Is fear the right way to address climate change?

Surprisingly, I had never seen the documentary that inspired many of today’s young environmental activists. I’m referring to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”.  I’ve owned it for a while, but never really had a great urge to see it. The main purpose of the film is to get people to care about the climate change and I already do, so why would I watch it?

Well, Professor Bill Allen showed the movie in my Covering Energy and Climate Change course. What struck me was the focus on what is going to happen to our planet without discussing the cause in great detail or the solutions. In fact the only semblance of a solution was the text that rolled during the credits (video) asking viewers to take action by doing thinks like being energy efficient and calling their legislators. The movie is meant to scare people into doing something.

I see where it makes sense. Lack of interest and lack of knowledge are huge obstacles to solving the problems posed by climate change, but really that’s not a solution. The emotional effect it leaves is a quick reaction, not a permanent change of heart. After a few days, people forget the enormous, looming threat that global warming poses. I don’t have any numbers to verify that, (and it may seem contradictory to this post’s first sentence) but psychology says that these emotional appeals are ephemeral, because they appeal to our peripheral senses. Those that were affected long after are the people that took action, because that locks the belief into place.

I champion the film for the science it espouses and the emotional connection it creates to global warming/climate change. But a great film, looking to persuade and change behaviors on climate change would have the emotional appeal and fantastic science that “An Inconvenient Truth” has, but would look at how we can make a difference a little more closely than Gore does. That would make the documentary complete.

There is another film called “Cool It” (the book is titled The Skeptical Environmentalist) which may contain some of the same sentiments I just expressed. I’ll find out when I see it (and read it).  I’ve heard it is somewhat of a response to Gore’s film, and proposes some different solutions to climate change.

In this TED talk, Gore presents what I was wanting to hear, although this talk is from before the release of the movie. (Start around the six minute mark to skip his beginning jokes)

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