Nightmare on Easy Street

Every now and again, some well-meaning, or even lightheartedly jokey relative or friend lets me know I should calm down with the story of the risk of Climate catastrophe as it’s (a) not effective; (b) not necessary or (c) way off the end of the scale. Apparently I’m crying wolf, but there’s not even a messy puppy in the neighbourhood.

There are two narratives at work here. One is that people don’t like being preached too (neither do I), and they feel that the sum total of Climate Change communications amounts to somebody high up the authority chain telling them to change their behaviour, somehow making the common man (and woman) responsible for a problem that should actually be fixed by the governments, who have the power (or large companies and international corporations, who have the financial resources).

The moral of nearly every cultural telling of the Climate Change story is “ten things you can do to make a difference”, and a lot of people feel it will mean shivering in the dark with no car and more tax. People are so not into self-sacrifice and abstention from consumerism, and they react badly, even to the extent of skin rashes, to the fear of micromanaged austerity being thrust upon them.

But that’s not why I talk about Climate Change.

The second narrative at work is that warning people of the risks of Climate Change is somehow a political gambit, something to do with social management on the grander scale, that enforcing belief in Climate Change Science will mean that the public are pliable to corporate or government control. People cannot seem to hear the warning, and instead look for any other reason why Climate Change is being presented in the public space.

And again, that’s not why I talk about Climate Change.

The reason why I talk about Climate Change is that everybody has the right to know what is already happening, what is set to happen, and what the possible outcomes are, as an invitation into the truth. What they do as a result of that informational process is up to them, but putting their fingers in their ears will not make this go away.

One of my female relatives, bless her, is a Counselling Psychologist, and she recently, pointedly, sent me this, with the comment : “Article 4 could be relevant to messages about climate change as well, I
presume….” :-


“The BPS Research Digest : Issue 162 : The Research Digest is published fortnightly by the British Psychological Society : Editor: Dr Christian Jarrett”

http://www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog

“4. Scary health messages can backfire”

“A short while ago there was a shocking advert on British TV that used slow motion to illustrate the bloody, crunching effects of a car crash. The driver had been drinking. Using these kind of scare tactics for anti drink-driving and other health issues makes intuitive sense. The campaigners want to grab your attention and demonstrate the seriousness of the consequences if their message is not heeded. However, a new study makes the surprising finding that for a portion of the population, scare tactics can back-fire, actually undermining a message’s efficacy.”

“Steffen Nestler and Boris Egloff had 297 participants, 229 of them female, average age 35, read one of two versions of a fictional news report from a professional medical journal. The report referred to a study showing links between caffeine consumption and a fictional gastro-intestinal disease ‘Xyelinenteritis’. One version was extra-scary, highlighting a link between Xyelinenteritis and cancer and saying that the participant’s age group was particularly vulnerable. The other version was lower-key and lacked these two details. Both versions of the article concluded by recommending that readers reduce their caffeine consumption.”

“Before gauging the participants’ reaction to the article and its advice, the researchers tested them on a measure of ‘cognitive avoidance’. People who score highly on this personality dimension respond to threats with avoidance tactics such as distracting themselves, denying the threat or persuading themselves that they aren’t vulnerable.”

“The key finding is that participants who scored high on cognitive avoidance actually rated the threat from Xyelinenteritis as less severe after reading the scary version of the report compared with the low-key version. Moreover, after reading the scary version, they were less impressed by the advice to reduce caffeine consumption and less likely to say that they planned to reduce their caffeine intake.”

“On the other hand, highly cognitive avoidant participants were more responsive to the low-key report than were the low cognitive avoidant participants. In other words, for people who are cognitively avoidant, scary health messages can actually back-fire.”

” ‘Practically, our results suggest that instead of giving all individuals the same threat communications, messages should be given that are concordant with their individual characteristics,’ Nestler and Egloff said. ‘Thus, the present findings are in line with the growing literature on tailoring intentions to individual characteristics, and they highlight the role of individual differences when scary messages are used.’ ”

“Nestler, S., & Egloff, B. (2010). When scary messages backfire: Influence of dispositional cognitive avoidance on the effectiveness of threat communications Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (1), 137-141 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2009.10.007

“Author weblink: http://www.psych.uni-mainz.de/abteil/pp/nestlers.html


The point, my dear, lovely relative who cooks really well, missed, is that messaging on Climate Change for me is not about trying to influence personal, individual behaviour.

That rotten psychology is the domain of the UK Government, who in their quest to implement an “information” instrument to nudge “voluntary behaviour change” have produced some of the worst public infommercials ever witnessed on British television :-

Let me repeat : it is not my fault, or your fault, that Climate Change is happening : it’s the fault of our democratic leaders who have failed to insist on a transition to Low Carbon Energy. All they seem to have heard for the last 25 years is a cacophany of national business interests and international energy, fuel and mining companies clamouring for special treatment.

We still have time : elect people who make a stand for Green Energy and a Low Carbon Economy.

We have it easy now, but it could become a nightmare.

Remember the Ozone Hole scare ? It was real. We did something about it, and it looks like it’s going to be OK. Remember the Y2K Millenium Bug ? That was real, I helped modify computer software to stop it wreaking havoc. We did something about it, collectively, and it was OK.

Get this : Climate Change is real. It’s happening now, we’re in for more because of a time lag in the Global Warming processes, and it could get much, much worse if we don’t collectively, as human civilisation, make changes in how we source and use energy and fuel.

Climate Change is already affecting water supplies, and interfering with the viability of stressed environments and habitats. It’s adding to the sufferings of those who experience wilder and more extreme weather : droughts, flooding and storms. It is a factor in the worsening health of animal and plant communities, both on land and at sea. It’s already destroying the Arctic, and threatening food supplies in Africa and Asia.

I’m not making this up, and I’m not inflating the seriousness of this. If you can’t hear this message, it may be because you fear that I am telling you to do something. In fact, I am warning you that the changes are coming, regardless of what you personally may or may not do. Your governments and those who run the corporations have not yet taken full responsibility for what needs, desperately, to happen.

Whether or not there is a strong movement towards changing to a Low Carbon Economy, Climate Change is in the process of destroying a lot of the things that you take for granted. That’s factual and not in the slightest apocalyptic. It is not my intention to make you afraid. All I am attempting to do is make you aware.

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