Denying Disaster: A Modest Proposal for Transitioning from Climate Change Denial Culture in the Southeastern United States
28 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2019
Date Written: 2018
While climate change denial is pervasive throughout the United States, it is more acute in some regions than others. One such region is the Southeastern U.S., which is also an area projected to suffer the most direct harms from climate change over the near term. This article makes a modest — though unconventional — suggestion for how to chip away at climate change denial culture in the Southeastern U.S.: using mass media (television commercials) to convey to Southeastern citizens the ways in which entities that they tend to trust accept the science of climate change and/or are taking climate action. The article first discusses the effects of climate change on the Southeast, then summarizes a recent study demonstrating the disproportionate climate change related economic and health impacts on the Southeast relative to other regions of the United States. Next, the article diagnoses some of the cultural and sociopolitical causes for climate denial in the Southeast, before proposing “associational messaging” through mass media as an avenue for addressing the disconnect between southern political culture and climate change. This proposal is related to the “vouchers” theory of risk communication, whereby trusted members of an individual’s cultural group help convince the group that information conforms with the group’s pre-existing worldviews. What we call associational messaging, however, is not a pure voucher, but rather conveyance of information about the climate views and actions of entities that southern climate skeptics are more likely to identify with and trust, in an effort to assuage their skepticism. These media messages highlight the climate action positions and policies of (1) the United States’ military, (2) specific Fortune 500 companies (as representative of “the private sector/free market” that southerners generally support), (3) the insurance industry (also representative of the “private sector/free market”), and (4) sports and recreation groups and related industries (both outdoor sports and recreation groups and college and professional sports teams). Identification of mechanisms for influencing southern culture to embrace climate action — without simply relying on obliteration of the culture or hoping to outnumber current anti-climate voters with voters already inclined to support climate action — is an important step toward ushering in substantial and long-lasting policies to address climate change in the United States.
Keywords: climate change, denial, mass media, advertising, t.v. spots, southeast
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