Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Climate Change awareness: facts or scaremongering?

“Alarmism is excessive or exaggerated alarm about a real or imagined threat. So an alarmist basically inflates a potential threat beyond the real issue”. - New Anthropocene

After going through the data and learning of how climate change stories have plummeted in most global media and also noting, as keen observer of Ghanaian media, how a similar trend is happening in Ghana, I started thinking of the possible causes. One thing that struck my mind is the trend of the articles that are published on climate change! It always seems to be predicting doom! Can that be what is throwing people off?

I took time off to talk to a few non-scientist friends and find out from them what they know about climate change. I just sent this message via Facebook, yahoo messenger and skype: “My friend, please I want to ask you a question so kindly answer me. It's just for research purposes and I want a quick, frank answer. When you hear CLIMATE CHANGE, what comes to your mind? Is it good news or bad news? What emotion does it convey?” The answers I received within 5 minutes were really insightful. I am reproducing some of the answers I got in this piece:

“This climate change thing, I am even tired of hearing it. If we are going to die, let’s die. After all, we shall all die one day” – An accountant, Ghana

“Climate change means unpredictable weather patterns. It’s bad news, we are always see the bad effects of it who will be happy to see the effects of drought, acid rain, storms and hurricanes-just to mention a few”- Banker, Ghana

“Scary, some kind of the world is changing from good to bad. That's the feeling I get. I've never thought about any positive side” – IT person, Ghana

“When I hear climate change, it's a bad news for me” – Secretary, Burkina Faso

I think it is good news. With much attention to the gradual depletion of the ozone layer, I personally don't like to walk much under scorching sun – IT person, Ghana

“I know it has got something to do with the change of weather over a period of time. It could be either good or bad depending on the pattern and I am even sure that we as humans also contribute to this climate change” – Business Analyst, Ghana

“All the negative things we have done to destroy the environment are now coming to hurt us. It’s bad news. I am afraid for the future” – Development worker, Ghana

“Tsunamis, flooding, disaster, all are bad things. It is bad news” – Student, University of Ghana.

“They say little rainfall and that means no farming and no food. It is bad news. It makes me afraid” – Electrician, Ghan

“Climate change is bad weather. High temperature all the time, flooding all the time. It is causing many problems in Accra, especially” – Fashion designer, Ghana

“When I hear of climatic change, I get the sense that weather is changing not for the better but for the worse, and these are basically due to our own parochial harmful activities. it doesn't sound as good news to me, this is due to the fact that almost all the news I have heard on air about climatic change are directed at the worsened side of the climate. The emotion it conveys is not comfortable at all, I believe much can be done to reduce and possibly eradicate the issues of negative climatic change” – Civil Engineer, Ghana

Those were the responses I got from a cross-section of people. Out of the first 10 responses that came, only 1 person said climate change was good news although the continuation of that answer made it difficult to see the good news in it. This gives a fair representation of how the climate change message has been preached and the feeling it conveys in people. Then I ask myself, what can be the consequences of such a situation?

I don’t believe climate scientists are alarmists or are doing scaremongering but if that is how the ordinary people feel, can’t we do what we are doing in a different way to achieve better positive results? Whatever is perceived as scaremongering has the tendency of making people switch off and treat or such news as a nuisance. How can we put out the facts of our changing climate without sounding alarmists or scaremongers? I believe there is enough evidence of what is happening around us that can be pointed out to the world. There are discerning people in this world that can make informed decisions from facts. All of us climate change scientists and communicators should begin to learn more innovative ways of educating the world without sounding as doomsday prophets. For example, are there not opportunities in climate change; can’t we bring that to the fore as well? It’s time to change tactics.

“Comment is free but facts are sacred”. - Scott, Charles Prestwich