Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Monday, July 8, 2013

Communicating the climate problem: the Aristotelic approach

This 2007 video by Greg Craven has been viewed by more than five million people. Touted as the "rational response to the climate change debate" (see also Craven's book), it has been seen as an important milestone on diffusing the right climate message. So much that it gained a dedicated post in the denialist blog "WUWT"

In some respects, there is no doubt that Craven's argument is effective. Show the alternatives, discuss them, then come to a conclusion on purely rational grounds. It is the Aristotelic approach; it is speaking in syllogisms.

But there are problems with this video. For one thing, in the Youtube page where it appears, about one third of viewers pressed the "don't like" button. And, if you look at the more than 40 thousand comments, you'll notice that many, perhaps the majority, are rabidly denying the human role on climate change, or even its existence.

So, it seems that the video preaches to the believer but that it doesn't budge the unbeliever.  That doesn't meant that the clip is not well done, nor that it has had no impact. But, six years after its first appearance, we can see that the debate is way too complex, harsh, difficult, and emotional to be winnable by a "rational response".

It is a debate that cuts through our very essence as human beings. Syllogisms may affect our brain cortex, but are not enough to change the way our deep brain works. We need much more than syllogisms to win this battle.

Or so I see it. What do you think?


  1. Hello,
    I personally believe it is a loss of time to try to convince a denialist at this point in time.
    We're talking of beliefs of religious type and you don't convert a faithful without some supernatural apparition (let's say the super storm of the millennium).

    I don't know in US, but in EU, Climate Change is kind of obvious for a majority or close to majority of people. It is now lived as an inescapable fatality, a fate.
    The issue is not anymore to convince a critical mass of people the climate is changing and it is our economic activity who does the evil.
    The issue is now on letting people know what to do about it.
    A critical mass of people is currently living the probably most painful cognitive dissonance ever lived by mankind:
    I must feed my kids, I must therefore drive 100 km a day to work, I'm therefore destroying the future livelihood of my kids.
    This is unbearable for most human beings, but there is no meaningful/practical/acceptable offer available in current Zeitgeist.
    In my opinion this situation has several sources:
    For one, too many "Green" interests push their own agendas in their own interests:
    my windmills, my PV, my electric car, my way of life, my eco gizmo... is the solution, will save the day and preserve your standard of living
    All those are competing against each other to people's vote/attention/money breaking down the critical mass achieved.
    In addition, they're all plain lies. Standard of living won't be preserved.
    The reality check and the silly competition then disqualifies any proposal, letting people in despair. They believe there is no solution, so why bother.
    Secondly, there are no democracies. Power lies where power is: rich people, big corporations, big administrations. military. Those are the ones to lobby, not the faithful creationist.
    Actually, the insurance industry is way ahead in waking up. Rising insurance premiums are more convincing than any logical argument.
    Thirdly, we must stop lying. There is no way to address the issue without sacrifices. We must identify and quantify them, then design the policies best suited to make the sacrifices psychologically/morally acceptable to everyone (create the perception of fairly supported burden)
    To address efficiently the issue I only see those:
    - nationalize all energy sector ( and silence all "green/eco" gizmo sales rep, they pollute the reality and the debate )
    - create a heavy Carbon Tax
    - heavily progressive income and fortune eco-tax with redistribution to the poorest
    This would create the proper framework for a state to sensibly organize its energy sector and create the adequate incentives for the private economy to move away from fossil fuels.
    This would also create the stable context where the sacrifices can be known and measured to adapt the social policies to make them bearable and perceived as "fair" or "just".
    It doesn't have to be exactly like that but of this form: a clear path to a solution, a clear sacrifice, a fair distribution of the burden.
    I'm convinced a great deal of people would be relieved if they are proposed(semi-imposed by powerful interests) a solution to save their children's future, even if it means sacrifice.

    1. Hello PDF. Thank you for your thoughts above. If I compare my own intellectual and emotional reactions to the various things you say above, I am far more convinced or aligned with what you say (and how you say it) than by what Greg Craven says in his video (and how he leaves one with "no logical choice") Would anyone react positively to that? But then again I am far from being a denialist. I particularly like your attempt at trying to spell out WHAT TO DO. Those who are denialists or are still unconvinced will be taught by ever more facts on the ground. Either that or they will go to their graves unconvinced or denying. It doesn't matter much. And you are right about where the power lies so convincing more people isn't likely to help anyway. I smell some sort of a turning point over the next few years but it's hard to say what.

    2. Thanks for the sharing Max12345 (I'm DelNogal, PDF is a blogger blip)
      I'm in CH, so SwissRe is part of my universe. They show concern and they whisper to municipalities: build dikes if you want to be insurable.
      It is good in the sense they bluntly state CC and sea level rise in the face of New York.
      It is bad in the sense it has become a fate, and you'd better build dikes.
      If CC is a fact for SwissRe, it is a fact for almost anybody who counts (at least in CH).
      And to tell the truth, when I show to any Swiss, that SwissRe can calculate the increase of damage on NY due to CC, CC becomes self evident for her. Forget IPCC, forget science, if SwissRe calculates it, it is true.
      Now, if armies would declare war against CC, perhaps we could gain population commitment, necessary rationing and sacrifices, for the sake of wining this bloody war.

  2. Now I think of it, the scientific community should probably focus (if it is feasible) in quantifying the impacts of CC in terms of insurance events probability. I'm convinced the insurance (re-insurance) industry will be a key player in moving forward the right policies. They understand risk as a matter of profit and survival.
    If they can scientifically assess the risk, they can assess scientifically the premium increases needed to cover the risks. And no one can force an insurance company to operate at a loss.
    Rising premiums, backed up by scientific risk assessments are wonderful arguments. You cannot argue with an insurance explaining you you'll have to pay a fortune to insure your house on a coastal line promised to be drown because of CC.