What Energy Crisis?

12th November, 2009
Niall McMahon

Various news agencies are reporting an increase in climate change scepticism; this is a little worrying! Climate change is happening and it's very, very probable that it's caused by humankind. Since smarter energy provision and management is key to any climate change strategy, what does this apparently growing reluctance to believe in climate change and to support mitigation plans say about the public attitude to new energy technologies? Probably not very much. Doomsayers have never been very popular with the mainstream. People simply don't like negativity, at all levels, from the individual to the institutional and people tend not to believe in threats that are not imminent.

The evidence of climate change, with careful analysis, correlates human activity with global temperature increases. Fossil fuels will run out in the future. For these two reasons, it's imperative that we develop new, cleaner energy technologies, among other important things. The problem here, however, is more about the delivery of the message. Almost everybody would agree that a future with clean technologies, a stable environment and happy and healthy people, is a very desirable thing. To infinity and beyond! Threats of climate change destruction, peak oil, and so forth, create worry and fear; negative threats, unless imminent and well-defined, do not help.

This idea is well described by by Cialdini, Martin and Goldstein in their 2007 book Yes! The Science of Persuasion. The example they give, reviewed in the Times, of the towel re-use notices found in almost every hotel nowadays, parallels the problem with the public attitude to climate change: people are deeply affected by the actions and beliefs of others.

Scientific communicators and governments must stop only lecturing and instead set out positive visions about a future where climate change mitigation and energy reform is simply part of what we want to do. It's what we're for, not against.

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