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Climate Denialism is the Worst. Doomism Isn’t the Alternative.

I read a headline in Axios today that said “What IPCC report?” They are referring to the essential report from the U.N. that tells us exactly how serious the climate threat is. The report got covered. People heard about it. When a small group of swing voters was asked what it meant to them, one responded, “the headline he saw on CNN was so alarming it discouraged him from reading the story.”

Climate denialism may one day end up being a crime. Vested interests paid billions of dollars to discredit science, and create distractions to deny that climate change was something we needed to face and more importantly, do something about. You can read all about the unscrupulous efforts that went into this and all the companies and consultants complicit in engaging in this nefarious behavior.

For those of us who respect science and want to use the knowledge we have to create a safe, livable planet we easily decry denialism.  But we also need to consider if doomism is any better.

Doomism is problematic for four reasons.

First, from a communication perspective, it plays into apocalyptic fatigue. People are navigating so much right now from a pandemic to killer bees that their ability to put this in perspective is weak. When we are hyped up like this, we are in fight or flight mode. We need to move people into slow thinking, understand the problem, and then carefully consider our options. Doomism does the opposite. Second it saps people of agency. This means that even if they are willing to grasp the extent of the problem, they won’t feel they can do anything about it. So they won’t. Third, it can lead to a “what the hell” effect. Once agency is gone, people may just throw in the towel and not only make it better, but make it worse.  Lastly, by reinforcing that everyone is not doing enough, it reinforces that the social norm is to do nothing and people wonder more about why people aren’t doing anything (do they know something we don’t know?) and maybe they should take their queue rather than lead the charge.

As this piece points out, people who have hope, approach problems with agency thinking. They can do something about it and will seek pathways to do just that. Optimists on the other hand, look for the positive, and if they can’t find it, will deny or avoid it. This means when a report like the IPCC comes out and is very serious, the pessimists are already shutting down. If we heap on doomism we lose the optimists too. Our job is to take really hard to read reports and instill hope. Remind people we can do something, show them the people who already are, and celebrate the impacts that it’s having. When we fight denialism with efficacy and hope we win. With doomism, we just hasten the spiral of despair.

For more about how to tap social science to guide communication and motivate audiences, check out the Smart Chart 4.0.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 13, 2021 at 10:19 am and is filed under Coalition, connection and network building and Frame, narrative and message development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.