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Recent discussion on several climate blogs (for examples, see many of the sites on the blogroll) have focussed on the different understandings of climate issues and the influence of the media on shaping public opinion. If the early indications of the opinion poll (see previous post) are anything to go by, I’d say that there should be some concern in climate science about the lack of understanding and general scepticism of a significant minority, possibly the majority, of the public. Given that most of those respondents are from the UK, which is by no means as polarised as US public opinion, the implications should be worrying. I have posted about this problem before.

So, the question needs to be asked; how does the science get ‘sold’ to the public? If we accept for the time being the assumptions made by Eli Rabett and Michael Tobis, that the ‘window’ of discourse is largely determined by the mass media, the only effective way to convince the public, and thereby the policy makers, that action on climate change is an urgent issue with long-term implications, is to make use of the mass media, or contribute directly to it.

When ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ appeared on the UK’s Channel 4 last month, several commentators on RealClimate suggested that the ‘mainstreamers’ need to make their own TV documentary. Given what is said here, this would seem to be a good idea, for the community of people who believe that the message (perhaps we should say the ‘right’ message) is not getting across where it matters, to do something about it.

The success and impact on opinion of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ last year demonstrates the powerful influence that film can have on public perception. The same can be argued for the fictional ‘Day After Tomorrow’, which is still cited as a source of understanding by a large number of ‘amateur’ (e.g., the public) commentators.

But there have been other films in recent times which have also helped shape public perceptions of possible future climates and social scenarios; BladeRunner is one example; Twelve Monkeys, Brasil, AI, Minority Report, 28 Days later, also contribute to a range of perceptions of ‘where the world is going’.

Historically, the origins of cinematic ‘apocalyptic’ narratives can be linked fairly directly to the science fiction of the 1960s and ’70s, especially that published in the UK. Not surprisingly, in the search for ‘bigger bangs’ and ever more ‘earth-shattering’ epic contexts for human heroism to be played out, Cinema can be seen to have turned in this direction for its inspiration. But are these perceptions seen as possible fact, or dismissed as fiction? Is the public perception of climate change coloured by an underlying sense that current climate science is closer to ‘science fiction’ than to ‘science fact’, in terms of the narratives it constructs? Does the public see the ‘warnings’ of climate scientists and environmental lobbyists as simply another ‘apocalyptic’ scenario, and as such, to belong to the realm of the fictional or speculative, rather than the world of hard science?

If this is indeed the case, then there is a long way to go before policy makers, who unsurprisingly react to public opinion rather than form it, are going to feel obliged to take action. The implication is that there needs to be a new series of narratives, constructed over a period of time, which deal with the ‘real’ issues of climate change, and distances the science from the fictional superstruct which currently colours public understanding. It’s just a thought.

Be loved.

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April 2007