Doom and gloom climate stories harm the climate movement

Christa Avampato
3 min readMay 22, 2024
Photo by Steven Weeks on Unsplash

Before you share one more post on social media about climate doom and gloom, please take a deep breath. And then, please post something else. Anything else.

The goal of sharing climate change stories is to drive actions that will halt and reverse climate change to protect the planet and human well-being. While doom and gloom stories such as alarming statistics (of which there are many, sadly!) drive more sharing, clicks, comments, and engagement on social media than any other type of climate story, the largest research study on the topic recently found they drive the least amount of climate action and do almost nothing to change climate change beliefs or support climate change policies. They actually backfire, even causing people concerned about climate change to take significantly less action than they otherwise would.

How could this be? Doesn’t instilling fear for the survival of our species cause so much alarm that of course we’d change our ways? That is a logical, rational assumption. For many years, this was the prevailing wisdom. If you just show people how much damage climate change can do, they’ll change their behaviors and habits to protect themselves and the people they love. This is why we see country leaders, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, leaders at environment nonprofits, and climate activists all over the world sounding the alarm. This is also why so many of us have posted about the climate emergency so often. It’s also why we aren’t seeing enough action taken at a fast enough rate. These stories depressed and demotivated people right into paralysis.

But if that’s the case, then why is there so engagement on climate stories? The clicks, likes, shares, and comments are through the roof. If there’s so much engagement, why is there not enough action? Being engaged on social media or with mass media isn’t the same as taking action in the real world. These stories have absolutely raised the consciousness around climate change, but they haven’t successfully moved people to physically do something about it. Fear-based messaging is somewhat effective at driving one-time actions. However, most climate action requires behavior, habit, and systems change, not one-time actions so the fear-based climate messages don’t give us the long-term and repeated actions we need.

So, what messages can we share that will drive climate action? That is an excellent question. Research points us to a few options that motivate climate action:

  1. Scientific consensus coupled with a clear call-to-action
    Sharing the science of climate change, and that the vast majority of scientists agree on it, is critical. However, just providing the science isn’t enough. We also need to give people specific, actions to take. And all the better if we can give them a mix of one-time actions (such as voting) and remind them to take habitual actions (such as buying only the amount of goods we need to reduce waste). And we have to make them as simple as possible to get broad-based engagement.
  2. Appeal to ethics and morality with a clear call-to-action
    Most people like to see themselves as having strong ethics and values. We want to protect our neighbors. We want to take care of our communities. We want to be healthy and happy, and we want people we love to be healthy and happy, too. Taking care of the planet is a way to take care of ourselves and others, and appealing to our collective nurturing nature makes a difference. And again, give people a clear call-to-action to help them do this.

There are other theories about what may work that need further study. There is a hole in the research about which messages will move people from engagement to action. We desperately need more research on this, so we tell the stories that motivate the actions we need to protect ourselves and all species with whom we share this planet. My master’s dissertation has a few additional findings that I’m excited to share soon, and I’m thinking of continuing this line of research and work because it’s so critical to protecting the health of the planet.

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Christa Avampato

Award-winning author & writer—Product Dev — Biomimicry scientist — Podcaster. Runs on curiosity & joy. twitter.com/christanyc / instagram.com/christarosenyc