This is Your Brain on Climate Change

By Keith Kloor
Apr 2, 2012 10:44 PMNov 20, 2019 12:30 AM


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In the never-ending quest for climate change analogies that might strike a chord with a disinterested public, smoking and slavery have been repeatedly invoked in recent years. I don't buy the slavery/fossil fuels parallel. I find the comparison with smoking equally problematic, but I also get the argument. In 2010, Andrew Hoffman published a relevant study that got a lot of media play. In his coverage of it, Douglas Fischer at the Daily Climate wrote:

Hoffman's analysis, published in the journal

Organizational Dynamics

, compares current cultural norms on climate science to historical societal views on smoking and slavery. "At core, this is a cultural question," Hoffman said via Skype from Oxford University, where he is on sabbatical. The change in attitudes about smoking in the 20th century is similar. "The issue was not just whether cigarettes cause cancer. It was whether people believed it. The second process is wholly different from the first." For years, Hoffman noted, researchers raised the alarm over data linking smoking to lung cancer, only to see the public ignore it. Gradually awareness shifted, and now the public widely accepts the fact that smoking and second-hand smoke causes cancer, with bans on public smoking increasing and smoking rates and deaths on decline.

I would argue that attitudes about smoking also changed because the evidence became unequivocal at a personal level. In other words, people saw loved ones (or themselves) become ravaged by cigarettes. And even still, that's often not enough to dissuade many from picking up (or kicking) the habit. What does seem to work, however, is this. And this:

It's part of a new advertising campaign by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Evidently, it's working. It also demonstrates where the parallels with climate change end. Incidentally, for those too young--or too addle-brained--to remember, the title for my post is a play off this famous (and ineffective) television ad, which is memorable because of how much it was parodied.

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