As most ECNers are probably aware, the entire environmental communications discipline took a body blow last week when the 10:10 organization released the flat-out bizarre web film “No Pressure.” In a series of scenes, climate-change skeptics are detonated into flying bits of flesh and geysers of blood. Including children. Unbelievable.
Andrew Revkin of The New York Times covered the fiasco on this Dot Earth blog on Oct. 4. His conclusion was echoed by Bill McKibben, and pretty much everyone else he contacted for comment: What a disaster.
Even if the “film” can be construed as funny (in a very, very dark sense), it does not make any positive points about what 10:10 is trying to achieve. To most observers it appears to demonize climate change advocates and victimize deniers. A bit off message, to say the least. Worse yet, it provides ammunition to deniers who are in the business of portraying climate change advocates as extremist lunatics. Nice work.
The entire episode is extremely unfortunate. Talented, well-intentioned people made errors in judgment to disastrous effect. It has happened before, but we can try and prevent it happening again. It is a case study in the case for a new environmental communications association.
Code of Ethics
There is no guarantee an association could have been prevented No Pressure, but it certainly would have improved the odds. A central element of a new environmental communications association will be a clearly defined set of professional ethics. In order to join, all members would be required to declare their intention to abide by this code. (This is pretty much standard practice for professional associations of all types.) Clearly, using scare tactics that portray excessive and/or gratuitous harm to animals or humans would be contrary to the code of ethics.
If the producers of this film were not members of the association, the discipline would be able to clearly distance itself from their approach. If they were members, they could be disciplined for violating the code of ethics (permanent or temporary expulsion, denial of voting rights, etc.). In either case, the discipline would be able to convey quickly, loudly and clearly that the film does not represent the mainstream of environmental communicators.
Education and Networking
The efficacy of this type of “shock” film in getting publicity is not in doubt. But we also know that excessive fear tactics, without communicating clear mechanisms for avoiding the danger, are less effective at changing what counts—attitudes and behavior. An active professional association would provide the forum for the dissemination of established best practices in communications campaigns. This type of education program might have been enough to derail the No Pressure project.
An association would also provide an effective forum for the sharing of ideas and successful approaches. Perhaps someone from 10:10 would have floated the No Pressure concept in a member blog, and received the kind of common-sense feedback that they didn’t get until it was too late. Indeed, this type of member-driven campaign review program could be a valuable association benefit.
Beyond a simple code of ethics, many associations provide formal certifications to members. In the case of environmental communications, such certification could indicate an advanced level of technical, theoretical and practical knowledge. Certification would also require compliance with a more rigorous set of ethical guidelines. Completion of advanced certification would have made a disaster like No Pressure even more unlikely.
Finally, the lack of an association leaves a void when this type of thing happens. There is no single, authoritative source for journalists when it comes to questions of environmental communications. We have encountered this before, and will continue to watch opportunities for positive exposure go by the wayside until an association is formed.
There is not much good to take away from the No Pressure fiasco. But it does provide some food for thought when it comes to the need for a new environmental communications association.