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.
“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. And increasingly extreme statements by activists undermine environmental progress, say climate scientists.” – another post in our continuing look at poorly done climate communications tactics that are leading many to ignore the climate topic altogether.
PR stunts tend to backfire when they are hypocritical. Greta Thunberg sailed on a donated, crewed, luxury yacht to North America to avoid the CO2 emissions of air travel. But at least two (and likely 4) crew members crossed the Atlantic by air to support her effort. In her current crossing by a crewed, luxury yacht back to Europe, another crew member was flown across the Atlantic. Her travel by luxury yachts has produced significantly more CO2 than if she had simply flown herself. When this information becomes public, the climate message gets lost and viewed as hypocritical (which it is).
A branding expert says climate communications must adopt even scarier sounding propaganda terminology, not based on the actual science, in order to frighten people in to taking action. He proposes terminology such as Global Meltdown or Scorched Earth, neither of which is accurate. He’s advocating the use of lies to persuade targets to adopt an agenda. This approach, however, is likely to backfire and turn people away from even listening to climate communications.
Media, notably spearheaded by The Guardian and the George Mason School of Journalism, have applied specific methods of propaganda messaging to create a campaign of carpet-bombing us with the invented terms “climate emergency” and “climate crisis”.
A paper in a journal published by the National Academy of Sciences faults journalists for focusing on dystopian, catastrophic, fear inducing dramatization of future climate projections – while failing to present the likelihood (or lack of likelihood) of such scenarios and the uncertainty presented in the science papers and conferences. It is gratifying to see others at a higher pay grade than I are also seeing that stories designed to create emotional outrage and responses are a turn off and counter productive to effective climate communications.
A majority of those polled in most Asian/Pacific countries, and nearly half in Middle Eastern countries believe that humanity will go extinct due to climate change. There is no scientific or evidence-based basis for these beliefs – none. This illustrates the power of propaganda messaging to create beliefs that are unsupportable by evidence.