Steering away from ‘climate porn’

Alarmist language used to discuss the threat of global warming is tantamount to “climate porn”, offering a thrilling spectacle but ultimately distancing the public from the problem, a leading progressive think tank has warned.

This alarmism, seen in almost every discussion about climate change, excludes the possibility of real action, suggesting the problem is too big to be overcome, according to a study published by Britain’s left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research.

The institute examined more than 600 articles from the UK press, and more than 90 TV, radio and press advertisements, news clips and websites to find out how the media, government and green groups are communicating climate change.

It concluded that the discussion on climate change in Britain was confusing, contradictory, chaotic, and likely to make the public feel disempowered.

The report identified two ways of communicating the climate problem that should be avoided: using inflated or extreme language and focusing on small actions to solve the problem.

It warned that the “we’re all going to die” approach, which refers to climate change as “awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control”, excludes the possibility of action.

“Alarmism might even become secretly thrilling – effectively a form of ‘climate porn’. It is seen in almost every form of discussion on the issue,” it said.

Green groups and the Government favour the “small actions” approach, characterised as “I’m doing my bit for the planet – and maybe my pocket”, which could be ineffective.

The report said: “It asks a large number of people to do a few small things to counter climate change. The language is one of ease and domesticity with references to kettles and cars, ovens and light switches. It is often placed alongside alarmism. It is likely to beg the question: how can this really make a difference?”

Instead of those approaches, the institute urged the Government and green groups to treat climate-friendly activity as a brand, “making it feel natural to the large numbers of people who are currently unengaged with the problem”.

Solutions to climate change could appeal to Britons’ sense of “ordinary heroism” as exemplified in the Battle of Britain. The argument on climate change should be treated as if it has already been won, the report said.

“If the public is to be persuaded of the need to act we must understand how climate change is being communicated in the UK,” said Simon Retallack, the institute’s head of climate change.

“Currently, climate communications too often terrify or thrill the reader or viewer while failing to make them feel that they can make a difference, which engenders inaction.

“Government and green groups should avoid giving the impression that ‘we are all doomed’ and spend less time convincing people that climate change is real.

“The focus should be on the big actions that people can take to address climate change, like switching to a hybrid car, fitting a wind turbine or installing cavity wall insulation, not just the small ones such as turning down the thermostat or switching off the lights.

“Climate-friendly behaviours need to be made to feel like ‘the kinds of things that people like us do’ to large groups of people.”