Climate Change ‘Scare Tactics’ Wont Work
Emily Graham – Express.co.uk December 25, 2009
A leading researcher into attitudes on climate change has claimed Government scare tactics are only increasing public scepticism about global warming.
Dr Lorraine Whitmarsh, who has carried out extensive research into public mistrust on the issue, says scaremongering to convey environmental messages is not effective.
Instead she argues low carbon lifestyles - that can save people money and have long term health benefits as well as helping slow climate change - should be heavily incentivised.
She told Express.co.uk: "The Government have tried to communicate climate change but they haven't done it well.
"Using scare tactics such as in the latest campaign with a drowning dog helps to raise the issue but it also suggests we are all doomed and there is nothing else we can do."
She added: "The Government isn't a very trusted or credible source of information for the public. Politicians need to do more to provide rewards and incentives for people who lead low carbon lives.
"It's about more than educating people on climate change. Low carbon lifestyles should be made much more attractive, and not so that people immediately think of green weirdos. It's about changing the whole image of being green."
Green Party spokesman Spencer Fitzgibbon agreed, saying: "The Labour Government has always been a good decade behind where it ought to be. Scare tactics will work with some people but it's much better to empower the general public with appropriate policies instead. If you haven't got a good public transport system for example, using your car is the only option."
He added: "There is a certain point at which everybody had to acknowledge that the world is round and the flat earth society just had to shut up. There has been for many years an effective consensus amongst scientists that the world is getting warmer.
"Sceptics are in a very small minority but they have jumped on the Copenhagen bandwagon to tell their story. The media coverage tends to give undue weight to climate sceptics given that they are a very few in number."
We contacted the Government Department of Energy and Climate Change, which said it stood by its "creative" advertising campaign and said it was doing "a huge amount of work to incentivise low carbon lifestyles through its Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) scheme, designed to help develop green community projects, roll out home insulation and cut energy bills.
A spokesman added: "We will also soon be introducing "clean-energy cash back" which will mean people will receive money for producing their own small scale renewable electricity, even if they use it themselves."
A recent Express.co.uk poll revealed that the majority of our readers are climate change sceptics. When asked 'Do you believe climate changed was caused by humans?' a staggering 66 per cent answered 'no'.
A quarter of the 2,000 readers polled said yes, while just 8 per cent were undecided.
And in a similar poll by the Daily Express last week, 98 per cent of readers believed they were being conned over global warming. The overwhelming findings came as the European Foundation published a dossier detailing 100 reasons why global warming is natural which clocked up over 350,000 hits on our website.
Dr Whitmarsh says that while scepticism is "healthy", it is frustrating that many of these views aren't based on the full range of information available.
"Often people are sceptical simply because it supports what they would like the case to be - or what their favourite communicator is saying," she said. "A large part of scepticism we see is down to the messages about climate change that are uncomfortable and require us to change the way we lead our lives.
"People don't necessarily relate to carbon levels so it will do no good preaching about carbon footprints. But there are lots of benefits to making day-to-day changes that are good for climate change that are nothing to do with the environment. Walking or cycling to work for example is good for your health and for your pockets. For people who really don't believe in or care about climate change it's important to adjust the messages to motivate them.
"Unfortunately the things that would make the very biggest difference in terms of people's behaviour for mitigating climate change such as travel choices and food choices are the things that people appear to be least willing to change."
We spoke to climate change sceptic and natural scientist Peter Taylor, author of Chill: A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory, who says the rising level of scepticism in Britain is due to widespread mistrust in politicians.
He told us: "Most people at a gut level feel they are being scammed. Britain has just been through Iraqi war syndrome. The public has just seen the banking world collapse. They've seen scams where one individual banker could create of Ponsi scheme worth millions dollars.
"There's been masses of corruption and propaganda over global warming too. Then they see people - largely from the right wing but who aren't entirely untrustworthy and have a certain level of gravitas - saying its all rubbish and they think aha!. Even if they don't share the politics they realise the whole thing could be a major scam.
"On a gut level people listen, not the science of what experts or politicians are saying but to whether or not they can be trusted."
Last updated 30/12/2009