05 October 2009

62 Days - "Ramp Up the Fear Factor"

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.


  1. Wrong! The public is completly burned out from so much climate fear mongering. It's been way over done. It's true, the majority of the public are in denial but they are not "still" in denial. They were Believers until about a year ago, when they finally got fed up with the hype and fear mongering. So they have reverted to denial from the Belief side. The Greens have lost their credibility. Remember, Believers were the majority last year, now the skeptics rule. So if the Beleivers want to ramp it up, it's going to backfire. What you need to do is admit that there has never been convincing evidence that CO2 is causing the climate to change. A little truth would go along way to regain your credibility.

  2. Thanks for visiting, Anonymous, and taking the time to write. I appreciate it.

    It is true that the tide is now, again, turning against drastic action to get global greenhouse gas emissions (and not just CO2) falling. This is due to the constant campaign of misinformaton and noninformation waged by senseless people who do not want to understand, and who don't have the courage to face the facts or the compassion to consider those already impacted by climate change.

    You make it sound as though everyone who decided to "believe" got sick of waiting, thinking it was all going to happen to them within three weeks of the day they "converted."

    The problem is that global climate change is not a question of belief, it's a question of understanding that increased global atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations can only cook the planet — it's physics. But (and I see this as a failure of the education field I work in), we are still not effectively educating on the problem. Most people, it seems, still don't understand the basic physics of global warming.

    How about this little truth, that "your" side doesn't seem to grasp: If you're right and we're wrong, our descendants end up with a safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful world based on a perpetual-energy economy. If you're wrong and we're right, and we don't take the necessary action to avert global climate catastrophe, then your great-grandchildren will struggle for survival through droughts, crop failures, scarce drinking water, floods and wild storms, just like ours will.

    So, back to you. Why would you be so willing to risk progenycide when the action to avert it is a win-win for everyone but the very richest, who put a higher value on their profits and their wealth than on their own children — children who deserve a future, too?


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?