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In fight against climate change, creative messages of hope can help

I agree with the approach to inspire citizens' action in the fight against climate change (Singapore will work with Asean neighbours on climate change issues: Masagos, ST Online; Nov 16). I hope to present a fresh perspective that may help the Government to craft its messages.

It must first be acknowledged that climate change deniers are no longer the only group obstructing environmental progress. A new group has recently emerged: the apathetic - those who believe that climate change is an occurrence but do not think anything can change.

Their indifference plays a worrisome role in hindering environmental progress, and it seems that scientific reports are unable to empower people to start protecting Mother Earth.

A study by the American Psychological Association suggests why this is so, linking concepts of "experience" and "risks". The study found that personal experience is deemed especially useful in pushing action, because it involves "affective processes" which drive faster and more "automatic responses".

As most people do not directly experience climate change per se, their exposure to and experience of climate change are almost entirely indirect and virtual, moulded by the media, published reports and the like. Different reactions and risk perceptions result. It is noteworthy that risk perceptions are shaped by "affective processes" much more than the analytical. This explains why scientific reports (purely analytical illustrations of climate change) cannot move the mountain of inactivity.

On the other hand, the arts - movies and documentaries - can establish far greater pathos, potentially serving as an excellent platform to engage with such issues more personally.

Presenting climate change as inevitable doom will not work. There is a need to frame this positively, in a way that gives people hope that things can improve.

However, some movies, such as Geostorm, often cast a dystopian outlook on the environment, creating a counterproductive effect. These movies contain elements of bizarreness, portraying climate change in an extremely negative and exaggerated light. Such illustrations induce worry, producing apathy, not action, as they cause people to feel helpless and numb about the situation.

Evidently, presenting climate change as inevitable doom will not work. There is a need to frame this positively, in a way that gives people hope that things can improve.

Do not leave environmental solutions in the credits (as in Al Gore's The Inconvenient Truth). Instead, weave them into the narrative. The takeaway is this: The Government needs to creatively engage people and spark hope, not doom, about the environment, by speaking of solutions more than about problems.

Melanie Wong Kai Ru (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 26, 2017, with the headline 'In fight against climate change, creative messages of hope can help'. Print Edition | Subscribe