Fear Factor

From the Telegraph, UK:

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 12:01AM BST 03 Oct 2009
The Met Office has warned that if the world continues to burn fossil
fuels at the current rate temperatures will rise above four degrees C
in the next fifty years.
This will cause sea level rise, droughts, floods and mass collapse of
However Clive Hamilton, Professor of public ethics at the Australian
National University, said the majority of the population is still in
denial about the risks of climate change.

He compared the situation to the psychology of the British and German
populations before the Second World War and said the only way to make
people change their behaviour is to "ramp up the fear factor."
Prof Hamilton applied traditional psychological reactions to the
threat of future risk.
In a paper presented to an Oxford University conference this week, he
said people react in three different ways to a frightening situation:
denial, apathy or action.
In the case of climate change, he said a minority of people in
Britain are in complete denial and refuse to believe man-made
greenhouse gases are causing the temperatures to rise. He said a
smaller minority are taking action by lobbying Government and
adapting their lifestyles through driving less, not eating meat and
generally living a low carbon lifestyle.
However, Prof Hamilton said the majority of people use "maladaptive
coping strategies" such as ignoring the situation, blaming someone
else or simply having a good time.
He said people do this to cope with the anxiety.
"This means telling ourselves the scientists are probably
exaggerating - if it was that bad surely the Government would be
doing something," he said. "Or telling ourselves it is a long way off
so I will worry about it then or if I change my light bulbs it will
not be my fault. It can mean blaming other people like the Chinese
for building more coal-fired power stations or pleasure seeking by
driving fast cars, eating exotic food and living the high life."
Prof Hamilton said scientists have played down the risks of global
warming for fear of overloading people with information.
"There is a widespread belief in the scientific community that the
public cannot handle the truth and so they have been pulling their
punches. Global warming is unique amongst environmental problems -
which are often exaggerated - in that it is now clear that the
scientists have been understating the true implications."
In December more than 190 countries will meet in Copenhagen to try to
thrash out a new international deal on climate change. For any
agreement to be struck it is likely that rich countries will have to
agree to cut carbon emissions by consuming less energy.
Prof Hamilton said scientists now have a duty to inform the public
about the risks of climate change so action is taken and people are
ready to adapt their lifestyles.
"There is a view we should not scare people because it makes them go
down their burrows and close the door but I think the situation is so
serious that although people are afraid they are not fearful enough
given the science," he said. "Personally I cannot see any alternative
to ramping up the fear factor."