At Time, A Tale of Two Global Warming Covers

Back in the spring of 2006, Time magazine ran the cover at left warning Americans to "Be Worried, Be VERY Worried" about global warming. As I've written in different places (summary), this type of packaging for coverage of climate change is representative of the Pandora's Box frame of catastrophe.

By focusing in on specific dramatic environmental impacts such as melting polar ice, sea level rise, the threat to polar bears, or the possibility of more intense hurricanes, advocates and journalists seek to dramatize a technical issue and provoke public concern and attention. As Ellen Goodman coined it: "This is your Earth. This is your Earth on carbon emissions." Indeed, the metaphor is representative of a fear appeal strategy in health communication, much like the famous anti-drug PSAs from the 1980s.

Yet there are a couple unintended problems with this lead frame, as I have discussed. First, this line of communication plays directly into the hands of climate skeptics, only further reinforcing a deep partisan divide in climate change perceptions. As Andrew Revkin of the New York Times explains, given that the error bars of uncertainty for each of these climate impacts are much wider than the general link between human activities and global warming, these claims are quickly challenged by critics such as James Inhofe as liberal "alarmism," putting the issue quickly back into the mental box of scientific uncertainty and partisanship.

Second, from research in health communication, we know that these types of environmental fear appeals, especially when lacking specific recommendations for how citizens can respond to the threat, also likely translate into a sense of fatalism and inaction on the part of many members of the public.

But things seem to be changing. Gore's Inconvenient Truth is perhaps the best example of the Pandora's Box frame. Recognizing the limitations of this type of message strategy, his new communication initiative appears to have adapted in important ways, emphasizing new, more unifying messages. This type of message shift is represented in the latest issue of Time magazine, a special issue linked to this weekend's Earth Day. As the cover at left suggests, gone is the fear appeal of a Pandora's Box of looming disaster, and in is place is a moral appeal to "mobilize for the war against climate change." The lead article to the issue opens by comparing the climate challenge to the civil rights movement, the Space Race, and the recovery from the Great Depression. It then moves into specific recommendations on how to win the "Long War," with a heavy focus on solutions that will also grow the economy.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less