Warning: Climate porn is bad for you

The Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK-based think tank, issued areport yesterday warning environmentalists and communicaters to stay away from alarmist language that may be causing more harm than good when it comes to getting the message across about global warming.

The IPPR report is just another in a series of reports and research urging envrionmentalists and those who want real action on climate change to re-think the way we communicate the issue to the public. In any public relations campaign, there is always a real danger of creating an unwanted or opposite effect from what is intended. If the PR program you design is not grounded in thorough research, usually in the form of such things as polling and focus groups, you will always be in the dark about what the actual effects are of your program are.

In the case of the IPPR report, the authors, a linguist and a textual analyst, make the sound argument that alarmist language can elicit an effect more akin to “climate porn,” than a call to arms by the citizenry to tackle global warming. In other words, many public interest groups assume that melting glaciers and heat waves will scare people to action, when in fact it has the opposite effect of people tuning out the message they are trying to get across. PR professionals have known this for years, but much like smoking, we all know that alarmism is bad for us, but many of us continue to do it anyways.
As far as solutions, the IPPR report suggests instead that communications professionals and environmentalists “… make climate-friendly behaviour feel normal, natural, right and 'ours' to large number of people who are currently unengaged… the answer is not to try to change their radar but to change the issue, so it becomes something they willingly pick up.”

It is this type of warning that anyone involved in communicating global warming should heed. One of the side-effects of “climate porn” is that it opens opportunities for the fringe element of climate change “skeptics” to pop their heads out of the sand and attack.


Those links were the best yet about how to fight climate change.  Needs a much wider audience.

I’m on page three of your site so far, can’t believe this is the first time I found it.  Has some incredibly damaging info - if you’re pro-oil, anti-environment, that is.  This site needs a MUCH wider audience.

Thanks for doing such a good job.  Fantastic site!  However, there’s some funky things going on, code-wise.  When I right click on your logo in order to open your home page in a new window, the browser which pops up says MY homepage (which I use “blank”)

Also, I almost have to always preview a message because what the spaces look like between paragraphs in this here little window, doesn’t look the same when posted.  Perhaps the font size is the problem? 

Also glad you don’t require log in to comment - that is only for wimpy bloggers who can’t take criticism.

We’re working, endlessly, on the “funky things going on, code-wise.” Hoping to have some infrastructural updates within the next month that will improve the look and functionality of the site.

Interesting report, but we should keep in mind the difference between true alarmism and the contrarian definition that includes practically anything containing realism and any sense of urgency. There needs to be a balance of fact presentation and earnest discussion of the implications, and this can be done without going overboard with the language. Alarmism may have an inverse effect, but presentation that isn’t thought-provoking and compelling doesn’t exactly spur action either.