Dorfman on HuffPost: “Let’s Stop Debating Global Warming, Instead Convince People To Solve It”
I understand why anti-science disinformers like Marc Morano kick climate science messaging when it’s down. But why Josh Dorfman?
The Host of “The Lazy Environmentalist” writes on Huffpost how he got truck drivers and other car enthusiasts excited by the “fast speeds, raw power, and American self-reliance” of electric cars running on American electricity. Cool. I’m all for it. Been pushing electric drive vehicles myself for quite some time. Heck, been pushing the American self-reliance pitch a long, long time (see my 1996 Atlantic Monthly article, “MidEast Oil Forever”).
But then he feels obliged to join the circular firing squad:
Did I care whether they believed in global warming? Nope. Not one bit. Because I realized in that moment that I didn’t have to convince these guys that global warming is real in order to get them fired up about the solutions that solve it. It was a hugely important lesson for me and one that I believe is essential for the environmental movement.
Well, electric drive vehicles don’t “solve” global warming, but they are a key enabling technology if you were to clean up the electric grid by … oh, I don’t know … maybe passing a bill that puts a shrinking cap and rising price on greenhouse gas emissions.
As a green retailer, blogger, author, spokesperson, and radio and television host, I’ve learned that I’m most effective as a green communicator when I first take the time to understand what really matters to people and then demonstrate how environmental alternatives directly satisfy those needs. If that means talking about how eco-friendly electric cars deliver on speed, power, and independence from oil dictatorships then that’s what I’m selling. Words like “should”, “must”, and “sacrifice” don’t enter into my environmental lexicon. I don’t ask people to share my concerns about polar bears and other species that are getting a raw deal from climate change and I don’t guilt-trip people by asking them to think about what future generations will think if we fail to act now. The reason is simple; those tactics fail to move most Americans to action. If they did, we wouldn’t be sitting here scratching our heads and wondering why the talks in Copenhagen fell apart.
I can’t let this on sequitur go. If Copenhagen “fell apart” (a characterization lots of folks don’t agree with) that would certainly be mostly due to China (as Ed Miliband, the UK’s Climate Change and Energy Secretary and others have made quite clear)! In fact, Copenhagen moved things forward. But in any case, if we all stopped “debating” global warming that would hardly have led to a better outcome in international global warming negotiations! Heck, why bother having negotiations at all — all that debating is counterproductive, no? But I digress.
We become influential as green communicators when we emphasize how green choices enable people to achieve the things that matter to them. If green choices help us save money, look cool, get more dates or improve our children’s chances of getting into a great college, then people are far more likely to embrace them. It makes no difference whether we’re selling a green product, raising money for an environmental campaign, or pushing climate change legislation; our success depends upon our ability to convince Americans that supporting the environmental option directly serves their own interests, not based on what we may value as environmentalists, but rather on what Americans value in their personal lives and collectively as a nation
Unfortunatley, “green choices” don’t reduce the emissions from existing coal plants, don’t get you the kind of steady and deep reductions in emissions needed to preserve a livable climate.
Again, I’m all for pushing multiple messages, including the many benefits of going green. I spent nearly two decades focusing on that message. But climate change matters to a great many people — along with clean air, clean energy jobs, reducing our $1 billion a day spending on foreign oil, restoring US leadership in manufacturing, and so on.
Dorfman may think knows what most Americans value — and he may think he knows how climate activists have been messaging on the bill. But he doesn’t. In fact, pretty much every major poll in the past six months makes clear that the public supports climate and energy legislation because it achieves multiple benefits (as the advocates have explained), including reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
- Swing state poll finds 60% “would be more likely to vote for their senator if he or she supported the bill” and Independents support the bill 2-to-1 (9/09)
- New CNN poll finds “nearly six in 10 independents” support cap-and-trade (10/09)
- Voters in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and global warming (11/09)
- Overwhelming US Public Support for Global Warming Action (12/09)
- Public Opinion Stunner: WashPost-ABC Poll Finds Strong Support for Global Warming Reductions Despite Relentless Big Oil and Anti-Science Attacks (12/09)
- It’s all about Independents “” and Independence (1/10)
- Yale: When asked whether they “support or oppose regulation carbon dioxide”¦as pollutant,” 73 percent said yes, with only 27 percent opposed, including 61 percent of Republicans (2/10)
Indeed, the biggest problem on the climate bill hasn’t been convincing the public — they really want action, especially political independents. The biggest problem has been moving the immovable anti-science ideologues and overcoming the disinformation campaign. But “stop debating global warming”? That’s just what the anti[science crowd wants! They want us to only talk about new green products because those are little threat to existing dirty power plants.
If there is no climate bill this year, many enviros will form a circular filing squad, blaming the messenger. Now I would be the last person to say that the message or the strategy has been ideal — and I certainly plan to continue criticizing progressive leaders who get either wrong. But let’s try to remember where 90% of the blame goes — to the people who are telling lies and blocking action, not the people who are telling scientific truths and trying to put together a politically viable bill.
Coincidentally, the Harvard economist Robert Stavins just wrote a blog post, “What’s the Proper Role of Individuals and Institutions in Addressing Climate Change?” You should read the whole thing — certainly Dorfman should — but here’s the bottom line:
However, despite the fact that these decisions are made by firms and individuals, government action is clearly key, because climate change is an externality, and it is rarely, if ever, in the self-interest of firms or individuals to take unilateral actions. That’s why the climate problem exists, in the first place. Voluntary initiatives – no matter how well-intended – will not only be insufficient, but insignificant relative to the magnitude of the problem….
My bottom line? Try to focus on actions that can make a real difference, as opposed to actions that may feel good or look good but have relatively little real-world impact, particularly when those feel-good/look-good actions have opportunity costs, that is, divert us from focusing on actions that would make a significant difference. Climate change is a real and pressing problem. Strong government actions will be required, as well as enlightened political leadership at the national and international levels.
I have always urged people to take individual action — not because that would have a major real world impact but primarily because it would allow them to see how easy it is to lower emissions and lower their energy bill, which in turn would allow them to be a more persuasive advocate for action at a state, national, or international level.
And I have always urged people to advance multiple messages, since advancing clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions has multiple benefits.
If Dorfman doesn’t want to talk about global warming, if he hasn’t found a way to talk about it that works for him, well, that’s his business. But he has no business telling the rest of us to stop “debating” the subject — a debate that mainly exists in this country and mainly exists here because of an active anti-science disinformation campaign that Dorfman apparently wants us to concede to. Not gonna do it. That would be the laziest thing of all.