RUNNING  HEAD:  USING  FEAR  TO  BRING  ABOUT  CLIMATE  CHANGE  

Jit Sharma
Evaluative Essay
Employing Fear to Bring Climate Change

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This evaluative essay is primarily focused on an article in the Economist in 2011 that deals with
the perception of Americans on climate change. The article highlights the reasons why climate
change is not an issue that is in the forefront of the minds of people. The reference to the work
of O’Neill and Nicholson-Cole that fear and sensationalism are not appropriate tools in efforts
to inspire change in climate matters. This paper outlines some of the fears and sensations and
what would be the best and most effective methods of getting the message across the world to
bring about positive change with regard to climate matters.
Background to the Issue
The main focus in issues concerning climate change has been economic activities and
effects. There has been significant finger pointing after Kyoto Protocol came into mainstream,
with developing countries blaming the industrialised world for creating the mess, and the
developed world blaming the rising tigers and dragons with lax controls and non-existent
enforcement. What is needed is a more holistic understanding of issues that congregate around
climate matters and how each country and individual has a part to play in the only home we
have – Earth.
The Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization with a global reach,
has professed for several years that humans have to adopt a different lifestyle. We will have to
avoid status purchases, change our food consumption patterns, and avoid purchasing highly
processed and disposable products. All of these issues are eclipsed by the issues surrounding
emissions and consumption, with several environmental activists running around loudly
proclaiming doom and gloom, demanding that companies adopt ethical standards, pay for
pollution, reduce emissions, rather than admit that anthropocentric issues have caused greater
impact on the climate than greedy companies.
For the moment, issues of climate change are not at the forefront of the common man,
unless they live on Kiribati, Maldives or The Isle of Man. Bread and butter issues take
precedence over climate (Poortinga and Pidgeon 2003).
How fear has been used?
Fear has primarily been used via media campaigns to shock and awe citizens to
envisage what will happen if actions are not taken to abate climate change (O’Neil and
Nicholson 2009). Movies like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) which shows the coming of a
new ice age, a phenomena that takes centuries, affecting the eastern coast of United States in a

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matter of months. The fear here is entertainment, not so much a call to action. The most
prominent film on climate matters was an Inconvenient Truth. This intellectually effluent film
which rode on the controversy of a failed US presidential election (Al Gore vs Geoge Bush
2001), heralded a new champion for the environment – a game changer. But the sentiments
were short lived, although high charged. Another film, Climate Refugees (2010) did not receive
much acclaim, although the movie was less technically dense compared to an Inconvenient
Truth. The film was primarily about how climate change affects our world.
Greenpeace and other environmental stewards have spent copious amounts on audio
and visual advertisements. Augustin Gallion’s (2010) paper on Applying Persuasive Theories
to Geenpeace’s Global Climate Change initiatives reveals that the focus on climate change is
largely centered around larger issues like receding glaciers or mundane issues like turning off
the lights when not in use, or setting the air-conditioning at an efficient temperature range. So
the notion of fear that animals will become extinct, food may not be widely available, ocean
levels will rise and other cataclysmic events are beyond the intellectual reach of the average
man who needs to worry about more concrete things.
What are some sensational stories?
The incessant portrayal of images by mainstream media that depict destruction due to
super storms like hurricane Katrina and Sandy place us in awe on how the weather can
devastate a region. We take out our cheques and write a few dollars to a charity and we seemed
to have done enough for the environment. Once the doldrums of disaster die down, it is back to
normal.
Our lives are too isolated and distant from the disaster regions portrayed on media for
us to take any action. Except for a few extremists that believe that the world will end through
nuclear or natural disaster, few of us are even prepared to deal with a disaster. We do not have
any food stockpiles, emergency gear like blankets and tents tucked away, or even any idea to
deal with a contingency like long term confinement due to some calamity.
Former politicians criticize environmentalists, and often raise the issue of
sensationalism. Lord Lawson, a British conservative MP, journalist and the former Chancellor
of the Exchequer, mentioned in a recent news report that the portrayal of the Artic ice by Sir
David Attenborough (Daily Telegraph 29/5/2011) is highly exaggerated. Lord Lawson was of
the opinion that sufficient data exists for us to conclude that Artic ice and animals (mainly the
polar bear) are safe from dangers of climate change.

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Reports on coronal mass injection, commonly known as solar flares, have an impact on
our weather as well. The focus is often on how the solar flares may affect satellites in space or
that increased activity leads to phenomenal aurora borealis activity in the northern hemisphere.
One can only conclude that the damage to economic assets are more worrying than how it
could affect people directly in terms of climatic change.
Other sensational stories border on conspiracy theories, like humans do not cause global
warming (Simmons 2012), climate scientists have fabricated data (The Mercury Newspaper
11/2011), the sun is a major cause for climate change (The New American 09/2009). But the
most sensational of all are terms and numbers that the average person would be unaware of –
Gigatons (Herzog and Howard 2010). Many reports have begun to refer to this large word, but
it is a word that is difficult to conceptualise. The term, carbon budget, is equally confusing and
cannot be effectively acted upon by a layman.
Quite a number of advertising campaigns have promoted the idea that fresh drinking
water is now a premium commodity for which countries will go to war in the future. Melting
ice-caps and polluted seas and rivers may place our most vital resource in jeopardy. Oxford
University Press printed a study in 2008 outlining the increasing tensions between the United
States and Canada over water rights and access to water. The United Nations, through the Inter
Press Agency reported in 2003 that the global south could experience water wars.
Nanotechnology enables polluted water to be filtered in-situ and with more efficient
desalination plants, we could technically have unabated access to water should we deal with
this issue on a more global technologically cooperative level.
New and Effective Methods to Inspire Change
A Coral Reef Symposium held in Cairns, Australia in July 2012 showcased a children’s
book on the marine life in the Torres Straits, and sought to inspire young students to take an
active interest in saving marine life and their ecosystem. Getting children involved in
establishing a stake in their environment, but if the programme cannot be sustained over a long
period of time, the children who were initially taught to be empowered, could feel of sense of
helplessness in the future.
An International Youth Conference held in Jakarta, Indonesia in February 2011 with a
specific focus on climate change sought innovative ideas and solutions to climate matters, is a
beginning in a long process of raising awareness. Only when the younger generation is
empowered, could some change manifest.

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Horticulture Week (Dec 2006), a UK based magazine reported that landscaping to mitigate the
effects of climate change is a significant solution and urged its members to inspire students to
enter this emerging field. The limitations of landscaping center around resources to enable
effective landscapes that can boost small ecosystems to ultimately combine to form a network
that can deliver the benefits to residents by reducing pollutants, sandstorms, and other
phenomena related to climate change. Not all countries, counties, or cities have the resources to
create mitigation through this method.
A study by Hoog et al (2005) revealed behavior towards climate change must be
personal and direct, further explaining that the issue of climate that seems most threatening
must affect the individual directly and immediately. However in the seminal paper by O’Neill
and Nicholson-Cole (2009), they postulated that fear can be disempowering and hence might
create a sense of helplessness that climate matters have no solution.
One method could be to rope in religious institutions to help facilitate moral
responsibility to the climate, and to seek change through secular and non-secular movements.
Bergmann (2009) in his paper Climate Change Changes Religion posits that since climate
change challenges the image of God and in order to maintain the dimension of omnipresence
and omnipotence, religion has to play a significant role in showing that our actions directly
affect our environment and that in turn is taken note of in the divine world.
Another new consideration in bring about positive efforts in climate change would be to
institute an environment tax, payable for all non-green purchases. Companies would be taxed a
flat 5% for 5 years on their profits. This would aid the collection of taxes, and distribution of
taxes although might seem geographically skewed, would be redistributed based on where the
revenue was generated, rather than where the parent company resides or has its registered
address. A similar scheme was mooted by the former prime minister of Japan (in 2009), but the
focus was on carbon emissions. The global environment tax should tax everything that is nongreen, non-biodegradeable and non-recycleable, with a graduated scale for products that
generate more waste products in the consumption process of the product. This would however
remain a pipe-dream as the concept of taxes is often not well accepted in societies.
With development in electric cars moving to hydrogen fuel or air-powered cars, we will
have less to worry about our impact to the environment if consensus can be built among
industry stalwarts, government and consumers. Innovators in the field of radiology have been
able to radiate mosquitos and release them in the field to prevent offspring from being formed,
hence reducing malarial infections considerably. A vast zero-emissions city is being
constructed in the deserts of United Arab Emirates; Masdar will form the blue-print for future

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cities and how we can make use of sustainable resources to develop 21st century creature
comforts in offices and at homes. These and other innovations will surely and steadily guide us
towards a more sustainable world. Although the path to a more environmentally friendly world
is many decades away, with greater awareness, will hopefully come greater responsibility.
References
Bergmann, Sigurd. (2009) Climate change changes religion space, spirit, ritual, technology through a theological lens. Studia Theologica. 2009; volum 63 (2).
Doyle, J. (2007). Picturing the clima(c)tic: Greenpeace and the representational politics of climate change
communication. Science as Culture, 16(2), 129
Hoog, N., Stroebe, W., & de Wit, J. B. F. (2005). The impact of Fear Appeals on processing
and acceptance of action recommendations. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin
31, 24–33.
"Kyoto Protocol." United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Web. 26 Nov.
2009.
Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2007). Barriers perceived to engaging
with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications. Global
Environmental Change, 17 (3−4), 445–459.
Moser, S. C., & Dilling, L. (Eds.). (2007). Creating a climate for change: Communicating climate change and facilitating social change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Neill, S. & Nicholson-Cole, S. (2009). “Fear Won’t Do It”: Promoting Positive Engagement
With Climate Change Through Visual and Iconic Representations. Science
Communication 30, 355–379.