“Fear” versus “hope”. It can be a sterile debate, with straw figures and mischaracterisations, none more frequent than the claim that "fear" messages involve alarmism or an exaggeration of the published literature. But that is not often the case and in my experience cries of "alarmism" generally reflect a lack of knowledge of the brutal truth about the existential risks of climate disruption.
After a year of unprecedented bushfires and a world turned upside down by Covid-19, there is a need for positive news, but that should not involve a collapse into bright-siding, the belief that you can control your outlook with relentless positive thinking and a sunny disposition, and by refusing to consider negative outcomes. It requires deliberate self-deception. Barbara Ehrenreich says of the US that believing the country impervious to a 9/11-style attack (or Covid-19), and incapable of failure in Iraq or a Wall Street crash, can exist because there was no inclination to imagine the worst, as well as the best. In the end, bright-siding strips away critical analysis. As Ehrenreich says, enforced optimism obstructs the progressive agenda, producing an enforced stupidity. In other words, optimism is conservative, while realism and forthrightness are progressive.
So here is a Twitter thread on "fear" versus "hope" in climate communications
A thread. “Fear” versus “hope” in #climate communications. How about brutal honesty? @richardabetts @hausfath @GreenRupertRead @AlexSteffen @jembendell @RogerHallamCS21 @aubreygci @BreakthroughCCR @ClimatePsych @ExtinctionR @SafeClimate @ClimateStrike 1/x— David Spratt (@djspratt) August 12, 2020
The full thread is:
A thread. “Fear” versus “hope” in #climate communications. How about brutal honesty? @richardabetts @hausfath @GreenRupertRead @AlexSteffen @jembendell @RogerHallamCS21 @aubreygci @BreakthroughCCR @ClimatePsych @paulgildingr @ExtinctionR @SafeClimate @ClimateStrike 1/x
2/x On #climate “fear” versus “hope”, David Wallace-Wells says that “fear is what animated me… to go back to the Second World War analogy, we did not mobilise in that way because we were optimistic about the future... “ theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/03/david-wallace-wells-on-climatepeople-Should-be-scared-im-scared
3/x “... We mobilised in that way out of fear, because we thought Nazism was an existential threat. And #climate change is obviously an existential threat and it is naive to imagine we could respond to it without some people being scared”, says @dwallacewells.
4/x As human beings we want to avoid harm. Refusing to drive with a drunk driver is prompted by rational fear. This is built into our DNA: the fight or flight response. Danger triggers fear, which helps us respond. Without that fear-response, we would not survive. #climate
5/x Public health campaigns such as smoking, AIDS (& pandemics!) show effective messages combine a personally relevant description of threat (fear) & a clear exposition of the solution with a clear path of achievable actions to address it (hope). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14742837.2017.1344546 #climate
6/x #Climate messages that describe the seriousness of the problem increase commitment to act. Strong fear messages are more effective than weak fear messages; fear combined with hope creates an emotional drive that motivates a change of habit. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494415000249 #climate
7/x But rather than only debating often poorly defined notions of #climate “fear” & “hope”, it is fruitful to understand fear as the need for brutal honesty. Humans mainly respond to personally relevant threats: the more severe & more imminent, the more the urge to act.
8/x Successful mass campaigns like student @ClimateStrike & @ExtinctionR are brutally honest about the #climate future. The only rational responses to crises are ones that match the scale of the threat. We can’t get to a successful solution if we can’t articulate the real threat.
9/x Jared Diamond’s study of national crisis responses shows key success predictors in facing large threats are “acknowledgment rather than denial of a crisis’s reality; acceptance of responsibility to take action; and honest self-appraisal”. https://www.ft.com/content/71ed9f88-9f5b-11ea-b65d-489c67b0d85d #climate
10/x The #climate threat is existential. Leading scientists: “The evidence from tipping points alone suggests we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute… this is an existential threat to civilization.” https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03595-0
11/xx Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber warns “#climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences”. https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/whatliesbeneath
12/x @AlexSteffen says winning slowly is the same thing as losing https://twitter.com/alexsteffen/status/907460481769725955. If we cannot acknowledge we in the #climate end-game, we cannot understand that UNFCCC & IPCC process are reticent and failing. https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/whatliesbeneath
13/x Scientist Peter Kalmus says: “There's a huge gap between what #climate scientists are willing to say privately and what we're willing to say publicly, in terms of how dire a situation we're in. Colleagues, integrity demands we close this gap.” https://twitter.com/climatehuman/status/1291860939348701184
14/x Schellnhuber: if we continue down the present #climate path “there is a very big risk that we will just end our civilisation. The human species will survive somehow but we will destroy almost everything we have built up over the last two thousand years” https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/whatliesbeneath
15/x The global political/business #climate policymaking elite are almost entirely ignorant of the existential risks & that nothing they propose will go close to preventing a catastrophe. If we are not brutally honest, they will never get it, and failure will be guaranteed.
16/x Fear can immobilise us when the problems seem too big. We each have a limited capacity for tolerating difficult emotions: fear, grief, pessimism and anxiety. Pushed too far, we are unable to cope and feelings run out of control. That’s why #climate change is difficult.
17/x But security, support and understanding can help us better deal with a wider range of such emotions. Working together and community solidarity can all expand this capacity. The most courageous #climate thing we can do right now is to be brutally honest, and act collectively.
18/x The other choice is #climate bright-siding, the belief that you can control your outlook with relentless positive thinking and a sunny disposition, and by refusing to consider negative outcomes. It requires deliberate self-deception.
19/x Barbara Ehrenreich says of the US that believing the country impervious to a 9/11-style attack or Covid-19, and incapable of failure in Iraq or a Wall Street crash, can exist because there was no inclination to imagine the worst, as well as the best. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvwyhSeLZT8
20/x In the end, bright-siding strips away critical analysis. As Ehrenreich says, enforced optimism obstructs the progressive agenda, producing an enforced stupidity. In other words, optimism is conservative, while realism and forthrightness are progressive.
21/x Scientist Kate Marvel: “We need courage, not hope. Grief is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”