In the movie Goodbye Lenin, a son works hard to protect his ailing mother from the fact that Communist East Germany disappeared after 1989.
In an analogy with sinister undertones, global-warming pessimists advocating "climate-friendly behaviour" (CFB) are now being encouraged to make-believe their own reality, building for all of us an almost certainly gloomy future. Armed with propaganda rather than rational persuasion, they are advocating an orthodoxy reminiscent of some past Communist States.
The report "Warm Words: How are we telling the climate story and can we tell it better?" has just been published by the self-styled "UK's leading progressive think-tank", the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), "as part of its project on how to stimulate" CFB in the UK.
The report tries to answer the question "How could the way climate change is communicated be improved?" The authors Gill Ereaut and Nat Segnit looked at "popular [UK] media coverage of climate change" in late 2005-early 2006 (some 600 press articles, plus another 100 items from TV, radio, and web sites) to conclude that "many of the existing approaches to climate change communications clearly seem unproductive".
As experts in the commercial application of linguistic and discourse analysis they recognize that "the climate change discourse in the UK today looks confusing, contradictory and chaotic"; that "the overarching message for the lay public is that in fact, nobody really knows"; and that ultimately the "battle" (to stimulate CFB) is "not won".
Particularly scathing words are reserved for "the alarmist repertoire - as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control [...] secretly thrilling - effectively a form of 'climate porn'." This obvious problem has been raised before in environmentalist circles. New York Times columnist Nicholas D Kristof wrote in 2005 about the possible suicide by catastrophic, almost millenarian environmentalism. At the same time, UK sustainable development consultancy Futerra published its report "The Rules of the Game: Principles of Climate Change Communications" asking for a more positive message to be linked to messages on CFB.
Still, alarmism remains the most common form of climate change reporting: stories focus on disappearing species, uncontrollable pests, rising seas, floods, droughts, heat waves, fires, violent storms, scarce food/jobs/resources, and forecasts of millions of human deaths.
Articles and books by renowned scientists are routinely menacing with titles like The End of Nature (Bill McKibben, Bloomsbury 2003) and The Threat to the Planet (Jim Hansen, New York Review of Books, July 13, 2020). Supposedly serious British media outlets don't think twice about reporting the absurd, like the Amazon rainforest incapable of sustaining a couple of years of drought (The Independent, July 23, 2020) or coral reefs needing water temperatures not to vary more than 2 degrees Celsius (BBC News, Feb 21, 2020).
It is not clear why climate porn should be the norm. Are newspapers attracted by the "titillation" consciously or otherwise, to increase sales? Are some scientists attempting clumsy forays into policy making? Perhaps, or perhaps it's also about getting one's "pet issue" recognized in a world full of other scares.
Anyway, even the IPPR is now forced to recognize that climate porn is not the way forward. Ereaut and Segnit go as far as to implicitly recognize that possibly climate change catastrophism is "another apocalyptic construction [...] perhaps a figment of our cultural imaginations". And obviously there is simply no mass movement favoring wholesale curb of CO2 emissions: despite all predictions of doom unless they repent, abandon sinful technology and change their ways away from carbon dioxide, people still use cars, air conditioners and gas for cooking and heating:.
What are fashion-friendly governments such as the UK's to do then to entice CFB in the masses? After their promising start Ereaut and Segnit stick unfortunately to the realm of sheer propaganda, recommending "to work in a more shrewd and contemporary way, using subtle techniques of engagement".
They suggest we: "treat the argument as having been won, at least for popular communications"; convince people that "climate-friendly behaviors" are "normal, natural, right and 'ours'...the kinds of things that people like us do"; and treat "positive climate behaviours" as marketeers treat "buying and consuming".
In other words, those advocating CFB are encouraged to fabricate their own reality, to pretend having won a debate they haven't; and to fool the masses into buying more soap, ahem, into getting rid of their cars, stopping using energy and doing whatever else a "positive climate behaviour" might entail, with enthusiasm and as a matter of course.
Is this really an effective way forward? It is, only in the minds of those assuming (in yet another reminiscence of Communist ideology) that people are not clever enough to understand that an enticing propaganda is still propaganda.
Soap-like political propaganda makes for no good policy either. Do the authors of "Warm Words" realize that those recommendations seal the fate of climate change activism to the area of belief, rather than rational care of the world we live in? What kind of planet will CFB propaganda provide us? As reported by Robert L Bradley Jr. in "Al Gore's telling whoppers again", "isn't it suspicious that the problem is always individual behavior, and the solution is always government action?" And in fact, the current UK government is busy showing the way never having truly renounced its big-government ideology.
British Environment Minister David Miliband is seriously considering curbing freedom and increasing bureaucracy by distributing trendy, unworkable CO2 emission cards. At the same time, the Department for Trade and Industry is ominously working to indoctrinate "children and 'maybe' even their parents in The Right Way to Behave" (James Woudhuysen, Windmills of the mind, July 31, 2020) by building solar power systems on classroom roofs. This being the UK, expect low-quality moral tales on CO2 on TV soon.
Is the terrain being prepared for zealot eco-revolutionaries soon to remove most freedoms and a wide range of technological achievements, imposing us a future "eco-friendly" life of pain, illness, manual labour and struggle, with the belief that human ingenuity is an evil that will destroy the planet instead than improve our lives?
Is this Catastrophism too? Perhaps. But who would have thought 100 years ago of the upcoming Golden Age of Nazism and Communism, doctrines getting ready to kill millions of people: having scientifically proclaimed themselves to be "for the good of humanity"?
The author is a journalist, IT consultant and radio talk show host. His blog can be read at http://omnologos.wordpress.com (in English) and http://mauriziomorabito.wordpress.com (in Italian).