Inducing fear to cause change is ethical when based upon facts

October 3, 2017 — by Anna Novoselov and Sherrie Shen

Natural disasters have become increasingly frequent and severe as climate change transforms Earth’s environment and weather patterns. As demonstrated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which made landfall on mainland U.S., the Caribbean and Puerto Rico throughout late August and September, natural weather patterns are becoming increasingly destructive.

Though cities issued evacuation warnings approximately one week in advance and did nearly everything within their capability to mitigate the harm done, the three hurricanes have claimed almost 200 lives. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency expects repair costs of up to $347 billion.

In past few weeks, news organizations have flooded the internet with dramatic, jarring reports and photographs of the destruction. These stories have the effect of inducing fears about a world in which these storms happen all the time.

While there are multiple possible explanations for the development of more severe weather, most scientists believe the underlying cause to be climate change, caused by human interference in Earth’s environment.

Projected models of climate change align with real-time environmental occurrences, making it a smart decision for the media to warn the public about the effects of their destructive habits rather than soft pedaling the issue.

Others, however — especially oil and fuel company owners that benefit from looser climate change restrictions — argue that this practice is unethical.

One such example is the conservative, billionaire Koch brothers, two main opponents of climate change science. As the owners of Koch Industries, which deals in minerals, natural gas, petroleum and other fuels, the brothers spend millions each year trying to discredit climate change science, since tougher environmental regulations will result in less profit and more restrictions for their company.

These opponents of furthering climate change policies also argue that people will change their ways not because they inherently support eco-friendly policies, but because they fear the impact of natural disasters on their livelihood. The media, they say, is lying. Of course, it’s definitely not because these so-called climate change “disbelievers” benefit from looser regulations.

But because warnings illustrated by news organizations are based upon factual evidence and scientific research, the act of inducing fear is by no means unethical, and it is the only tactic that will shift the opinions of individuals who do not see the extent of their wrongdoings and the detriment they inflict on Earth.

Scientific research from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Defense Fund, United States Environmental Protection Agency and many other organizations has proven the staggering effects human activities such as burning fossil fuels and using coal power plants.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are reaching record-breaking highs, trapping more heat — most of which is then directed at the oceans. As a result, glaciers are melting, which contributes to rising sea levels, altering natural weather patterns and leading to more extreme tropical storms like Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

Despite the empirical evidence, climate change disbelievers (including our own president) are still a force to be reckoned with. And of the people who do believe in climate change, too many do nothing to fix their destructive habits.

As authors of the novel “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard,” Chip and Dan Heath point out, “knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.”

And Donald Trump did make us feel something when he announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Accord this June — disappointment in his leadership, anger about his beliefs and fear for our future.

This time, it’s our turn to make him and other climate change disbelievers to realize the effects of their inaction through stories of catastrophes exacerbated by climate change. It is the media’s job to highlight the actual facts of what is happening and bring awareness to the perilous path our planet is on.


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