Do doomsday scenarios discourage people from acting on climate change?

Green Science Image Gallery A 2010 Conservation International paper pointed out that regions near those flooded by a rise in sea levels would likely see mass deforestation after people headed to the hills. See more green science pictures.
Charriau Pierre/Getty Images

In 2010, the scholarly journal Conservation Letters published a paper created by non-profit environmental organization Conservation International. In it, the authors warn of the detrimental effect that humans may have on the environment after catastrophic climate change takes place. One-fifth of the world's forests are within 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) of heavy human populations that will be flooded if sea levels rise one foot (0.3 meters) due to climate change [source: Sustainable Business]. When this rise in sea levels take place, humans will be forced to migrate to higher ground and will likely plunder these forests for firewood.

Humans working today to counteract the effects of climate change may have a similarly deleterious effect on the ecosystems around the globe. Dams constructed for use in generating clean and green hydroelectric power, for example, can adversely affect areas submerged by lakes created by the dams.

There are a couple of ways that the picture painted by the Conservation International study can be viewed. Chiefly, it can be taken as a wise and shrewd look at the big picture, a smart warning that we humans must carefully plan our reaction to climate change. It can also be taken as evidence that no matter what we do, we're virtually destined to irrevocably bring on climate change. In the latter case, a reader may wonder what point there is to taking any action to fighting climate change if we're just going to screw up the planet anyway. This is inherent danger that groups concerned with climate change face when trying raise awareness about the phenomenon.

A Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences poll of 1,372 scientists found that 97 percent agree that man-made climate change is real [source: Rice]. The study even went so far as to investigate the three percent of dissenters and concluded that their opinions were the result of below-average expertise. There is also awareness that if human activity is contributing to climate change, lessened human activity can also mitigate it.

But between the researchers with evidence supporting climate change and the public whose actions can reverse its effects is the media. Here is where some feel a disconnect. Specifically, some critics feel the media is doling out doomsday scenarios that may actually discourage action on climate change. We'll explore the charge on the next page.