Here’s an interesting article in BBC which suggests that more hysterical messages on climate change might fall on deaf ears.
Professor Mike Hulme, of the UK’s Tyndall Centre, has been conducting research on people’s attitudes to media portrayals of a catastrophic future.
He says strong messages designed to prompt people to change behaviour only seem to generate apathy.
His initial findings will be shown to a meeting run by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
The study compared the responses of a group of people shown sensational media coverage with those given the more sober information from scientific reports.
The initial findings suggest that those shown doom-laden messages tended to believe the problem could come to a head further into the future. This group also felt there was little they could do to affect the planet’s future.
“Not only is this not a good way of presenting climate change science, but even in trying to effect change, it’s self-defeating,” Professor Hulme said.
Now as someone who can’t stand it when I read hysterical articles on the environment like those from the indepedent which decry everything from cell-phones killing bees (the evidence is pretty poor) to “electronic smog” from wireless internet connections causing people to get sick.
For an example of this contrast between good scientific reading that informs rather than terrorizes, compare the Independent’s version, to the New York Times’ far superior article. The Independent’s writing on the environment, in my opinion, undermines legitimate environmentalism by making environmental concerns look, well, stupid and insane.
I’ll be curious to see this actual research come out so we can check out the methodology, but based upon the range of messages I’ve seen on the science of environmentalism, I welcome a call for less idiotic and hysterical coverage. At the very least I think it makes people disbelieve legitimate information about threats to the environment. For a lengthier article from Hulme see this one from the BBC, or some of his other writings. I think he’s got a point about the message, and if the research really shows that the messages have to be framed differently, then it’s something we should consider when we write about the science of climate change.