High profile publicity may shock, offend, and dismay people, but it is part of the process of change. While pundits and climate change deniers may freak out when frightening publicity like “An Inconvenient Truth” appears, it is a key factor in getting a lot of people thinking, learning, and moving. Later, when things didn’t turn out so badly, people can point to the publicity and say “See? It was all BS. Nothing happened.” Was the extreme publicity part of the process that mitigated the problems and made them not as bad as initially predicted? Where would we have wound up without it?
Extreme publicity is a key part of the cultural milieu that moves us to mass action. I suggest that public opinion and action are like a cloud of smoke. You can put up a big fan and attempt to move or disperse the cloud, but it may be hard to see exactly how much you are accomplishing at the time. Natural factors will affect the cloud’s movement, density, and effects on people, and will limit the ability of the fan to disperse it. Some people will complain about the noise of the fan, why it was brought there or turned on, or the wind it creates, but it will be part of making conditions better.
Many people have developed a “thick skin” when it comes to the media and politics. Take the climate change issue, for example. There are plenty of people who don’t understand the information, who are disconnected from the media and just don’t pay attention to it, who don’t want to think about seemingly-overwhelming ecological problems and forecasts, or who are so jaded by pundit and propaganda-driven news that they discount everything they hear. As a result, it takes some pretty shocking and convincing press to get them to pay attention and take the message seriously. An Inconvenient Truth frightened and turned off a lot of people, but it brought “global climate change” to the American kitchen table where people really began to talk about it.
Shocking media messages get attention, but we need those messages based in sound science, not in sensationalistic grabbing for market share. When there is real credibility to the message, hopefully because it is based on scientific studies, the news can be a lot more constructive and motivating. Since a large part of dealing with our future problems with energy use, pollution, overpopulation and climate change rests on individual choices and actions, reaching the majority of the people with solid, useful information is important. In today’s dynamic and media-driven American culture, it appears that shocking messages on the environment will continue, as will the varied (and sometimes shocking) reactions to them, but that is just the way the system works.
Seek the truth, and think about what you learn. Healthy skepticism is good, but knee-jerk denial, attacking the sources, and spinning the topic are counterproductive. There is far too much sensationalism and knee-jerk reactionism in today’s media, unfortunately. I was frightened by “An Inconvenient Truth”, and found myself taking it with a lot of “salt”, but it was the simple satellite pictures of the icecaps, pictures of shrinking glaciers, and similar information that got my attention, not the fact that Al Gore was the speaker. Those pictures said a thousand times more to me than any person could. Whether it is our fault or not doesn’t matter. The global climate is changing, and if we can do anything to understand and stabilize it, it certainly looks like we should.
“Shocking” media items may strike us as good or bad, but misrepresenting the facts is a mistake that hurts everyone. Wherever one stands on issues like global climate change, we all owe it to ourselves to learn the facts and avoid inflammatory rhetoric when discussing them. We also need to keep in mind that cultural change involves a wide range of stimuli and responses occurring over time. While the goal in addressing a problem may be to “disperse the cloud”, it may not be obvious that the cloud is actually changing until some time has passed, and the changes can be seen in comparison to the initial state of things. In the meantime, there will be a need for “fans” to incrementally move the cloud and encourage changes that will contribute to the situation positively.
The best result might be to be able to observe that “The reports and predictions were all exaggerated”. Later on, when people say “See, it wasn’t that big a deal after all.” it’s quite possible that the reason is because people’s consciousness was raised initially. That’s just the way change happens. The nicest thing is when the originally-forecast problems don’t pan out the way initially predicted, and the situation winds up being better. That’s no reason to pooh-pooh the original, sometimes shocking, message, though, or its authors, as that was still (hopefully) a force for positive change.
Please be a part of positive change. As always, change is inevitable, and by taking an ownership position one can influence it in a positive direction. I encourage you to be part of the positive change by learning the facts, not just from one but from many alternative and opposing sources, and to take action by changing your lifestyle and letting your government representatives know what you want and think.
Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your comments.