Hollywood and Climate Change

An intriguing bit of research published on the letters page of Science today (sub. req.) about the effect of the “Day After Tomorrow” climate porn film on public attitudes toward, and knowledge of, climate change. Andrew Balmford and his Cambridge colleagus surveyed a bunch of movie patrons, some before and some after seeing the film.

This has all the usual problems and biases of this sort of a survey, including the fallacy of sell-reporting – “Say you’ve got $1,000. How much would you like to spend on….” But the results were nevertheless instructive in at least a qualitative way. After seeing the movie, folks were more likely to want to spend money on greenhouse mitigation. But they were less likely to correctly understand the science.

Overall, the data thus suggest that seeing an entertaining if exaggerated illustration of the possible effects of climate change succeeds, in just 125 minutes, in raising public concern–but at the price of reducing public understanding. It would be interesting to see if these divergent effects hold in other countries, and which, if either, persists over time. More generally, our findings confirm that intense dramatizations have real potential to shift public opinion. However, the question remains whether such portrayals can be made more accurate (and thereby less confusing) without losing their popular appeal.