I've had a strong sense all along that toning down the global warming bad news was a bad idea. It started at the very first IPCC meeting, when scientists decided not to tell the whole truth, thinking it would give policymakers an excuse to give up without trying.
More recently, the environmental movement has got in on the act. The number of times we've been told, "Oh no, you can't tell people that. They'll lose hope." I would try to explain that NOT telling people the truth about the climate change emergency would ensure they'll lose hope (literally), but it was hopeless.
Now Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at the Australian National University, has vindicated my intuition. He says the majority of people are still in denial about the risks of climate change, comparing the situation to the psychology of the British and German populations before World War II. The only way to make people change their behaviour, he says, is to "ramp up the fear factor."
People react in one of three different ways to a frightening situation, Hamilton says: denial, apathy or action.
"There is a view that we should not scare people because it makes them go down their burrows and close the door, but I think the situation is so serious that although people are afraid, they are not fearful enough given the science. Personally," he continues, "I cannot see any alternative to ramping up the fear factor."
This is reminding me of that line that some parents use with their crying kids: "Shut up or I'll really give you something to cry about." Hey, feeling afraid of losing your car and your comforts? Just wait till you and your family have lost easy access to food and drinking water — then you'll really have something to be afraid of.