I do heart New York. But I don’t heart the new climate logo and slogan from Milton Glaser, the creator of that iconic NY logo.
Certainly the climate movement needs some rebranding. So we’re looking for a few good climate slogans in order to reach out and touch someone. Carbon is forever, after all, but our attention span ain’t. And only you can prevent warming-driven wildfires, well, you and the political leadership of the major polluting nations.
We need to think different. But we’re not. Sadly Glaser’s very widely criticized effort — a mostly black earth with the tagline “It’s Not Warming. It’s Dying.” — falls into the “not thinking different” category:
Where to start? First, the Earth IS warming!!! From a basic messaging perspective, nothing is worse than reinforcing the denier’s nonsensically anti-scientific “we’re not warming” frame by constantly repeating the line “it’s not warming.” Let’s hope the disastrous hashtag #itsnotwarming dies a peaceful death in its sleep.
Second, making the Earth the centerpiece of any climate campaign is just a not-good idea. I’ve been saying this for many years — see my 2008 Salon piece, “Let’s dump “Earth Day”: Affection for our planet is misdirected and unrequited. We need to focus on saving ourselves.”
But don’t take my word for it, take climate PR guru David Fenton’s, in this 2014 interview headlined, “Want everyone else to buy into environmentalism? Never say ‘Earth’.”
What matters to most people is what happens to human beings — generally human beings they know. The environmental movement’s major messaging blunder in the past two decades has been failure to make clear that preserving clean air and clean water and a livable climate is about saving people, not something abstract (to most people) such as saving the environment or the planet.
Third, relatedly, the Earth is NOT dying. The stable climate that made modern civilization possible is dying and as a result people are dying — and it’s going to get unimaginably worse if we don’t act ASAP. None of that is captured in this passive and pessimistic slogan.
I wrote back in my 2008 piece, “I don’t worry about the earth. I’m pretty certain the earth will survive the worst we can do to it.” Climate activists “care about stopping global warming because of its impact on humans.”
Many others have said the same thing. Grist notes in its critique of Glaser: “Arguing that the earth is dying is serious error and will probably do more harm than good” because it keeps things focused on the abstract and off the real victim — people. They quote Neil deGrasse Tyson on climate change: “Earth will survive this … Earth will be here long after we render ourselves extinct.”
This new campaign further claims that “It’s Not Warming. It’s Dying” is “The most important fact on Earth.” Or, rather, “THE MOST IMPORTANT FACT ON EARTH.” Not.
The most important facts are, as climate communications pollster and researcher Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale put it recently, “it’s real; it’s us; it’s bad; scientists agree it’s happening; and there’s hope.” I might suggest, “it’s bad for people” and “there’s hope if we act quickly” — but the point is “It’s Not Warming. It’s Dying” misses all those key points and in fact even reinforces the notion that it isn’t happening and/or that it’s too late to do anything about it. It omits the fact that we’re the cause and hence we’re the solution. Indeed, it exudes fatalism, since it implies the Earth has an incurable disease and is near the end of its life.
Fourth, the logo itself reinforces the fatalism. The blackness has replaced the greenness over almost all of the earth (except, strangely enough, Antarctica). So it would appear to be a visual representation of a planet in the later stages of dying.
Slogans can be a very worthwhile idea for branding (as I discuss in my book) — but that assumes you know what your brand is and that it is a marketable one.
Here, rather than the upbeat and attractive “I heart New York” slogan/logo, we have a downbeat slogan and not terribly attractive logo. Back to the drawing board, literally.
Just do it!