Kiely: Species fear providing a marketing opportunity
Franklin D Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He was right. I detect a potent form of angst in our society that none dare speak of out of fear of its corrosive potential for the operation of markets and civil society. Martin Amis coined the phrase ‘species fear’ to describe the deep, subterranean emotional response to 9/11. Species fear is anxiety about one’s security, not just as an individual, but as a member of the human race.
“The temperature of planetary fear has been lifted towards the feverish… [T]he most durable legacy has to do with the… disappearance of an illusion about our loved ones, particularly our children… The illusion is this: mothers and fathers need to feel that they can protect their children. They cant, of course, and never could, but they need to feel that they can. What once seemed more or less possible – their protection – now seems obviously and palpably inconceivable. So from now on we will have to get by without that need to feel,” Amis wrote in The Guardian a week after Osama Bin Laden engineered the most effective attack on the US and its Western allies in history. It wasn’t a military victory. It was a morale victory, achieved by symbolism.
Amis: “The Pentagon is a symbol, and the WTC is, or was, a symbol, and an American passenger jet is also a symbol… The bringers of Tuesdays terror… took these great American artefacts and pestled them together.” The deep hysteria or species fear 9/11 unleashed made possible the crimes, misdemeanours and mistakes of the Bush and Howard administrations in Iraq and at home. People on both continents are only now starting to wake up with a hangover and a desire to distance themselves from their governments like a lover still in the bed next morning after a one night stand. They found David Hicks shackled to the floor. Americans and Australians are bailing on their wartime leaders at an almost unprecedented rate.
Both represent the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. A plan that intended to strengthen the enemy could not have worked more effectively. Polls in the US reveal little support for the war and a widespread belief that the world is now less safe as the result of US strategy.
Overlay on this the species fear emerging over global warming. Species fear is most pronounced among those of us who have young children or grandchildren. It is a sense of sorrow and helplessness that the world they will inherit is a threat to their survival. Terrorism is one thing. We have survived earlier generations of terrorists. Climate chaos is quite another.
Public opinion has always been miles ahead of the governments in both countries. On the same day in March when a survey found that 92 percent of Australians support measures to counter global warming, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (which puts Australia ahead of any other country), senior Howard supporter and Minister Nick Minchin was reported in the press quoting a discredited climate sceptic academic as proof that human activity did not cause climate change. The same survey found the level of support for action against global warming in the US is 80 percent.
Both the President and the Prime Minister are climate sceptics and their actions have left an indelible impression. They were vociferous in their attacks on Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth. Both the Bush and Howard governments have suppressed reports by government scientists (EPA and CSIRO) that reported climate change. Both promoted ‘experts’ who agreed with their position. Both prefer the company of coal and oil industry executives. Both have done everything they could to undermine the global response sponsored by the United Nations in the form of the Kyoto Protocol. Only two countries refused to ratify the agreement: the US and Australia. Both came reluctantly to admit climate change is real and both had an admission that human activity has caused it dragged out of them. Neither can be believed.
But the weather can’t be suppressed, spun or manipulated. Bush’s decline began with Hurricane Katrina, which demonstrated the administration’s incompetence and its inability to protect the ‘American Way of Life’. Howard’s credibility was drained by the longest drought, the driest rivers, the wildest bushfires and the most erratic weather in living memory. The ‘Light Bulbs, Clean Coal and Nuclear’ strategy has not convinced the fearful. In the yawning gap that has opened up between public sentiment and political leadership has grown a sense of dread. Species fear.
The climate sceptics (always far right ideologues) still have privileged access to the pages of serious newspapers, echoing the Howard doctrine and keeping alive its memory. But this war is over. Sceptics lie around the battlefield like the knight in Monty Python, bleeding from every joint and threatening to bite us on the kneecaps. Only the rusted-on are listening. The community is asking for real solutions and they are willing to pay for them. And there is a sense of urgency. A feeling that both governments have demonstrated that they are wrong for the times. Rudd’s Teflon suit is spun from species fear.
Here is the opportunity for brands to lead where politicians cannot. Species fear is an unmet need that runs deep within the psyche. But you’ve got to do more than light bulbs to convince consumers that you have an answer.