Research Update Summer 2004

Does tomorrow ever come? Disaster narrative and public perceptions of climate change T3.DAT
The film ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ depicted the earth’s climate in an abrupt and catastrophic slide into a new ice age. Its disaster narrative played upon the uncertain science surrounding the possible effects of an event such as thermohaline circulation shut-down. By their own admission the film-makers acknowledged the necessary dramatisation and sensationalism of an otherwise non-Hollywood subject. Even so, as the cameras rolled, our world today was being inundated by tidal surges, typhoons, flooding and forest fires. These events fanned the flames of artistic endeavour leading those involved to feel that what they were portraying could perhaps, one day, be a reality. As a result, it was felt by many involved in the making of the film that they could well have a major influence over the behaviour of society to do something about global warming/climate change before it becomes too late.

The Hollywood blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow” showed a world in which climate change led to sudden and catastrophic impacts. But how did this film affect the public psyche in the UK?

When the film “The Day After Tomorrow” was released, scientists and media critics speculated how it might impact on public perceptions and action on climate change. Some believe the film will increase awareness about climate change and even galvanise the public to put pressure on governments to act on climate issues, while others think it will reinforce scepticism or have no impact at all. This research project aims to investigate the impact of this film on people’s perception of climate change. Our analysis focuses on four key issues: the likelihood of extreme impacts; concern of climate change versus other global problems; motivation to take action; and responsibility for the problem of climate change. We adopt an innovative and integrative set of social sciences methods to explore this issue. Over 300 respondents selfcompleted a questionnaire (one part before seeing the film, the other after) outside a cinema where the film was being shown. Respondents were then invited to participate in focus groups to explore their perceptions in depth, and to participate in a Q Sort activity. Preliminary results will be presented at the Tyndall Assembly and publications will follow.

Contact the lead investigator: Prof. Kate Brown ( Other researchers involved in this project: Suraje Dessai (, Miguel Doria, Kat Haynes, Tom Lowe, Dr. Emma Tompkins, Katharine Vincent Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK; School of Development Studies, Centre for Environmental Risk and School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

Sources for further information
BBC poll on climate change - nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/28_07_04_climatepoll.pdf Dessai, S., W.N. Adger, M. Hulme, J. Turnpenny, J. Köhler and R. Warren (2004) Defining and experiencing dangerous climate change. Climatic Change, 64, 11-25. Film website - Petts, J., S. Niemeyer, K. Hobson and G. McGregor (2004) Public conceptions of rapid climate change: triggering response? Paper for the International Workshop on ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change, Norwich, 28-29 June 2004.

Research Theme 3 - Adapting to Climate Change