Monday, June 29, 2009

Scare tactics effectiveness

We do it in politics, finance, education, and many other areas. When we want to motivate someone to do what we ask, we can argue with logic and we can argue with fear. We can bribe with money or we can threaten with harm. Each of these motivators requires that we pay some attention to what moves our audience and what the consequences of their use are.

Some in the climate change community use fear. While I am inclined to agree that there are many possible scenarios we want desperately to avoid, I think there is a problem with the use of fear in this regard. It works best if the audience understands the danger. I'm reminded of the various torture techniques used long ago by the Inquisition. The first level simply involved showing the person the implements that would be used and how they worked. A persons imagination can carry on from there much of the time since personal pain is pretty easy to understand. I don't see anything similar in the fear tactics being used to motivate better climate policy. Why should a person be scared if polar bears go extinct? Why should they be fearful if many people on the other side of the world are displaced from their homes and farms? Without that understanding, I think there is a technical flaw in the plan for those who would use scare tactics. With that flaw, the motivators have to fall back to the traditional brow-beating used by many liberals when we say others are behaving in a 'less moral' fashion than we are? Where is your compassion for the displaced after all?

The effectiveness of a technique can't be proven or improved unless one requires that success criteria be defined and measured. If a technique isn't working, it takes some thought and a willingness to change to achieve the actual goal.
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