Western state Governors are increasingly blaming climate change for western wild fires, as if the wild fires are a single variable. If only we could control the climate, we would no longer have wild land fires. Realistically, there is no magic control knob on climate that we can control and which will reduce fire danger for decades to come.
There are concrete steps that can be taken immediately to reduce the threats of future wild fires – but politicians would rather blame climate change – which they do not control – because to acknowledge there are factors which they can control is to acknowledge that their leadership has failed.
A common mistake people make is to focus on a single variable in a multiple variable problem. In this case, the focus is on one variable that cannot be controlled in the near term, while ignoring other variables that can be controlled.
Two climate scientists, in a comment in Nature, note the media (and many climate scientists too) have been incorrectly presenting the RCMP8.5 “worst case scenario” as the most likely case. Data show this worst case is extremely unlikely, but its use in climate communications propaganda messaging has led to a mental health crisis as up to half of various population groups believe humanity may be extinct in ten years, and many youth are now medicated for anxiety caused by exaggerated climate communications efforts.
The news headline says Oregon ranks high in natural disasters, which the text explains, is wildfires in the State.
This claim comes from a press release from a small, little known online Internet insurance sales web site. This type of press release is put out in hopes of garnering free publicity – and it certainly worked for them – in large part because the media, like all of us, is more likely to succumb to a fear-based scary headline.
However, if we practice factfulness and look at the long term trend in Oregon fires we see that a small rise at the right end of the chart has been translated into a crisis and a catastrophe. The chart above is the official chart from the Oregon government’s Fire Statistics page, and shows actual acreage burned and total fires burned in Oregon since 1911.
The slight increase at the extreme right edge is the basis for the scary headline. By leaving out all historical context and by focusing on large percentile increase in a tiny number at the right edge of the chart, the media creates unwarranted fear and hysteria in viewers.
This poster is a persuasive bit of propaganda. Most of it is not true. The parts that are true are that the Corn belt is a very productive region, and about 80 million acres (close to 100 million in the poster?) are growing corn. This item had been shared into my Facebook news feed.
The media’s focus on scary, fear-based propaganda messaging – and avoidance of discussing workable solutions that are already underway – leads to intense negativity and anxiety. The result has been a majority of young people believing humanity may be extinct in ten years, even though there is zero evidence to support such nonsense. We are literally scaring people to death via false and inappropriate propaganda messaging. Some journalists are looking to “solutions journalism” moving away from the whining negativity of current news reports that focus on problems and seldom examine workable solutions,. This new approach offers hope and a positive way forward.
We are faced with a constant bombardment of negativity – yet most of it is flat out false. We live in the best of times in human history, and even our environmental footprint is improving dramatically, contrary to the constant drone of fear mongering.
Public climate communications has gone so far off the target that people now believe in apocalyptic end of life scenarios (in the near term!) that are not supported by any science at all (while telling us we must listen to the scientists). This then, is a summary and link to comments from another actual climate scientist. Because without listening, this is what we get: “I genuinely have the fear that climate change is going to kill me and all my family, I’m not even kidding it’s all I have thought about for the last 9 months every second of the day. It’s making my sick to my stomach, I’m not eating or sleeping and I’m getting panic attacks daily. It’s currently 1 am and I can’t sleep as I’m petrified.” – Young adult in the UK.
Reports of a polar bear spray painted with “T-34” on its side were greatly exaggerated. The tagging was done by scientists, not pranksters. The bear had been rummaging a garbage dump and scientists wanted to see if it was returning. They tagged it with a short duration ink; this was not graffiti by pranksters as initially reported. Typical of this type of report, the original source for the video was unknown, the back story was unknown, and the video was shared on social media by an environmental activist. Media then used social media as a primary source. What could possibly go wrong?
A professor of atmospheric sciences weighs in on the exaggerated, hyperbolic click-bait inducing media news stories and the negative impact they are having on mental health as many suffer severe climate anxiety. Many such stories are not merely exaggerated but false, which has led to the bizarre situation where a majority of younger voters in the U.S. believe humanity will be extinct within ten years. There is no scientific justification for these beliefs, illustrating how climate communications has gone off the rails.
Excessive exaggeration in climate communications is leading to “a situation where no one listens anymore. Without trust, we are lost.” Hyperbolic and unrealistic scenarios lead to the impossibility of reaching workable solutions. Coupled with the salesman’s technique of a false sense of urgency, we create unnecessary stress – which leads the target to give up and tune out. Under urgent pressure, we make bad decisions with even worse outcomes. That’s a summary of comments from the late Dr. Hans Rosling, in his book Factfulness.