Against the Climate Pornographers

To make environmental progress, just say no to

| August 24, 2006

While embattled American environmentalists continue trying to convince their fellow citizens and their government that global warming actually exists, Brits have long-since put aside the debate and moved on to the tough work of getting individuals to act. But the current dire dispatches on global warming may not be suited to the task, says the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The problem, says the think tank, is the debilitating effect of 'climate porn.' The term, coined in IPPR's recent report, 'Warm Words: How are we telling the climate story and can we tell it better?' (click to download a pdf), describes the 'secretly thrilling' hype of alarmist environmental reporting that is 'awesome, terrible, immense' and contains 'an implicit counsel of despair.'

Writing for, Simon Retallack, who heads IPPR's climate-change team, cites both his group's report and a similar 2001 study by the US-based FrameWorks Institute as evidence of the inefficacy of apocalyptic reporting. The problem with environmental coverage in both the United States and the United Kingdom, says Retallack, is that it 'stresses the large scale of global warming and then tells people they can solve it through small actions like changing a light bulb.' Approaching the issue with an 'inflated or extreme lexicon' that alludes to 'acceleration and irreversibility' is simply counterproductive to getting people to act, he argues. The FrameWorks Institute had similar findings, reports Retallack, saying that Americans' response to environmental demise is to adopt an 'adaptationist' mode aimed at 'protecting themselves and their families' with tacks like 'buying large SUVs to secure their safety.'

The IPPR report calls for a more message-savvy approach to normalizing climate-friendly behaviors -- making them 'the kinds of things that people like us do' -- in an effort to encourage the rest of the nation to hop on board. '[I]t is not enough to produce yet more messages to convince people of the reality of climate change and urge them to act,' writes Retallack. 'We need to work in more sophisticated ways, including by harnessing tools used by brand advertisers, to make it not dutiful or obedient to be climate-friendly, but desirable.' -- Rachel Anderson

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