This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Much has been written about ‘climate porn’; the perjorative phrase for journalism that pulls no punches in highlighting the scale of upheaval that climate change is likely to create over the course of the next few generations. It came up several times in discussions at Communicate 07, a recent conference for environmental communication professionals. The fear is, that highlighting the scale of the climate change problem will leave people feeling disempowered. See, for example, this BBC report drawing on a recent IPPR publication.

This probably makes sense if we are interested in persuading people to take small and comfortable steps (e.g. turn their wash cycles down to 30ºC).

But if we want to create change of the scale we need, then this will require the public to demonstrate enthusiasm for far-reaching legislative interventions. And our enthusiasm for these will, presumably, be linked in part to our understanding of the full consequences of inaction.

Afterall, when the government seeks public support for far-reaching anti-terrorism legislation, it reaches for a set of scare tactics before all else.

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But the real reason that we should not seek to dumb-down the full implications of climate change is more profound. As Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown write: "To be conscious in our world today is to be aware of vast suffering and unprecedented peril... The feelings that assail us now cannot be equated with ancient dreads of mortality... Their source lies less in concerns for the personal self than in apprehensions of collective suffering - of what happens to our own and other species, to the legacy of our ancestors, to unborn generations, and to the living body of Earth... That pain is the price of consciousness in a threatening and suffering world. It is not only natural, it is an absolutely necessary component of our collective healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal, designed to trigger remedial action. The problem, therefore, lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it."