Against the Climate Pornographers

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

Against The Climate Pornographers

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