Your NPR news source

Can Scaring Force Caring?

SHARE Can Scaring Force Caring?
Dougald Hine

Erin Burke

Dougald Hine used to be a climate activist. But after years of rallies and protests, he thought the change that was happening was too small and too slow. He went from saying, we can beat climate change, to saying, it’s time we start talking honestly about what we will lose.

Hine co-authored The Dark Mountain Manifesto. In it, he tries to wrestle with the tension between the hopeful speeches activists like him were giving and the despair he actually felt. He tries to face, head on, the gap between the on-air interviews about solutions, and anxious conversations activists had at night, over drinks, away from crowds and microphones.

Climate activists were saying they felt pressure to keep their anxiety and depression to themselves. Hine wanted to create a space to talk about that burden and find a different kind of hope. In a separate essay, Hine’s co-author Paul Kingsworth wrote, “I withdraw... I withdraw from the campaigning and the marching, I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions.”

Like a doctor treating an ailing patient, Hine believes it’s time to start being more up-front about the prognosis. To stop saying human ingenuity and technology will save someone's life, and instead help the patient face what he’s up against. To do anything less, he seems to argue, would be unethical.
Dark Mountain received backlash from others in the climate change community. After all, much of the research on climate communication says that hopeful messages are essential. Anthony Leiserowitz is the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. He thinks doomsday predictions are scientifically inaccurate and can backfire. If messages are too negative, he says, people won’t be able to absorb the information and will feel incapable of taking action.

We invited Hine and Leiserowitz to talk to each other about the emotional challenges of climate change, and useful ways of talking about those challenges.


More From This Show