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Climate Change Is Not A ‘Message.’ It’s An Objective Reality And An Urgent Crisis. That’s Why We Must Talk About It.

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"Climate Change Is Not A ‘Message.’ It’s An Objective Reality And An Urgent Crisis. That’s Why We Must Talk About It."

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KC Golden, via Climate Access

Have climate campaigners learned the art of political communication too well?  We poll and focus group.  We segment audiences and target swings. We “go to people where they’re at” – activating live communication frames and salient issues. We move the dial. There is tactical merit in all this … but climate change is not a “message.” It’s an objective reality and an urgent crisis.

Deception about it will surely go down as history’s most egregious lie. Avoiding or hedging this reality isn’t as bad as denying it, but it reinforces the larger ecosystem of denial.  It’s tough to imagine how we begin to turn the tide until we stand tall – with both feet, whole hearts, and strong, explicit words – on the side of the truth.

Our sophisticated calibrations about whether, when, and with whom climate change is an effective “message” have a perverse effect:  they reinforce our opponents’ message that it’s just a stalking horse for a political agenda. When we bounce around from “jobs” to “clean air” to whatever we think will give us a bump in a swing-state poll, we undermine our own integrity and the moral urgency of climate change.

It is of course true that we sometimes gain tactical advantage this way. And no one wants to risk losing important battles just to make a rhetorical point. But overreliance on these maneuvers can limit our power and drain morale.  Climate advocates and organizers rightly wonder whether leaders who keep changing the subject have much confidence in our ultimate ability to prevail.

There are certainly hard-headed tactical reasons to downplay climate. But there is also, speaking from personal experience, an element of shame here. A disaster is unfolding on our watch. It’s embarrassing to feel so powerless, and talking about climate just shines a spotlight on our futility.

In political circles, it’s considered naïve and off-key to focus on climate, a sign of insufficient commitment to “winning,” the only coin of the political realm. Since it’s difficult to construct a politically plausible scenario in which we actually do what’s necessary to avert dangerous climate disruption, practical people find it somewhat rude to discuss. David Roberts memorably equated this to “flatulence at a cocktail party.”

But there is no strength in shame, and silence makes it worse. Unless and until we square up to climate per se, we’re going to keep losing the war even when we win battles. And we’re going into some key battles right now with our strong hand tied behind our back.

Here’s an immediate example of the problem: Peabody and Arch are trying to justify coal export to Asia by saying their coal is lower in sulfur and ash than Chinese coal.  How are we going to fight that if clean air and public health are – as the polls would have it – our top messages, and climate is a footnote? Why are we even in the position where using prospective SO2 reductions to justify feeding a global catastrophe doesn’t sound as lame to even our friends as it is? At least in part because we decide that clean air is tactically a better message, and avoid or pussy-foot around climate.

In the coal export battle, we often confront the question “Somebody’s going ship the coal to Asia, so why shouldn’t we get the [purported] economic benefits?”  We can’t definitively promise that if we stop a particular coal export terminal, the same coal won’t be shipped from somewhere else. But we can and should make the case that the whole damned business is wrong – not just environmentally costly but unconscionable – no matter what anyone else does.  And we can only make that case if we lean into the climate conversation. We can’t draw a credible moral line in the sand – let alone get more folks on the right side of it – if we avoid or minimize the climate implications.

Our experience at Climate Solutions suggests (and recent polling confirms) that the tactical risks of talking explicitly about climate are overblown. Yes, it can be a “loser” as a “message,” but generally only when we talk like losers – when we internalize and reiterate our opponents’ bad frames. We find that focusing on climate is generally a “winner” when we:

  • Invoke a strong sense of human agency and responsibility. We’re causing it.  We should fix it.
  • Foster engagement and efficacy. Futility is the enemy of responsibility, and it’s rampant in our political culture.  But people remain hungry for solutions, and eager to participate.  Pollyannish optimism?  No.  Can-do determination to build a better future?  Definitely.
  • Embed (don’t bury) climate in the challenge of freeing ourselves from fossil fuel dependence. Almost everyone at least suspects that fossil fuel dependence is a dead end, and feels victimized by the forces that perpetuate it.  Climate solutions can free us!

We all still have a lot to learn about what works in climate communication, and I’m grateful that Climate Access is now on the beat full time.  But my primary point here is not:  “Talk more about climate because it’s not as bad of a message as you think.”  My point is:  Talk about climate because we must – because tackling it is a moral imperative, and we’ll never convince anyone of that if we keep dodging and weaving around it.

This is not a holier-than-thou thing. Climate Solutions is certainly “guilty” of tactical aversion to explicit climate conversations. Many passionate, strong, extremely smart people in the climate movement have chosen to de-emphasize climate because they believe it’s the best way to make real progress. Some of them think that to do otherwise – to emphasize climate when it is demonstrably not the most effective message – is sentimental and foolish. I respect that view.  And none of us will know for sure until we break through, so nobody has a high horse to ride. Nor is the answer black and white: “Lead with climate at all times” is clearly not the right strategy.

I do know, however, that I can only be effective if I speak the truth about the climate crisis – strategically, and with a clear understanding of the audience – but consistently and unapologetically. For my own advocacy, this rationale for focusing on climate in public messaging is sufficient. But it also loops back into a larger strategic consideration:  our moral standing.

Many of us share the view that we will never prevail at anything close to the necessary scale until climate action is understood as the moral watershed that it is. Yes, good numbers on jobs are vital.  Yes, air quality improvements are compelling, and potentially a useful bridge to climate awareness.  Yes, “co-benefits” abound and we should talk about them all.  But none of this is remotely sufficient to a challenge of this scale without the moral driver.

Our standing to pose this moral choice depends critically on our own strength and integrity. Climate leaders can and do simultaneously hold in their hearts the moral imperative for climate solutions and the tactical imperative to use the most effective message to secure substantive victories. But we can’t build a strong enough movement on a foundation of serial political indirection, tactically useful as it may be.  It is how the game is played, but we are far enough into this game now to conclude that we can’t win it just by playing it better.

And we certainly shouldn’t confuse our role in the game with the role of political candidates. I can almost forgive politicians who avoid talking about climate, but what’s our excuse?  We’re not running for office. We have to change the political game, so candidates can champion climate solutions and win.  And to do that, we need both moral power and a climate conversation that won’t quit.

We’d be fools to ignore what our communication research tells us. But we can’t develop the strength we need just by telling people what they want to hear.  We have to tell the truth, and act like we believe it.

KC Golden is policy director for Climate Solutions and author of the GRIP blog. This was first posted on Climate Access and is reprinted with permission.

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36 Responses to Climate Change Is Not A ‘Message.’ It’s An Objective Reality And An Urgent Crisis. That’s Why We Must Talk About It.

  1. This, in my experience, is very very very smart advice.

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      Bill – I’d agree that this is smart advice, particularly on the largely untapped moral aspect (of knowingly causing unprecedented genocide by serial famines), but it misses a few critical points.

      Perhaps the most relevant for communications is that we lack a respectful term for ordinary people who don’t yet see the reality of the climate issue – for whatever reason. Without that term, open discussion is hamstrung for they are perforce described as ‘deniers’, which is distinctly derogatory and so antithetical to persuading them to consider the evidence.

      The best term I’ve found (in conversations in a deep sticks conservative farming community) is ‘Fluker’, which can be used in friendly manner to describe someone who sees the increasingly wild swings in weather as mere flukes, rather than being the early symptoms of the curve of climate destabilization.

      The real value of the term Fluker is that beside being innately inoffensive it is also dynamic – it carries the challenge for those so titled of facing the increasingly extreme weather impacts and having to keep claiming they’re all flukes, or of changing their minds.

      Regards,

      Lewis

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    I echo Bill. Thanks, KC, your points are important, and not well enough understood by all of us.

  3. todd tanner says:

    Spot on. Climate change is ultimately a moral issue. If we downgrade it to a series of political bargaining chips, we all lose. It’s time to stand up for the truth.

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      Todd -
      I’d well agree that this is the moral issue of our times – as opposed to ‘a’ moral issue – and that presenting it as such is the sole means of trumping the false arguments of short term profit being more relevant than long term damage.

      Where I’d differ with the author is in his acceptance of self-censorship in his chosen title – “Climate Change is not a Message . . .” We have no viable option but to describe the reality of the climate threat – and that is very clearly one of Climate Destabilization, not the utterly vague and misleading jargon of mere ‘climate change’.

      Regards,

      Lewis

  4. Tim says:

    Very good. You know, sometimes when discussing climate-related issues, the economics of renewable energy for example, it is important to sometimes interject, “You know, we really don’t have much of a choice. We must make this work, whether it is 20% more costly or not.” The long-term cost of business-as-usual is enormous.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Well the change needs to be made even if it were to be 2000% more costly. In a choice between human lives and money the Right chooses money every time. Until we recognise that these people are the enemy, of ourselves, all decent human beings, generations unborn and every magnificent achievement of our species, then we will continue losing. I know that decent people recoil at the prospect of thinking like a Rightwinger, of allowing rage and fury to take hold of them, but we have no choice. We have tried reason, persuasion, science and evidence, all of which they have rejected with increasing vehemence and viciousness. One or two more decades of the worst of humanity calling the shots and we disappear from the cosmos, forever. The thought of being hanged in the morning was said to concentrate the mind, so the thought of us all, the innocent and guiltless most particularly, being destroyed by savage ignoramuses and soulless liars ought to be the central motivator of our every action for the rest of our lives.

      • Mulga,

        I think you are right but wrong at the same time. You are correct about who the enemies of civilization are. But is futile to focus on them. What we must focus on is telling people about the dangers of climate change.

        And telling them and telling them.

        I gave a talk on the subject to a class at Oregon State University last week, and I was astounded by how little the students, horticulture science majors, knew about global warming. I’m not talking about the nuances of the subject, but basic facts and concepts such as the rough correlation between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperatures. Or, the fact that we are already dangerously close to the point of no return on climate change.

        So we must educate — ourselves first, of course — but then others.

        But don’t waste your time arguing with ignoramuses. I once interviewed Frijtof Capra and asked him how he dealt with such people. He said he didn’t. Instead he worked to help those people with open minds learn by providing them with information.

  5. Dick Smith says:

    Climate change is a moral issue–and we can and should talk about it. But that won’t get the job done.

    The battleground is NOT going to magically shift to the “divinity schools”. So, yes, make the moral arguments. I do. But, don’t pretend that’s going to be an adequate substiute for getting smart about ECONOMICS and climate.

    If we can’t talk smart about economic issues, we’re going to get our butts kicked. If you think the deniers have had it easy creating doubt about the science, get ready for the crap they’re going dish out on economics.

    Joe Romm is one of the lucky ones. He apparently minored in economicis at MIT. And, he talks smart about it. His cues on the “gloomy science” of economics at its intersection with climate are hugely helpful. I wish there were more folks out there who could cover more of that ground.

    We need to understand and talk about the “carbon bubble” or how “free-marketeer” theologists like Congressman Paul Ryan see the world.

    But, it’s not just economic theory. Just about everyone except Amory Lovins says we need a federal price on carbon as part of the solution. We need to get down in the weeds of that debate. If we can’t talk smart about different ways to do that–and what they mean for the price at the pump or the price at the electric meter–no amount of moralizing is going carry the day for us.

    I’m a fan of fee-and-dividend (it’s a lot easier to sell giving back all the tax revenue–at least to start a conversation). But, a carbon tax as part of a “grand bargain” would lock that tax in forever. Money that gets put toward the deficit will stay there. I really don’t care if government keeps all the revenue or gives it all back–I just want a strong federal price on carbon.

    • Joe Romm says:

      I did a “concentration” in economics at MIT, yes, which meant I took three classes — microeconomics, macroeconomics, and “the economics of energy and the environment” — which was probably the most prescient thing I ever did in my whole life.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Economics is a symptom of the psychology of those that create it. Therefore neo-liberal market fundamentalist capitalism is the acting out in human society of the psychopathology of the Right, and it manifests that psychology with its insatiable greed, drive to ever greater inequality, hatred of others (expressed as class hatred manifested in union-busting, stagnating wages), social regression and total indifference to the natural world evidenced by the current global ecological cascade of catastrophes. An economics that delivers such cruelty, suffering and omnicidal destruction cannot be reformed, but must be replaced entirely. Arguing that economics, as they exist today, can be used to provide arguments and solutions to save humanity from ecological destruction is madness. Allowing the greedy destroyers to dictate in what language we argue for survival means that they have won from the start.

      • Dick Smith says:

        Mulga, your always fun, and sometimes you hit the bullseye. But this time you missed the whole target.

        You need to be able to explain to neutral folks–here’s why they are wrong and misleading people about the economics of climate change.

        It may be something as simple as why “delay and pray” (for breakthrough technology) is not smart strategy for anything, and why Joe’s strategy of “deploy…deploy…deploy every bit of low-carbon tech” is the way to go. Every time carbon tax/regulation gets a little bit of traction, the carbon industry trots out it’s two most reliable talking points: (1) “delay and pray” for breakthrough technology is the only “affordable” strategy; and (2) We’d love to go clean energy, but it will kill the recovery, kill the economy or kill jobs. And, their rhetoric about “free markets” as the best solution to any problem is baked into our collective DNA by now.

        So, if you don’t want to engage on these issues, then we ARE lost.

        Tell me why the economics is any different than the science debate. They say dumb things on the science all the time.

        You need to be able to explain why they aree wrong on that don’t you? For example, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)said during his campaign against then Sen. Russ Feingold,”I think it’s the sun.” I was sitting with a group of liberal Dems, and asked, “Why is he wrong? What if he came in here, and sat down with us over a cup of coffee. What would say to him to explain why he is wrong?” SILENCE. I didn’t have an answer then. But, I sure do now.

        It’s the same with the economic arguments–and ready or not–that’s where we are going to fight this out.

        If you can’t explain why their arguments are wrong–their nonsense will be taken as sensible. It will stand uncontested. That’s not the way to win this thing.

        • Lewis Cleverdon says:

          I think you misunderstand the economic arguments for maintaining BAU. In terms of maximizing short-term private profit, present US climate policies are almost exactly as they should be – utterly obstructive of significant change nationally, which precludes negotiation of the requisite global treaty to curtail global emissions and phase out the fossil fuel industry globally.

          In terms of maximizing long term collective wellbeing, those policies are a catastrophic disgrace – but then that’s a moral argument, isn’t it ?

          The mistake is in assuming that economics can argue that a dollar of (somebody else’s) damage-costs tommorrow is worth more than a (my) dollar of pollution-profits today. Economics tells us that the reverse is true. It formally quantifies the differential between present and future income by means of the ubiquitous use of arbitrary ‘discount rates’. Many economists do try to introduce morality to their arguments, but it remains morality, not economics.

          Regards,

          Lewis

  6. Leif says:

    Absolutely! Below is my morning letter to President Obama:

    With over 200 years of capitalism firmly invested in the ability for individuals to profit from the pollution of the commons, western man can see no monetary value in the bottom up economy. Never has, and voluntarily, never will. Terrorism is labeled “non-traditional warfare, and it is attempted to be “won” with somewhat “traditional” weapons, because that is what we know. “Shock and Awe?”… Didn’t work! Terrorism will take non-traditional “weapons” to “win.” Green technology properly deployed and justly administered can show the poorest of the poor, the breading ground for terrorists, that we in the west can do good and have value. With rapacious capitalism and bastardized “Democracy” our Nation’s current only export, (oh yes, weapons are another), is it any surprise that even the enlightened in our ranks are revolting against our efforts. Democracy is meaningless without democratic results and capitalism is not currently programed to do that, even within our own Nation. (Look around.) That remains a chore for “We the People”… However, win that war and our “status quo” “Capitalism” will look a lot different. New looses, think fossil, will surface. So “Winning” is open to interpretation and there in lies the problem. Our Nation and our Capitalistic foundation can only function if structured to lift the poorest of the poor first and up the chain, not the richest of the rich get richer.
    We could use a little help Mr. President.

    You do not float a boat with another coat of varnish, you fix the deepest leaks first and on up.

    IMO, All that makes Democrats as much a slave of the current capitalistic system as the GOP are exploiters. I think that in their hearts, Democrats want the status quo as much as the GOP and thus cannot play the joker…

    “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, Do you Mr. Jones…” Bob Dylan. (A long time ago.)

    Ironically, if the true goal of “Terrorists” is to improve the plight of the poor the world over, (and fundamentally I believe it is, thou I disapprove of their methods,) then the terrorist will have won. However they will have NO drum either…

  7. Richard Miller says:

    I am a member of probably ten environmental groups. The one I am most interested in is Bill McKibben’s 350.org. I also think their are many people who are heroic in this fight, McKibben in particular. I have to say, however, that in their communications to their members none of the groups really tell people the scale of the problem and the monumental challenge to reduce GHG’s as fast as is necessary to stay under 2 degrees of warming. What has been the reason for not telling the whole truth? I am not really being critical here, just looking for understanding.

    As a professor I think I have a moral obligation to tell my students what is well underway and what is required to avoid the worst. I tend to agree with the author of this post, but I would be interested in knowing why the groups have not been telling the whole truth?

    Here is my attempt to tell the truth in 3,000 words in an article I wrote. Among other things I followed my children 8,4,2 into the future to see what their possible future might be based on the peer reviewed scientific literature.

    http://commonwealmagazine.org/%E2%80%98global-suicide-pact%E2%80%99

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      Your article is an excellent summary of where we are, why, and what we could see in the near future. I re-posted the link on my FB page along with my exhortation, “Read it. I dare you…”.

    • M Tucker says:

      Excellent article Mr Miller! But as for your question about why “…none of the groups really tell people the scale of the problem and the monumental challenge to reduce GHG’s as fast as is necessary to stay under 2 degrees of warming.” The reason is we cannot stay below 2 degrees Celsius of average warming with ANY of the proposed solutions.

  8. oggy bleacher says:

    Morality is a philosophical concept that’s as foreign to most Westerners as Urdu. The social contract, written laws and bank accounts are the main motivations. Golden’s essay echoes Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement which stressed root motivations more than political gain. Find peace within yourself or don’t participate. We’d rather lose as true messengers of peace than win with hate in our hearts. I admire that message but I also recognize that it isn’t practical or even achievable.
    In other words, are we going to stress a moral paradigm shift or are we going to stress energy $ savings? Or both? KC Golden makes an excellent plea to our higher ideals. I’m convinced! But when I look at the progress that has been made it’s all been of the supply/demand/spreadsheet variety. I worked on a commercial solar array project and the primary investor forbid any mention of philosophical motives. Dollars and cents were all that mattered.

    I do believe the tree of liberty was planted quite crooked and watered too often with the blood of innocents to ever thrive on morality alone. The day I’m wrong is the day everyone stops buying lottery tickets and donates the $1 to their schools.

  9. Brian R Smith says:

    Agreed, totally. And then it’s critically a matter of how long it will take for cultural, media & political acceptance of the truth to manifest, given the tools we are using, the scale of the campaigns in progress… and the formidable powers of the opposition

    I also “share the view that we will never prevail at anything close to the necessary scale until climate action is understood as the moral watershed that it is.”

    But I also believe that without a high level, collaborative media campaign to mentor/engage the public on climate/environmental/energy issues – we won’t get a national dialog on a scale that meets the scale of the communication problem. We can nail audience psychology, the moral argument for action, the science-based imperative for action and present compelling economic arguments for acting now. But if we simply DO NOT REACH ENOUGH PEOPLE IN TIME, the critical mass of progressive voters necessary to achieve political goals (e.g. electing a progressive House in 2012) won’t happen.

    350.org and countless other actions large & small have laid the ground, but we aren’t the network we could be.

  10. Carlo Voli says:

    Thank you so much for such an unequivocal argument, KC. You have definitely convinced me that my usual approach of not talking too much and openly, and often feeling ashamed of talking, about climate change so as to avoid political divisiveness,is not necessarily the best approach. And, like you also say, it is also wise to know how to talk to each type of audience in a way that they can somehow connect to and identify with, and that is also smart and upfront about the issues of climate change. Becoming good at doing this is most certainly a challenge and a skill, but a challenge that I choose to take on and become more unapologetic about. Thank you for writing this article.

  11. Paul Magnus says:

    Thanks for that you’ve recharged my battery, a bit.

  12. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Excellent advice. I fully endorse it.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP), India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  13. Barbara Freese says:

    Thank you, KC, for a wonderful article. I distinctly remember being told by communications professionals in 2005 that we can’t get Americans to care about climate, so we should talk about jobs, mercury, etc. Since then I’ve heard people in the movement say you can’t motivate people with fear, you can’t get them to care about distant global concerns, and you can’t throw too much data at them. Then Al Gore came along with an Inconvenient Truth and broke all those rules, and climate concern jumped to an all-time high. You would think we would have learned from that, or from the larger history of the environmental movement.

    Or for that matter, we might have learned from the conservative movement, which has had a long-term agenda built on repetition of its key points for years, and is constantly using fear — though in their case it is fear about things that are not even real (death panels, creeping socialism, etc.). Meanwhile we have a truly terrifying problem in climate change and we are reluctant to talk about it, even to the people who accept it is happening (and are therefore not locked in denial) but have no idea how dangerous things are. This has to change.

  14. Icarus says:

    I’m much more comfortable with the science of AGW than with the potential solutions. A basic knowledge of climate science is enough to debunk 99% of denialist nonsense, but deciding what’s the best way to deal with global warming is much much harder, because you’re having to deal with human aspirations, motivations, ideology etc., as well as very tricky calculations of costs versus benefits, EROEI, life cycle costs etc.

    Fossil fuels have allowed us to build a particular kind of society involving industrial agriculture, personal freedom and luxury, abundant energy, global trade and travel etc. – I am not at all sure that there is any practical alternative source of power that we could use to sustain this society, so I don’t know what to argue for.

    Here in the UK it doesn’t seem remotely realistic to think that we can maintain 21st Century society with wind turbines and solar panels… and even if we could drastically curtail energy usage enough to do so, the turbines and panels have to be manufactured and replaced regularly, which all takes energy and raw materials. I don’t know of any proposed energy solutions that are sustainable or self-sustaining, meaning that they produce enough energy to supply society and their own renewal/replacement and do so without consuming finite resources (raw materials) and without producing any (non-recyclable) waste… unless we go back to oxen and wooden water wheels which would support a global population of a few hundred million, not 7 billion.

    Basically what I’m saying is: How can we make a moral argument for addressing AGW and then propose solutions which won’t work (because we’ll never get a significant EROEI) and which are themselves unsustainable (because they’re still using up finite resources and creating environmentally damaging waste products in their manufacture)? It seems to me that the only moral course is to leave a world for future generations that is at least as good as the world we inherited from past generations, and we’re patently not doing that, and I don’t know if it’s possible to do that and maintain anything remotely like the civilisation we have now. It would mean leaving the natural world as good as or better than we found it, with no less resources, no greater pollution and waste, no less wildlife and wilderness, no more roads and car parks and housing estates etc… Can we do that? If so, how?

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      No way can we maintain present profligate lifestyles by substituting sustainable energies for fossils – any more than we could see billions more people consuming resources at the rate of the average American.

      G. Bush senior stated at Rio in ’92 “The American way of life is not up for negotiation”. I see rather few declared opponents of this view even among dissidents – how many would be content to see their resource use cut to a fair share (~4.8% for the US) of the world’s sustainable annual yields?

      Living within the parameters of a sustainable culture plainly demands a very different ‘way of life’.

      Regards,

      Lewis

  15. Ken Barrows says:

    The most important moral issue surrounding climate change is how we live. When climate change warriors buy multiple homes and have five kids, the rest of what they say can probably be ignored.

    • MarkfromLexington says:

      I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. I bought my house (1 by the way) and had my 2 kids before I was aware of how urgent it is that we address climate change.

      I can’t change what I’ve done in the past. What matters is what choices we make today and tomorrow, now that we know the urgency of the situation.

  16. John Mason says:

    Most refreshing!

    I also have to admit I love Mulga’s posts because I can channel my own, often very similar, anger out through them, which leaves a nice glow. However, I’m seeing more and more signs that the Right in general are becoming increasingly concerned about their own extremist fringe, which is where the hardcore denial largely stems from – not entirely, but mostly.

    Here in the UK there are plenty of Conservatives who “get” climate change and I suspect the same applies in other countries, despite the impression that the GOP has managed to paint itself into Stateside. Damien Carrington had an interesting piece exploring this whole area over at the Guardian environment section yesterday. Shame the comments went the way they did, and I spotted it too late for it to be worth joining in the fray.

    I would suggest there are plenty on the Right for whom the wacky and clearly inconsistent alternative realities cooked-up by their extremist fringe are pretty darned unpalatable. It’s what we should all be fighting against: what Rachel Maddow called the alternate, self-contained right-wing media universe – where they make stuff up and confirm it to each other – the best description in a few words I’ve yet to come across.

  17. John Mason says:

    Link to the Maddow show – one of the best I’ve seen:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908//vp/40018314#40018314

  18. thomasrodd says:

    Just finished reading some about the anti-slavery abolitionists whose work led to the Civil War and national abolition of slavery — and how they did not shy from speaking the harsh moral truth to power, even when they were in a tiny minority in America. There seems to me to be an analogy to today, when so many people (understandably) don’t want to face the frightening truth about climate change. Are Bill McKibben and Al Gore something like William Lloyd Garrison and Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass? Who knows? But I think we could learn something from that movement, just not sure what.

  19. Jeff says:

    Excellent piece. But I reject this idea: “I can almost forgive politicians who avoid talking about climate, but what’s our excuse? We’re not running for office.” We cannot afford to excuse politicians (even, or perhaps especially, those in close races) who know — or should know — the truth about climate change. We must hold them accountable. To do otherwise would be to continue to condone, and practice, the very behavior the article rejects: silence, evasion, and dissembling.

  20. Adam Corner says:

    Its an objective reality that people are doing an excellent job of ignoring. Yes, we shouldn’t get too obsessed with PR tactics. But asking how to communicate climate change more effectively is not just spin, its essential to get the ‘objective reality’ heard in the first place. If only it were ‘just about the science’ – but its not, its about EVERYTHING (culture, economics, society) and making climate change make sense in all those different domains to people with vastly different starting points is absolutely critical.
    Warn against the pitfalls of treating the whole thing as smoke n mirrors PR by all means, but dont throw the baby out with the bath water!

  21. Stephan Ddolezalek says:

    We must begin with the realization that the history of mankind on these matters is not a good one. Whether the example is Easter Island, the fall of the Roman Empire or the decline of the British Empire, the human reaction to environmental, social or economic stress is to cling to the status quo. It was Charles Darwin who observed that the even the lowest forms of life in nature respond to stress by change and diversification. Unlike us, they readily acknowledge that the status quo is no longer viable and choose instead to multiply and diversify.

    So the solution to our issues must come from an acceptance that change is good, that change represents opportunity and not that it is a threat to our well being. The Marion Kaufmann Foundation recently published a study that showed that contrary to popular opinion and PR, growth in employment comes not from small business or from large business — it comes from new businesses. If you want real economic growth promote change.

    This notion of change and embracing the risks inherent in change is part of our Constitutional history. We are, after all, the land of the pioneer, the land of equal opportunity (which, I would note, includes the opportunity to succeed and to fail) and the land that embraced the immigrant.

    But today, we are foregoing most of these tenets — we no longer support our pioneering spirit (that may have died with the space program), we choose equality of result over equality of opportunity and we shun newcomers and immigrants. In general, we have become hostile to change and in so doing we are sealing our fate, not just with respect to Climate Change, but with respect to our own future.

  22. Sailesh Rao says:

    When we’re literally eating ourselves to extinction, does it really matter that we’re going to get fried and roasted in the process? The inconvenient truth is that even if every single energy source on the planet is switched over to solar or wind overnight, we will still be destroying a Florida-sized area of tropical forests every two years and wiping the ocean clean of complex life in a couple of decades, all to feed our growing appetites. Climate change is a symptom and it seems to me that a fundamental attitude change is necessary to address the underlying disease…