Drama, drama, drama

For those of you who haven’t followed the environmental section of the Daily Mail or Fox News recently (probably best, since apparently 93% of Fox’s climate coverage is wrong anyway), you might have missed the new piece in the Daily Mail claiming “global warming has ended” and that the hype about climate change is unwarranted. These messages spread like wildfire, which is unfortunate because the majority of people get their information about climate change from mass media (Carvalho & Burgess, 2005, Trumbo & Shanahan, 2000). 

It’s part of an endless media cycle in which someone always seems to be desperately grasping for a reason to doubt the science and natural phenomena we’ve been observing over the past decades. I understand. Sometimes I too wish I could just bury my head in the sand and pretend that the droughts and the floods, and the fastest ocean acidification in 65 million years were all part of a bad dream. 

In fact, there’s an emerging area of behavioral psychology that has studied what makes these naysayers ‘tick’. Feinberg and Willer concluded in a 2010 study that the crazy-dire-apocalyptic predictions about climate change challenge an underlying, “deeply held belief” that the world is generally “just, orderly, and stable.” O’Neill and Cole (2009) have pointed to the “finite pool of worry” effect, and split so-called “fear appeal” into 3 parts:
1. The existence of the threat
2. The severity of the threat to the individual
3. The individual susceptibility to the threat.
Essentially, if you don’t feel like you could have any significant impact on the problem at hand- i.e. you can’t control the external danger- then you’re inherently inclined to control your internal fear, often through skepticism or fatalism or denial. True, it’s a maladaptation, as O’Neill and Cole point out, because you’re not actually reducing your exposure to the threat of climate change… but it’s a very real coping mechanism.

Anyhow, if you’d like to know just how the Daily Mail skewed their message, the Met Office (who conducted the research mentioned) actually responded to that news article on their blog. It’s a little dense, but you can read it here, but there’s also a nice summary here
 
Also, the British Guardian has a strong rebuttal to the Mail piece that you can read here. 
 
Any conclusions about media and climate change, about the Daily Mail piece, or the behavioral psychology underlying it all? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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