Thursday, January 13, 2011

Climate Change: Mom’s on the roof!


The great issue for the media should be getting the message out to the public that our environment is in serious trouble. That is problematic because Climate Change and pollution don’t’ sell well, and they are out of the public’s comfort zone.   However, as John Dewey said, “The media’s job is to interest the public in the public interest.” No matter that the more you learn about Climate Change the more troublesome it gets. Ignoring the inevitable repercussions of Climate Change is an irrational attitude towards a concrete danger.

What I am sensing is that many who are trying to communicate about the looming Climate Change disaster are also preparing themselves for the inevitable—little or no action. That is because despite the vast accumulation of data and close observations behind this environmental issue, there is little public interest in addressing it. People just don’t want to hear about it. Few consider our environment and Climate Change when they vote, when they use energy, purchase goods, or think much about it at all.

But what is the point of being the largest-brained creature on Earth and being the most intelligent species if we cannot distinguish serious catastrophic issues from nonsense?  We are buying bigger gas-guzzlers instead of changing the way we move around. Was the only reason we went to school and institutions of higher learning to make money and employ every intellectual trick to convince ourselves that the world is indeed exactly the way we want it to be—a nice place where eventually everyone will have a car, a house, and all the gadgets they want?  That’s not going to happen in present day physics. We live on a finite planet with finite resources.

In a recent article in Nature News, it is suggested that Climate Change communicators should note “…persuasion is most effective when it matches a person's belief systems ...”

“Undermining belief in a fair world may mean that climate warnings go unheeded. The use of dire predictions to encourage action on climate change may be backfiring and increasing doubt that greenhouse gases from human activities are causing global warming.” (January 4, 2011) Why dire climate warnings boost scepticism : Nature News

So, the trick some psychologists suggest is to tell folks disturbing stuff like Climate Change in such a way that targeted audiences will be comfortable with it.  (I wonder how our ancestors dealt with critical information, like being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger. Did they lament, just before being devoured, that this tiger was being just so unfair?) One has to wonder how something as real and life-changing as the consequences of Climate Change can be communicated in such a way as to be received and acted upon by a public whose worldview doesn’t include science.

There is the old joke about two brothers: Bob, who has been watching his brother’s cat while Tim has been on vacation, tells his brother Tim that his cat died. “What!” cries Tim?  “I cannot believe you just blurted out that my favorite cat died, no warning, so heartless, I cannot believe this...” and making such a fuss that Bob feels very bad.  So, Bob says, “I’m sorry, what should I have said?” Tim says that Bob should have let him know gently.  “You should have told me a week ago that the cat was on the roof and he fell.” “Then, when I called again, you should have said, I took Fluffy to the animal hospital and they’re going to operate.” “Then, the next time you should have said that they tried everything they could over at the hospital, but it didn’t look good.”  “And, finally when you told me he just didn’t pull through, I would have been able to accept it.”  Bob hangs his head and nods, realizing just how abrasive and mean blurting out to his brother the death of his cat had been.  Finally, feeling that he got his message through, Tim tells Bob he forgives him.  “Oh, by the way, how’s Mom?” asks Tim.  Bob says, “Mom’s on the roof.” 

The truth is that there is no special psychological or marketing trick to convince the majority of the public, who do not believe that Climate Change is happening, that it is. It’s physics. We’ve been tossing greenhouse gases into the air for quite awhile now and that makes the atmosphere warm-up—and it’s warming up rapidly. Let’s just deal with it by adopting measures to curb greenhouse gases and preparing for the possible consequences. Not facing it because it doesn’t match a fantasy world that doesn’t exist is suicidal.

Check out this incredibly clear explanation of this problem on this online video from the experts:

“The scientific community has long agreed that our dependence on fossil fuels inflicts massive damage on the environment and our health, while warming the globe in the process. But beyond the damage these fuels cause to us now, what will happen when the world's supply of oil runs out?”

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