Disaster as a form of fear is commonly used as a pathos appeal in climate change advertisements. Often, images of natural disasters are used in climate change advertisements, which is one way of forcing an audience response and is the most accessible imagery within the context of climate change. Disaster is used to illustrate the consequences of our actions on the environment, and what might happen if we do not take action to combat climate change.
For nature, everyday is 9/11
Figure 2 above is an advertisement depicting two trees meant to look like the Twin Towers during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York City (see Figure 3 for original image). The event was unexpected, unsolicited, and catastrophic; its effects continue to this day, both domestically and internationally. The advertisement was created and distributed in France in 2009 by the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, a French advertising company. The original image of the Twin Towers is iconic and recognizable across the globe, so the fact that this advertisement was developed in France is no surprise, especially since France is both an ally of the United States and a member of the "free-world."
Another way fear is used in climate change advertisements is through images of children. Children are used to symbolize innocence and the future in an attempt to persuade those who believe climate change is an issue for future generations. This mindset follows the idea of intra-generational equity. Intra-generational is concerned with equity between people of the same generation; it includes considerations of distribution of resources and justice between nations, and is involved in the plight of underprivileged who are now living. On the other hand, inter-generational equity argues that humans hold the natural and cultural environment of the Earth in common with other members of the present generation and with other generations, past and future. Therefore, intra-generational equity is addressed through the use of children in climate change advertisements.
Act on CO2
The Department of Energy and Climate Change in the U.K. launched a campaign involving the scientific evidence that climate change is man-made and will affect us all; the campaign included the television commercial shown above. The premise is a father reading “not your normal” bedtime story to his daughter. The story is about carbon emissions and is meant to be educational, as well as provide steps for people to reduce their own carbon footprint. Given the presence of action steps, Birkholt et al would likely agree that the advertisement is effective.
However, the audience response to this commercial was incredibly negative. Parents argued that the commercial was too scary for children; the content and tone of the advertisement were too dark and within days of its release, the commercial received over 200 complaints (The Guardian). Thus, instead of advocating for environmental action to protect prosperity, this advertisement resulted in protective parental instincts taking over. This is not a productive way to send a message, and created a polarization between the audience and message.
Though the advertisement effectively evokes fear and does provide ways for audience members to reduce their own carbon emissions, the negative audience response made the advertisement ineffective. Part of the issue comes from a highly polarized audience when it comes to climate change advertisements. The audience for climate change advertisements can be classified into three groups: deniers, those on the fence, and believers. Climate change deniers are those who do not believe in climate change and are not easily persuaded by climate change advertisements. People on the fence are skeptical of the causes, or existence, of climate change, but may be persuaded by an effectively argued advertisement. Climate change believers are those who fully believe in the issue of climate change and are sometimes overcome by the fear associated with the issue, which can result in paralysis.
Not only was the audience of this advertisement parents, but it was also U.K. citizens. If we take a look at the history of U.K. carbon emissions (the main focus of the commercial), they are relatively low in comparison to other powerful countries: United States and Germany (Carbon Emissions). Therefore, audience paralysis could also be due to most of the audience already trying to reduce carbon emissions.