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Reframing the debate on climate science

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This guest post by communications expert Hunter Cutting is part of an ongoing Climate Progress series on climate messaging.

Cutting helped to build Resource Media, a non-profit communications center devoted to environmental issues, where he recently served as Associate Director for Energy and Climate. He is the author of “Talking the Walk, A Communications Guide for Racial Justice” (AK Press 2006), and his writings can be found at http://talkinthewalk.wordpress.com. This essay was first posted on HuffPost.

The international consensus on global warming has seemingly experienced a spectacular slow-motion train wreck over the last few months, with “climategate” reports piling up in public debate like derailing rail cars filmed in freeze frame. The fascination for on-lookers, however, is that the science itself is largely blameless. Instead, the pile-up stands as a case study in how not to wage a political battle. And make no mistake; the attacks on climate science are pure politics. We have seen attacks on science before, just pick your favorite example: smoking, toxic pollution, seat belts, etc. However, until there is a fundamental reframing of the climate science debate, one that illuminates the politics, the current round of attacks will continue to enjoy success.

Before focusing on how to reframe the debate on climate science, it’s fair to ask whether it’s worth the effort. In the wake of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC report on climate change three years ago, with climate science seemingly well established, advocates for climate protection focused their attention and rhetoric on the power of clean technology to fuel economic growth and create green jobs. This strategy was driven in part by the sober realization that abstract science is very limited when it comes to reaching and mobilizing mainstream audiences in the U.S. Fancy PowerPoint charts describing a threat arriving 100 years in the future just won’t cut it when your job is on the line right now and rent is due next week.

With the IPCC report well publicized, the champions of climate science moved onto other fronts, leaving climate scientists to hold down the fort. However, this approach ignored a basic principal of conflict – victories must be defended. Not surprisingly, the opponents of climate protection took advantage and mobilized to attack the science. They understood full well that, while the science is insufficient by itself to mobilize public will, it does provide the foundation for building the moral outrage than can and does move Americans. Poll after poll has found that highlighting the threat global warming poses to our children’s future is one of the few compelling arguments that gain traction with mainstream audiences. But that threat is meaningless if the science is not believed.

At the same time, the scale and pace of change required to avoid catastrophic climate change can’t be summoned simply by highlighting the benefits of investing in clean energy. The benefits from changing over to a low carbon society are too diffuse, and the few big winners are yet to be known. Meanwhile the losers know exactly who they are and understand that they stand to lose, and they have the deep pockets to fight long and hard. Choosing between highlighting the benefits of change or focusing on the danger of inaction is a bad strategy. Both benefits and risks must be illuminated.

Science is the question (and it shouldn’t be)

Currently, media coverage of climate science is framed such that it defines the fundamental question as an issue of science, not politics. In this setting, the more the science is debated, the more the science is defined as debatable. There is simply no way to “prove” the science in a sound bite or a new story. Debating the science in the news is a no-win proposition that perpetuates public doubt.

There are four dimensions to the frame of every issue. And there is an opportunity to recast every dimension of climate science debate.

The Messenger

When audiences read news stories and attempt to make out the underlying issues, they take an important cue from the identity of the messengers. And currently, climate scientists are almost the sole messengers defending climate science. While this is problematic on a number of fronts, it is particularly challenging for the framing of the debate. Putting a scientist in the messenger role reinforces the notion that the fundamental issue is a question about the science. If scientists are doing the debating it is only natural to assume the science is debatable.

Beyond the question of identity, many scientists don’t make for a good messenger when the issue is politicized, such as with climate science. They are loath to call out the politics and step into a controversy outside their area of expertise.

Climate scientists must be joined by other messengers who are willing to stand up and speak out against the attack on science: farmers whose children would inherit dust-bowl farms due to the delay urged by climate deniers, generals who understand the national security threat, and business leaders who understand that every year of delay in investing in clean energy costs the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Message

When debate becomes poisoned and opponents are engaged in distortion and deceit, it becomes critically necessary to call out the politics and highlight the consequences of arguing in bad faith.

Climate advocates should document and highlight the funding and industry ties for the current wave of climate deniers. While the new generation of critics is often driven by partisan politics as much as by direct industry interests, their partisanship is fair game for reprove, particularly when it comes at the expense of our nation.

Advocates for climate protection need to go on the offensive. They need to go beyond saying what the attacks don’t do (“they don’t undermine the science”) and spell out what the attacks do achieve: costly and dangerous delay.

Calling out the politics is a way to bridge the debate, to move away from debating climate science to highlighting the impacts of climate change as well as the opportunity to invest in a clean energy economy, an opportunity jeopardized by the delaying and stonewalling tactics of climate deniers.

The Audience

The audience forms the third dimension of a news frame. Tell the same story to a different audience and you can end up with a different story. In the context of the climate science debate, addressing the ultra-conservative audiences served up by Fox News is a low priority. The focus should be on independent audiences in key states. At the same time, it is important not to ignore liberal bloggers simply because reaching out to them is seen as preaching to the choir. That choir makes up the much talked about echo chamber, and if you don’t give the choir a songbook, it doesn’t know what to sing.

The Setting

It’s critically important to do more than defend the IPCC. Debating 1,000 page science reports is not a compelling setting, and the rehabilitation of the IPCC brand will not happen overnight, despite the fact that the damage was done by erroneous attacks.

A better setting for talking about climate science is a real time impact of climate change, be it a record heat wave or record heavy rains followed by heavy flooding. There is no denying what your eyes can see. Last fall’s record setting flood in Atlanta was a textbook example of the kind of impact that should be highlighted. Only months earlier, NOAA had released a consensus science report documenting the trend of increased heavy precipitation during the fall months in the southeastern United States. NOAA identified climate change as driving the trend and predicted more of the same for the future.

Some have argued that focusing on current weather can be tricky. However, advocates were forced to do just that when opponents focused on the recent snowstorms as “proof” that global warming was oversold. Advocates were successful in pushing back on climate change deniers in that instance, and the same effort should be applied to upcoming heat waves, droughts and flooding, events that fit the pattern of increasing extreme events that scientists have clearly documented and predicted will only increase as the impacts of climate change intensify,

Another useful setting can be the courtroom, where the plaintiffs are real life people who’ve suffered real losses from climate change. In this setting the question is not whether or not the science is solid, but whether the fossils fuel industry should be held legally liable for the billions of tons of carbon pollution it has dumped into the atmosphere.

Other useful story lines could highlight different governments, companies, and stakeholders such as water managers who are already making decisions and taking action based on what the science is dictating, reinforcing the notion that the science is settled–and urgent–with dramatic consequences for their business and communities.

Fending off the attack on climate science does require a concerted rapid-response defense simply to set the record straight. But winning the debate requires going beyond defending the science. It requires asking different questions, such as who wins and who loses.

Hunter Cutting

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21 Responses to Reframing the debate on climate science

  1. mike roddy says:

    Good thoughts, I agree with almost all of them.

    Experts, whether in science or communication, will not end up being the key people to get this message across. The secret of Glen Beck’s ability to communicate is that he’s street. Scientists are laboratory, politicians phony, and spinmeisters manipulative.

    The ability to talk straight, know the issues, and have a knack for language, seems to be in decline. Even 90 year old Andy Rooney would be better at this than most of the spokesmen I run into. The people with the money to accomplish this need to perform a search. Hint: ignore resumes.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Great Piece!

    That’s a great piece. Thank you Hunter Cutting!

    And thanks also to Joe and CP for running it.

    I can’t resist: I’m going to emphasize and elaborate (just a bit) on some of Hunter’s points that I see as being especially important, in a few comments later, as time allows.

    There is great and important meat in Hunter’s piece, and it should help shape a good number of efforts going forward, in my view.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  3. Dennis says:

    The Message: Scientists need to point out that the people attacking them do not know what they are talking about, are unable to get their ideas into mainstream science because those ideas are totally wrong, etc. Hammer it into the message. Tell the audience that the Monktons of this world are out of their league and have to invent their own publications and convene their own conferences to get their pseudo-science out. Say that they don’t play by the same rules that were used to show that smoking causes cancer, and that in fact they are using the same tactics that the tobacco companies used to say smoking is safe for you. Don’t be afraid of the comparison. Don’t debate the science half as much as you debate the qualifications and methods of the deniers.

    The Audience — “The focus should be on independent audiences in key states.”
    Talk to valid journalists who do their homework. Don’t just respond to every inquiry without asking a few key questions first. Make sure the journalist knows what he is talking about and don’t be afraid to point out errors in fact. Say something like “I’m not trying to be demeaning, but this is how the scientififc process works. We have to agree on the facts that precede what you’re addressing before we can address it.”

    When discussing policy issues, make sure the reporter knows that the IPCC is a volunteer scientific organization and not a massive UN bueaucracy. Find out if there’s someone local to the reporter who worked on IPCC or whose research was incorporated into its findings. Make sure the reporter knows that most scientists perform research on small matters on a small scale — not massive studies with massive results.

    The Setting: “It’s critically important to do more than defend the IPCC. Debating 1,000 page science reports is not a compelling setting”

    But see — that’s part of the problem. The audience doesn’t always know its a 1,000 page report. Some are left thinking it’s only what the deniers stay it is — a paragraph on Himalayan glaciers. Come equiped with copies of journals from various scientists and show that the IPCC reads these, understands them and incorporates all of them into their findings (even better if you can point to a decent journal article by a local scientist). Show the public where the real science is and make it something they can relate to just a few miles down the road.

    “A better setting for talking about climate science is a real time impact of climate change, be it a record heat wave or record heavy rains followed by heavy flooding. There is no denying what your eyes can see. Last fall’s record setting flood in Atlanta was a textbook example of the kind of impact that should be highlighted.”

    Yes, scientists need to talk in public during a heat wave and say “remember when folks were saying last winter there was no global warming?” well, ask them to say the same thing based on today. It’s part of the proof that they don’t know what they are talking about.”

  4. Rockfish says:

    I would also ask another question – “What exactly about low/no carbon energy are you afraid of?” Is it the cleaner air and water? The reduced reliance on OPEC? Less funding of terrorists?”
    You will probably eventually get them to say “the cost.” If so, then ask “If it didn’t cost you anything (your money or your job) you’d be all for it, then?”
    After much squirming and discomfort they’ll either concede or get up and walk away. If they concede, then you say “Great. Then all we really need to talk about it how to reduce the costs….”

  5. J.A. Turner says:

    A large swathe of middle-America that has tuned out the scientific message could be reached, but not with the style of messaging that we’ve been using. Conservative and moderate Christians can be reached by showing them how their values and interests are being trampled on and how they’ve been lied to by ideologues and special interest spokesmen. Moral outrage is the key. And it’s important not to trip up and cause people to tune out by referencing any sore issues such as anything that smacks of atheism (age of the earth, evolution, etc.) or non-traditional religious ideas (like James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia). I’ve been preparing just such a message, but I don’t have any idea how to vet it or how to get it out where it would be useful.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    Valid, Justified, Appropriate Moral Outrage

    I agree with the original piece (by Hunter Cutting) and with comments by others (e.g., J. A. Turner’s Comment 5) regarding the important and warranted role of valid, appropriate, and justified “moral outrage”.

    I’ll add more later.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  7. James Newberry says:

    “whether the fossils fuel industry should be held legally liable for the billions of tons of carbon pollution it has dumped into the atmosphere”

    Let’s consider that mining/extractive companies supply these materials which are then set on fire (like in an internal combustion engine or utility power plant) by others. Who is doing the actual burning? This may not be so simple an assertion.

    Besides, not only is “nuclear waste” (“pollution”) not paid for by the corporations that make it, but by federal law the taxpayer owns it. Utilities are trying to sue the taxpayers for not “taking it away.”

    Energy policy is a complicated and corrupted economic proposition, such as pervasive and perverse subsidies, since it underlies the very foundations of economic and military policy, along with the current means of our sustenance, built up with trillions of dollars of historic investment (and public subsidies).

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Holding Some Companies Accountable

    Just to jump in with a quick thought (I’ll add a few more thoughts over the weekend) . . .

    Although people — all of us — use the CO2-producing products sold to us by the oil companies (just as people who smoked did so themselves, and the tobacco companies only provided them with the cigarettes; and just as people who shoot others with guns, do so themselves, and the gun dealers only provide the guns; and so forth), nevertheless, there should and hopefully will be legal ways to hold certain companies — and their leaders — substantially accountable.

    For example, if anyone analytically and rigorously looks at ExxonMobil’s track record, public communications, lobbying efforts, and so forth — just as a top-quality legal firm will do — they’ll find an amazing, solid, “impressive”, highly disturbing assortment of things that will make any thinking jury rather upset, to put it mildly. That’s my view, after tracking matters for some time. So, whether or not an ExxonMobil leader (e.g., Rex Tillerson) could actually be found guilty of criminal charges, I don’t know. That would depend, of course, on whether any of them have broken a legal law. But, when it comes to HUGE civil damages and so forth, that’s another matter. They are causing huge damage, and their actions and statements, viewed together, represent an impressive set of inconsistencies and deceptions, if you ask me, in my view.

    Indeed, the ExxonMobil advertorials on the front page of The New York Times itself could help support a good deal of the case (although a whole range of other facts are even stronger). But consider: Some of the ExxonMobil ads have strongly implied or suggested that the “pollutants” (of all sorts) have been stripped out of gasoline. Indeed, ExxonMobil, in major public communications, does just about everything possible to confuse the public, most of which doesn’t really know to what degree gasoline generates CO2. And, ExxonMobil advertorials have stated (repeatedly) that we humans WILL — as if inevitably — need growing amounts of hydrocarbon-based fuels for decades to come, as if the choices have already been made, even as they lobby against policies that are aimed at causing us to use less and less of such fuels. These are just two of many examples. Indeed, there has probably not been a larger and more obvious “confusion and disinformation campaign” in the history of corporations.

    My guess is this: When they are made aware of the full matter, and evidence, civil juries will NOT be happy or forgiving. And they shouldn’t be. Mr. Tillerson, are you listening?

    So, I do think that sizable organizations and causes should find the bases upon which to sue ExxonMobil, big-time, including their directors and including Rex Tillerson. In my view, those suits should be brought, as soon as possible. I’m not a lawyer, but that’s my view, and I would be happy to help point people to a large assortment of things that support the whole notion that ExxonMobil is “behaving badly”, so to speak.

    That said, select ExxonMobil leaders — actual people — should be named, as they are making the decisions, giving the public statements, approving the lobbying efforts, and so forth. And, at least some (and perhaps all) of the members of the board of directors should be named as well.

    I’d be more than happy to help with some of the information gathering, pro bono. I’ve already done a great deal of that. But, some serious citizens’ groups would need to bring the action, supported by an excellent, credible, completely ethical, dedicated, and energetic law firm or (better yet) coalition of them. The legal expertise will have to come from the law folks. All I know is this: that in my view, not all is well in Denmark.

    Cheers,

    Jeff
    U.C. Berkeley, chemical engineering, class of 1981
    Chevron Research Corporation, 1981-1984
    Harvard Business School, class of 1986, Baker Scholar
    McKinsey & Company, 1986-1990
    Concerned citizen and parent
    Fed up with deception and irresponsibility

  9. Brooks Bridges says:

    “A better setting for talking about climate science is a real time impact of climate change, be it a record heat wave or record heavy rains followed by heavy flooding.”

    I seems to me that the loss of multiyear ice in the Arctic that has “opened” the Northwest Passage for summer passages represents just such an event. Prior to 2007, passages in a single season were extremely rare because there was so much thick multi-year ice. Passages were attempted only by serious steel hulled vessels willing to risk being trapped over the winter. In 2009 11 private boats made the passage in a single season – including a production fiberglass sailboat. Cruise lines are starting to venture into areas of the Arctic previously inaccesible.

    In addition there is the race to exploit the natural resources of the Arctic area – including oil. Why more hasn’t been made of this to demonstrate global warming strikes me as very odd.

  10. Mike says:

    The science is only half the battle. We need to also learn how to talk about the economics of measures to minimize and mitigate climate change. The deniers denounce “environment alarmism” as loudly as they preach “economic alarmism.” Any thoughts? Any good references? And, should scientists talk about economics themselves or leave that to others? Who?

  11. R. D. Chamberlain says:

    As James Newberry (#7) succinctly points out there is great complexity and perversity in the present supply and usage of energy, and considerable public investment in and dependency on its results.

    It’s this that needs addressing if people are to be moved on a large scale to support change. Gains through “scientific” ping pong have probably peaked, and the frequent calls for punitive action against a single component of the equation (ExxonMobil) are a sideshow

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Regarding R. D. Chamberlain’s Comment 11,

    I must disagree with R.D.’s thought that “the frequent calls for punitive action against a single component of the equation (ExxonMobil) are a sideshow”.

    To be clear, at least when I comment on ExxonMobil and recommend a boycott and such, I am not (at all) saying that that is a silver bullet or should be the only or main pathway to improvement. Not at all. It’s just one of many necessary components. So, the part of R.D.’s comment that says “against a single component of the equation”, if that is the part that carries the weight of his comment, is a bit misleading in that sense. There are many components of course, yet we have to start somewhere, and some of them are much bigger and more concrete than others.

    I one understands the “big economic and political” picture of the matter, I think it’s fairly easy to see why ExxonMobil, as one key “target” for (appropriate) action, makes great sense, and that whole pathway is not at all a “sideshow”.

    Another way to see this, at least in part, is to consider the first and essential point, it seems, in Comment 11. R. D. writes, “It’s this that needs addressing if people are to be moved on a large scale to support change.” By “this”, I gather that the reference is to the point in the previous sentence that “there is great complexity and perversity in the present supply and usage of energy, and considerable public investment in and dependency on its results.”

    So you see, I think, that the “this” is quite a large and ambiguous thing, as it’s stated anyhow. The notion of bringing a boycott against ExxonMobil, and shining more light on them, as ONE part of a much larger effort (indeed, as one part of all of these other efforts) is an entirely more concrete and tactical thing than the comment that we should address the (big and ambiguous) problem of “this”. The question is how, specifically, do we make progress in addressing the big “this” question, however one chooses to state the large problem? If, in order to address what is called “this”, R, D. thinks that a boycott of ExxonMobil (and Koch, and NewsCorp) would just be sideshows, then what concrete and specific actions would he/she include in his/her list of concrete and specific actions?

    I think that we all agree that the problem is big and multidimensional, and that there are no single silver bullets, and that much is obvious. But, if we are going to call one very concrete action or pathway a sideshow rather than a necessary, wise, and helpful component, then we should recommend better, equally concrete actions instead that are not sideshows. I’d like to hear what those are. Merely calling congresspeople now and then is good, and helpful, but won’t do the trick by itself. Merely having gatherings once a year is good, and helpful, but won’t do the trick by itself. So, if an ExxonMobil boycott is a sideshow, or if bringing suits against ExxonMobil would be sideshows, then what (concrete and specific) actions would not be sideshows?

    Cheers for now,

    Jeff

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    Correction to my comment above: What currently reads “I one understands …” should correctly say “If one understands …”. Sorry. Cheers, Jeff

  14. Wit's End says:

    Agreed Hunter Cutting, especially tying real-world impacts to climate change; and using the courts.

    Having said that, it never ceases to amaze me how stubbornly people refuse to make the connection between, say, crop failure, and toxic ozone.

    Farmers and nurserymen and foresters all prefer the comfort of blaming treatable problems such as insects, disease, fungus and weather but these are, generally speaking, just the sharks that smell blood when vegetation is already weakened and damaged by poisonous greenhouse gases.

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    Mobilizing Public Will

    Surely one of the most essential points in Hunter’s piece is this: “the science is insufficient by itself to mobilize public will”.

    That point has many implications, of course, and most of them we seem to be ignoring or seem to be uncomfortable with. It isn’t meant (I assume) to suggest that approaches should be adopted that aren’t consistent with, or warranted by, the scientific understanding, nor is it meant to suggest that exaggerating the science of the matter is called for. After all, the problem (as scientific understanding already points it out) is immense and deeply concerning to begin with. But, merely conveying the science of the matter has been, and will be, insufficient. That much is very clear.

    I’m running behind schedule, but if/as time allows this weekend or early next week, I’d like to comment on some of the more concrete, and excellent, points in Hunter’s piece. I think his piece underscores some vitally important points, some of which we don’t seem to be taking into account in present efforts.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  16. James Newberry says:

    May I suggest that frameworks of understanding of public policy (such as the historic agenda of making fuels “cheap”) that limit concern to one admittedly very large player in a sea of public/federal financial support for the four horsemen of “energy” (mined methane, petroleum, coal and uranium) will result in narrow and possibly perverse outcomes.

    It’s like a four option Whack-A-Mole of corrupted “public” response (such as increasing subsidies for atomic fission and corn “biopetrol”).

    How about going for the issue of how public decisions are made, such as advocating new law “No person shall lobby Congress/gov. who is paid to do so.”

    You can’t boycott an entity when it powers (or indeed is) the federal agenda, such as the Pentagon.

  17. The Wonderer says:

    Excellent advice. What is needed is people with deep pockets to create an AGW law center, to support holding everyone legally accountable for lies and slander. Also, a push to improve curriculum in middle and high school to learn important aspects of Earth Science, and mandatory curriculum for college students science, engineering and other technical degrees.

  18. Jeff Huggins says:

    Responding to James Newberry’s Comment 16,

    James, it’s a bit unclear to me what parts of your comment are referring to. But, in case some of them are referring to the notion of boycotting ExxonMobil, I’ll offer this …

    These days, there seems to be a problem in thinking (or at least in conversation) associated with the assumption that when someone suggests one tactic or part of a solution they mean that to be the only, or main, part of a solution, to the exclusion of all else. It’s a bit of the “either/or” problem: either nature or nurture, either consequentialism or nonconsequentialism, either “this” OR “that”.

    Clearly, campaign finance reform is necessary. Clearly, a substantial improvement in the media will be necessary. Clearly, scientists should speak out more, and better. And there are many other avenues that will probably need to be vitally important parts of the solution.

    So, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that a boycott of ExxonMobil is a silver bullet or that it should displace these other things. Not at all. But I am suggesting that it should be, and could be, a very important and impactful part of one path towards the solution, in concert with these other vital things.

    I come across quite a few people who argue against every single concrete idea, saying that “the problem is too big” and that “we must change everything”. Then, most of those people sit down and don’t know what concrete, substantial action to take or to begin taking. The “problem is too big”, so they go to bed, watch a movie, or are content to call their congressperson once every other week. We humans are amazing in the reasons that we find to NOT do some of the very things that could (in concert with other things that we aren’t doing) actually bring about the changes desired.

    I agree with the immense need for campaign finance reform. And other reforms as well. But, those aren’t (at all) reasons why we shouldn’t boycott ExxonMobil.

    Cheers for now, and sorry if I misunderstood part of your point,

    Jeff

  19. Matt Mellen says:

    this article may be of interest:

    Climate sceptic!? You do the maths…

    Whatever your ideological stand point you need a healthy atmosphere to breathe. The people who are slowing down and hampering global efforts to preserve our atmosphere fit into 3 different categories…

    http://ecohustler.co.uk/2010/02/13/climate-sceptic-you-do-the-maths/

  20. J4zonian says:

    Jeff H, et al,

    I think it’s pretty clear that we’re dealing with an unprecedented situation. In previous unprecedented situations, like the defeat of the 3rd Reich, we came up with new legal paradigms to fit the new moral situations. I think this will be the same, and the executives of Exxon, Monsanto, the Chamber of Commerce, and members of the Republican congressional delegation and Bush administration are guilty of a new class of crimes against humanity, at the least. Whether it’s worth scapegoating and pursuing them is another question. We have such a complex, intertwined world and governing system that like the Iraq war and torture questions, there is hardly anyone with the power to pursue them who is not complicit. We are all complicit; hardly any of us has done all we could or pursued the truth vigorously enough, early enough. And offense makes people play defense. Part of me certainly wants some public accounting for their crimes, but something on the order of a strong truth and reconciliation process (backed as it must be by legal prosecution) seems both more useful and human than retribution. The time is not ripe for that yet; the Pearl Harbor climate event/s we are all horrified by/waiting for may be necessary first, and it’s likely a cataclysm or series of cataclysms on the scale of the Second World War may have to start before enough people are turned around to take strong action.

    When you call a dog, and call again and again, and s/he doesn’t come, then finally does come, do you smack him/her for not coming? Or do you reward him for coming? The former may feel justified and satisfying; the other works.

    And we are all complicit.

    There are fine lines if any, and no good reason to define and delineate them, between personal action, political action, boycott, etc. Boycotting Exxon is great and should absolutely be done. CITGO is one alternative. A joyous life of bicycle and train rides is another—a larger boycott that should be the minimum action for aware people like most who read ClimateProgress. But that isn’t a substitute for vegetarianism, orchard/gardening, eating only local organic food, AND political action. It’s just one of many necessary steps to integrate oneself as part of a larger ecologically- and socially-aware person living a life that includes doing whatever we need to do. We must shut down coal plants, remove fossil and nuclear subsidies, reforest the world, transform agriculture and industry and increase efficiency and the use of renewable energy. None of that can be done without transforming both our lives and politics.

  21. J4zonian says:

    A more general note in response to the post:

    The messengers should also be psychologists and psychotherapists, because the issue isn’t the climate science, it’s the psychology of people who would stop action in the face of even a possibility of the destruction of civilization. The messengers should be spiritual and religious leaders, since our connection to other beings, human and other, and our invitation to the destruction of all is a moral question unsurpassed in the history of humanity.

    The problem with the national security argument is that our psychology (neural pathways, if you prefer—-fight, flight or freeze, etc.), once skewed into that realm, looks for solutions in the same realm. In other words, the solution to military problems are not military solutions, despite what many people think. Despite the fact that that is virtually always wrong, most people in the US are operating at such a low level (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Kohlberg’s levels of development…) that they automatically reach for the gun when there’s a threat. Metaphorically speaking. What they actually reach for is the politician who will tell them the solution to all problems is to either “put more poor people in prison” or “send those poor people to invade some helpless 3rd world country so the rest of us can go on sleeping”.

    J.A.T.#5: So you’re saying we should pander to the least common denominator, and not try to educate the most poorly-educated people in the country. Why wouldn’t we call attention to anti-science ideology in other contexts, or introduce new philosophical ideas and manifestations of archetypes that replace the outmoded and maladaptive “man given dominion” meme? (interdependence within Gaia) What’s the advantage of allowing peole to remain ignorant and to continue to be deceived by demagogues?