Why isn’t the alarmist propaganda working?

fear01

I wrote an analysis piece last year which was an attempt to categorise and second guess the different types of propaganda the climate alarmists would resort to. In the light of Nils Bohr’s witty remark that prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future, it was reasonably accurate.

Since then, two trends have become apparent, one old and one new. The new one is that of the five types of propaganda, they’ve increasingly settled on the pure scarem campaign. The rough definition of a scarem I gave was – whatever extreme weather event comes along, attribute it straight away to climate change and scare the pants off them. It doesn’t matter if there’s not a single shred of scientific evidence to back up that assertion.

The plus point of a good scarem is that all the media luvvies can be guaranteed to run with it, if only because it always produces a good headline and also it’s hard to rebut by the skeptics, since they have presently not much representation in the mainstream media. However, concurrent with the ongoing demise of climate alarmism, the skeptic viewpoint is getting increasing coverage in the mass media and I expect that trend to keep growing.

The downside of a scarem is that it’s so outrageous, it forces a rebuttal by exasperated practitioners inside climate science itself. Sligo’s flat announcement that global warming was causing the current flooding in the UK being attacked by her own people in the Met Office, is a glaring example.

The old trend is that despite the increasing vehemence of the propaganda, people stubbornly refuse to get alarmed and indeed, opinion poll after opinion poll finds that climate catastrophe is now firmly stuck at the bottom of their list of concerns.

Given that apparent paradox, a bit of simplistic puzzling is going on as a background process in alarmist circles. The dreaded consensus from a rag-bag of social scientists, activist scientists and Lewandowsy psychologists – yes, I am partial to oxymorons – is that it’s a failure to communicate their message; it simply needs some sort of makeover and all will be well.

New frock, go easy on the rouge, dump the face piercings, do something different with the hair or at least hide the Ziggy Stardust homage under a frilly bonnet and definitely lose the jack boots. It’s perhaps perverse of me, but I do enjoy watching such displacement activity and am more than content to watch them pursue such a misguided remedial solution, no matter how half heartedly.

The simple response is that it doesn’t matter how they try to re-frame the discussion, the ordinary person is more concerned about immediate worries like the economy and employment. Their worry horizon has shrunk back from any concerns about how the environment will be in a few hundred years, to just getting through this year in one piece. That is a very valid viewpoint which is terra incognito to various cabals of safely salaried people with the economic fat to get through a recession unscathed.

There are though a number of deeper reasons for climate alarmism bouncing off popular consciousness and you don’t need to be one of the oxymorons listed above to understand them either.

The first one has to be that the message, whatever its form, is nearly always tainted with a certain unmistakable whiff of arrogance which puts people off. There’s never an element of doubt about it, it’s simply do as I say or you’ll all die, and it comes with a none too subtle subtext of if you don’t do what I say, you’ll deserve to die. There’s simply no tolerance of dissent. They carry on like they’re our better informed superiors and that gets right up people’s noses.

Our self-appointed saviours are perceived by the ordinary person as having an authoritarian mind-set which they can’t shake and more tellingly, refuse to admit, never mind adapting the message in any more inclusive way in response to changing circumstances. They were for so long above criticism, they’re by now incapable of compromise or simply just listening. They’re very much in touch with each others bunker mindset but totally out of touch with the popular Zeitgeist.

The second reason is the unacknowledged killer in the room – people’s gut reaction to scarems. The alarmists increasing use of hysterical polemics to sell scarems to the general public is actually a favourable development from our viewpoint. An interesting piece of experimental psychology, originating from the University of Toronto, confirms one of our everyday experiences. It’s behind a paywall but a reasonably accurate summary of its conclusions can be found here. In essence, it found that if someone describes themselves as a crusading and militant stereotype, people not only don’t like them, but tend to do the opposite of what’s being demanded by them.

In everyman terms, if someone is perceived as or sounds like a committed militant, people tune them out. If there’s one self-inflicted wound that we on the skeptic side of the argument have to be very careful about, it’s that simple thing.

The third and final reason is one of the eternals of human nature. The real granddaddy of communications theory, Marshall McLuhan, once observed that the price of eternal vigilance is indifference. It’s very true but I think it’s a special case of a much higher level abstraction. Stress people enough, and keep on stressing them, and they break or just simply cease to react to the stress.

The extreme example is putting any soldier through enough combat; they eventually disconnect from the whole situation or they no longer give a damn about whether they live or not. There are more prosaic examples. The sixties generation were bombarded with the dismal opinion it wasn’t worth living a life four minutes away from nuclear obliteration, so they went the other way and started a cultural revolution which was very much life affirming.

Things didn’t get any better in the seventies – they were confidently assured global freezing, population growth and resource depletion would kill ninety per cent of humanity but they kept on procreating anyway. In the eighties, everybody took a break from worrying about the collapse of capitalism and couldn’t give a shit about anything other than spending lots of money on having a good time.

In the nineties we were assured by James “deep-gob” Lovelock that the looming thermogeddon would only leave a few surviving “breeding pairs” – don’t you just love the terms they think of us humans in – huddled at the north pole. For the last two decades, global warming ruled the roost but it always contained the very same cancerous seed of self-destruction buried deep within it’s entrails; it was always driven by constantly scaring people.

You see, the price of forever living in fear of something is to become indifferent to it in the end, and once you realise you’re still alive anyway, you’ll never fear that particular bogey man again.

©Pointman

Related articles by Pointman:

How to run a really bad infowar campaign.

The shape of things to come; Snailbats, HALsays, Scarems, LewPapers and DickPols.

I’m not a scientist but …

Click for a list of other articles.

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Comments
24 Responses to “Why isn’t the alarmist propaganda working?”
  1. k. montgomery says:

    Hey Pointy, have you read Zubrin’s book “Merchants of Despair”? Its a nice summary of 3 centuries of the anti-human movement. Tallies with much that you’ve been saying.

  2. greynotmad says:

    The public have all read or heard of “The boy who cried Wolf”. Even in Australia Professors Flannery and Steffen have made so many extreme, exaggerated, untrue and downright wrong predictions that they cannot even convince themselves.

    The latest excuse that the world is not warming because American winds have turned the Pacific Ocean into a water churn like awashing machine. 17yo Jessica Watson sailed (solo) unassisted around the world (as did other young people) and all safely crossed the Pcific Ocean.

    Any Professor who tells me that hot water sinks and cold water rises must have graduated from the Ar*e-up University.

  3. stan stendera says:

    Pointman strikes again!!!

  4. Rick Bradford says:

    Apart from being arrogant, the Alarmists come across as bitter, petty, rancorous and shrill, which naturally puts people off them.

    You can’t expect to have a debate when you start out by calling the other side “deniers” and “flat-earthers”.

  5. Jon says:

    I went through an undiagnosed hormone deficiency condition in my forties which resulted in massive anxiety, depression and paranoia about almost everything, including my own imminent death and global warming. After it was diagnosed and treated I found I had permanently lost my fear of both. Perhaps the global warming alarmists could do with a course of thyroid tablets.

  6. John Bell says:

    Excellent essay and insights! I wrote a little piece last year that Bishop Hill published, http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/1/7/the-minds-of-warmist-pundits.html in which I noted the warmists are glaringly hypocritical and that also puts people off. I agree that their shrill message is the boy who cried wolf. In engineering parlance it is known as signal saturation, more and more input but the output stops rising in response, and in their case it even drops, as you described. Here in Michigan, USA it has been a brutal winter and I hope it changes minds concerning global warming. Best regards to all!

    • Leigh says:

      We’re all in serious trouble when the Obama administration rolls out the “the weapons of mass destruction” to scare the begeezus out of us.
      Who briefs these high powered snake oil salesmen before they are unleashed on the world?
      John, i gather you are aware of John Kerry’s proclamation that Chicago is probably “gone” because of global warming.
      The bigger problem is no one and I mean no one called him on it at the time.
      As Flannery and Stephan’s predictions in Australia were not seriously challenged at the time.
      We internet “nut jobs” were treated with disdain and ridicule.
      John your pain and suffering through such a brutal winter may well be about to end.
      Especially if according to Kerry ,you live in Chicago.
      Your going to drown!
      This was gleaned from another blog just last week that I thought amusing.
      The problem is he was serious.
      “Paul Murray Live” has broadcast a clip of John Kerry telling Indonesia that “if sea level rises one metre, Chicago will be under water”.
      According to Wikipaedia, Chicago is on the shores of Lake Michigan which is at an elevation of 176 metres. To put Chicago underwater will require a sea level rise of 177 metres. Is John Kerry for real? His arithmetic seems to be as bad as most other warmist/alarmists.”

  7. johanna says:

    Yeah, um, no, um yeah, um no.

    You seem to assume that most people care deeply about these things. Not so.

    I was around for the latter parts of the “hippie” era and what came after. It was mostly about fashion and music and sex – Ian Dury had it pretty right.

    Most people’s engagement with the grand themes of politics etc are peripheral and shallow – and that’s not a criticism. It’s perfectly rational behaviour.

    Western culture is at a big crossroads just now, and it’s not about conventional politics.It’s about whether we consider any values worth defending and upholding, and if so, what they are.

    “Whatever” is not a basis for any kind of robust culture or society.

    People who used to find these values implicit in their nation, or their religion, or in defined social mores, now just have “whatever” as the underlying code. As most people don’t care much about politics or philosophy, that is the default position in the West on many issues.

    It’s a serious problem, IMO. If we just leave a vacuum, something will surely come to fill it.

  8. durango12 says:

    I am calling this phase of the global warming movement, the “Age of Astrology.” It represents perhaps the final and lowest circle. It is astrology because everything that happens is the result of one thing — driving your car or lighting your lights. Nothing is ever predicted that can be tested, but everything is made to fit after the fact. It is largely the domain of shrill politicians who see their avenue to extending their control over more of the economy…and us… slipping away. To give them credit, some warmist believer science types have come forth with statements and arguments against the astrology. But of course many are silent or supportive of it, lest their funding sources and routes to Royal Society fellowships or the National Academy wither away.

    But I am less chipper about it than I seem. These loons are dismantling the science process that took 400 years to assemble. It was put together slowly and painfully through the efforts of many great thinkers and science practitioners. Science was one of the truly great intellectual achievements of humanity and it is being destroyed in front of our eyes. The people who are doing this are truly evil.

  9. Graeme No.3 says:

    durango12:
    “Nothing is ever predicted that can be tested, but everything is made to fit after the fact. It is largely the domain of” ECONOMISTS.

    Haven’t you noticed how many of these ‘pundits’ / ‘prophets’ / ‘gurus’ haven’t any deep (or even medium) knowledge of science but readily calculate DOOM and DISASTER based on a complete unquestioning acceptance of gobbledegook. Stern in the UK, Garnaut in Australia are only two of the more prominent. Even Bjorn Lomborg considers Climate Change as undoubtedly true. One wonders how many political advisors are in the same category. Since they can produce apparently authoritative pages of what it will cost in future versus rather vague replies from sceptics (who don’t pretend to know the future with certainty), it may explain the slow acceptance in public areas of the creeping realisation that the IPCC, Al Gore, Uncle Pachauri and all are quite wrong.

    • durango12 says:

      Yes, I think you have to consider economics a failed project even though there have been some excellent thinkers along the way.

      Normally by now the science process would have self corrected — Thomas Kuhn told us about how this happens. But Kuhn never anticipated the intimate ties between funding, political power and a good chunk of the investment world, all of which makes those with dogs in the fight play for keeps. Think about what would happen to the billions annually thrown at the global warming gig, not just climate but all of the supposed effects from toads to trees. Think about the government apparatchiks swarming over us all to impose their will upon us. And think about those hundreds of billions chasing “green energy” that would be lost the instant the whole business is recognized as the scam that it is. All of this prevents the system from self correcting, and I fear it will continue to do so for some time to come.

      • johanna says:

        Billions of people live better than kings did 500 years ago, and you consider economics to be a “failed project?”

        We could do with more such “failures”,IMO.

  10. Steve Brown says:

    An excellent article, Pointman, and absolutely correct.
    I have spoken to some long-term colleagues about CAGW; in the beginning they were confirmed believers, now, some five years later, not only ‘not-so-much’ as now disbelievers!
    Why? What they experience is at total odds with what they have been told. The UKMO is one of the best allies that the climate realists have. In November 2013 they predicted a DRIER winter for England. That’s not what we got.

    http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84729

  11. Pointman says:

    K.Montgomery – yes, I’ve read Zubrin’s book and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone as a history of how silly cynicism about humanity looks after a few decades. Jon – thank you for sharing what can’t have been a pleasant experience and your suggestion for the meds they should be on has some merit. Greynotmad – “hot water sinks and cold water rises”, now you’re thinking like a climate scientist! Durango – I think the scientific process is finally starting to dismantle climate science and I do like your “Age of Astrology” classification.

    Steve Brown, like you, I’ve noticed a number of friends transitioning from an unthinking belief in authority to scepticism. Interestingly, there’s an edge of bitterness to the whole business. I think they feel their trust and good intentions with regard to the environment were betrayed.

    Pointman

  12. OssQss says:

    Nice read. THANKS!

    One must integrate the digital agers into the scarem tactic analysis. Many younger alarmist folks don’t realize that there is no reset button in the real world and stand behind thier anonymous keyboards with big brazened balls of steel. Cut off their internet access, and the flee into the darkness like rats.

    Perhaps that would be the most effective way to sway/scare the last few generations. Tell them that global warming is gonna cut off their internet and stop their smartphone from working. One thing is for certain, you will get their attention.

    Has anyone else viewed the fear in the eyes of a digital ager when they realize that they are approaching their data plan limit and still have a week to go before cycle end? It is reminiscent of a painful scene from the movie Alien ;-)

  13. durango12 says:

    @Joanna
    Capitalism is a successful project. Economics is a failed one. Do not confuse the two. More than 250 years after Adam Smith, no economist can say (though they will puff themselves up with assurance) whether it is demand or supply that drives the economy. If it is demand, then Keynesian government spending will be effective because it creates demand, artificially perhaps but demand nonetheless. If it is supply, then entrepreneurs (the Steve Jobs of the world) generate progress from new products and services, and government spending is just circulatory. This book is a good introduction to the issue http://www.amazon.com/Knowledge-Power-Information-Capitalism-Revolutionizing/dp/1621570274/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393529804&sr=1-1&keywords=george+gilder+knowledge+and+power

    • johanna says:

      Thanks for the lesson to Grandma on how to suck eggs. Ever heard of Say’s Law?

      Just because failed Keynsian policies are currently fashionable (because they fit in with statist politics), it doesn’t mean that economics is a failed project.

  14. I would take issue with you on the representation of sceptics in the main stream media – we have huge representation in the main stream media – it’s just that the mainstream media when it comes to climate is no longer the old fashion “print” media.

    Yes the old fashioned print media is full of dying businesses desperately trying to sell “climate porn” in the hope of staving off bankruptcy for just another year, but the real debate on climate now occurs on line and to be honest the “mainstream media” for climate is now WattsUpWithThat.com.

  15. Doug Proctor says:

    When I was a kid, I saw the Wizard of Oz, was read the Hansel and Gretel story, and in general given the idea that emaciated witches in pointy hats crawled around our house at night. I lay curled up, fetal-style getting to sleep for a long time, terrified that a bony hand would slid up the bed clothes from the bottom of my bed and seize me by the ankles – what would happen after that I never considered; it was beyond horrible. I remember the night when I realised I was exhausted, couldn’t sleep cramped up any more and simply didn’t care. I was just a kid, but I thought straight out that if the witches were going to get me, at least I’ll have had a good night’s sleep. Next thing I knew, I was awake, the sun was flooding into my bedroom and I knew witches didn’t exist.

    So I get your prediction: at some point you just don’t give a damn, and then, when nothing bad happens, you throw your belief in the IMMINENT threat. Witches may still exist, but I believe now that they aren’t targeting me, at least not in the 50-year timeframe. So too with CAGW: whatever the CO2 threat to our species may be, it is not one that will show up in my grandchildren’s lifetime, so – like the witches – it is possible, even probable, it doesn’t exist.

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