The authors do a great job of explaining how we've moved from a culture of fear to one of fear + guilt. This is a great book for anyone interested in the green/sustainability communications tactics unfolding around us. Below are my notes from the entertaining intro. The overarching theme of the book is that we've moved from, "Oh God, what are we going to do?" to "My God, what have we done?".
As far as we were able to understand, this enormous rip (Ozone) in our world was the unfortunate by-product of a perfectly innocuous obsession with air freshener and deodorant and the like, products so benign in their intentions that we couldn't have imagined them in the least bit damaging. All we had wanted, after all, was for our world to smell nice. And so, how were we to have known? We weren't to have imagined that our touch of living-room alpine would so maul our planet, but we were waking up to a new era. An era of dying pandas and rising sea levels, of melting ice caps and El Nino and Tsunamis. An era where Godzilla no longer ravaged New York on the big screen, but instead scientifically plausible floods and hemispheric snowstorms tore along Fifth Avenue fossilizing Prada handbags and miniature dogs in one.
Afraid of looking worse than Madonna? Use this face cream. Afraid of being a corporate square? Go find yourself in majestic India. Afraid of religious fanaticism (Islam)? Vote Bush. Afraid of religious fanaticism (Christianity)? Vote Obama. For everything we could be afraid of, there was something or someone there to make us feel better, and all we had to do was buy it, vote for it or believe in it.
From marketing to politics to science, those responsible for influencing minds en masse had come to realize that explaining an upside was nowhere near as powerful as promising the removal of a potential downside. There was a new and pervasive culture in communications and a new king on the rhetorical block: Fear.
9/11 guaranteed its place at the center of politics for a generation further. Bird flu, foot-and-mouth, bluetongue disease, Asiatic avian flu, Mexican swine flu and Jaime Oliver's tirade against Turkey Twizzlers had us scuttling with glee to the organic aisle in Tesco and there was, quite astonishingly, a run on Boots for anti-aging crème when a credible article appeared suggesting it might actually work. People were, in that delightful instance, scared to miss out on the product that answered their fears of looking like their mothers.
This new fear seemed to elicit a subtly different reaction from us than its predecessors and contemporaries. Where once we had looked at the shrinking seas of Central Asia and tumbling Arctic ice-shelves and foreseen our doom, predictably shrieking "Oh God, what are we going to do?" And scattering the tiny boxes at B&Q in search of the energy-efficient light bulbs that were to be our salvation, more and more we were beginning to react in a different way. We were starting to ask a different question. "My God, what have we done?"