What makes a warning effective or ineffective (i.e., climate change)

The example that comes to mind at the moment is climate change, although any other topic works as well (and I don’t want this thread to be about climate change – that’s just one out of 100 things.)

Oftentimes, whether a warning is effective or not has nothing to do with whether it is factually true or not – it can be 100% factually true and people may still disregard it. In the instance of climate change, it is not as if a visualization approach hasn’t been tried – there have been computer-generated images showing flooded cities, eye-catching banners and posters created to depict climate change consequences, etc. Movies have been filmed. YouTube videos have been made. Books have been published. It’s not as if the warning hasn’t been repeatedly given – climate-change activists have been blaring the message about climate change for decades.

That’s just one example. Same applies for many other things – maybe certain diseases, or texting and driving, or potential/imminent enemy attack, or history repeating itself etc. – and yet at a certain point, a boy-cried-wolf effect sets in even if the boy was telling the truth every time.

So what does a warning message have to involve, in order to take root?

Immediacy - animals (including humans) are conditioned to spot the threat right in front of them. Something with consequences that won’t be seen for years is a low priority.

Proximity - who in the U.S. cared about Zika or Ebola when they were limited to Africa?

Cost/risk ratio - how much time and effort will it cost me to address this thing? Try convincing a coal miner that global warming is a more serious problem to him than unemployment.

Emotional impact - Even that probably has little long-term effect, although it is a good way to get your attention.

Inability to deny - I can’t think of a more elegant way to say this, but basically, you don’t listen to warnings about driving under the influence because you don’t think you’re drunk; you don’t lock your doors because of course there’s no crime in your neighborhood; you haven’t made out a will because you won’t die for a long time, etc.

The solution should be simple, like not drinking and driving, bringing along a designated driver, or calling a taxi. If your solution involves remaking all of society and going up against entrenched sectors of power it’s probably not gonna go so well.

Sexiness. When it starts affecting attractive people, it’ll be taken seriously, whether the threat is actually serious or not.

Nailed it in one.

Indeed. Home run on first pitch.

I’m not sure that I’m convinced that the warning hasn’t “taken root”, at least in some corners of the country and globe. Zach, a DNC staffer, is convinced he is going to die from climate change. He seems to be heeding the warning.

Gallup: Global Warming Concern at Three-Decade High in US

Oh no, not Zach! NOT ZACH!! Zach, the sweetest, kindest kid I know? Sure he’s a little naive and easily manipulated, but he’s a really sweet kid. Now you’re telling me the libtarding libtards have corrupted him too? Well sir, they have gone too far! Soon they shall feel the wrath of my cane upon their backs!

In all seriousness, this isn’t a bad thing, since climate change is, you know, a real concern.

Well in part past warnings about one subject would impact future warnings. Seems to me all the hysteria and false warnings of the past makes any sane person disregard all future warnings.

For example the AlGore Inconvenient Truth movie of 10 years ago was complete bullshit. Then the fiction movie (forget the title and actors) of global warming having massive effects in one day was another fantasy story. Seriously why would any sane person take future warnings serious once seeing both of those ?

It is really underwelming to reach for a fiction movie (the Day After Tomorrow) to use as an example of a serious warning.

As for the Al Gore movie, it also underminds any of your warnings when you ignore that even serious conservative scientists that did critizise his movie realized that the real complete bullshit came from the conservative critics that used deniers of science to smear Gore.

Obviously part of what makes a warning ineffective is previous warnings of dire outcomes that didn’t pan out.

Back in the 70s Paul Ehrlich warned of widespread famines throughout the world, including the developed world, if we didn’t radically reduce the population. During the 80s, AIDS was going to explode among heterosexuals. Back in the day, Time and Newsweek were warning us about global cooling. Now it’s global warming.

Is that a fair comparison? Maybe not, but it is going to be made anyway. Perhaps it is true that “back then we were being sensationalist, but this time we mean it”. Or perhaps not.

‘You have to scare people in order to get them to move’ only works for a while.


What’s strange about the climate change debate is, the split is between “it’s 100% certain, so we must do something about it” and “it’s not 100% certain, so we don’t need to do anything.” I think we need to shift the debate towards “it’s a risk, so we should put at least some effort into mitigating it.” Even the most optimistic people & organizations hedge their bets and make some preparations for the worst case outcomes.

“What makes a warning effective or ineffective”

One of the big problems is the press. In the fight for advertising dollars and web clicks, there is a tendency for the press to promote stories in the most dramatic way. When those dramatic stories don’t pan out, people loose trust. Thus we hear the common argument from conservatives “Climate change? Weren’t they predicting a second Ice Age just a few years back?” Not realizing that the Ice Age story was promoted by a few quacks on the fringe and Climate Change has been studied by thousands who are all in consensus. But because of the way the news is reported, both stories are given equal weight.

Point taken.

However it is a part of the hysteria and portrayal in the large media landscape. Therefore many see that and it becomes a part of the overall blur of past warnings. I am willing to bet that many now could not separate the two movies in their heads.

And besides deniers of science, the group scientists deride most is the media landscape that gets it wrong. One gpod case is the one pointed by Shodan. Once again the old and discredited chestnut point of some media outlets in the past ignoring that the majority of scientists predicted warming was coming with an increase of CO2. But instead preferring to consult the few researchers who got it wrong. (They had a good reason, but they overestimated the cooling effects of contamination).

I have a hunch that back then the fossil fuel scientists had already warned their bosses about the danger and pressed the media to report on cooling so the warming expected would not be minded.

There’s also personal helplessness at anything one can do singly or together thanks to democratic institutions. In the olden days a community would build a town wall or flood the fields either because a faraway King said so, or the community elders agreed: even by the Second World War there was no room for individual decision, everyone was overwhelmed, and even the overt leaders were led along by chance and sequence.
And now, what can a free person do ? There are just two options, every 4 years vote for Dolt A who denies any problem or Dolt B who will form a study group with expenses, OR you can send money to interested pressure groups who may or may not do something useful with it.
Extra-legal action ? Most people aren’t ever that interested, and accept that revolutions only benefit the revolutionary leaders, as was designed. So faced with extinction people just say, 'That’s a damned shame."

That’s one of the wilder conspiracy theories I’ve heard lately. Did you read about this somewhere, or come up with it on your own?

Does the line “I have a hunch” is too obscure? So yes, I do come with things on my own, but with historical support.

So, not prepared to declare it a fact, but a very related item as to why there is a lot of misinformation about the issue in the mainstream media or a general avoidance of the same.

The hints I got is that indeed back in the past reports have surfaced of fossil fuel scientists that did told their bosses where we were headed.

The only guess I make here is based on history, back then the big advertisers in media like Time and Newsweek included the big names in the fossil fuel industry. And today that is still an issue.

One of the biggest issues in a credible warning is the person issuing the warning. Environmentalists were trying to get people to get rid of fossil fuels for years before global warming was even thought of. So to many people it sounded awfully convenient that the solution to this horrible new problem was the exact agenda they had been pushing for decades.

That is precisely what Barry Bickmore, the conservative Republican scientist at BYU cited early as to how he approached this issue at the beginning. “Oh, there they go again, those silly environmentalists”

He decided to take a look and found that that was not the reason in this case.