The emotional effect of climate porn

Regular readers will be aware that, while I follow the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, I have a dim view of sensationalist attempts at conveying the message. Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film An inconvenient truth had me grinding my teeth, even though I acknowledge the skill that went into the making of this work of hyperbolised documentary.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Manchester University psychologist Geoffrey Beattie argues that approaches such as that of the former next president of the United States have real emotional value. Précising a study published in the journal Semiotics, Beattie looks at specific emotional states in test subjects before and after viewing extracts from An inconvenient truth. Beattie goes on to ask: “Can films like this produce such a strong response that they actually make a real difference to how we live our lives?”.

Gore’s film failed to produce the produce the kind of changes he was hoping for, but it certainly had a strong emotional effect on viewers. Whether this was positive or negative in overall terms is open to question, though I personally would argue that sensationalism combined with playing loose with the facts ends up polarising opinion in a generally negative manner.

Still, I’m glad that psychologists such as Beattie are attempting to quantify and qualify the emotional effect of popular climate communication. As he says, the challenge is to build effectively on the immediate psychological effects of climate communication so that the public actually changes its behaviour.

Further reading

Geoffrey Beattie, “Making an action film”, Nature Climate Change 1, 372 (2011)

Beattie et al., “An inconvenient truth? Can a film really affect psychological mood and our explicit attitudes towards climate change?”, Semiotica 187, 105 (2011)