Wednesday, July 4, 2012


The concept of addressing environmental issues through fear is a route I am not necessarily comfortable with taking. I prefer presenting an issue honestly and without bias (when possible), and then offering realistic solutions. I will provide facts about an issue, but quite frankly scare tactics in Environmental Education aren’t my style. After reading ‘Fear Won’t Do It” by O’Neill and Nicholson-Cole, I felt validated with my approach.

I understand the strength in the emotion of fear; it can rip people apart mentally, and paralyze physically depending on the degree of emotion.

Is this emotion being overused or abused when offering information about environmental issues? Research addressed in the O’Neill and Nicolson-Cole paper mentioned the skepticism and apathy demonstrated through the reactions from audiences receiving the messages from climate change organizations. The doom and gloom messaging depicting images of icebergs melting, famine and flooding doesn’t hit home with the receivers. Inundation from the media ranging from print to Internet can saturate a market with so many messages, that many lose their meaning or become filed under the “doom and gloom-I can’t do anything to help” pile.

Is fear the best tactic or method to elicit the notion of change or empowerment? I work with an audience made up of primarily fourth graders. My field of work involves, but is not limited to waste diversion. Scaring nine year olds into believing they have no future space for their garbage in landfills is not a productive use of my time or their time. They need positive messaging to inspire them. We can be realistic without instilling fear. I want them to feel like they can make a difference, and their actions matter, despite the mistakes that may have been made in the past. Children need safety, guidance, support and leadership. Is scaring them really and truly going to inspire change or understanding?

I hope that we as Environmental Educators can move beyond the doom and gloom messaging, not only for kids but for adults as well. Is it fair to assume that adults don’t need the same requirements as their younger counterparts? No, they need to some degree: safety, guidance, support and leadership…modify as required.

Fear for me is a negative. We can be honest, valid and reliable without fear. Let’s message for the environment as such.

1 comment:

  1. My question for you is: Is it possible some news or data or information is just plain frightening? No matter how we frame or present it? A flood, the prospect of a breakdown of food supply chains, etc? This is the crux of the issue - not necessarily the use of fear to convey certain messages, but what we do when the news or material is fear-inducing. And how some acknowledgement of that in our work can potentially be hugely productive, constructive and actually support people far more powerfully than if we only put on a happy face and focus on solutions? I think actually how we think about how we can relate with fear more constructively is important, perhaps, because we cannot simply will fear to not arise. It will, or it won't. Some people will feel it more than others. But how we engage with it, is really the question.
    Good questions, & thinking.