Why Isn’t The Alarmist Propaganda Working?

  • Date: 08/03/14
  • The Pointman blog

Despite the increasing vehemence of climate change alarmism, people stubbornly refuse to get alarmed and indeed, opinion poll after opinion poll finds that climate catastrophe is now firmly stuck at the bottom of their list of concerns. But why?


I wrote an analysis piece last year which was an attempt to categorise and second guess the different types of propaganda the climate alarmists would resort to. In the light of Nils Bohr’s witty remark that prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future, it was reasonably accurate.

Since then, two trends have become apparent, one old and one new. The new one is that of the five types of propaganda, they’ve increasingly settled on the pure scarem campaign. The rough definition of a scarem I gave was – whatever extreme weather event comes along, attribute it straight away to climate change and scare the pants off them. It doesn’t matter if there’s not a single shred of scientific evidence to back up that assertion.

The plus point of a good scarem is that all the media luvvies can be guaranteed to run with it, if only because it always produces a good headline and also it’s hard to rebut by the skeptics, since they have presently not much representation in the mainstream media. However, concurrent with the ongoing demise of climate alarmism, the skeptic viewpoint is getting increasing coverage in the mass media and I expect that trend to keep growing.

The downside of a scarem is that it’s so outrageous, it forces a rebuttal by exasperated practitioners inside climate science itself. Sligo’s flat announcement that global warming was causing the current flooding in the UK being attacked by her own people in the Met Office, is a glaring example.

The old trend is that despite the increasing vehemence of the propaganda, people stubbornly refuse to get alarmed and indeed, opinion poll after opinion poll finds that climate catastrophe is now firmly stuck at the bottom of their list of concerns.

Given that apparent paradox, a bit of simplistic puzzling is going on as a background process. The dreaded consensus from a rag-bag of social scientists, activist scientists and Lewandowsy psychologists - yes, I am partial to oxymorons – is that it’s a failure to communicate their message; it simply needs some sort of makeover and all will be well.

New frock, go easy on the rouge, dump the face piercings, do something different with the hair or at least hide the Ziggy Stardust homage under a frilly bonnet and definitely lose the jack boots. It’s perhaps perverse of me, but I do enjoy watching such displacement activity and am more than content to watch them pursue such a misguided remedial solution, no matter how half heartedly.

The simple response is that it doesn’t matter how they try to re-frame the discussion, the ordinary person is more concerned about immediate worries like the economy and employment. Their worry horizon has shrunk back from any concerns about how the environment will be in a few hundred years, to just getting through this year in one piece. That is a very valid viewpoint which is terra incognito to various cabals of safely salaried people with the economic fat to get through a recession unscathed.

There are though a number of deeper reasons for climate alarmism bouncing off popular consciousness and you don’t need to be one of the oxymorons listed above to understand them either.

The first one has to be that the message, whatever its form, is nearly always tainted with a certain unmistakable whiff of arrogance which puts people off. There’s never an element of doubt about it, it’s simply do as I say or you’ll all die, and it comes with a none too subtle subtext of if you don’t do what I say, you’ll deserve to die. There’s simply no tolerance of dissent. They carry on like they’re our better informed superiors and that gets right up people’s noses.

Our self-appointed saviours are perceived by the ordinary person as having an authoritarian mind-set which they can’t shake and more tellingly, refuse to admit, never mind adapting the message in any more inclusive way in response to changing circumstances. They were for so long above criticism, they’re by now incapable of compromise or simply just listening. They’re very much in touch with each others bunker mindset but totally out of touch with the popular Zeitgeist.

The second reason is the unacknowledged killer in the room – people’s gut reaction to scarems. The alarmists increasing use of hysterical polemics to sell scarems to the general public is actually a favourable development from our viewpoint. An interesting piece of experimental psychology, originating from the University of Toronto, confirms one of our everyday experiences. It’s behind a paywall but a reasonably accurate summary of its conclusions can be found here. In essence, it found that if someone describes themselves as a crusading and militant stereotype, people not only don’t like them, but tend to do the opposite of what’s being demanded by them.

In everyman terms, if someone is perceived as or sounds like a committed militant, people tune them out. If there’s one self-inflicted wound that we on the skeptic side of the argument have to be very careful about, it’s that simple thing.

The third and final reason is one of the eternals of human nature. The real granddaddy of communications theory, Marshall McLuhan, once observed that the price of eternal vigilance is indifference. It’s very true but I think it’s a special case of a much higher level abstraction. Stress people enough, and keep on stressing them, and they break or just simply cease to react to the stress.

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