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Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate

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"Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate"

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The two greatest myths about global warming communications are 1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and 2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive!

These myths are so deeply ingrained in the environmental and progressive political community that when we finally had a serious shot at a climate bill, the powers that be decided not to focus on the threat posed by climate change in any serious fashion in their $200 million communications effort (see my 6/10 post “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“). These myths are so deeply ingrained in the mainstream media that such messaging, when it is tried, is routinely attacked and denounced — and the flimsiest studies are interpreted exactly backwards to drive the erroneous message home (see “Dire straits: Media blows the story of UC Berkeley study on climate messaging“)

In the Canadian high Arctic, a polar bear negotiates what was once solid ice.

The only time anything approximating this kind of messaging — not “doomsday” but what I’d call blunt, science-based messaging that also makes clear the problem is solvable — was in 2006 and 2007 with the release of An Inconvenient Truth (and the 4 assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and media coverage like the April 2006 cover of Time). The data suggest that strategy measurably moved the public to become more concerned about the threat posed by global warming (see recent study here).

You’d think it would be pretty obvious that the public is not going to be concerned about an issue unless one explains why they should be concerned about an issue. And the social science literature, including the vast literature on advertising and marketing, could not be clearer that only repeated messages have any chance of sinking in and moving the needle.

Because I doubt any serious movement of public opinion or mobilization of political action could possibly occur until these myths are shattered, I’ll do a multipart series on this subject, featuring public opinion analysis, quotes by leading experts, and the latest social science research.

Since this is Oscar night, though, it seems appropriate to start by looking at what messages the public are exposed to in popular culture and the media. It ain’t doomsday. Quite the reverse, climate change has been mostly an invisible issue for several years and the message of conspicuous consumption and business-as-usual reigns supreme.

The motivation for this post actually came up because I received an e-mail from a journalist commenting that the “constant repetition of doomsday messages” doesn’t work as a messaging strategy. I had to demur, for the reasons noted above.

But it did get me thinking about what messages the public are exposed to, especially as I’ve been rushing to see the movies nominated for Best Picture this year. I am a huge movie buff, but as parents of 5-year-olds know, it isn’t easy to stay up with the latest movies.

That said, good luck finding a popular movie in recent years that even touches on climate change, let alone one a popular one that would pass for doomsday messaging.  Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life has been billed as an environmental movie —  and even shown at environmental film festivals — but while it is certainly depressing, climate-related it ain’t. In fact, if that is truly someone’s idea of environmental movie, count me out.

The closest to a genuine popular climate movie was the dreadfully unscientific The Day After Tomorrow, which is from 2004 (and arguably set back the messaging effort by putting the absurd “global cooling” notion in people’s heads! Even Avatar, the most successful movie of all time and “the most epic piece of environmental advocacy ever captured on celluloid,” as one producer put it, omits the climate doomsday message. One of my favorite eco-movies, “Wall-E, is an eco-dystopian gem and an anti-consumption movie,” but it isn’t a climate movie.

I will be interested to see The Hunger Games, but I’ve read all 3 of the bestselling post-apocalyptic young adult novels — hey, that’s my job! — and they don’t qualify as climate change doomsday messaging (more on that later).  So, no, the movies certainly don’t expose the public to constant doomsday messages on climate.

Here are the key points about what repeated messages the American public is exposed to:

  1. The broad American public is exposed to virtually no doomsday messages, let alone constant ones, on climate change in popular culture (TV and the movies and even online). There is not one single TV show on any network devoted to this subject, which is, arguably, more consequential than any other preventable issue we face.
  2. The same goes for the news media, whose coverage of climate change has collapsed (see “Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011“). When the media do cover climate change in recent years, the overwhelming majority of coverage is devoid of any doomsday messages — and many outlets still feature hard-core deniers. Just imagine what the public’s view of climate would be if it got the same coverage as, say, unemployment, the housing crisis or even the deficit? When was the last time you saw an “employment denier” quoted on TV or in a newspaper?
  3. The public is exposed to constant messages promoting business as usual and indeed idolizing conspicuous consumption. See, for instance, “Breaking: The earth is breaking … but how about that Royal Wedding?
  4. Our political elite and intelligentsia, including MSM pundits and the supposedly “liberal media” like, say, MSNBC, hardly even talk about climate change and when they do, it isn’t doomsday. Indeed, there isn’t even a single national columnist for a major media outlet who writes primarily on climate. Most “liberal” columnists rarely mention it.
  5. At least a quarter of the public chooses media that devote a vast amount of time to the notion that global warming is a hoax and that environmentalists are extremists and that clean energy is a joke. In the MSM, conservative pundits routinely trash climate science and mock clean energy. Just listen to, say, Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe mock clean energy sometime.
  6. The major energy companies bombard the airwaves with millions and millions of dollars of repetitious pro-fossil-fuel ads. The environmentalists spend far, far less money. As noted above, the one time they did run a major campaign to push a climate bill, they and their political allies including the president explicitly did NOT talk much about climate change, particularly doomsday messaging
  7. Environmentalists when they do appear in popular culture, especially TV, are routinely mocked.
  8. There is very little mass communication of doomsday messages online. Check out the most popular websites. General silence on the subject, and again, what coverage there is ain’t doomsday messaging. Go to the front page of the (moderately trafficked) environmental websites. Where is the doomsday?

If you want to find anything approximating even modest, blunt, science-based messaging built around the scientific literature, interviews  with actual climate scientists and a clear statement that we can solve this problem — well, you’ve all found it, of course, but the only people who see it are those who go looking for it.

Of course, this blog is not even aimed at the general public. Probably 99% of Americans haven’t even seen one of my headlines and 99.7% haven’t read one of my climate science posts. And Climate Progress is probably the most widely read, quoted, and reposted climate science blog in the world.

Anyone dropping into America from another country or another planet who started following popular culture and the news the way the overwhelming majority of Americans do would get the distinct impression that nobody who matters is terribly worried about climate change. And, of course, they’d be right — see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2.”

It is total BS that somehow the American public has been scared and overwhelmed by repeated doomsday messaging into some sort of climate fatigue. If the public’s concern has dropped — and public opinion analysis suggests it has dropped several percent (though is bouncing back a tad) — that is primarily due to the conservative media’s disinformation campaign impact on Tea Party conservatives and to the treatment of this as a nonissue by most of the rest of the media, intelligentsia and popular culture.

What’s amazing to me is not the public’s supposed lack of concerned about global warming — another myth, debunked here — but that the public is as knowledgable and concerned as it is given the realities discussed above!

In Part 2, I’ll discuss how we know that this works — blunt, science-based messages that lay out the realistic threat posed by our inaction and the myriad cost-effective solutions available now, repeated as often  as possible from multiple sources.

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70 Responses to Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate

  1. Joe Immen says:

    Think of how many of the top actors and actresses are environmentally enlightened and even out-and-out Climate Hawks:
    Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Chevy Chase, Harrison Ford, Ellen Page, January Jones, Edward Norton, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Renee Zellweger, etc.

    I think they would all jump at the chance to do a movie about climate change, given the appropriate script.
    With the right messaging and science as Joe lays out above, I think a blockbuster narrative movie about climate change could have a huge impact, an impact bigger than the impact the stars are trying to have off-screen.
    It needs to be good from an artistic standpoint, that’s the most important ingredient that will get people to tune in.
    I would like to see these stars collaborate with a talented, environmentally concerned writer like Jonathan Franzen to develop a compelling and realistic story that also has the right messaging.
    Maybe something set in the future, showing the consequences of inaction, but not quite as post-apocalyptic as “The Road”?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The Hollywood money-men let their ‘star’ property jump up and down about the environment, but they draw the line, because of very strong class consciousness and solidarity, at recruiting their business to a cause that threatens the biggest source of profits in human history. All our intractable problems and repeated failures are due to one simple cause-those people who own the planet are more concerned with money and power than human life, and they always have been so and always will be.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      There are climate scripts out there, but they won’t get made. The major studios have tentacles with banks and fossil fuel companies, and they won’t fund it.

      Actors need to step up and go after independent financing. A global warming movie would require a significant budget, and someone needs to step up. If Damon or Pitt led the way, it could happen, but they have not shown willingness to do so. One must assume at least a $50 million budget, since the subject calls for a big canvas, and high production values are needed. “Stars” less so, but they would help draw an audience.

      I’ve even got a script, but so does a top screenwriter friend, who wrote something called Escape from Florida. I doubt he’ll even be able to get a meeting. Studios are intimidated.

      Hello, Soros? Maybe even Bloomfield. So called liberals like Gates and the Google people don’t really get it, either.

  2. Dick Smith says:

    NYTimes Tom Friedman deserves some credit for consistently hitting the concern button.

    On TV, I am amazed that not one of MSNBC crowd–especially self-defined science geek Rachel Maddow–has chosen to say “climate change is my issue.” All these wanna-be Edward R. Murrows, and not one of them sees climate change as their “Harvest of Shame” issue.

    The first MSM commentator who jumps in the pool on this issue with both feet–again and again–will cement his or her reputation over the next decade.

    There is no Walter Cronkite to tell us the Vietnam War can’t be won. But, how about a numbskull like Wolf Blitzer becoming a climate hawk? Would that be enough to start the cascade of MSM immitators?

  3. John Tucker says:

    I agree with he need for bluntness and science based messages. But I think a lot more foundation work needs to be done.

    I always found it shocking that the approaches to conveying climate science were “settled science” and monolithic from the beginning.

    Its too bad we cannot discus this more openly and honestly outside the “educator/student” hierarchy and crutch everyone is so used to.

    Especially considering how this is framed, as Hollywood is the production venue for commercial populist artistic expression. I dont think you started here by chance.

    • John Tucker says:

      In other words id be careful what I asked for here.

      Post-modernism as a current artistic style has a habit of simply negating popular trends and movements and reintroducing the negation.

      Some kind of constructive long term approach involving co discovery and interactive venues is likely a better course – along with ways to connect to the environment.

      Monitoring, surveillance and simulation projects adaptable to social media but with access to much more technical input and interaction with experts. Not just a pre-fab rehashing of the science but a retooling to break it into consumable and recognizable functional units.

      Diversely applied with ample entry points of course. Even previous Denial can be used constructively at least to initiate discussion.

      All and all however, looking back at the time line it has been going very well for public acceptance of the science, but probably needs to go a bit faster.

  4. We need somebody who can imagine the future. 2030 LA water riots?
    2035 food riots in India, China and Africa?
    Done with the care Contagion was done.

    • ozajh says:

      Almost no chance of LA water riots, IMHO.

      As long as there is SOME water coming down the rivers, LA (and Las Vegas/Phoenix) will get in when political push really comes to shove.

      Worst comes to worst, even poor LA residents can afford desalinated ocean water in drinking/cooking quantities. (Lawn watering and agriculture, not so much.)

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        There’ll be more to worry about than just running out of water. In any case, in the gated communities, behind the razor-wire and private security, the golfing greens will still be watered.

    • SmilingAhab says:

      2035? Those riots in the BRIC countries are happening today.

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “… start by looking at what messages the public are exposed to in popular culture and the media …”

    The degree to which the “messages” that the American public is “exposed to in popular culture and the media” consists of CORPORATE PROPAGANDA cannot be underestimated.

    And of course, with regard to anthropogenic global warming, that propaganda is dominated by the fossil fuel industry’s deceit.

  6. Leif says:

    You da Man, Joe!

    I would like to see a movie not about the future but a realistic assessment of how humanity makes the transition from present the culture to the Green Awakening Economy. An economy that my children and grand children can be proud to be part of. A first stone of the Humanitarian Pyramid of the new age. Built to last the grace of the Sun. After that it is someone else’s problem.

    I would prefer a documentary but being a 70+ I must be realistic.

  7. Dick Smith says:

    “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” actually gets my vote for best climate movie.

    An ordinary citizen becomes obsessed with a vision (in the case of global warming, unfortunately, a rather apocalyptic vision)that his family and friends don’t see. In fact, they consider his obsession troubling. (Sound familiar yet?)

    His obsession also causes him to drive long distances where he meets with others who share the same obsession.

    The movie’s scientists understand the issue better than anyone, but the government tries to pretend nothing is happening and surpresses the citizen movement.

  8. Leif says:

    Guess who promotes the “Dooms Day” mantra the most? The Lame Stream Media, that is who. Could it be because that is the “argument” that they WANT all to hear? The only mantra that makes their solutions sound acceptable?

  9. David F. says:

    Good post, Joe. This idea that the media portrays climate change as a doomsday scenario is a complete myth invented by the deniers. The reality is that the climate denial community hates any media coverage of climate change whatsoever. I don’t really know if the media deserves all of the fault — some of the blame can certainly be cast on our politicians and policymakers.

    Just look at the current presidential candidates, we have one side of the political spectrum basically completely denying that climate change is a real phenomenon and caused by mankind. And then President Obama seems unwilling to even broach the issue. An uninformed individual could reasonably conclude that climate change isn’t that big of a deal — after all, if it were, you would think our policymakers would be doing something more about it.

    With the passage of time, it will likely become more untenable to continue espousing outright denial. Unfortunately, by then it may be too late to avert the worst effects of climate change.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Another denialist lie, one that really gives us a glimpse into the foetid swamps of their ‘minds’, is the one where they accuse the sane community of ‘wishing for’ a climate destabilisation disaster. This, of course, is a perverted sort of projection and reality inversion (two of their favourite techniques) because, naturally, it is the denialists and no-one else who are causing this calamity and the sane and human fraction of society who are trying, desperately and unsuccessfully, to avert it.

  10. R. Daneel Olivaw says:

    Margaret Atwood’s two excellent books “Oryx and Crake”, and “The Year of the Flood”, would seem to have a lot of climate-related movie-script potential …in fact I’m surprised it’s not already happening (as far as I can tell, anyway)…

  11. Tom King says:

    Day After Tomorrow planted the fear of an ice age. That was exactly the wrong message and helped revive the “Global Cooling” meme in the collective subconscious. Think back 2 months ago to all those articles about how CO2 might delay the next ice age. Those carefully crafted articles fed into a mindset primed by that movie.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Yes. A good deal of no doubt well remunerated research goes into the various tactics mobilised by the denialist industry.

  12. Byron Smith says:

    Excellent post. Apart from an excellent fifth grade teacher who introduced me to the idea of the greenhouse effect when I was ten (my most memorable school project ever), my knowledge of climate change as a threat was extremely limited, even as an individual with a higher-than-average interest in current affairs and the big picture. Gore’s film was the wake-up call (even if it was not perfect in various ways) that got me reading actual science and from there, my eyes have been opened.

    I’m now working on a PhD arguing for the importance of (certain kinds of) fear as (part of) a healthy response to climate change (and other ecological crises).

    • Paul Baer says:

      Hi Byron – If you don’t mind my asking, where and with whom are you doing your PhD?

      Cheers,

      Paul

  13. Russell says:

    The cliche’ level of Green filmmaking, from Waterworld‘s take on sea level rise and smoking onwards seems to have sunk Joe into a sort of semiotic funk.

    He seems to have forgotten Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is an homage to an earlier paean to apocalyptic climate modeling, The Day After.

    Hollywood’s advertisement of climate models as the salvation of the world began with Emmerich’s first film, <i. The Noah's Ark Principle, back in the day when Captain Planet commanded as much air time as Batman, and Congressman Gore sported a beard.

  14. fj says:

    Yes, excellent post.

    Capital New York had a couple of articles (not really picked up by mainstream media) describing how the subway system was within one foot of being totally flooded during Hurricane Irene; also how the NYC’s grid and power is extremely vulnerable during similar events; both which would greatly impact the city’s daily $4 billion economic activity for at least a month, yet main stream media seems to have convinced lots of people in this city that they should be more afraid of cyclists.

    It’s chilling recalling security expert Dick Clark’s testimony at the 9/11 commission, how so many people were running around with their “hair on fire” before the fateful event unheeded by the Bush Administration; and now with many times more about accelerating climate change.

  15. Raul M. says:

    Thanks Joe,
    Science based truths about the way weather happens does seem to have the lasting values needed for climate conversations.
    And discussions of why my mother freaked out when she learned that her gas guzzler could add to less value of the world is well personal and not so much.

  16. Nichol says:

    The basic reason I worry about climate change is that it will mess up the biodiverse ecology, not just because it would be sad, but also because we as humans depend on it.

    The reason I worry even more is that if I see people cannot be bothered about direct climate change effects like drought, sea level rise, floods .. how difficult will it be to explain that losing something as abstract sounding as a biodiverse ecology is an incredibly scary prospect?

    Luckily .. many people do have an attachment to the rich beauty of nature. Who knows. But stopping our biodiversity gurgling down the tubes even faster should also be something for an apocalyptical movie.. if that would help.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The worship of Nature was rendered obsolete by the rise of the worship of Mammon, whereupon conserving the biosphere became simply a waste of money.

  17. Raul M. says:

    For those daring for a social movie perhaps a script detailing how youngsters having learned a basis for the science before driving age soon learned the freedom of the fossil powered auto way and fell from grace so to speak only to learn the local weather reasons for an alignment to more lasting scientific truths.

  18. Lou Grinzo says:

    Thanks very much for this, Joe. I look forward to part 2.

    Probably the biggest single annoyance I have with climate communication is this notion that “we can’t scare people away”. I hear this constantly, especially from very dedicated environmentalists who are quick to use it as an excuse for not doing the heavy lifting in outreach. We need to stop confusing doing communication badly with doing the wrong type of communication.

    I’ve mentioned here several times that the easiest way to scare the heck out of people who are already convinced climate change “is real” and due to anthro CO2 emissions, is to tell them how long CO2 hangs around. I am constantly stunned by the tiny percentage of people who know this. They almost universally make the implicit assumption that if we cut our emissions by, say, 50%, then the human-caused increment in atmospheric CO2 would also decline by 50% in just a few weeks or months. They think that CO2 is just another air pollutant, like smoke or soot, that will “clear out” on its own very quickly.

    If you then go the next step and tell them that aerosols from coal plants and other sources are currently blocking a big portion of the warming from the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere, and we’re cleaning up those emissions, which will result in an essentially instant additional warming, then they really freak out.

    We need to tell people the complete, unvarnished truth, as dictated by current science. If they freak out, then we have to find a way to channel that urgency into activism in the form of how they spend their money and how they vote.

    • Dick Smith says:

      Lou,
      You are so right. My first “oh shit” climate moment was the realization that CO2 stays up there essentially “forever” for anything that will happen this century.

  19. Rob Jones says:

    I’ve a suggestion for a science fiction movie plot.
    The Earth is visited by aliens who wan’t to alter earths climate into one more suitable for themselves and their crops and livestock (hotter and higher ocean acidity). They implant electrodes into the brains of leading businessmen, media moguls and politicians and then go on to control how these men represent the issue of climate change, effectively duping the population of earth into selling out humanity. They also provide all sorts of electrical and communication gizmos that give their businessmen and media outlets a perceptual advantage over those not under control. In the end humanity is fragmented and reduced to the status of livestock under the worlds new alien overlords.

  20. Lore says:

    It’s not surprising MSM and Hollywood continuously get it wrong. They’re both in business to make money for their shareholders. As any ad-person would tell you, negativity does not sell. Why would anyone buy stocks, insurance or take out a 30 year mortgage if the prospects for the future are at best bleak. Where conservation means the prospects of less, not more, of the goods, services and easy living life style. It’s not a message that says buy more and expand

    Hollywood movies are all based around a central theme of conflict and resolution, which is far from reality. Climate change will not be resolved in three acts with a happy ending in two hours.

    Most people are quite willing to turn off rather the tune in to anything that upsets their immediate level of comfort. Specially a subject that is viewed to have distant future implications. Maybe it’s just human nature, but they are much more concerned about fixing today’s flat tire, their personal finances, then the engine that needs repair and has a chance of blowing up next week, the climate.

  21. with the doves says:

    Thanks Joe for another great post. I’ve run across people saying “don’t be alarmist” as if that’s a bad thing.

    But in history, good leaders have been alarmist when the moment called for it. FDR made clear to the people the USA’s future if the Nazis were not defeated. And he did OK.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The only creatures not ‘alarmed’ when the news is the most dire in history are zombies, the brain-dead and morally insane. Unfortunately a market capitalist society based on greed and crass materialism produces lots of the spiritually undead.

  22. Paul Magnus says:

    Great focus joe. Cutting to the chase. This kind of analysis is just what’s needed and is spot on.

    Who is messaging the message is also important. Currently the global warming warning arose from the ‘environmentalist’. It was thus framed as an environmental problem and issue. So we got all that baggage and pushback from the consumer society. 

    But as we know GW/CC is much more than an evo issue. It the down fall of all we have accomplished as an evolving global civilization. And to boot is initiating the next mass extinction, which ain’t good. 

    Our leads and mentors  left and right, communist and capitalist, christian and etc just have not stepped up to the plate in their responsibility to address the issue and lead us through the valley of climate change. These are the ones who should be messaging over and over what the science is telling us and the risk to us all.

    The scientist left it a bit late in emphasizing how radical the risk was in a meaningfull manner for the public. They should have walked the talk 10 yrs back but at least they are stepping it up now.

  23. owlbrudder says:

    Here in Australia, the only balanced sources of information about global warming are the national public broadcasters ABC and SBS.

    Even they can scarcely be said to promote the problem in an unequivocal manner. Blog posts which dare to report real science attract the nega-swarm of vitriolic deniers, their comments usually outnumbering those of realists.

    The only places I hear about the so-called doom-saying are in the negasphere, where deniers rail against the imaginary AGW bias of the media. After all, it is the negasphere that coined the acronym CAGW.

    If only MSM reporting was predicated on truth and education. I wish.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      MSM blogs in Australia are moderated by MSM ‘journalists’ ie Rightwingers of various shades. The censorship of the ‘moderators’ against the rationalists and for Rightwing denialists is plain to see. When you get 90% of your rational, non-abusive, non-offensive posts ‘disappeared’, while denialists have twenty or thirty, minutes apart, many slanderous, incoherent, ignorant, stupid and/or abusive, and when the balance between rationalists and denialists grows ever more skewed towards the denialists, the effect of ideological censorship becomes plain. In the end MSM blogs invariably become infested by Rightwing blowhards, and the sane fraction, understandably, stop wasting their time. The Leftists probably have jobs, too, and less free time, and, of course, the Right has perfected the art of swamping these fora with ‘astroturfing’ im-bot-ciles.

    • arf says:

      There is usually some support to be found in there. Now check out some of the right-wing propaganda (*koff!* *IPA!* *koff!*) that ABC publishes: it attracts an equal number of detractors.

  24. Mossy says:

    The made-for-TV movie “Earth 2100″ produced by Bob Woodward was quite realistic. It should be re-televised.

  25. oggy bleacher says:

    I agree that it’s a multi-front war and proactive news content like this is one of the important information fronts. Yes, repeat the message in a variety of ways, defend your message and expand your message. But it’s only one front along with personal, community, city, state and national regulations/habits/infrastructure and normalcy issues. Lester Brown’s Plan B has more info on the other fronts.

    However, Star Trek IV didn’t do much for Humpback Whales as they and Right Whales are now perilously close to extinction. The Wall-E storyline was hijacked by Apple royalty to promote quick fixes without sacrifice of technology. Doomsday scenarios, however valid, are framed as Chicken Little “Sky is Falling” chatter that presently amount to fluff pieces for slow news days and fringe groups. “Act Now because in 2080 Miami will be underwater…” Even people in Miami don’t care. It reminds me of earthquake psychics in California. Everyone in San Francisco knows they are right (that a cataclysm is around the corner) but the latest football score gets more press. I hate to blame the victim but…

    When radical changes are required then a radical leader is required but right now we are choosing between ventriloquist Dummy #1 and #2. However, we vote with our dollar every day.

    I forecast a state like Minnesota radically departing from Federal environmental policy per Ernest Callenbach’s book, Ecotopia and requiring secession (or maybe they join the sane Canadians). Arizona and New Mexico already have growing separatist movements for different reasons.

  26. Paul Magnus says:

    Propaganda is a reasonable description of what the active deniers are using to destabilize the GW message. And it should not be tolerated… Otherwise things will get out of hand, way out of hand.

  27. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Carry on as we are and the extinction event we have already started may well include homo stupidicus.

  28. Sasparilla says:

    Thank you for a great article Joe, looking forward to part 2.

    For various reasons, much of it wrought by the deniers and their interests, climate change is no longer in the media at all – and of course the denier message is being pushed by their interests in their media (it’s the message that is getting air time).

    Something else that is getting ramped up in the News Corp. outlets that is worth keeping an eye on (since its a technology we need) is the constant attacks on plug in vehicles (in particular the Chevy Volt recently) – a PR war is being waged against that technology to tarnish the image in folks minds before they would consider the vehicles and for that chunk of the population that watches Fox etc. its working.

    Looking at that cover on Time at the beginning of this piece I’m blown away by the feeling that we’d just never see something like that these days (at first I thought it was made up – the realization that it was real made me feel like it was from an alternate universe).

  29. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    The wall $treet run media is here for one purpose only, to sell us the useless junk capitalism produces(mostly in china). If people started thinking about our problems, and dealing with them, they would be distracted from their duties of consuming products, and working ever harder for them, while making corperations richer, which is where the advertising revenue comes from.

    Even more problematic is that dealing with global warming usually means reducing consumption of non renewable resources which wall $treet owns, replacing them with efficiency and renewables, which wall $treet owns less of. The simple example is replacing an incandescent bulb, 60 watts, with a 15 watt cfl bulb. The cfl bulb will save you between 45 and 90 dollars on your electric bill. The 45 – 90 dollars saved comes out of wall $treet’s profits, and goes into the wallets of us 99%. Apply this lesson to much of the other things we consume. Then the consumer begins finding alternatives, and becomes obsessed with reducing expenses instead of working harder to buy useless, inefficient junk. This is a threat to the profits of capitalism.

    The media was always part of wall $treet, but the news orginazations were their own companies, today the news orgs are part of larger corperations that have vested economic interests in the fossil fuel based infrastructure. Even in the old days, general motors was the largest advertiser, but at least the media was more gutsy.

    The media does not produce shows or movies that deal with the realities we face, such as the distruption to our lives by increasing super weather events related to global warming. It is becoming more common for americans to have become homeless several times in different places in the last year from GW related weather events (flood, fire, tornado, hurricane). The media generally does not show how society is dealing with the economic collapse either. Most shows seem to dwell on crime or terrorism, which is not much of a threat for most americans living in the suburbs or rural areas. Even in nyc, there has not been any successful terrorism since 911, but just look at the disaster maps posted on this site, the new york area has been hit by quite a few disaster declerations in recent years.

    The corperate media has one purpose, which is to keep us buying the products of the businesses that own them, or the advertisers that provide them with revenue. What we see on tv and in the movies does not reflect the realities the 99% are facing in the real world today.

  30. Spike says:

    Fortunately the UK media in part at least is giving space to serious science about the threat as with this excellent article on geohazard risk with climate change

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/26/why-climate-change-shake-earth?newsfeed=true

  31. Mike Roddy says:

    A lot of us share your frustration with MSM. There was a time when the media was a counterweight to corporate control of government and commercial activity. Now, their management of media 24/7 makes public education on key issues impossible.

    This blog has helped enlighten many of us. We all have to figure out a way to get the critical facts to the public at large.

  32. cswd says:

    Interesting, but I rather prefer Amory Lovins idea of focusing not on climate change and the damage, but the benefits of the alternatives. We need to move away from the debate on damage towards actually implementing solutions, particularly on a local level because of government inaction.

    This is the relevant interview.

    • Joe Romm says:

      I love Amory and worked with him for 2 years — but he’s been pushing that message for 4 decades. It doesn’t work by itself.

  33. M Tucker says:

    The doomsday scenarios are mostly the result of doing nothing but it is my belief that if our best efforts result in a 2 degree Celsius average global warming (what all policy makers seem to be working toward) we had better prepare for some doom. We have less than 1 degree of warming and the ice sheets and glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. We have seen catastrophic droughts and unprecedented floods; 100 year events that are becoming much more frequent. If we are successful and do limit the warming to 2 degrees, or slightly less, will sea level not continue to rise? I ask where is the optimism in that? What kind of success can we claim if the rivers that depend on the Andean and Himalayan glaciers run dry? What kind of success can we claim if the Maldives, Venice, Bangladesh, New Orleans, to mention just a tiny fraction of the coastal areas and islands threatened by rising sea level, become uninhabitable? The messaging has been extremely weak unless you read books or follow this and a few other sites. AND with policy makers aiming at 2 degrees of warming we had better do a much better job of explaining just what sort of climate we can expect with that level of warming. No one is talking about that! Not at all! Since the policy makers have failed to ensure the warming will stop at less than one degree they have avoided explaining what their failure will bring in the next several decades. What sort of happy, non-doomsday, spin can we put on this dire situation?

  34. Raul M. says:

    A play could show tones of drama without the financial rish of a major motion picture.
    A play could incorporate the ideas of multiple rebuilds from storm damage, setting up hydroponics while waiting for the banks to rebuild, setting up some solar while waiting for the elec. Companies to come back to life.
    Why a play could be instructive of survival and still show the personal effects of climate change.
    Certainly, people will have forgotten the training points for climate change they learned from normal media when they face more immediate survival tasks.
    A play could even talk of how impromptu all their new learning has become.

  35. EDpeak says:

    “Here are the key points about what repeated messages the American public is exposed to:”

    I would add: the constant, often sarcastic, never-ending message that democracy is the enemy – except they don’t use the word ‘democracy’, it’s ‘government’ or anything like ‘public policy’.

    Corporate-caused or deregulation-caused disasters (like Gulf of Mexico)? That’s ALWAYS an individual, isolated bad apple, assuming it’s admitted to be bad at all.

    But one, single bad event from the public sector? It’s only PROOF that government (read: democracy) is futile, impossible, useless, idiotic, bungling, corrupt, etc, INHERENTLY.

    This view is 180 degrees from reality, since government at least in principle could be made accountable; while corporate control, “one dollar equals one vote” is, even in principle, and by definition, accountable to short term profits and not to “one person equals one vote” democratic oversight (never mind democratic control)

    But they’ve put that on its head.

    We used to joke about “some day they will want to privatize the air we breathe, or the public schools” Not such a joke any more.

    When future historians review the ecological disasters will they point to and educate children and the public to the virulent ideology (as dangerous as communism) behind it, right-wing private/”market” ideology that is anti-human? Or will it get a free pass? How many today can identify which side of the political spectrum was on the wrong side of history for civil rights or women’s rights? Few school children, one suspects..

  36. Ric Merritt says:

    Although geniune cries of doomsday can surely be found in the darker corners of the web, most references to doomsday messaging are straw-man constructs from the denier side.

    I’ve recently observed on RealClimate that use of terms like CAGW is a quite reliable marker for straw-man arguments and trolling.

  37. BBHY says:

    Time for a remake of “Silent Running”.

    I would say that is the closest thing to a climate change movie that I can recall. Mostly it just needs a better sound track.

  38. M Tucker says:

    As for messaging in popular culture…

    Forget about MSNBC. They don’t even try, not even a little, to compete with the radical conservative Fox even on politics. They message basically Monday thru Thursday and sign off at 7 pm Friday (Pacific coast) for prison shows. They offer some good programming Saturday and Sunday mornings but give up the messaging to Fox for the rest of the weekend. Fox is 24/7. As for climate change they are a failure for the most part.

    I don’t know about all the environmental sites but Greenpeace does have a climate change page. Not the front page though.

    Union of Concerned Scientists also has a climate change page.

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has included climate change to their list of vitally important issues and they actually have a doomsday clock.

  39. TReyinAZ says:

    This is a terrifically timely post Joe.

    I have always thought that Hollywood lacks the stones to take on a topic so rife with realty. Where’s the thrill in education and enlightenment? But if they do, it should be set in Arizona. California could actually fall off (along San Andreas Faultline, and Arizonan’s would say it was God punishing all the Socialists and gay community.

    I think you forget some good groundwork that sets the stage. Take Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and The Story of B, where we saw richly: “The world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by new minds–with no programs.” And as Al Gore said, “I we don’t need more tools. What we lack is will.”

    Old minds,”believers”, and the uber-powerful (the Atlas Shrugged crowd) versus The New Minds, watching the insanity still yet seated in high schools and colleges…and also in many progressive corporations, perhaps with roots in such industries as agribusiness…..discerning of truth from places like the Pacific Institute and hope like the Climate Action Reserve. You might be surprised to know how many farmers truly are the most fundamental of all the environmentalists…..with tons of capital too for good purposes.

    While the the antagonist’s revile science, and absolutely do not want every child to have the opportunity to go to college….because who then will pick their fruit and tidy up their resort accommodations???…hero Jack Reacher (by Lee Child), former MP in the Army, nephew of Cargill CEO Grant Reacher, qwashes an attempt to give Salt Lake City a beach also, by fracking.

    The movie needs an agribusiness giant for hero, like a Cal-Poly grad, son of Cargill CEO, because agriculture possesses the resources to make food chains low-impact, in fact restorative, enterprises, and has so much at stake.

    And as we all know, improving impacts from agricultural production, processing, and distribution, incentivizing less food waste, is going to be key.

  40. Russell says:

    I4
    Context counts as much as title in film and TV- a generation of activists deserve credit or blame for creating a whole genre in which the story line reflects catastrophic climate change.

    Having sweltered though Soylent Green, Charlton Heston suffered frostbite in an equally dystopic 70′s film about the return of the glaciers.

    Could Joe be glum because the difference in background climate between early and late 20th films is in reality inconspicuous ?

    It took more than a half degree C delta T to drive the spectacular fluctuations in hemline level the Oscars have witnessed.

  41. arf says:

    A good source for a climate based sf movie (or tele-series!) would be David Brin’s novel Earth (it emphasised the effects of ozone depletion over global warming, but things like ‘Sea Nation’ is a pretty bleak vision of what might come to pass)

  42. arf says:

    Despite the Limited:News that dominates the country, I think the (Australian) public are as concerned and engaged about climate change as ever. Evidence? the number of people willing to give up their time last year to demonstrate *in support* of the carbon tax vs the number willing to demonstrate against it. The total numbers involved are about 50000, which dwarfs any news poll you’ll find.

    The ratio? 10:1 at least!

    Now, the ratio really only demonstrates how the extremes of the spectrum are populated. How it translates come the next election is moot.

  43. tonydunc says:

    I think there is an element of truth to the doomsaying as bad strategy.
    It is hard to convince people about dire consequences when they don’t see that trend. People may see some significant change, but they don’t understand the relationship between global temp and the type of climate disruption that is likely in 20-50 years.
    I think MORE important is to pound home the real science and that that has to be the basis for understanding.
    Arguing about the evils of Fascism and the rise of German militarism did not get Americans set on stopping Hitler. Hitler’s rants against communism DID work in Germany because of the totalitarian nature and the intensity of one sided propaganda.
    Also people could hear the argument that Hitler was GOOD because he was fighting against the real evil – The Soviet Union. And in fact there was some truth to that.
    I see a similar problem with ACC. Scientists can say we are in for catastrophic consequences, like people said Hitler would over-run Europe. But the Anschluss and even the take over of Sudetenland could be portrayed as minor political maneuvering. Just as fossil fuel consumption can be seen as necessary for economic health.
    Most people can’t understand the idea of a meter of sea level rise or 3°C temp increase. They see the floods and droughts and arctic ice as bad things but not disastrous. And they can be told by deniers that sea level has fallen in the short term with no way to answer that unless they know the science. People need to understand basic climatology, and come to their own conclusions about the degree of urgency.
    I agree that it is foolish to hide the truth, but the truth has to be based on understanding the actual science, not blindly believing the consequences. I always stick to facts about the processes and then I portray the consequences as unknowable within certain parameters. And I don’t attack them (unless it is Steve Goddard, who I can’t help but be sarcastic with). I also make it clear that if some one shows me the science that proves I am wrong, and I cannot explain it with science that supports my position. I am quite willing to change my mind.

  44. J says:

    The Right’s megaphone is so damn loud. If Rush Limbaugh mentions that Climate Progress is using “scare propaganda” to influence public opinion, millions of listeners will believe him.

    It’s a tough battle when a whisper has to compete against a sonic boom.