It’s Time to Scare the Bejesus Out of People about Climate Change

Part 2 – More Bejesus Needed, But for Whom?


Over the past few years we have explored the challenge of talking about climate change in ways that might influence or move readers to accept the reality of or believe more deeply in the risks from climate change, and even to take some action to fight these risks.  Often we are working off a post by David Roberts of Vox and now we have a recent post from Roberts that has triggered some follow up thoughts to previous posts of our own.

Roberts looks at “alternative framings” on getting people’s attention on climate change in contrast to the most frequent frame which is: climate change is dangerous and we should do what we can to avoid it. Recent research from Switzerland examined some “alternative framings”, including: global warming as an economic opportunity, a way to spur technological innovation, a national security threat, a way of reducing local pollutants, a religious or moral imperative.  The result of the study was that alternative ways of speaking about climate change did not increase support for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation.

Like most of us, Roberts is a bit frustrated that, seemingly, no matter what “framing” we use, it does not affect people.  It seems that we all are trapped in existing frames reinforced by trusted sources and repetition, and breaking through these spaces is not easy.   The old adage seems to prevail:  know your audience and speak to them in ways they are familiar with.

Another dimension is suggested by recent politicking.  We hear much about energizing the base.  That is, politicians, and Trump is a prime example, can and do say the most frightful (with Trump also the most outrageous) things to motivate their already committed supporters to stay committed, to give money and, above all else, to get out and vote.  Other spokespersons are delegated the task of speaking to undecided or independent voters to persuade them of the legitimacy of the party’s positions. 




Isaac Cordal, Politicians talking about climate change




Perhaps we have a parallel universe with regard to climate change.  There are the people who fully understand the reality and risks of climate change and are committed to doing something about it.  They are responsive to the most frightful things we can say about the impacts from climate change, because they “know” them likely to be true, and getting reinforced can keep them engaged, active and contributing. We can scare the bejesus out of them, to good effect.   See, It’s Time to Scare the Bejesus Out of People about Climate Change (1 April 2014).  We should not forget this “base” of support for climate change, as the Democrats forgot much of their base in the 2016 election.

For the others — the undecided, the skeptics and deniers —we need to continue to rely on hard evidence, clear thinking and exposition.  We need to continue to expose the nefarious doings of the fossil fuel industry undermining our efforts, end subsidies for fossil fuels, promote the environmental and economic benefits of renewable energies, and remind people that the extreme weather events they are experiencing are unlike what they have witnessed in their lives and are due, in large part, to climate change. 

We should not forget that these messages have developed only over the past several decades.  When people first began to address climate change in the 1980s, the risks were largely theoretical, and therefore unpersuasive, and large-scale reliance on sun and wind was a dream.  Just several decades later these are both actualities.

And remember the struggle to overcome the tobacco industry in its denial of the health risks from smoking and, importantly, second-hand smoking.  This struggle has taken 40-50 years and is not yet over because of continuing well-funded industry opposition.

Finally, don’t forget to reach out to the next generations on climate change, as they grow up.  It’s their fight as much as anyone’s.

When all else fails, we will have to rely on fire and brimstones, or a series of catastrophes, to persuade the uncommitted.




David Roberts, “Is it worth trying to “reframe” climate change? Probably not.” Vox (27 Feb 2017).

“It’s Time to Scare the Bejesus Out of People about Climate Change,” in ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 April 2014).

“Talk, Talk, Talk About Climate Change – It’s Driving Some Well-Intentioned People (like Jonathan Franzen) Crazy,” in ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 May 2015).

“It’s time to label sacks of coal like we do packs of cigarettes: SMOKING KILLS” in ieBLOG section of irish environment (1 July 2014).


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