A friend forwarded me an email titled “Gustav and Hannah” that was written to environmental activists by one of the top environmental leaders in this country. I am going to write on it length because it is illustrative of the catastrophic messaging failure of the environmental community on issues of climate, government action, and energy. I strongly believe other progressives must not make the same mistakes.
Here are key quotes from the email about “three potential areas where the message of the national environmental community” could supposedly be counterproductive:
- Our first concern relates to the fact that any particular hurricane hitting Louisiana is not an example of how global warming is making everything worse…. Blaming this particular hurricane on global warming runs the serious risk of coming off as opportunism in a community that knows full well that hurricanes are a normal fact of life, and could well set back attempts to engage this community on the issue.
- Second, a hurricane hitting Louisiana is not a good example of how federal flood policy has encouraged people to build in the way of danger….
- Third, hurricane damage in Louisiana is not an example of how additional OCS drilling is a bad idea. Such an argument puts the national NGO community in the position of attacking an existing and major job creating force in a conservative state.
While I think these three points range from wrong to dead wrong, this preemptively muzzling email is all the worse because it does not put forward what message environmentalists should be pushing. Let me (partly) address both of those problems, starting with the last point.
The email author writes: “Using any damage to the existing infrastructure as an example of why offshore drilling is bad may very well be perceived as an attack on the existing industry and people employed in it.” Duh! If the hurricane causes oil spills, then that is in fact an example of the dangers of drilling offshore. More importantly, it might at least make it harder for the GOP to keep lying about what happened three years ago (see TP’s “McCain Falsely Claims Katrina And Rita Did Not Cause Significant Oil Spillage“).
Obviously, McCain and the GOP think that creating the misimpression that offshore drill rigs or onshore infrastructure are impervious to strong hurricanes helps their case — since they keep telling the same lie over and over again long after the facts have been made available to all. I’m guessing that at least on the messaging side of things, they are a lot savvier than the environmental leader who wrote this e-mail.
Secondarily, does it matter whether the spill comes from an offshore drill rig or from onshore infrastructure? Of course not.