disaster, as emissions have continued to rise dramatically. That is why we are seeing objective, rational men break down in tears.

While the economic arguments for combating climate change are excellent, we need to combat climate change regardless because it is, as Naomi Klein says, morally monstrous not to. It is morally monstrous to allow climate change to spiral out of our control for it will kill people, make whole species extinct, and start wars. It will also steal from the world a whole lot of beauty, not least of all the Great Barrier Reef.

Again, emotion can sometimes blind us. It can distort our vision. Recall how Abbott would act like an oversensitive child anytime someone criticised him, like Gillian Triggs (who, in contrast, kept her criticisms of the Government objective and fact-based). But when I see these professional men break down in tears over climate change, it is clear it is because relying on rationality stripped of emotion has not worked. Their passionate pleas are an attempt to infuse the emotion back into the discussion, because clearly we have stopped feeling it.

See Costa A’s cartoons and other works here.

Costa A is a political cartoonist, animator, academic and pop culture nut who lives in Sydney and on Facebook.