"...there's a whole cottage industry devoted to urging climate hawks not to talk like this. What good can it do? Terrifying people just elicits all sorts of defense mechanisms -- denial, disengagement, apathy, system justification, what have you. The forces at work are so colossal, so utterly out of scale with what any individual or group can hope to tackle, that the logical conclusion seems to be, "we're f*cked." Our overwhelming instinct is to ... change the subject.
When people are confronted with a message of fear and crisis that sounds apocalyptic and outside the bounds of the status quo, they don't like it! And that's what they tell pollsters and survey takers. Lots of folks have concluded from this that they should avoid the language of fear and crisis.
...what's relevant is not merely how people react to an out-of-bounds message-of-alarm (I need a handy word for that) at a given point, but how such messages become accepted (or don't) over time. We need to look to more longitudinal studies, historical and anthropological studies, to understand the temporal dynamics of public opinion.
...what matters is not how such messages are received in isolation, but what role they can play in a larger communications strategy.
Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute did a study on this recently -- "Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities" -- that attempted to determine "the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion."
"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. "Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”
As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. "In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks."
In other words, if we're to have any chance of forcing meaningful climate change action from our government, we need to break through that 10% threshold. Who knows how close we may be already? All we need to realize is that it's worth turning off a great many people so long as we can reach and energize enough to get past that threshold.
So make yourself heard. Be clear. Be blunt. Don't be intimidated by those who'll call you alarmist for merely stating fact and science. There's nothing alarmist in yelling "fire" when you see smoke pouring out the windows. This is not an economic issue. It's not a political issue. It's a scientific issue. The science is in and more keeps flowing in week by week. There is a scientific consensus and it's overwhelming. Those who refuse to inform their opinion deserve to be called out and rejected.