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.
“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).