The 10:10 Climate Video: Are European Greens Engaging in Self-Carthasis or Trying to Connect with the Public?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Sometimes you get the feeling that European climate advocates are producing media presentations intended for themselves--and that reinforce their own anxieties about climate change--rather than media that is intended to connect with the broader public. As was the case in last week's 10:10 exploding kids video, these presentations feature shock imagery and present worst case, catastrophic impacts.
Research findings, however, would argue against this message strategy. As I've written, while these fear appeals attract attention, they do little to motivate personal change, risk promoting a sense of fatalism about the problem, and make their sponsors susceptible to counter-charges of alarmism.
If the 10:10 campaign's misfire were an exception, there would be little to be concerned about. But this is now the third video released by European greens over the last year that involved months of planning, but that demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding -- even ignorance -- of what research might suggest would be persuasive to the wider public.
As the first example, consider the video presentation below that kicked-off the Copenhagen climate summit last year, produced by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this presentation, a young girl goes to bed traumatized by a series of TV news reports of climate catastrophes. In her sleep, she dreams that she is outside playing as the Earth cracks under her feet threatening to swallow her up, as an Armageddon cloud forms over head, and as water washes her away. After screaming herself awake, she is comforted by her father, and logs on to find out information about COP15. In her anger and fear, she runs to the top of her apartment building to record a video clip that urges "Please help save the world."
As the second example, consider this video from www.planestupid.com, a UK "network of grassroots groups that take non violent direct action against aviation expansion." In a scene that triggers memories and images of people jumping from the World Trade Towers on 9/11, the video depicts polar bears dropping from the sky and smashing on skyscrapers and concrete.
In a round up expert reactions at Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog, film producer Marshall Herskovitz deems the 10:10 video an example of the "pornification of violence which has overtaken the world media."
I agree with Herskovitz that these ads represent a loss of sensibility about violence, shock, and gore. How far will advocates go in their attempts to arouse? While these graphic depictions. by way of catharsis, might be therapeutic to greens suffering extreme anxiety about climate change, research would predict that other than grabbing attention, the message effect is likely to boomerang.
As I wrote earlier today, on climate change, it's time for green activists to step outside their own echo-chamber of interpretation and discussion and to listen to the wider public about what is relevant and compelling about the issue.
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